Christians are called to be evangelists, seeking out the sheep who are lost rather than staying at home tending to the few who have never left, Pope Francis said at the Vatican's Paul VI Hall.
“It's the 99 who we're missing! We have to go out, we must go to them,” the Bishop of Rome said June 17 to the participants of the annual convention of the Diocese of Rome.
“The Lord wants pastors, not combers of sheep; pastors! And when a community is closed, always among the same people who talk, this community is not a community that gives life.”
Pope Francis opened his speech discussing grace, and its tremendous power to make saints out of sinners, through the freedom it brings. He called the power of grace “revolutionary,” and that it must have a revolutionary effect on the hearts of Christians.
“Only one thing is necessary to become saints: accept the grace that the Father gives us in Jesus Christ. Behold, this grace changes our heart. We continue to be sinners, because we are all weak, but even with this grace that makes us think that the Lord is good, that the Lord is merciful.”
The heart revolutionized by grace, he said, will be “full of tenderness for those bearing the wounds of life.” He turned to the many people in Rome who live without hope.
Everyone, the Bishop of Rome said, can think of those “who are immersed in deep sadness that they try to get out of, believing to have found happiness in alcohol, in drugs, in gambling, in the power of money, in sexuality without rules.” These people, he said, are living without hope.
“How can we go ahead and offer hope? Go down the street saying, 'I have hope'? No! With your testimony, with your smile, saying: 'I believe that I have a Father.'”
“The proclamation of the Gospel is this: with my words, with my testimony to say: 'I have a Father.'”
Yet, he emphasized, Christians should not proselytize, or to seek to convince others. “The Gospel is a like a seed,” he said, but the sowing must be done with both word and witness.
“The word alone is not enough, not enough. The word without the witness is air. Words are not enough.”
The proclamation of the Gospel, he said, is “destined primarily to the poor, to those who often lack the essentials for a decent life. The good news is first announced to them, that God loves them before all others and comes to visit them through the acts of charity that the disciples of Christ carry out in his name.”
“We have to go to the flesh of Jesus suffering,” Pope Francis said, “to the existential peripheries.”
To do this, he stressed, requires courage, but this courage is necessary to bring the Gospel to neighborhoods, workplaces, and “wherever people … develop relationships.”
Speaking to leaders in his diocese, which is approximately 82 percent Catholic, the pontiff made reference to the Gospel passage of the shepherd who leaves the 99 sheep to seek the one which is lost.
“But, brothers and sisters, we have one; it's the 99 who we're missing! We have to go out, we must go to them! In this culture – let's face it – we only have one. We are the minority.”
“And do we feel the fervor, the apostolic zeal to go out and find the other 99? This is a big responsibility and we must ask the Lord for the grace of generosity and the courage and the patience to go out, to go out and proclaim the Gospel.”
He noted the temptation to “stay home, with the one lamb. It's easier to comb its hair, caress it.”
“But the Lord wants pastors, not combers of sheep; pastors! And when a community is closed, always among the same people who talk, this community is not a community that gives life.”
“It's a sterile community, it is not fruitful. The fruitfulness of the Gospel is by the grace of Jesus Christ, yet through us, our preaching, our courage, and our patience.”
Pope Francis assured his listeners that evangelization is not easy, and that it will be opposed by the devil, but this spiritual battle is “the daily lot of Christians.”
The work of bringing Jesus' grace to others, he said, is a martyrdom. “Martyrdom is this: to fight the fight, every day, through witness … Of some, the Lord asks the martyrdom of life, but there is the martyrdom of every day, of every hour: the witness against the spirit of evil, who does not want us to be evangelists.”
He concluded by focusing on the love God has for each person, noting that the “cross forcefully reminds us that we are sinners, but above all that we are loved, that we are so dear to God's heart.”
“Every person needs to feel themselves loved the way they are because this is the only thing that makes life beautiful and worthy of being lived.”
In our time, when what is freely given seems to fade in our interpersonal relationships, we Christians proclaim a God who, to be our friend, asks nothing but to be accepted,” he said.
“Think of how many live in desperation because they have never met someone who has shown them attention, comforted them, made them feel precious and important.”
“We, the disciples of Christ, can we refuse to go to those places that no one wants to go out of fear of compromising ourselves or the judgment of others, and thus deny our brothers and sisters the announcement of God's mercy?” the Pope added.
“We have received this gratuity, this grace, freely. We must give it freely. Don't be afraid of grace. Don't be afraid to go out of yourselves, out of our Christian communities, to go and find the 99 who are not home.”
“Go out to dialogue with them, and tell them what we think. Go show them our love, which is God's love.”