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To be fully human, we must let our light shine

By Javier Echevarria


Kenya: 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?”


With these words from Evangelii gaudium, EG (no. 8), Pope Francis calls to mind man’s being raised up by God’s grace. We discover who the human person is and the greatness of his vocation in Christ (cf. Gaudium et Spes, no. 22) From this encounter with Jesus a desire is born to share that joy with others (cfr. EG no. 3). Francis invites us “to go forth from our own comfort zone in order to reach all the “peripheries” in need of the light of the Gospel” (EG no. 20). Truly, “it should rightly disturb us and trouble our consciences, that so many of our brothers and sisters are living without the strength, light and consolation born of friendship with Jesus Christ” (EG no. 49). This seems to me one of the main teachings of the Apostolic Exhortation for the Church today.


The going forth to which the Pope invites us, expresses what the Church has traditionally called “ apostolate” and “ evangelisation”: a task which has as one of its characteristics an absolute respect for freedom, and nothing to do with the negative view that the word “proselytism” acquired in the 20th Century. The Pope points this out in no. 15 when he says that the Church does not grow by proselytizing but “by attraction.” In Christ’s teaching there is complete respect for the freedom of others and the dignity of the person. God wants to be loved in truth, which means a free choice. Every vocation is a love story, an encounter of two freedoms: God’s call and man’s response.


Any type of coercion, whether physical or moral, is incompatible with human dignity and the Gospel message. Cardinal Bergoglio always sounded the alarm about those sects that use money, material promises or shady means to recruit the poor and destitute: they make use of a thirst for God that we Christians have not always been sensitive to.


The key that defines an authentic Christian attitude lies in Love. Pope Francis uses words and evangelical gestures which show love: “I invite you” (EG nos. 3, 18, 33, 108), “I insist” (EG, no. 3); he speaks of “a brimming heart” (EG, no. 5) and encourages us to enter “into this great stream of joy” (EG, no. 5) which is the Christian community; he asks us not to set unnecessary conditions for receiving baptism or the sacrament of confirmation.


Recently, Francis made us consider in the Angelus that Christ was passing through those who were listening to him in Saint Peter’s Square.


“Entering.” Jesus Christ had hard things to say to the Scribes and Pharisees: “You neither enter, nor let others who want to, enter” (Mt, 23, 13) Letting enter, allowing to enter, inviting to enter: this force that attracts is what Saint Josemaria called “abundance of light”, human attractiveness, prayer and personal sacrifice, presence of Christ in the Christian: “True love means going out of oneself, giving oneself” (Christ is passing by, no. 43). This is what Christian apostolate means, the original meaning of the word “proselytism”, as the Church has traditionally understood it, and as taken from Judaism. The French Catholic Lacordaire used a very forceful expression: “There can be no Christian without love or without proselytism.”

Person to person apostolate consists of dedicating time to others and has no other power than that of prayer, of patient charity, of understanding, of friendship, of love for freedom. It means going out of oneself and sharing with others what is most true, good and beautiful: our Christian vocation. A conversation “which is always respectful and gentle; the first step is personal dialogue, when the other person speaks sharing his or her joys, hopes and concerns for loved ones, or so many other heartfelt needs” (EG no. 128). The “follow me” of Christ does not force but respects the freedom of each person. This is clearly and sadly shown in the dialogue with the rich young man.


And today? Francis points out that “at a time when we most need a missionary dynamism which will bring salt and light to the world, many lay people fear that they may be asked to undertake some apostolic work and they seek to avoid any responsibility that take away from their free time” (EG no. 81).


The light of the Gospel is “a light that attracts” (EG, no. 100) because it is the law of love that invites us to do good (EG, nos. 100-101). When others see the good works of the Christian, they are led to give glory to God (cf. Mt 5, 16): they discover and praise God’s ineffable love, a divine light, not just human. In this sense, apostolate, holy zeal for souls, consists in bearing witness to the light, as Saint John (1, 7) says, giving abundance of light, without the least suggestion of compulsion, with extreme care, because God only wants love and that is why he acts with meekness: with vigour and kindness (cf. Wis 8, 1).


In his Message for the World Day of Prayer for Vocations (2 Feb, 1983) John Paul II said: “there should be no fear whatsoever to propose the Lord’s call directly, to a young or not so young person. It is an act of esteem and of trust. It can be a moment of light and grace.”


“Do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others better than yourself. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Phil, 2, 3-4). Precisely this looking for the good of others leads us to share the love of Jesus Christ with them, making our own the sentiments of the Lord, projected towards the future of the Church, as His body in which we are all members. One then overcomes any possible shyness, which could show lack of faith and humility, with the light of Christ that every Christian transmits.


What light? Benedict XVI concluded his first Encyclical with these words: “love is the light – and in the end the only light – that can always illuminate a world grown dim and give us the courage needed to keep living and working. Love is possible, and we are able to practice it because we are created in the image of God.


To experience light and in this way to cause the light of God to enter into the world” (Deus caritas est, no. 39). In perfect unity, Francis points out in his first Encyclical that “the movement of love between the Father and the Son in the Spirit has filled our history; Christ attracts us to himself to save us” (cf. John 12, 32) (Lumen Fidei, no. 59). Quite the opposite to a wrongly understood proselytism that does not respect the person is an apostolate seen as attraction, that is, as a transparent and respectful encouragement to generously dedicate oneself– precisely the dedication the Pope is referring to.


That dedication is a witness fully aware of the freedom and dignity of the person, that makes the heart of the Christian share in the divine and human love of Jesus. A heart that cannot hold back its desires to communicate the joy of the Gospel.


The writer is Prelate of Opus Dei and Chancellor of Strathmore University.

This article was first published on The Standard, February, 20th 2014.