Francis begins a reflection on mission as the "oxygen of Christian life" that will mark the next general audiences. "We must not wait until we are perfect to witness to Jesus; let us begin today, where we live". In front of a statue of Our Lady of Belarus, a prayer for all those who suffer because of the war.
Vatican City (AsiaNews) - "Passion for evangelisation, apostolic zeal, a vital dimension for the Church" is at the centre of the new cycle of catechesis at Pope Francis' Wednesday general audiences.
The pontiff introduced the new cycle today addressing the faithful in the Paul VI Hall, describing it as "an urgent and decisive theme for the Christian life". "When Christian life loses sight of the horizon of proclamation," he explained, "it becomes ill: it closes in on itself, it becomes self-referential, it atrophies. Without apostolic zeal, faith withers. Mission, instead, is the oxygen of Christian life: it invigorates and purifies it".
As a first step on this path, Francis commented on an emblematic evangelical episode: the call of the apostle Matthew "sitting at the tax bench" (Mt 9:9-13). "In the eyes of Jesus," the pope commented, "Matthew is a man with his miseries and his greatness. And while there is distance between Matthew and his people, Jesus comes close to him, because every man is loved by God. This gaze, which sees the other, whoever he may be, as the recipient of love, is the beginning of the evangelising passion".
Hence the question: what is our gaze like towards others? "Even as Christians we say to ourselves: is he of ours or not of ours? This is not the gaze of Jesus: He always looks at everyone with mercy and predilection. And Christians are called to do as Christ did, looking like Him especially at the so-called 'distant ones'".
Jesus says - moreover - to Matthew: "Follow me", making him get up from the place where he had authority over others. "He detaches him from sitting and receiving others and sets him in motion towards others; he makes him leave a position of supremacy in order to put him on an equal footing with his brothers and sisters and open to them the horizons of service.
This is what Christ does, and this is fundamental for Christians: do we disciples of Jesus, we Church, sit around waiting for people to come, or do we know how to get up, to set out with others, to seek others?"
A look, a movement and, finally, a destination. "We could imagine that, having changed that man's life, the Master would lead him to new encounters, new spiritual experiences. No, or at least not immediately. Matthew returns to his environment, but he returns there changed and with Jesus. His apostolic zeal does not begin in a new, pure and ideal place, but there where he lives, with the people he knows."
A vision, a movement and, finally, a destination. "We could imagine that, having changed that man's life, the Master would lead him to new encounters, new spiritual experiences. No, or at least not immediately. Matthew returns to his environment, but he returns there changed and with Jesus. His apostolic zeal does not begin in a new, pure and ideal place, but there where he lives, with the people he knows'.
An example that carries a message for all: "We must not wait until we are perfect and have come a long way behind Jesus to bear witness to him; our proclamation begins today, there where we live. And it does not begin by trying to convince others, but by witnessing every day to the beauty of the Love that has looked upon us and lifted us up."
"As Pope Benedict taught us," he concluded, 'the Church does not proselytise. Rather, she grows by attraction". "This attractive and joyful witness is the goal to which Jesus leads us with his loving gaze and with the outgoing movement that his Spirit stirs in our hearts".
In his greetings to the groups of pilgrims present, the pope called once again not to forget the martyred Ukraine: 'to this people who are experiencing cruel suffering we express our affection, our closeness and our prayers'.
Together he recalled the presence in the hall of the statue of Our Lady of the People, venerated in Belarus, another people "suffering the consequences of war".