I awoke one morning, looked at my phone, and saw the message from Facebook: Pope Francis has accepted your friend request.
To be a “friend” of the Holy Father was inconceivable until the past several years. Certainly no one thought of such communication between the pontiff and others four decades ago when Pope Paul VI stated that the Church “exists in order to evangelize.” The pope wrote these words in the first paragraphs of a document called Evangelization in the Modern World. That document responded to a synod of bishops on evangelization a year earlier. At that meeting, the bishops sought to answer the questions “What do we mean by the word evangelization?” This question has only spurred others such as, “How do we evangelize?” and “To whom do we evangelize?” More than forty years later, we are still asking these questions.
Books and programs have tried to offer guidance for evangelization in a contemporary world, with many of these programs and strategies designed to help the Church reignite herself. They affirm the statement in Evangelization in the Modern World: “The church is an evangelizer, but she begins by being evangelized herself” (15). Still other programs are aimed at moving parishes from only maintaining themselves to mission outside the parish doors.
Pope Francis envisions a church whose evangelization is directed outward. In his The Joy of the Gospel, he says,
“I dream of a missionary option, that is, a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything, so that the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channeled for the evangelization of today’s world rather than for her self-preservation. (27)
The Pope often speaks of a “culture of encounter” to encourage the baptized to move beyond our usual circles in order to bring the mercy of Jesus to the world, especially to the poor and to those society often neglects. In The Joy of the Gospel, he states,
“In virtue of their baptism, all the members of the People of God have become
missionary disciples.” (120)
Whenever we celebrate the liturgy, we are reminded of the call to be missionary disciples because each liturgy is an encounter with Jesus. We encounter Jesus in the hospitality, the sorrows and the joys of the People of God. We encounter Jesus in the Word proclaimed and in the prayers. We encounter Jesus in the sacred meal, the bread broken and the wine poured out. We encounter Jesus in ritual and symbol and gesture. These encounters are meant to season us to be the salt of the earth, to tenderize us to be the mercy of God. The liturgy strengthens us to build up the kingdom “on earth as it is in heaven.” So that when we are sent forth to our workplaces, our homes, our schools, our communities we might encounter people in a different way, whether we are on social media or in a social gathering.
As Pope Francis says in The Joy of the Gospel,
“Being a disciple means being constantly ready to bring the love of Jesus
to others, and this can happen unexpectedly and in any place: on the street, in a city
square, during work, on a journey.”
Our world has changed a lot in the past forty years, but our mission hasn’t. We still exist to evangelize. It has been said that the Church doesn’t have a mission; the mission has a Church. As Pope Francis asks, “What are we waiting for?”