Praised Be Jesus!
As we all know, our new Holy Father, Pope Francis, is making waves with his statements, such as, "Who am I to judge?" and by reaching out personally to those who write him letters, including those who are members of groups who have felt alienated from the Church. This is a new direction for the papacy and all a part of the theme of Francis' papacy: the "culture of encounter". Francis has used the phrase "culture of encounter" repeatedly since his papacy began. What could the culture of encounter be, and how does it affect our lives as Catholics?
Before we answer that question, let us take a look at Mary in the Gospel of Luke. A very familiar scene for us is the Annunciation, and from the Annunciation, Mary learns of the needs of her cousin Elizabeth, who is pregnant with John the Baptist, and leaves in haste to serve her. Mary is the first to initiate the culture of encounter. Mary is scared and not completely sure what the Lord has in mind for her, but with her trust in God, she goes to tend to her cousin Elizabeth. By their encounter, the Visitation, Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Ghost.
This is what Pope Francis is trying to do within the Church: He is trying to knock down the walls of Catholics who have put up a "defense" to those outside the Church or those who, for varying reasons and circumstances, have distanced themselves from the Church and the Gospel message. Like Mary, we must leave the comforts of our "homes" — our parishes and like-minded groups — to venture to bring Jesus to others so that they too might also be filled with the Holy Ghost. Like Jesus, we must meet people on the way and where they are and dialogue and seek to heal wounds, both outward and hidden.
What Francis is calling for is bold evangelicalism — one that seeks, rather than complacently waits for those to come to us. This makes people rather uncomfortable, but that's exactly what encounter does: It makes us uncomfortable. To effectively encounter someone, we have to leave our comfort zones and speak with people who may not share our values or ideals. Even more radical is that we have to open our hearts to them and serve them. Once, during Pope Emeritus Benedict's reign, it was said that we can no longer be "comfortably Christian". Pope Francis has taken being uncomfortable to whole new level. Francis is breaking down the "walls" of a certain Catholic mentality, which has all too long been an "us and them" mentality. Francis is reminding us that there is no "them" — just an "us", and all of us need the love and salvation of Jesus.
Francis is shaking up the Church, shaking the faithful into motion; it's time to get on our feet and spread the Good News, to bring in those who have been far off. So, let us take Mary as our example and take Jesus within us, scared and uncertain though we may be, but our "yes" to God will fill many with the gift of the Holy Ghost.
Prayer for the New Evangelization
Pour forth your Holy Spirit to inspire me with these words from Holy Scripture.
Stir in my soul the desire to renew my faith and deepen my relationship with your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ so that I might truly believe in and live the Good News.
Open my heart to hear the Gospel and grant me the confidence to proclaim the Good News to others.
Pour out your Spirit, so that I might be strengthened to go forth and witness to the Gospel in my everyday life through my words and actions.
In moments of hesitation, remind me:
If not me, then who will proclaim the Gospel?
If not now, then when will the Gospel be proclaimed?
If not the truth of the Gospel, then what shall I proclaim?
God, our Father, I pray that through the Holy Spirit I might hear the call of the New Evangelization to deepen my faith, grow in confidence to proclaim the Gospel and boldly witness to the saving grace of your Son, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.