Evangelisation a work of the Spirit, Fr Jacques Philippe tells Sydney

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Fr Jacques Philippe explored the variety of ways to evangelise, including by our words, actions, prayers and even martyrdom, adding that it presupposes an intimate relationship with and commitment to Jesus Christ. Photo: Screenshot

Think less about techniques than prayer, says author

The work of evangelisation flows from a deep personal commitment to God marked by faithfulness to prayer and a daily decision to be all ‘for Christ’, without which our efforts to spread the Gospel are mere propaganda, Fr Jacques Philippe told Sydney Catholics last week.

The popular author and retreat director was the third speaker via Zoom in the Reclaiming Evangelisation series hosted by the archdiocesan Parish Renewal Team.

From his home in France where he lives as a priest of the Community of the Beatitudes, Fr Jacques drew upon scripture and reflections of saints to propose how to witness to the Gospel in challenging times.

He said a fundamental requirement for true evangelisation is growing intimacy with God through prayer, which puts us in contact with God’s own heart and His love for all.

“Evangelisation…proceeds from a deep compassion for the suffering of the world and presupposes an experience of God’s love..”

Just as the heart of Jesus was moved with compassion on seeing people of His day lost like sheep without a shepherd, we are to “feel the same compassion for people who are a little lost and afraid because of the difficulties of the time (in which) we are living”, Fr Jacques explained.

Each Christian must ask themselves daily how we can be a testimony to the Gospel, and “the important thing to remember is the call to evangelisation must proceed not from…good ideas and strong conviction [that] I want everybody to share.

“Evangelisation is more deep [than that], because it proceeds from a deep compassion for the suffering of the world and presupposes an experience of God’s love and also a living relationship with Jesus.

“Otherwise it is propaganda, nothing more.”

Other fundamentals for witnessing to the Gospel

After prayer and personal relationship with Christ, Fr Jacques listed gentleness, humility, purity of intention and charity as among the essential inner attitudes, as “the language of love is the most universal language as well as a convincing witness”.

Operating within the mission received by the Church and in communion with its pastors is also fundamental and gives us a “special strength”, he said.

Finally, the work of true evangelisation is done through the grace of the Holy Spirit, not by one’s own strength or moral superiority. “It has nothing to do with communication techniques…it is about leading people to a living experience of God’s presence and love that transform the heart, and only the Holy Spirit can do this,” the priest said.

Evangelists must strive to be open to the Holy Spirit, with an undivided heart that daily chooses to be all for Christ, he added.

“The urgency is not to acquire techniques but that the heart will be purified; rid of all pride, all human ambition, all self-seeking, so that the heart becomes radically poor and free so as to have no other desire than serving God and no other support and security than God’s grace.”

The pandemic and other challenges

Fr Jacques said it had been “very beautiful” to see the creativity of many lay people engaging online in evangelisation initiatives during the pandemic.  Prayer for others, and martyrdom are also powerful means of witness.

But for most of us it is a matter of having “a little more courage and audacity to witness to our faith and ‘to give the reason for the hope that is in us’, as St Peter said”.

It is also possible to spread the “good fragrance of Christ” without using words and actions as it is about who we are, not what we do, he said, and urged listeners to go to the Blessed Virgin Mary to find everything needed for the proclamation of the Gospel.

The 75-year-old said he believed hostility will grow towards Christianity, particularly in western countries, making evangelisation harder in some ways. But it may also be easier as more people feel the need to draw close to God in their difficulties.

The talk series is aimed at inspiring and empowering parishes in their efforts at evangelisation and renewal, with each allowing time for a Q@A with the speaker and small group discussion.

Manager of the Parish Renewal Team Elizabeth Arblaster said she was grateful to Fr Jacques for addressing and praying for individuals and groups across parishes, agencies, chaplaincies and schools of the archdiocese as it implements its Go Make Disciples mission plan.

“As Fr Jacques made it very clear, the real dynamic is contemplation and action together,” she said. “Evangelisation cannot be done without the transformation of our own lives first, and then an ongoing and real openness to listening to what God wants us to do, before we act.”

Next in the Reclaiming Evangelisation series: Fr Mike Schmitz

Previous speakers in the series were US Bishop Robert Barron and scripture scholar Dr Mary Healey. The next Reclaiming Evangelisation event on 28 May will feature US priest Fr Mike Schmitz.

The popular podcaster on Ascension Presents for youth and young adults will present on the topic ‘Why Make Disciples? What our Tradition tells us about calling and forming disciples’.

Watch the recording of Fr Jacques’ presentation in coming weeks and register for Reclaiming Evangelisation and other events at www.gomakedisciples.org.au

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