Recently in Melbourne, Archbishop Julian Porteous of Tasmania gave a number of talks promoting and discussing a new book he has released with Connor Court Publishing, Becoming Missionary Disciples (2023). On Wednesday 4 October, Archbishop Porteous spoke on campus at the Australian Catholic University and encouraged people to see that ‘every Christian is a missionary to the extent that he or she has encountered the love of God in Christ Jesus.’
Becoming Missionary Disciples is an adaptation of presentations given in 2022 to Catholics across Tasmania as part of the Evangelium Project. The purpose of the project was to assist Catholics in responding to the call of Pope Francis to become ‘missionary disciples’, and it was broken up into three modules looking at the ‘heart’, ‘head’ and ‘hands’ of evangelisation.
At ACU, drawing on texts from Pope Francis, most especially Evangelii gaudium (2013), Archbishop Porteous said,‘Evangelisation is not the task of the professionals … It’s not a process of us having a particular set of technical skills or abilities in oratory of having sufficient knowledge of the faith to be confident in doing it.’
Rather, he said, evangelisation springs first of all from a heart that has encountered Jesus of Nazareth. ‘If my heart has been touched by the love of God, that’s what compels me to want to share that with others so that they can know and experience what I have known and experienced ...
Evangelisation is about a heart that has experienced life, a heart that has experienced mercy, a heart that has experienced saving grace, a heart that has experienced the power of God in their lives.
‘When a person knows that they’re being saved, knows that God has touched their lives, knows that God has revealed his love for them in a particular and personal way, when their heart is being touched and transformed by that experience, that is the only qualification that is needed to be an evangeliser,’ he said.
Two of the most critical aspects of evangelisation, Archbishop Porteous explained, are joy and invitation.
On the first point, he said that the Gospel is something that should fill our hearts with real joy, and this is a magnetic force. ‘Joy is infectious … Somebody full of joy is attractive. Somebody who’s joyful, you want to be around. Somehow, they give life, they give enthusiasm, they give hope, they give purpose.’
The idea of invitation is also critical to evangelisation, he said. Looking at relevant stories in the gospels, Archbishop Porteous showed how conversion often happened during Jesus’ ministry. In the case of the apostle Andrew, for instance, it was Andrew who encountered and experienced Jesus of Nazareth and then went back to his brother, Simon Peter, inviting him to come and see for himself (John 1:35-42).
Invitation doesn’t always mean inviting people to Mass, Archbishop Porteous explained, but it does mean looking for ‘entry points’, the kinds of environments and contexts in which an invitation can be extended. These may just be moments when the time is right to share what it is in our hearts, or to share what we have experienced, but we must be attentive and on the lookout for them.
There are many challenges to evangelism today, he said, and one of those is the idea that God is not only a God of love but also a God who saves.
In a society as technologically advanced as our own, where many live with unprecedented comfort and self-determination, the notion of salvation is a challenge. ‘The whole idea that I need to be saved is something foreign … [It’s] something which is very difficult for our generation to understand,’ he said, ‘but it is critical to Christianity.’
Why did Christ come? Why did Christ die on the cross? If we can save ourselves, if we can get ourselves to heaven, if we can earn eternal life, maybe Christ could have come to teach us, but he never would have died on the cross.
On this point, Archbishop Porteous said that there are two powers in human life over which we have no control: the power of sin and the power of death. The Christian is the one who has surrendered to Christ, the only one who can, and has, dealt with them.
The Christian, having encountered the love of God in Christ and having been baptised into the life of grace, now lives in intimate relationship with Jesus. It is a life lived in the Holy Spirit. ‘We live a life of grace. We live a life under God’s transforming work within us.’
Archbishop Porteous hopes his book can be an encouragement to ‘ordinary Catholics’ everywhere, reminding us that no matter who we are, each of us by virtue of our encounter with Christ and our baptism into grace is called upon to spread the joy of the Gospel through our words and witness.
‘We no longer say that we are disciples and missionaries, but rather we are always missionary disciples,’ he said.
You can buy a copy of Archbishop Julian Porteous’ new book at Connor Court Publishing.
Christian Bergmann18 July 2023
Australian Catholic Bishops Conference (ACBC)18 July 2023