Visiting priest shares philosophy of how to evangelise others
Pope Francis is spot-on in saying that compassion is the door to the Church for many people, believes Fr Charles Rochas.
The pope commented on the role of compassion during morning Mass on 18 February during morning Mass at the Domus Sanctae Marthae.
With the Pharisees there was “no room for God’s plan [as] there was no room for compassion”, the Pope said.
Fr Rochas, the director of the Emmanuel School of Mission in New York, says the greatest message of salvation “is that God had compassion for us”.
The 41-year old native of Lyon in France was recently in Sydney to present talks to local clergy at the invitation of Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP.
A theologian, he also spoke at a conference at Notre Dame Australia entitled Theological Anthropology at the beginning of the Third Millennium University on 15 February.
Speaking to The Catholic Weekly he said that as a priest and member of the Emmanuel Community what helps him to thrive is the mutual support of fellow priests and people from all stages of life.
“Those relationships in a community not only enables us to establish a balanced life but helps us to strive for holiness,” Fr Rochas said.
Unity among priests, despite the inevitable differences, is particularly important, not only for the priests but the whole parish community.
“Parishioners can be very touched when they see evidence of unity and affection and prayer life among their priests,” he said.
“If that is in place then 90 per cent of the work of their evangelisation is already done.”
The Church in Australia faces very similar issues to the Church in France and the US, he said, and is effectively mission territory, needing priests with a missionary mindset.
Fr Rochas planned to reflect with Sydney’s priests on two stories from scripture and how they relate to evangelisation; the story of Peter’s first encounter with Jesus in his fishing boat, and the story of the raising of Lazarus.
Asked to define evangelisation, he said that compassion is the very first step.
“I resonate with what Pope Francis says on this, the first thing he said as pope when he was installed was ‘don’t be afraid of God’s tenderness’.
“That’s something we can understand that goes beyond the diversity of theologies and is something we can all agree on.
“Then there is also the need for formation, to teach some theology, to announce both the goodness of the Lord and the truth of the Lord.
“As a priest I’m not a social worker, I’m supposed to show the compassion of Jesus who’s the truth, life and way. Those three things need to go together.”
One of the best ways of summarising the Gospel is that it “brings a lot of joy”, he says.
“It’s a lot of joy to follow Jesus, and I’m also convinced that the content of divine revelation makes a lot of sense to the intelligence and the heart of people.”
While not only priests but all of the baptised are called to evangelise, Fr Charles had three surprising tips for those wanting to share their faith: Don’t stay alone, nourish your personal relationship with Jesus, and continue to grow in your faith life.
The worst thing to do would be to “harass people” with efforts to evangelise them first, he said.
“Join a community or at least contact your pastor and see what they can offer in your local parish. This is important, because Jesus decided to evangelise with and through the Church and never on his own.
“Community life helps us to see our charisms because not all of us are called to evangelise in the same way.
“And then if we pray, if we love Jesus, if we have our community then evangelisation should flow almost naturally or supernationally from that.
“I don’t believe in this idea that someone can have this very deep internal faith that is so deep nobody can see it.
“When we fall in love with someone, in this case Jesus, we find ways of making it known, otherwise, I think we don’t believe.
“For me it’s a natural consequence of an intense life in the Spirit. So if someone realises that he does not evangelise that much or is afraid of it or doesn’t like it, remember that the apostles were afraid before Pentecost.
“But we can see in the apostles what made them free is this experience of the Holy Spirit first and then the evangelisation was natural.”
By Marilyn Rodrigues. Reproduced with permission from The Catholic Weekly, the news publication of the Archdiocese of Sydney.