The “missionary discourse” of Jesus: why what and how to proclaim

Pope Francis’ fifth catechesis on the passion for evangelization

(C) Vatican Media
(C) Vatican Media

This morning’s General Audience was held at 9:00 am in the Paul VI Hall, where the Holy Father Francis met with groups of pilgrims and faithful from Italy and all over the world.

In his address in Italian, the Pope, resuming the cycle of catechesis The passion for evangelisation: the apostolic zeal of the believer, focused his meditation on the theme: “The first apostolate” (Reading: Mt 10:7-10.16).

After summarising His catechesis in the different languages, the Holy Father addressed special expressions of greeting to the faithful present.

The General Audience ended with the Pater Noster and the Apostolic Blessing recitation.

Catechesis of the Holy Father

Dear brothers and sisters, good morning!

We continue our catechesis on the passion of evangelizing, on apostolic zeal. After having seen in Jesus the model and the master of proclamation, we turn today to the first disciples. The Gospel says that Jesus “appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with Him and He might send them out to preach” (Mk 3:14). There is one aspect that seems contradictory: He called them to be
with Him and to go and preach. One would say: either one or the other, either stay or go. But no: for Jesus there is no going without staying and there is no staying without going. Let us try to understand in what sense.

First of all, there is no going without staying: before sending the disciples on mission, Christ—the Gospel says—“calls them to Himself” (cf. Mt 10:1). The proclamation is born from the encounter with the Lord; every Christian activity, especially the mission, begins from there. Witnessing Him, in fact, means radiating Him; but, if we do not receive His light, we will be extinguished; if we do not attend Him, we will bear ourselves instead of Him, and it will all be in vain. Therefore, only those who are with Him can bear the Gospel of Jesus. Equally, however, there is no being without going. In fact, following Christ is not an inward looking fact: without proclamation, without service, without mission, the relationship with Him does not grow. We note that in the Gospel the Lord sends the disciples before having completed their preparation: shortly after having called them, He is already sending them! This means that the mission experience is part of formation. Let us then recall these two constitutive moments for every disciple: staying and going.

Having called the disciples to Himself and before sending them, Christ addresses a discourse to them, known as the ‘missionary discourse’. It is found in chapter 10 of Matthew’s Gospel and is like the ‘constitution’ of the proclamation. From that discourse, which I recommend you read, I draw out three aspects: why to proclaim, what to proclaim and how to proclaim.

Why to proclaim: The motivation lies in a few words of Jesus, which it is good for us to remember: “Freely you have received, freely give” (v. 8). The proclamation does not begin from us, but from the beauty of what we have received for free, without merit: meeting Jesus, knowing Him, discovering that we are loved and saved. It is such a great gift that we cannot keep it to ourselves, we feel the need to spread it; but in the same style, in gratuitousness. In other words: we have a gift, so we are called to make a gift of it; there is in us the joy of being children of God, it must be shared with our brothers and sisters who do not yet know it! This is the reason for the proclamation.

What, then, to proclaim? Jesus says: “Preach, saying that the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (v. 7). This is what must be said, first and foremost: God is near. We, in preaching, often urge people to do something, and that is fine; but let’s not forget that the main message is that He is near. In fact, it is easier to exhort people to love Him than to allow themselves to be loved by Him. Accepting God’s love is more
difficult because we always want to be in the centre, the protagonist, we are more inclined to do than to let ourselves be moulded, to speak than to listen. But, if what we do comes first, we will still be the protagonists. Instead, the proclamation must give primacy to God, and give to others the opportunity to welcome Him, to realise that He is near.

The third point: how to proclaim. This is the aspect Jesus dwells on most; and this is significant: He tells us that the manner, the style, is essential in witnessing. Let’s listen to how He wants us to be: “I send you out as sheep among wolves” (v. 16). He does not ask us to be able to face the wolves, that is, to be able to argue, to offer counter arguments, and to defend ourselves. We might think like this: let us as sheep, as lambs. He asks us to be like this, to be meek and innocent, willing to sacrifice; this is what the lamb represents: meekness, innocence, dedication. And He, the Shepherd, will recognise His lambs and protect them from the wolves. On the other hand, lambs disguised as wolves are unmasked and mauled. A Church Father wrote: ‘As long as we are lambs, we will conquer, and even if we are surrounded by many wolves, we will overcome them. But if we become wolves, we will be defeated, because we will be deprived of the shepherd’s help. He does not shepherd wolves, but lambs’ (St John Chrysostom, Homily 33 on the Gospel of Matthew).

Still on the subject of how to proclaim, it is striking that Jesus, instead of prescribing what to bring on a mission, says what not to bring: “Do not take gold or silver or money in your belts, or a travelling bag, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff” (vv. 9—10). He says not to lean on material certainties, but to go into the world without worldliness. This is how he announces himself: by showing Jesus rather than talking about Jesus. And finally, by going together: the Lord sends all the disciples, but no one goes alone. The apostolic Church is completely missionary, and in the mission it finds its unity. So: go forth, meek and good as lambs, without worldliness, together. Herein lies the key to the proclamation. Let us accept these invitations from Jesus: let His words be our point of reference.

Summary read by the Holy Father

Dear brothers and sisters: In our continuing catechesis on apostolic zeal, the desire to share with others the joy of the Gospel, we now consider the calling of the twelve apostles, whom Jesus chose “to be with him and to be sent out to proclaim the Good News” (Mk 3:14). Both aspects of that call are essential, for only by closeness to Jesus do we learn to proclaim him and not ourselves, his word and not our own. As Jesus sends the apostles forth on mission, he tells them to share the gift that they themselves received, the unmerited gift of God’s redeeming love. Their message must be his own: that the kingdom of God is at hand and requires only that we receive it with open hearts. Jesus also tells the apostles that they are sent forth like sheep among wolves, to propose the Gospel above all by their witness of meekness, innocence, and personal conviction, proclaiming Christ more by their actions than by their words. The Church, as “apostolic”, is entirely missionary; each of us, in Baptism, is called by Jesus to live in closeness to him and to be sent forth, in union with all our brothers and sisters, to bear witness to his Gospel before the world.


I extend a warm welcome to the English-speaking pilgrims taking part in today’s Audience, especially those from England, Vietnam and the United States of America. Upon all of you, and upon your families, I invoke the joy and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ. God bless you!