Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Pope at Audience: Apostolic zeal is the 'very oxygen' of Christian life

 Pope Francis praying for peace in Ukraine before the icon Our Lady of the People

Greeting pilgrims in the Paul VI Audience Hall in the Vatican for his weekly audience, Pope Francis spoke about how apostolic zeal is the "very oxygen" of Christian life and the measure of the Church's spiritual health. The theme, apostolic zeal, marked the start of a new series of catecheses for his weekly audience.

Describing the key missionary dimension of apostolic zeal, he recounted how the apostle Matthew at the start of his discipleship immediately introduced Jesus to his friends. And recalling the words of the late Pope Benedict, he said apostolic zeal "proclaims Jesus not by proselytism but by attraction, out of a joyful desire to share with others the loving gaze of Jesus and the call to follow him as his disciples."

Passion for evangelization

Apostolic zeal is about passion for evangelization, vital for the Church, since "the community of Jesus' disciples is in fact born apostolic, missionary," the Pope pointed out. And the Holy Spirit shapes this process which moves outward, inspiring in us a "contagious witness" of Jesus so that God's light reaches the ends of the earth. 

Keeping eyes on the horizon

At times apostolic fervour to share the good news of the Gospel can diminish, the Pope admitted, and when we lose sight of the "horizon of proclamation," our Christian life suffers, can become closed in on itself and wither. But keeping the missionary dimension alive provides "oxygen" for Christian life, invigorating and purifying it.

Witness of Matthew

The Pope suggested we embark on "a journey to rediscover a passion for evangelization," by looking at the Scriptures and the Church's living tradition, the witnesses who have "rekindled within the Church the passion for the Gospel." 

Beginning with the Gospel episode of the call of the Apostle Matthew, Pope Francis described it as an "eloquent example" of Jesus who with "eyes of mercy" called Matthew to be his disciple. Matthew, a tax collector for the Roman empire, the occupier of Palestine at that time, would have been considered a collaborator or traitor of the people then, but Jesus shows him that every man and woman is loved by God, the Pope explained. 

“The Gospel tells us that Jesus “saw” this despised tax collector; he looked at Matthew with eyes of mercy and called him to become his disciple. Matthew then “got up and followed him”; now a changed man, he left behind his ill-gotten gains and embraced, with Jesus, a life of discipleship and service to others.”

The Pope then suggested we ask ourselves how we look upon others and whether we see only other people's faults and label them, rather than having an open and merciful heart, trying to understand who they are and their situation and needs.

Acting on the call

The gaze of Jesus in calling Matthew leads to his rising up and leaving his tax office to follow Him. The action of rising to his feet shows symbolically how Matthew responded affirmatively and passionately to the call of Jesus to follow him and serve others. And, significantly, the first thing the Apostle did was bring Jesus to a feast for him with many other “tax collectors and sinners,” he knew, and so introducing Jesus to others. 

The Pope said this shows us how we do not have to wait until we are "perfect" or "come a long way" in following Jesus in order for us to witness to Him. Therefore, "our proclamation begins today, there where we live" above all by our "witnessing every day to the beauty of the Love that has looked upon us and lifted us up."

“For as Pope Benedict taught us, “The Church does not engage in proselytism. Instead, she grows by ‘attraction’” This attractive and joyful witness is the goal to which Jesus leads us with His loving gaze and with the outgoing movement that His Spirit raises up in our hearts.”

At the conclusion of the General Audience, Pope Francis asked everyone to remember in their thoughts and prayers war-torn Ukraine and the people living through "cruel suffering" there. He then stood in silence before a painting on display in the audience hall of the icon known as "Our Lady of the People", venerated in Belarus and Ukraine, offering his prayers for peace and inviting everyone to join spiritually with him.

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