After suggesting ‘encounter with Jesus’ as the key to sustaining missionary fervour, the Apostolic Exhortation, EG proceeds to explain how it works. This is done in two stages. Firstly, the Pope takes pain to establish that the missionary enthusiasm is based upon the missionary conviction that Jesus meets the deepest yearnings of people. Secondly he reinforces that conviction has to be lived rather than merely be proclaimed.
1. Since Jesus’ whole life reveals the mystery of divine life, whenever we encounter this anew, we become convinced that it is exactly what others need, even though they may not recognize it. For, “through the working of the Spirit, there already exists in individuals and peoples an expectation, even if an unconscious one, of knowing the truth about God, about man, and about how we are to be set free from sin and death”
(# 265 b). Jesus meets precisely this expectation of human life. “Our infinite sadness can only be cured by an infinite love” (#265 c). It is this conviction that the missionary’s enthusiasm in proclaiming Christ comes from: namely that he is responding to that expectation.
2. “But this conviction has to be sustained by our own renewed experience of savouring Christ’s friendship and His message”
(#266 a). So much so that the missionary should really feel “that it is not the same thing to have known Jesus as not to have known Him. It is not the same thing to walk with Him as to walk blindly. It is not the same thing to hear His word as not to know it… (He) knows that Jesus walks with Him, speaks to Him, breathes with Him, works with Him. He senses Jesus alive with him in the midst of the missionary enterprise. Unless we see Him present at the heart of our missionary commitment, our enthusiasm soon wanes and we are no longer sure of what it is that we are handing on; we lack vigour and passion. A person who is not convinced, enthusiastic, certain and in love, will convince nobody (#266 b & c).
Now, the question is: Are we really convinced of the truth revealed in Jesus? And, do we really live Jesus or merely proclaim Jesus? The irony of missionary history in our country is that the father of our nation raised the very same questions to the missionaries of his times. Firstly, he accused Christians of cherishing ill-effective conviction. Once Plymouth Brothers argued with Gandhi thus: “And as we believe in the atonement of Jesus our own sins do not bind us. Sin we must. It is impossible for us to live in this world sinless. And therefore Jesus suffered and atoned for all the sins of mankind as we believe in the atonement of Jesus, our own sins do not bind us. Only he who accepts His great redemption can have eternal peace. Think what a restlessness is yours, and what a promise of peace we have.” But such an argument not only failed to convince Gandhi but also it detracted Gandhi from believing in the Christian faith. “If this be the Christianity acknowledged by all Christians I cannot accept it,” he said. I do not seek redemption from the consequences of sin. I seek to be redeemed from sin itself, or rather from the very thought of sin. Until I have attained that end, I shall be content to be restless” (Auto., II:11).
Secondly, as to the second question mentioned above, Gandhi sincerely observed that the Christians of his time merely proclaimed Jesus as the answer to human predicament of life, rather than living out that answer in their life. During his stay in London, he used to attend the Wesleyan Church every Sunday. But the congregation did not make a favourable impression on him. The sermons seemed to be uninspiring. People did not strike him being particularly religious. They were not an assembly of devout souls. They seemed to him worldly minded people, going to church for recreation and in conformity to custom. (Auto, II:22). Especially in the Indian context, he sincerely felt that Christianity had been inextricably mixed up with the colonialist rule.
Had we paid heed to the admonitions of our Father of the nation already at that time, we might not have got into the missionary crisis that the EG is concerned with. And there may not have been a chance for our Holy Father to re-enforce the very same warnings now after nearly two hundred years!