Pope Francis' witness shows Catholics how to care for the poor and suffering while bringing the new evangelization to a world “that so desperately needs Jesus Christ,” Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila says.
“Do not be afraid to love in this way, to evangelize with the strength of charity,” the archbishop said Jan. 6. “Nothing is impossible for God. He can take your love, which could be as small as a mustard seed, and turn it into something beautiful that changes the course of history and eternity.”
The archbishop spoke at the Hyatt Regency Dallas at a dinner for benefactors of the 2014 student leadership summit of the Fellowship of Catholic University Students, a Colorado-based student missionary organization. The summit, held from Jan. 3-7, brought together “young people on fire for the Lord,” he said.
Archbishop Aquila explained that the new evangelization is not about new content, but rather a new approach in “ardor, methods and expression,” as Pope John Paul II said. This means reaching out to those who have not heard the message of the Catholic faith, to those who need to grow deeper in their Catholic faith, and to those who once accepted the faith but no longer do.
Pope Francis is especially advancing this evangelization effort through his “affection for the smallest, the poorest, the sickest, and the furthest away,” the archbishop added. This affection “has certainly touched everyone who has witnessed it, from those who have left the Church to those who have never heard the Gospel.”
The Denver archbishop said he believes Pope Francis' actions draw from the spiritual conviction that the world is “profoundly wounded and deep down it wants to be healed.” He noted the Pope's image of the Church as a “field hospital after battle” which must first “heal the wounds” before talking further.
At the same time, Pope Francis has spoken of “the joy of the gospel” that “fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus.” Those who accept Jesus Christ's salvation are “set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness,” the Pope wrote in his 2013 apostolic exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium.”
According to Pope Francis, the most foundational proclamation of evangelization is “Jesus Christ loves you; he gave his life to save you; and now he is living at your side every day to enlighten, strengthen and free you.”
Mercy and love “come first,” Archbishop Aquila summarized. He said Catholics should adopt a “missionary orientation” that changes how they present the Gospel, how they accompany people spiritually and how they pray.
The archbishop cited Pope Francis' emphasis that evangelization must start with personal dialogue, sharing joys, hopes, concerns and “heartfelt needs.”
“Only afterwards is it possible to bring up God’s word, perhaps by reading a Bible verse or relating a story, but always keeping in mind the fundamental message: the personal love of God who became man, who gave himself up for us, who is living and who offers us his salvation and his friendship,” the Pope said.
Archbishop Aquila then advised how to put this into practice. Catholics must “spiritually accompany people on their journey toward Christ” and “earn the right to be heard.”
“If the Church exists to evangelize, then every Catholic is called to accompany their spouse, children, coworkers, fellow parishioners, society and especially those living far from the Church,” he added.
Catholics should also know the Scriptures, the archbishop reflected.
“What are you doing to train your heart and ear to listen to God’s word?” he asked. “If you are not nourished by the Scriptures, then you will not know the source of evangelization.”
He said several practices of FOCUS are already in line with the Pope’s advice: the organization’s formation practice of “mentoring” students, its small group Bible studies, and its principle that student missionaries must love people first before attempting to share the Gospel.
Archbishop Aquila said Catholics are called to “share our love for God in a joyful way, in ways that take us to the outskirts of society where the materially poor live and to the intellectually barren and secularized places of our society where the spiritually poor live.”
“God takes something small and humble and makes it flourish,” he said.