This was a central point Pope Francis made yesterday in an address to prelates of the Austrian Bishops' Conference at the end of their "ad limina" visit.
In his speech, the Holy Father affirmed that being the Church “doesn't mean administration, but going out, being missionaries, bringing people the light of faith and the joy of the Gospel.”
“Let us not forget that the momentum of our commitment as Christians in the world is not a philanthropic idea, not a vague humanism, but a gift from God, that is, the gift of being sons and daughters that we have received in Baptism,” he said. “This gift is, at the same time, a task. God's children do not hide; rather they bring their joy as children of God to the world.”
The Pope recalled the kindness of the Austrian Church shown to Pope Benedict XVI when he visited the Shrine of Mariazell in 2007, despite the difficult years for the Church in following years. These difficulties were marked by, among other factors, the decline in the number of Catholics.
But this trend “should not find us inactive, but should encourage our efforts for the new evangelization that is always needed,” the Pope said.
“The Church,” the Pope continued, quoting the Second Vatican Council, “'embraces in its bosom sinners'.”
But he added that the council says in the same passage that we should not resign ourselves to sin. “The holy Church is always in need of being purified,” the Pope said. “That means that we must always be committed to our purification, in the sacrament of Reconciliation.”
As pastors of the Church, he added, “we want to assist the faithful with tenderness and understanding in this wonderful sacrament, to make them feel the Good Shepherd's love precisely in this gift. I ask you, therefore, not to tire of inviting people to encounter Christ in the sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation.”
The Pope said an important area priestly ministry is the family, located at the heart of the evangelizing Church. “The foundation upon which you can develop harmonious family life is mainly marital fidelity,” he said. “Unfortunately, in our times we see that the family and marriage, in countries in the Western world, have suffered an profound interior crisis.”
The Pope noted that globalization and post-modern individualism promote a lifestyle that makes the development and stability of interpersonal relationships much more difficult and that is not conducive to promoting a culture of the family.
But he said that here a “new missionary area” is opened to the Church, and as an example he spoke of family groups that “create space for relationships between persons and with God where true communion, which welcomes each equally without confining them in elite groups, can grow.”
“The Church's concern for the family begins with good preparation and proper accompaniment of the bride and groom, as well as a faithful and clear presentation of Church doctrine on marriage and the family," he said. "As a sacrament, marriage is a gift from God and, at the same time, a commitment."
Turning to parish life, the Pope said priests and pastors “should always be aware that their task of governing is a deeply spiritual service.” It is always the pastor who leads the parish community, “relying on the help and valuable contribution of the various co-workers and of all the faithful laity,” he said.
“Each is called; each is sent out. It is not a given, however, that the place of the call be just the parish centre … God's call can reach us … in the places of our everyday lives.”
“Speaking about God,” he concluded, “bringing people the message of God's love and salvation in Jesus Christ, [a message] for all people, is the duty of every baptized person.
“This duty includes not only speaking with words, but with our whole way of acting and doing,” he said. “It is precisely in our time, when we seem to become the 'little flock', that we car called, as disciples of the Lord, to live as a community that is 'salt of the earth' and 'light of the world'.”