Totum Amoris Est: The primacy of relationship and charity in evangelization

This is the third 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?

St. Francis lived at a time of great upheaval in Europe. The Protestant Reformation was in full swing, dividing much of Christian Europe into newly-formed doctrinal camps. When the young Francis was ordained a priest in the Diocese of Geneva, the city was considered Calvinist territory and had grown hostile to Catholic doctrine. Francis felt called to attempt to win back the faithful of his diocese to the Catholic Church and spent three years travelling the rugged, mountainous areas surrounding Geneva in controversial dialogue with those who had embraced the Calvinist doctrines. He even went door to door, and when people wouldn’t answer, he would slip under their doors a small publication explaining true Catholic teachings. 

Through his patience and perseverance, Francis was successful in helping many Calvinists return to the Catholic faith—I’ve seen estimates range from 40,000 to 70,000 who returned. One of the key lessons to which Pope Francis (quoting from Pope Benedict XVI) points us is how, in the face of such opposition, St. Francis came to realize the effectiveness of personal relationships and charity in his missionary efforts. When doors were literally closed to him, he found that a personal connection with people led to the opportunity for connection and dialogue, where he could then present truth in a spirit of friendship and charity. 

We, too, can never be reminded enough that all missionary activity rests upon the foundation of a genuine love for people that leads to relationships of trust. Like in the Geneva of St. Francis’ day, our culture has a trust deficit with Catholicism and, in many cases, with God himself. Or, if not a trust deficit, God just may not be a part of their lives. Before people are ready to hear a proclamation of what we believe, we need to work to establish a foundation of trust. As the saying goes, people won’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. 

Who are the people you hope to share the Gospel with? Perhaps there are family members or friends, or maybe people you work with in your ministry. What is one step you can take today to further build the foundation of trust in your relationships? 

Click here to read part four of this series: Adapt your missionary message to your audience.


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