Jesus’ proposal is powerful: it is inspiring, life-changing, it helps people find meaning for their lives, transcend themselves and achieve, if not happiness, inner peace, and a unique strength to face life’s most harsh moments. Scores of people throughout history felt called and joined Jesus’ work in the Church to the point of martyrdom. His power of attraction, however, seems to be weakening nowadays judging, for instance, by the shortage of vocations to the priesthood, religious and missionary life. This makes religious congregations and dioceses reduce their enterprises and outreach in many countries.
How to understand that Jesus’ appeal has diminished? The easiest way is to blame the youth and the hedonistic and post-modern culture of our time for not responding to the Church’s liturgical and devotional initiatives. Rather than blaming the modern world, shouldn’t the Church people stop being self-referential and look at their lifestyle and commitment (or lack of it) in transmitting the Gospel?
“We are not living in an era of change but a change of era,” argued Pope Francis in November last year, during the national conference of the Italian Church in Florence. The whole Church and, in a special way, frontline missionaries, should let themselves be permanently challenged by Jesus’ call to mission. They often talk about mission for others. Perhaps, we should reflect much more on what we do to be faithful to our vocation, answer people’s needs and overcome our reputation of being judgmental and not very eager to welcome those who do not behave anymore like “sheep”, but are rather a heterogeneous sum of individuals.
It seems that there has never been so many international meetings to make programmes and reflect upon suitable pastoral and missionary methodologies—for instance, about the use of the social media and so on. Taking for granted that such gatherings are useful and effective, we must realise that the problem we face in the Church is beyond communication. In other words: it is not because we have better communication techniques that we convey the experience of Jesus better.
The question God may be asking missionaries in the present context, as Archbishop Thomas Menamparampil suggests in this issue, is similar to the question He addressed to Adam: “Where are you?” (Gen 3: 9). In other words: “Where is your creativity in response to these problems?”—a long list of social evils. We may be asked if we live significant and passionate lives—lives transformed by the Gospel in which Jesus and His most vulnerable friends occupy a central place.
“Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses,” said Pope Paul VI in 1975 (Evangelii Nuntiandi, 41). The authenticity of our lives and the quality of our works speak more powerfully than anything we can say. Therefore, our best witness to Jesus is the exercise of compassion, patience, kindness and generosity. We are living in a plural world which asks us to go out and meet people in their so different environments, lifestyles and particular anguishes—just as Jesus did.