Pope Francis raised eyebrows when he recently labelled proselytism as "solemn foolishness." One might ask whether this means the Church is abandoning its mission of proclaiming the Gospel and opting for a philosophy of "live and let live"?
Has the pope overruled Jesus' last words to his disciples: "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you" (Matthew 28.19-20)?
Certainly not. It was Pope Francis, after all, who sent out a message for Mission Sunday, Oct. 20, which stated, "It is necessary to proclaim courageously and in every situation the Gospel of Christ." It is also Pope Francis who, likely next year, will issue the final message of the Synod of the New Evangelization.
The upcoming message will almost certainly point to the increasing responsibility of the laity in evangelization and say that the nation most in need of evangelization is our own. No more can we see evangelization as taking place "over there," in faraway lands. While we must support the global mission, we must also reach out in our own families and neighbourhoods.
First comes the witness of our lives, lives that the Gospel has made, we hope, holy and joyful. Nevertheless, our witness must go further.
Forty years ago, Pope Paul VI wrote, "Even the finest witness will prove ineffective in the long run if it is not explained, justified . . . and made explicit by a clear and unequivocal proclamation of the Lord Jesus (Evangelii Nuntiandi, 22).
The thought of clearly, unequivocally proclaiming the Lord Jesus to those outside the fold is frightening to many Catholics. It is, however, an essential part of our baptismal call.
However are we to carry out this proclamation? With words first. Those words should not be elaborate theology. They can be the testimony about how Jesus and his Church have made your life more full, have given you a happy marriage or have strengthened you in hard times.
The goal, even more than regular church attendance, is to encourage people to commit their lives to Christ. Protestant as this may sound, it is a core part of Catholic discipleship.
Today, we must take responsibility for our own faith. We must learn and reflect on its central tenets, read the Bible and perhaps study that faith in greater depth.
None of this is the "solemn foolishness" of proselytism. Proselytism treats the other as an object to be evangelized; we are to treat the other as a subject, a person with his or her own mind and heart, one in whom the Spirit of God is already present, waiting to be called forth to a fuller life.
Through dialogue, both parties can learn, and our perspectives can fuse. This is the basic framework in which we bear the Good News. Baptism calls us to be missionaries; our secular society demands that we offer it a greater fullness of life.