Reflection on Pentecost 2000
An invitation to evangelization
by Marcello Zago, O.M.I.
Marcello Zago, O.M.I
Titular Archbishop of Roselle
Secretary of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples
The feast of Pentecost, especially during this Jubilee Year, makes us aware of our duty to make Christ known in our midst as well as support the work of evangelization in the world.
In fact, Pentecost marks the beginning of the public life of the Church and her mission. Renewed and given a new heart by the Spirit, the Apostles mingled among the pilgrims coming from different countries to celebrate the feast; they prophesied making themselves understood by people speaking different languages, and they surprised those who were present, who misinterpreted what was happening. Then Peter, surrounded by the Eleven, explained what had happened and proclaimed Christ as the Saviour. If the Apostles were able to prophesy, it was because they were filled with the Holy Spirit. Jesus is the Saviour through the Easter mystery. It is necessary to be converted in order to be saved. In this way the Apostles put into practice the mandate received beforehand from Christ.
In the New Testament Christ gave a specific mandate to his Church. According to the Synoptics, the community of disciples was sent by Christ to "teach and baptize" (Mt 28: 19), to "preach the Gospel and baptize" (Mk 16: 15-16), to "preach conversion and forgiveness of sins" and to "be his witnesses" (Lk 24: 47; Acts 1: 8). Each evangelist underlined an aspect of the mandate (cf. Rom 23). Whereas the Synoptics insisted on proclamation (cf. Mk) or on witnessing (cf. Lk), John, who was the only one to explicitly speak of a "mandate", underlined that the Trinity is the source and goal of the mission (cf. Jn 17: 3-20, 21).
Christ entrusted other tasks to his community of disciples: they must be salt (Mt 5: 13), light (cf. Mt 5: 14), yeast (cf. Lk 13: 20-21) for mankind to whom they have been sent or among whom they live. These images express an active role of the Church in the world, achieved by life and not only by works. Then there is the new commandment, his commandment, which is concrete and essential love, not only toward one's brothers and sisters (cf. Jn 3: 14), but towards everyone (cf. Mt 5: 44), according to the model of the Father (cf. Mt 5: 43-48) and of Christ himself (cf. Jn 15: 12). One can say that Christ left two main commandments: the one of loving and the one of proclaiming the Gospel. They are not opposites, but complementary. Both lead to the experiential knowledge of God shared with mankind: "May they be one with us. I in them and you in me, so that they may be perfect in unity and the world may know that you sent me and you loved them as you loved me" (Jn 17: 22-23).
The mission of the Church in relation to the world is first of all received from Christ. The Church is called to carry this out by making it reality. Instead, the ways of the mission must be sought. The "how" depends on situations and possibilities. However, the task of loving and bearing witness is permanent. If in principle and in fact one of these two commandments is denied, the Church is not only unfaithful but she becomes self-destructive.
Pope Paul VI wrote in Evangelii nuntiandi: "Evangelization will always contain - as the foundation, centre and at the same time the summit of its dynamism - a clear proclamation that in Jesus Christ ... salvation is offered to all men, as a gift of God's grace and mercy" (n. 27). And Pope John Paul II added: "All forms of missionary activity are directed to this proclamation, which reveals and gives access to the mystery hidden for ages and made known in Christ, the mystery which lies at the heart of the Church's mission and life, as the hinge on which all evangelization turns" (Redemptoris missio, n. 44). Somehow this kind of proclamation should always be made, everywhere and in everybody - at least as a witness of one's own faith. It is not necessary to wait for places or special events to do this. Ordinary life and every day contacts can offer the opportunity to bear witness to our faith. Sometimes, it is a matter of a simple comment or hint, which opens another to the Christian reality. Proclamation is neither an impossible feat nor an extraordinary one. It is necessary to be enlivened by faith in order to do this in an almost natural way and appreciate the gift of Christian life. Being able to proclaim Christ by making his presence and his action of salvation felt is also a grace which strengthens our identity. Therefore, one must ask for this for us and for the Church, especially in an indifferent world and with its diversification of interests.
For this proclamation to be fulfilled and be in some way accepted, it is necessary to have friendly relations with the people to whom it is addressed; it is necessary to respect their values and their human and spiritual journey, as well as have a spirit of dialogue and mutual trust.
There is more to the mission to which a Christian is called than only proclamation. There is solidarity to solve common problems of life; there is dialogue to understand each other and journey together, there is commitment to build a more just and human society, there is worship to God which must be expressed also socially, there is deepening faith and the effort to consult with each other and make it suitable for that culture in which it is.
Pentecost also invites us to become aware that, as disciples of Christ, we are all in agreement with the universal mission of the Church so that Christ may be known and that his kingdom may come. The small Christian community, often vexed, suspected and sometimes persecuted, needs our support and prayer. People and human groups who still do not know the Gospel need apostles and brothers and sisters who can help them to discover the One who saves, who gives meaning to life and opens the way of complete freedom.
We are part of this mission which has been entrusted to the Church. And the first form of solidarity is prayer so that the Holy Spirit descends upon us all, makes us burn with that divine love and instils in us the need to live and proclaim Christ and his kingdom.