Jesus teaches us how to become missionaries
Jesus teaches us how to become missionaries
The "new evangelisation" calls for a new Christian consciousness, that of having to represent Jesus to the people Christians meet. It requires overcoming the barrier of secularism, whereby talking about religious topics is seen an inappropriate, almost a taboo that prevents many from expressing the religious feeling we all carry in our hearts.
Next Sunday, 19 March, is the third Sunday of Lent in the Roman rite, and we read the Gospel about Jesus' encounter with the Samaritan woman who had gone to the well to draw water. The episode is very beautiful and full of lessons today for us, who often find ourselves in the same predicament. There is a gulf between Jesus and the woman. Jesus was a young Jew and God, the Samaritan woman had sinned a lot, was far from God, but bore in her heart a thirst for God.
Many of us believers in Christ live Jesus’s same experience. Perhaps in our family or among the people we know there are some who a distant from the faith. Today many young people, after their confirmation, are overwhelmed by the secularist wave of our society and no longer go to church. Those who believe must thank the good Lord who has kept their faith, but they have a responsibility to bear witness to it and communicate it to those who lost it. Pope Francis wants to reform the Church and he invites all believers to be missionaries.
The Gospel presents us this stage in the Messiah’s life: Three moments, three passages of the missionary Jesus meeting with the Samaritan woman at the well:
1) Jesus was God, we are a people of sinners on the way to love and imitate Christ, living according to the Gospel. In 1964, at the Mother House of the Missionaries of Charity of Mother Teresa in Calcutta, I saw a large crucifix with the words: "I thirst". I have thirst for love, thirst for souls. The Samaritan felt deep thirst for God; she was unable to emerge from a superficial life and the many daily emergencies. It took only an encounter with Jesus to bring this thirst for God to the surface. The encounter with Jesus changed the woman’s life.
Dear brothers and sisters, we too often meet Jesus in the Mass, the Communion, the prayers. But "how little prayer there is in our prayers," said Mother Teresa. Let us kindle in ourselves the desire to know and love Jesus. We think that we know him, but we do not know him, we do not contemplate him in his immense love for us. We do not yet deeply feel the desire to let everyone know how beautiful it is to love Jesus.
Dear friends who read me, we are all orphans of Christ. Lent is the appropriate time to convert, through prayer, mortification, generosity for works of charity. The more we detach ourselves from ourselves, the more we draw near Jesus and fall in love with Him. We all live a superficial life; the world overwhelms us with its information, distractions, worries. We have to give time to God, his love, give up something to explore the mystery of God, the merciful Father and Jesus Christ, Messiah and Saviour of mankind.
2) Jesus put himself on par with the Samaritan woman. He did not assert his superiority as a man, a Jew, nor did he reveal his divinity. Instead, he told her: "Give me a drink." He asks for a favour, arousing her interest. "How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?" Jesus saw deep into the human heart and knew about her disordered life, but he also saw in her a thirst for God, a desire for purity, forgiveness, of meeting with God. He asked her for a drink material water, then talked to her about the spiritual water that quenches the thirst forever, and she asked him to give it to her too. First, he got himself accepted, then he revealed to her that he was the Messiah.
In 1990 I was in Kandy, the sacred city of Buddhism in Sri Lanka. I asked a local priest if and how the Church explicitly preaches salvation in Christ. He replied: "In this city the proclamation of Christ comes after. First we must be accepted, show that we know and appreciate their artistic, moral and spiritual riches." This is the principle that Pope Francis applies in the "Dialogue with those who are far", launched by Pope Paul VI and the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). Francis wants to convert the entire world to Christ; he never goes against atheists, the persecutors of the Church; he "goes with the sinners," as Jesus did. The prophet Ezekiel refers to the word of God (Ezek. 18, 23): " As I live, says the Lord, I do not desire the death of the sinner, but rather that he turn back and live.”
Pope Francis phoned to and spoke well of Marco Pannella. He spoke well about Dario Fo, Umberto Veronesi and Emma Bonino. He was interviewed by Eugenio Scalfari of La Repubblica* and has been criticised for it. He gave an example to all of us, on how to approach non-believers. This example is good for us as Christians. Think about how many people we approach, with whom we need to share their problems, suffering, praising their actions and their positive aspects.
Let me mention my own experience. Some years ago, Massimo Ages wrote to me. He is an atheist and Marxist lawyer in Rome, opposed to the Catholic Church. I replied to his letter, he asked me to discuss, via computer, the Catholic Church and Christianity (I believe about fifty letters each). We went on for about a year exchanging long letters with arguments and counterarguments, always respectfully, gradually developing some affection for each other. At that time, his wife was in the hospital for a difficult operation. I assured him of my prayers for her, telling him that God can do everything. This letter moved him; it was the first time that a priest prayed for him and his wife. At the end, he wrote to me that we had said everything there was to say, thanked me and said goodbye with affection. I too thanked him. We never met in person, but we became friends. Sincere dialogue is always useful, and taught me many things.
This is the “outgoing Church" about which Francis often speaks. We are all called to be evangelisers; we can all put in a good word. As a priest, I often meditate on the words of Jesus to his disciples: "You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world. You are the yeast that has to ferment the dough." Who knows how many people need God! Meeting me, a priest, can be the spark that leads them to God, or a bad example that distances them from God. As a priest, as a known Christian, I have a responsibility. Lord Jesus, make me a credible image of Yourself. The "new evangelisation" of the Italian people calls for this new Christian consciousness, that of having to represent Jesus to the people we meet.
3) The third step is to overcome the barrier of secularism, whereby talking about religious topics seems inappropriate, almost a taboo, one that prevents many from expressing religious feeling that we all carry in our hearts. Jesus needed only to speak about spiritual water to touch the heart of the Samaritan woman. We too can put in a good word, possibly discuss about issues of faith and Christian life, listen to what others say without chiding them. If God’s faith and love give us joy and serenity of life, if they help us carry our crosses, let's just say so. We live in a country of baptised people. It is easier than in a non-Christian country. With the help of the Holy Spirit, without imposing anything on anyone, we can do it.