Propose. Never Impose.

By Chris Sparks

… the Church addresses people with full respect for their freedom. Her mission does not restrict freedom but rather promotes it. The Church proposes; she imposes nothing. She respects individuals and cultures, and she honors the sanctuary of conscience. To those who for various reasons oppose missionary activity, the Church repeats: Open the doors to Christ!

— St. John Paul II, encyclical letter Redemptoris Missio (Mission of the Redeemer), 39

If Jesus is the necessary and only way to salvation, don’t we need to make people come to Him, no matter what it takes?

After all, if someone was in danger of falling off a cliff, you’d feel justified in grabbing them away from the edge whether they wanted to go or not, right?

So why is evangelization any different?

Because bringing people to Jesus starts by bringing Jesus to people. Missionaries go out, not to convert by brute force, but rather to bring the presence of Jesus to the people through the Sacraments, the Word of God, and in their own hearts.

And to be the face of Jesus is to be the face of the One who Himself is the first and greatest missionary, the living Word of God, the Face of the Father’s Mercy.

Jesus came first and foremost to reveal, not God’s power, or His wrath, or His lordship, but His mercy, His greatest attribute. The Lord Jesus came as a servant to serve the servants. He manifested the humility and love of the Father, and so showed the true greatness of God, a greatness that the world, the flesh, and the devil don’t comprehend, but that the soul recognizes and loves. The Lord Jesus came to evangelize, not to proselytize; to save, not to condemn; to free the captives and proclaim a jubilee year of the Lord’s favor, not to enact the just judgments of God (see Lk 4:18).

Yes, at the end of time, when the time of mercy has come to an end, then the Lord will come as the Just Judge, separating the sheep from the goats and casting the damned into the fire — but it is not this day.

Now, the Lord comes as Divine Mercy Incarnate, as the Lamb of God, slain. For now, the Lord is proclaimed through mercy and meekness, through the Beatitudes, through imitation of the suffering Savior, through works of mercy and of patient, loving proclamation of truth. The symbol of Christ is the Cross, not the sword; the Divine Mercy Image with its rays of saving and sanctifying graces, not the lightning bolt smiting the sinner.

To show the face of Jesus is to turn the other cheek, to bear our cross, to wear the crown of thorns and submit to persecution with love and forgiveness for those who are persecuting us, for they know not what they do.

Bringing people to Jesus is so important that we have no excuse for using physical force. Heck, we even have to be very careful about how we use the force of reason! Humiliating or belittling those to whom we speak will harden hearts and create greater darkness, not bring light. Such actions will get in the way of the proclamation of the Gospel and prevent people from meeting Jesus. We have to imitate the Incarnate Divine Mercy and abide in the greatest respect for the free will of those whom we address.

At the same time, our proclamation of Jesus, the Way, the Truth, and the Life, must be fervent, consistent, and ongoing. He is the Light of the World, and the darkness of the world, the flesh, and the devil is crushingly deep. We have been blessed with the answer to the greatest problems and challenges facing humanity. Woe to us if we don’t share that answer with our neighbors, so in need of God’s grace and truth! How dare we keep the knowledge of the Bread of Life to ourselves? How dare we fail to share the Gospel?

We must feel urgency about bringing Jesus with us wherever we go, about remaining in the state of grace to the best of our abilities and returning to that state through sacramental Confession, perfect contrition, and Holy Communion as regularly as we can. At the same time, we must remember that we are creatures, and God is the Creator; we can do nothing without Him, and all things become possible with Him. We are collaborators with Him, not indispensable to the mission, and so if we fall, we need to trust in Divine Mercy, get back up, and try again.

We have been given the great treasure of Jesus, the Divine Mercy, to share with the world. We may hear the warning that Jesus gave to St. Faustina and apply it to ourselves, as well. Jesus said:

Know this, My daughter: if you strive for perfection you will sanctify many souls; and if you do not strive for sanctity, by the same token, many souls will remain imperfect. Know that their perfection will depend on your perfection, and the greater part of the responsibility for these souls will fall on you. (Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska, 1165)

Saint Faustina then writes:

Then He said to me, "Do not fear, My child; but remain faithful only to My grace ..." Satan has admitted to me that I am the object of his hatred. He said that "a thousand souls do me less harm than you do when you speak of the great mercy of the Almighty One. The greatest sinners regain confidence and return to God, and I lose everything. But what is more, you persecute me personally with that unfathomable mercy of the Almighty One.” I took note of the great hatred Satan has for the Mercy of God. He does not want to acknowledge that God is good. (Diary, 1166-1167)

We are blessed with a great summons to holiness, and to evangelization. We answer that summons when we seek to practice what we preach; when we immerse ourselves in the Word of God; when we practice our Catholic faith, regularly receiving the Sacraments; when we perform works of mercy for our neighbors out of love; when we practice the merciful gaze, seeing in our neighbors the image of God.

We proclaim Christ most truly when our words are inspired by the love and truth of God Himself, and when we respect the freedom of every human person. We are bound to imitate God, who sustains out of love both the bad and good alike. We are bound to behave like Christ, to love and serve all, to save all as best we can, and to bear in our own flesh the evidence of God’s love for His creatures.

So let us once again answer the call to evangelize. Let us prepare ourselves with Sacraments, study, and virtuous attention to the duties of our state in life so that we may proclaim the Gospel with our lives and our lips.

Pray for me, that I may practice what I preach. I’ll pray for you.

Chris Sparks serves as senior book editor for the Marian Fathers. He is the author of the Marian Press book How Can You Still Be Catholic? 50 Answers to a Good Question.

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