In his apostolic exhortation, Pope Francis touches on many important topics regarding evangelization. He speaks of all that we, pastoral workers, should focus on when working to proclaim the Gospel in the modern world. The Pope calls all of us to work to spread the gospel with a great joy based in Christ. In one specific section Pope Francis points out some of the temptations that Pastoral Workers face in ministry. Out of all the temptations that the Holy Father points out the one that strongly stood out to me was the temptation of neglecting “the challenge of a missionary spirituality”.
Throughout this school year I have been assigned to serve at a house of refugees called, “Casa Juan Diego”. There my ministry partner and I have always been open to any questions that the men we teach might have for us. For the past months we have been teaching English, occasionally touching on religious topics. A week ago when we arrived to our ministry sight we were asked some tough questions and we were challenged in our own discernment when a man said, “You priests lock yourselves up in your chapels and do not come out to the people, you all expect the people to seek you out.” This was a tough cup to drink because immediately I was reminded of many priests who actually do spend most of their time, what seems to be, locked in their church or rectory, avoiding or dreading spending time with the people. This, I believe is what Pope Francis speaks of when he speaks of all of us who seek our own comfort rather than going out to the world.
Pope Francis says that Pastoral workers have an “inordinate concern for their personal freedom and relaxation, which leads them to see their work as a mere appendage to their life, as if it were not part of their very identity” (paragraph 78). Our ministry should be our identity. All Christians, from the moment of our Baptism, are called to be heralds of the gospel, we are called to go out into the world and make disciples. At baptism we receive an indelible mark on our soul, making us Christian and missionaries. So, for us to seek out our own comfort and see the work of evangelization as a mere obligation rather than a gift, we tend to develop “a heightened individualism, a crisis of identity and a cooling of fervour [making us] unhappy with who [we] are and what [we] do…[eventually] weakens [our] commitment” (Paragraph 79).
We should always seek the joy of the gospel, we should “not allow ourselves to be robbed of missionary enthusiasm” (Paragraph 80)! We have all witnessed that when our fellow pastoral workers lose their joy, their enthusiasm, they can become very cynical and often, without their realization, an obstacle to bringing people to Christ. This leads us to see the people of God as non-existent, as something of non-importance. We forget the people and the communion with God and, even though we spend time in prayer and religious exercises, we begin to develop a very individualistic way of life, focusing on ourselves and becoming ashamed of who we are and what we represent, since we no longer hold on to our true Christian convictions.
Having the Pope challenge us to be men of the people really solidified and pointed out to me that having a “Missionary spirituality” is of great importance. Our prayer, our spirituality should lead us outward, should lead us to truly go out into the world and spread the gospel, always with joy. This joy is a gift from the Holy Spirit. If we remain connected with Jesus, the true missionary of the faith, then we too shall find the strength, courage and perseverance to let go of our comfort, our individualism and accept our identity with jubilee and truly “set the world on fire” doing so while facing the reality of the world we live in without fear.