A new cycle of catechesis for 2023 underlines the character of the Holy Father’s ten year Papacy
In January 2023, as the tenth anniversary of his Papacy was in sight, Pope Francis launched a new cycle of catechesis at the Wednesday General Audiences. It was dedicated to the ‘passion for evangelisation; that is, apostolic zeal’, which he defined as ‘an urgent and decisive theme for Christian life’.
The gift of evangelisation
There is a sort of apostolic and missionary restlessness which runs through the Holy Father’s teaching and preaching.
From the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, published in November 2013 and dedicated to the ‘proclamation of the Gospel in today’s world’, to this current cycle of catecheses, the Pope has always maintained that apostolic mission is not a human strategy, but the work of God.
Apostolic mission, he explains is not an effort; it is not an obligation, but a natural consequence of a gift of grace: of the attraction that arises from the encounter with Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit.
Consolation and mercy
Pope Francis insists that proclaiming the Gospel is not- and must not be – ‘proselytism’. This is because it is impossible to start walking on the path of Jesus because of pounding propaganda, or simply by our own hard work and effort. In the Christian life, he explains, the first step and every real subsequent step is taken through ‘attraction’.
It is Christ who guides and leads us on this path. And because Christ himself attracts hearts, he consoles them and transforms them with his mercy. He heals them and embraces them with his forgiveness.
Making mission easy
Over the ten years of his Pontificate so far, Pope Francis has given us an understanding of the true energy source of apostolic work. It is not the burden of a further effort, to be added to the labours of life. Instead, it is an expression of gratitude for the joy of having encountered Christ and having experienced his salvation day by day.
For this reason, Pope Francis has repeated on countless occasions, doing mission authentically means:
‘…facilitating, making it easy, not putting ourselves in the way of Jesus’ desire to embrace all, to heal all, to save all’.
This is why, when he was Archbishop in Buenos Aires, Archbishop Bergoglio supported the parish priests and communities that had worked to make the celebration of Baptisms ‘easier’, after realising that many people, for many reasons, including sociological reasons, were not Baptised.
Similarly, from the beginning of his Papacy, Pope Francis wanted to celebrate morning Mass almost every day in the chapel of the Domus Sanctae Marthae (the Sancta Marta Guest house which is next to St Peter’s Basilica), first for the employees of the Holy See and then for groups from the parishes of Rome.
Always reaching out with comfort and help
When the COVID-19 pandemic arrived, the Masses at Santa Marta were broadcast through television and social networks. Many people grappling with bewilderment and helplessness – from Rome to Beijing, from Toronto to Nairobi–were comforted.
During that time, Pope Francis did the simplest and most important thing a Priest in the care of souls can do: he celebrated Holy Mass in a simple manner, without a choir, reading and explaining the scriptures of the day’s liturgy.
The everyday experience
With such a simple gesture, without inventing or adding anything, the Holy Father showed that the proper horizon of the Christian experience is not the exceptional events or great ecclesial Assemblies. Instead, it is the everyday ordinariness of life, with its problems, expectations, joys and failures.
He offers suggestions for small, simple routines to help reinforce this, such as carrying a pocket Gospel to read a page every day or remembering the date of one’s Baptism.
Pope Francis also reminds everyone that we are each responsible for Mission. We must be a ‘Church that goes out of herself’ to proclaim the Gospel of Christ. And this task cannot be left only to certain elites, or only the boldest of us. Instead, we trust in the message of Jesus: that when we share it with the world, it will flourish. We are a missionary people in everyday gestures, even when we are frail and distracted, poor and battered.
The Church cannot be a world apart
The Holy Father tells us that the mission of proclaiming and bearing witness to the liberation of Jesus takes place in humanity and in the world as they are; in life as it is encountered, ‘body to body’and within the real conditions. Evangelisation cannot be removed from the realities of the world or sanitised with abstract moral philosophy.
This is why the mission of salvation entrusted to the Church does not and cannot ignore issues like environmental catastrophe, or the migrants who die in shipwrecks, the trafficking of arms and drugs, or the new forms of slavery and propaganda.
Because if the Church were not in the world but saw itself as a ‘world apart’, it would no longer encounter the people of the present time as they are, where they are. And on that path, the Church’s structures and dynamics would end up causing more harm than good.
A Church of solidarity and accompaniment
Instead, the Holy Father explains, Christ’s salvation descends and resounds in the underworld of the world’s pain. The one that breaks hearts in wars, that crushes them in earthquakes and pandemics; that makes parents who have lost their jobs weep, but only when it is night and children are asleep.
For this reason, Pope Francis says, the evangelising Church immerses itself ‘in the daily lives of others, shortens distances, lowers itself to the point of humiliation if necessary’. It ‘accompanies humanity in all its processes, no matter how difficult or lengthy this may prove to be. It is familiar with patient expectation and apostolic endurance. It cares for the grain and does not grow impatient at the weeds’.
As the Holy Father says:
‘I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security.’
Bruised, hurting and dirty, we are the Church: called to be salt and light. God bless you Pope Francis, and may you lead us for many years to come!