Jesus did not need to be baptized, but by being baptized he opened the way for all of us. Sometimes we think of baptism as washing away our sins, or as welcoming us into the family of the church, and it does both of those things. But Pope Francis reminds us that it does something else too: it gives us the privilege and the responsibility of sharing the Good News of God’s love with others.
In virtue of their baptism, all the members of the People of God have become missionary disciples (cf. Mt 28:19). All the baptized, whatever their position in the Church or their level of instruction in the faith, are agents of evangelization, and it would be insufficient to envisage a plan of evangelization to be carried out by professionals while the rest of the faithful would simply be passive recipients. The new evangelization calls for personal involvement on the part of each of the baptized. Every Christian is challenged, here and now, to be actively engaged in evangelization; indeed, anyone who has truly experienced God’s saving love does not need much time or lengthy training to go out and proclaim that love.
Every Christian is a missionary to the extent that he or she has encountered the love of God in Christ Jesus: we no longer say that we are “disciples” and “missionaries”, but rather that we are always “missionary disciples”. If we are not convinced, let us look at those first disciples, who, immediately after encountering the gaze of Jesus, went forth to proclaim him joyfully: “We have found the Messiah!” (Jn 1:41). The Samaritan woman became a missionary immediately after speaking with Jesus and many Samaritans come to believe in him “because of the woman’s testimony” (Jn 4:39). So too, Saint Paul, after his encounter with Jesus Christ, “immediately proclaimed Jesus” (Acts 9:20; cf. 22:6-21). So what are we waiting for?
The full text of Pope Francis’s letter, Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of Gospel), is available at £4.95 from CTS or St Paul’s Bookshop and can be viewed and downloaded on the Vatican website, http://www.vatican.va.