In the previous episode we saw that Pope Francis, after exhorting the Christians not to blame today’s hardships for their missionary crisis but to attribute it to their own subjective limitations, suggested a way out: ‘to learn from the saints who confronted the difficulties of their own day and to rediscover some of the reasons which can help us to imitate them today’ (EG#263). In this connection, he draws out now a specific lesson from the saints of yore: ‘Personal encounter with the saving love of Jesus and a deep desire to share the experience of love’ (#264).
The Holy Father is realistic enough to recognize that not everybody will have a deep experience of that kind or an intense desire to share this saving love of Jesus. Therefore he is quick to add a couple of practical tips too. Firstly, we must pray insistently to Jesus “that He will once more touch our hearts. We need to implore His grace daily, asking Him to open our cold hearts and shake up our lukewarm and superficial existence.” Still more precisely he suggests that one may just stand before the Lord with open hearts and just let Him look at us. Thereby we will be able to see that gaze of love.
Secondly, the Holy Father recommends contemplation of the word of God, as a desirous tool for missionary love. “The best incentive for sharing the Gospel comes from contemplating it with love, lingering over its pages and reading it with the heart. If we approach it in this way, its beauty will amaze and constantly excite us. But if this is to come about, we need to recover a contemplative spirit” (#264b).
As a result what follows, then, is a real encounter with Jesus’ saving love or a transformed life from our superficial existence into a new and meaningful life. Once we have achieved the desired transformation, we will be impelled to transmit it to others, as St. John the Evangelist confirms: “we speak of what we have seen and heard” (1 Jn 1:3).
When we turn to our Father of the nation, we also see that he insisted upon the very same three requirements from the missionaries of his time. First as regards the transformed life Gandhi remarked: “Faith is not imparted like secular subjects. It is given through the language of the heart. If a man has a living faith in him, it spreads its aroma like the rose its scent. Because of its invisibility, the extent of its influence is far wider than that of the visible beauty of the colour of the petals” (Message 61). Jesus preached not a new religion, but a new life. He called men to repentance.
As regards prayer, Gandhi corroborates Pope Francis’ idea that prayer is “a yearning of the heart to be one with the Maker, an invocation for His blessing…There can be no fixed rule laid down as to the time these devotional acts should take. It depends upon individual temperament. These are precious moments in one’s daily life. The exercises are intended to sober and humble and enable us to realize that nothing happens without His will and that we are but ‘clay in the hands of the Potter’ ”(Prayer 16).
Moreover, in parallel to what EG says about realization of personal encounter with Jesus, Gandhi too urges us to personally realize God: “Some of us are intellectually aware of God, while others are afflicted by doubt. None has seen Him face to face. We desire to recognize and realize Him, to become one with Him, and seek to gratify that desire through prayer.”(Prayer 153).
Finally, as regards the contemplation of the word of God, it is worth remembering these words which he wrote with reference to his favourite scripture: the Bhagavad Gita.“We may meditate on any Gita verse or even one single word in it. Every word in the Gita an ornament of hers, and to thank of an ornament of our beloved object is as good as thinking of it itself.” (124).
So, it is evident that both our Holy Father and the Father of our nation, lay a great emphasis on three vital components of truly religious life: transformation of life, attainable through prayer and the word of God. If they are really there in a missionary, there can be no room for missionary crisis at all.