There’s a lot of debate and hand-wringing, especially in the more traditional circles–those places that expect or even demand unconditional surrender and purchase of that ticket across the Tiber. It’s the old adage, when you’re right, you’re right.
Pope Francis suggests that tone is important. And he sees a bit farther than our traditional-leaning sisters and brothers. Do believers carry an attitude of respect into our personal encounters of evangelization: that is the question.
128. In this preaching, which is always respectful and gentle, the first step is personal dialogue, when the other person speaks and shares his or her joys, hopes and concerns for loved ones, or so many other heartfelt needs.
An authentic relationship comes first. Then the message. Why? Because communicating the tone and the love of God is very much a part of that news:
Only afterwards is it possible to bring up God’s word, perhaps by reading a Bible verse or relating a story, but always keeping in mind the fundamental message: the personal love of God who became man, who gave himself up for us, who is living and who offers us his salvation and his friendship.
Friendship is part of this personal encounter. We experience the relationship with Jesus fully when we acknowledge it. We communicate it to those we care about. And if people have no sense we care about them, then we have lost a good part of the message.
Humility is vital. We don’t have all the answers. We are not perfect or all-knowing. We are imperfect vessels assisting the Lord in a part of a much greater task. We are not messiahs–but only his ministers.
This message has to be shared humbly as a testimony on the part of one who is always willing to learn, in the awareness that the message is so rich and so deep that it always exceeds our grasp. At times the message can be presented directly, at times by way of a personal witness or gesture, or in a way which the Holy Spirit may suggest in that particular situation. If it seems prudent and if the circumstances are right, this fraternal and missionary encounter could end with a brief prayer related to the concerns which the person may have expressed. In this way they will have an experience of being listened to and understood; they will know that their particular situation has been placed before God, and that God’s word really speaks to their lives.
This section gives the very basic elements of a person-to-person encounter. Note the absence of apologetics. We have nothing to apologize for. It is Christ we bring to others. And as students and apprentices of the Lord, we always have something to learn, even in unexpected circumstances.
Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium is available online on the Vatican site.