This is the fourth post in a series on Totum Amoris Est, the Apostolic Letter issued by Pope Francis to celebrate the four hundredth anniversary of the death of St. Francis de Sales.
Part 1: Summary of Totum Amoris Est
Part 2: Where is the greatest love?
Part 3: The primacy of relationship and charity in evangelization
Pope Francis writes:
There [in France in the time of St. Francis] everything was in constant ferment. Francis was impressed and intrigued by the great issues emerging in the world, by the novel ways in which they were being approached, by the new and remarkable interest in spirituality and the unprecedented questions it raised. In a word, he sensed an authentic “epochal shift” that demanded a response couched in language both old and new…That same task awaits us in this, our own age of epochal change. We are challenged to be a Church that is outward-looking and free of all worldliness, even as we live in this world, share people’s lives and journey with them in attentive listening and acceptance. That is what Francis de Sales did when he discerned the events of his times with the help of God’s grace. Today he bids us set aside undue concern for ourselves, for our structures and for what society thinks about us, and consider instead the real spiritual needs and expectations of our people.
Earlier in the letter, Pope Francis quoted St. Francis:
I have taken into consideration the thinking of people of this age, nor could I do otherwise: it is very important to keep in mind the times in which one writes.
As I read these quotes, I couldn’t help but think of St. John Paul II’s explanation of the New Evangelization: an evangelization that is new in ardour, method, and expression. It is a call to share the timeless truths of the Catholic faith with a fresh method and expression that meets the needs of the current day. St. Francis exhibited these same traits. He saw the “epochal shift” of the Protestant Reformation, and he adapted the timeless truths of the faith to answer the questions of the people of Geneva. Combined with his commitment to personal relationships and charity, St. Francis shows us how we too can adapt the way we share the timeless truths of our faith in an ever-changing world, our own time of “epochal change.”
I also think of St. Paul’s famous description of how he evangelized:
Although I am free in regard to all, I have made myself a slave to all so as to win over as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew to win over Jews; to those under the law I became like one under the law—though I myself am not under the law—to win over those under the law. To those outside the law I became like one outside the law—though I am not outside God’s law but within the law of Christ—to win over those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, to win over the weak. I have become all things to all, to save at least some. All this I do for the sake of the gospel, so that I too may have a share in it.1 Corinthians 9:19-23
St. Paul would adapt the way he preached and lived so as to find a connection point with the people he was preaching to. He was not stuck in just one way of proclaiming the gospel. Instead, he was flexible in the method and expression of his evangelization while never compromising the one saving truth he proclaimed to all.
Pope Francis notes that St. Francis saw “a whole world athirst for God in a variety of ways,” and he became “an insightful observer of his times.” May we, too, become insightful observers of the variety of ways people today show their thirst for God, seeking to bring the Gospel to the 21st Century with fresh ardour, methods, and expressions of the timeless truths of our faith.