By AJ Garcia/Office of New Evangelization & Justice
Merry (belated) Christmas and Happy New Year! How’s that New Year’s resolution going? It’s not too late to make one if you haven’t yet! My personal spiritual goal for 2018 is to read the entire Bible! If you see me, please ask me how it’s going (I need accountability to stick with this goal!) In this first month of the new year, I invite you to make 2018 one in which you encounter Christ in new ways and in ways that you previously thought to be impossible. Invite and challenge your family members and fellow parishioners to become more fully who God created them to be this year and as we become that person, let’s share that process and experience with others!
In the opening paragraphs of his apostolic exhortation, “The Joy of the Gospel”, Pope Francis writes: “I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day.”
Encountering Christ is not dependent on one moment, but many moments. Let’s not limit or convince ourselves that there are moments we cannot encounter Christ, or think that we could possibly be “done” encountering him. If we are serious about the Catholic faith and evangelizing, then we must encounter Jesus daily, constantly renewing our relationship with him. At times, making time for Jesus each day may feel like a burden, or even a cross to carry. Let’s shift our thinking to instead see this as an opportunity. If we do this faithfully and joyfully, we will become more fully who God created us to be.
Pope Francis encourages us to allow God to transform and perfect us: “We become fully human when we become more than human, when we let God bring us beyond ourselves in order to attain the fullest truth of our being. Here we find the source and inspiration of all our efforts at evangelization. For if we have received the love which restores meaning to our lives, how can we fail to share that love with others?” Evangelization is the logical consequence of knowing Jesus! I love the simple question that Pope Francis concludes this thought with, “if we have received the love (of Jesus) which restores meaning to our lives, how can we fail to share that love with others?” He is calling us out of our comfort zones and into a life of mission!
The pope points out that this is what humans are made for. We become who we were meant to be as we grow in intimacy with Jesus and give the love we experience in that relationship away in other relationships in our lives. He says, “When the Church summons Christians to take up the task of evangelization, she is simply pointing to the source of authentic personal fulfillment. For ‘here we discover a profound law of reality: that life is attained and matures in the measure that it is offered up in order to give life to others. This is certainly what mission means.” It’s often said that it is better to give than to receive. This concept is something that applies outside of gift-giving at Christmas! When we give of ourselves because Christ gave himself to us, we are doing exactly what we were created to do and in doing so we are missionaries.
Renewing and growing in our relationship with Christ compels us to evangelize. We must trust that the grace of God given to us through a life of prayer and the sacraments is all we need to evangelize with courage, but most of all with joy. I leave you with one final thought from Pope Francis: “May the world of our time, which is searching, sometimes with anguish, sometimes with hope, be enabled to receive the good news not from evangelizers who are dejected, discouraged, impatient, or anxious, but from ministers of the Gospel whose lives glow with fervor, who have first received the joy of Christ.”