I was privileged to accompany my daughter’s youth ministry group as an adult chaperone to Krakow, Poland, for World Youth Day 2016. We felt great anticipation while we waited in the vast treeless fields of Campus Misericordia outside of Krakow for Pope Francis’s Saturday evening prayer vigil address, along with the other pilgrims numbering in the hundreds of thousands. The pope’s message was well worth the weary wait.
Pope Francis’s message was meant not only for the youth and young adults, but it was a message meant for all Catholics of any age and vocation. The message resonated with me as a lifelong Catholic, a husband and father, a permanent deacon in the parish, and as associate director for permanent deacons for the Archdiocese of Detroit.
The pope proclaimed that “Jesus is the Lord of risk. . . . Jesus is not the Lord of comfort, security and ease.” We all must be ready “to trade in the sofa for a pair of walking shoes and to set out on new and uncharted paths.” Francis reminded all that it is God “who teaches us to encounter [God] in the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the sick, the friend in trouble, the prisoner, the refugee, and the migrant and our neighbors who feel abandoned.”
Pope Francis was reminding the pilgrims that evening that we need to renew our lives and to encounter Christ in all we do, just as he encouraged all Christians in his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium: “I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day.”
This is what the New Evangelization is about and what we as Catholics in the Archdiocese of Detroit are being called to live.
As a permanent deacon assigned to a parish, I am not just to have a presence in the sanctuary at Mass or the parish campus. I am to be available to the entire community of southeast Michigan and beyond. Wherever the need exists, the gospel message of Jesus must be shared with those who are lost, lonely, or have no faith. It may just be on the street corner ministering to those in need with a prayer, a hug, or a free rosary. Wherever that need exists, that is where a permanent deacon is to minister. That is where all Christians have an opportunity to minister.
During the formation process, candidates for the diaconate are encouraged in their summer ministries to “stretch” themselves and do some form of ministry that is difficult or out of the ordinary from their normal life experiences; something they may not want to do. Pope Francis, as well, is calling on Christians to do something they may not be comfortable doing. In Evangelii Gaudium, he writes, “Starting from certain social issues of great importance for the future of humanity, I have tried to make explicit once again the inescapable social dimension of the Gospel message and to encourage all Christians to demonstrate it by their words, attitudes, and deeds.”
Whether single, married, lay, religious, or clergy, the new evangelization begins with us. It is time to put away our doubts, stop hiding behind our digital facades, step out of our comfort zone, and “get off of the sofa.” Let’s begin living the message of Jesus Christ.