“Thanks solely to this encounter—or renewed encounter—with God’s love, which blossoms into an enriching friendship, we are liberated from our narrowness and self-absorption. We become fully human when we become more than human, when we let God bring us beyond ourselves in order to attain the fullest truth of our being….For if we have received the love which restores meaning to our lives, how can we fail to share that love with others” (The Joy of the Gospel, p.4-5)? These words of Pope Francis bring us right into the ‘heart of the gospel’ message and life. The encounter, the renewed encounter with Jesus is an encounter of love; it opens our hearts, expands and transforms our hearts a bit more with each meeting so that our lives are less narrow, less self-absorbed, more available to manifest the gift of this healing love in all that we do and are.
What strikes me in what Pope Francis said is the whole notion of an ‘encounter’, a meeting with the ‘Other’, with God, with God in Jesus, with Love, God’s love in Christ. Always such an encounter or meeting is giving something to us of Divine Life, of the very being of God. Here is a text from Therese of Lisieux, which describes her encounter with Christ: “Of Love, I have had experience, Of the good, of the bad that it finds in me It knows how to benefit (what power) It changes my soul into itself. (Therese of Lisieux A Life of Love, p.208)Therese has experienced Love, the God of Love, Jesus, and this love no matter what it finds in her transforms what is there into itself. In other words, she begins to become the Love she has received, and she begins to serve Love and offer this love to her community and all the other persons that have come into her life.
One of the ways this encounter happens is through the Word. The Word comes to us in today’s gospel and what does it say: ‘You are the salt of the earth’…and then ‘don’t become salt-less’, dull, without flavor, blasé…Following this exhortation, the Word encounters us with: ‘You are the light of the world’…my light is shining in you, don’t put it under a bushel basket…let it shine…let it shine through your works and deeds…let it shine through your love, your compassion, your mercy.’
In the encounter we simply are to receive…God initiates the contact of love and out of this we are moved to run with the unspeakable gift of love to do good, to be of service, to share this love however we are invited to. To repeat what Pope Francis said: “For if we have received the love which restores meaning to our lives, how can we fail to share that love with others.” And this we see clearly in St. Paul. In the second reading of today’s Mass we get glimpses of the fruit of Paul’s encounter with Christ, ‘Christ-crucified’, the Risen One. He says to his hearers that he comes to them with “fear and trembling” and “my message and my proclamation are not with persuasive words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of Spirit and power, so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God” (1Co 2:5). The power of God is what Paul’s life rests upon…the power of his love…this is the fruit of his encounter with Christ…and it is on-going.
The text of Pope Francis that I began with is from his first ‘apostolic exhortation’ titled The Joy of the Gospel (Evangelii Gaudium). It focuses on the proclamation of the gospel, the reign of God; in it Francis is calling us to “embark upon a new chapter of evangelization,” one that is “marked by joy” (p.1). He says right at the beginning of this document: “I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day” (p.1). The encounter, to let ourselves be evangelized by the encounter with the Word of life: ‘You are the salt of the earth, you are the light of the world’…we are made in the image and likeness of God…we have been loved first…out of this relationship we are called to embody with our lives the gospel message of hope, of love, of forgiveness, we are called to incarnate the life and love of God that pulsates in and through our daily lives.
Evangelization: From: The New Dictionary of Theology
+proclamation of the gospel+nourishing and deepening the gospel amongst those already committed to it. (p.357)
“‘Preaching’ or ‘speaking’ of the kingdom is only, a partial understanding of the intention of the synoptic gospels. They also attest that Jesus’ entire life is a proclamation or revelation of a new way of living and valuing which has broken into history” (p.358).
“When the Good News is preached, it is not only the word about the resurrection, but the event itself which releases the power of God into our lives and world” (p.358).
Evangelization as Conversion
+“…The gospels seem almost single-minded on this matter: the Good News is at hand. This is not so much information about place or time of arrival as it is an announcement and unveiling of the fact that God has drawn close to us and that the power of God is available to be drawn upon. It is a conversion in how we think, experience, act and value” (p. 358-359).+”The contemporary understanding of evangelization and conversion recognizes that the evangelizer must also be evangelized…” (p.359).