Written by Michael Fones
Sunday, 02 September 2007 20:23
This weekend Pope Benedict XVI is in Loreto, Italy, meeting with Italian bishops, priests and thousands of Italian youth during the unveiling of a three-year pastoral plan for the youth of that country. (N.B. "Youth" in Europe usually refers to 18-35 year olds - what we in America would call young adults.)
In his homily yesterday, on "Whoever exalts himself will be humbled and whoever humbles himself will be exalted," Luke 14:11, the Pope urged the youth, "Do not follow the current produced by this powerful attempt at persuasion. Do not be afraid, dear friends, to prefer the 'alternative' ways indicated by true love: a sober way of life attentive to others; affectionate relationships that are sincere and pure; an honest commitment in study and work; deep interest in the common good.”
The Pope encouraged them to not be afraid "to appear different and be criticized for that which might seem foolish or unfashionable."
"Your fellow young people, but also adults and especially those who seem the farthest from the mentality and values of the Gospel, have a profound need to see someone who dares to live according to the fullness of humanity manifested in Jesus Christ," he said.
"The way of humility, dear friends, is therefore not the way of renunciation but of courage,” Benedict XVI emphasized. "It is not the result of a defeat but the outcome of a victory of love over egoism and of grace over sin."
Notice this humility is about forgetting oneself in order to evangelize! The Pope is telling Italian young adults to live in such a way that is fully human, and thus in imitation of Jesus. Such a life will undoubtedly look different from what most of us are pursuing, and the sense of dignity, purpose, direction and meaning that it gives will be incredibly attractive to those who are seeking those things.
The mission of evangelization was on the mind of many at the meeting, apparently. In an interview given by Monsignor Paolo Giulietti, head of National Service for Youth Pastoral Ministry at the Italian bishops conference, to the news service Fides, Giuletti responded to a question regarding whether youth are willing to share their faith with others. His response is beautiful and challenging.
"Mission is not something to do, it is more a way of being: Communicating with word and deed the beauty, the greatness of the experience of an encounter with Christ who makes life new. It is possible to kindle missionary impulse if we help young people to view their ordinary life with new eyes and to live it in an “extraordinary” manner. Naturally it is necessary to rethink the words and ways to speak of this at work, at school, at leisure time … for witness to be effective. The problem of little missionary spirit is due too often to dis-incarnated formation and spirituality."
What does the monsignor mean by a "dis-incarnated formation and spirituality"? I would suggest he means formation and spirituality that is essentially a "head trip." Perhaps a formation that focuses solely on the intellectual assent to faith, and a spirituality that is not centered on the sacraments and the need to embody Christ's love for others. Perhaps it is a spirituality that focuses on receiving grace for oneself, or experiencing consolation, or focused on a relationship with Christ that somehow does not impel the Christian outward in service. A dis-incarnated spirituality would contradict St. Paul's experience, when he wrote, "the love of Christ impels us, once we have come to the conviction that one died for all; therefore, all have died. He indeed died for all, so that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised."
In other words, a genuine Christian formation and spirituality that is centered on the incarnation flows from the conviction that Christ has saved us through his loving obedience to the Father and through his love for us - both of which led him to accept the cross on our behalf. When we truly grasp the depth of that love (not just "for us," but "for me"), we can more easily choose to love and live selflessly for others. Or, in other words, to live, "not I, but Christ living in me."
I would propose that the deeper root of the problem of little missionary spirit is the lack of an appreciation of the love that is offered us by the Blessed Trinity. Those who do experience and appreciate that love are natural (or, better, supernaturally empowered) evangelizers.