Pope Francis receives a painting of Blessed Józef and Wiktoria Ulma and their seven children at the end of his weekly general audience in the Paul VI Audience Hall at the Vatican Dec. 6, 2023. The Ulma family were executed by Nazis in Poland 1944 for sheltering Jews and were beatified in September. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Christians must rely more on the Holy Spirit than on their own plans and strategies if they hope to fulfill their mission to share the good news of God’s love and of salvation in Christ, Pope Francis said.

The pope began his weekly general audience Dec. 6 explaining to the crowd that he once again asked an aide to read his catechesis “because I’m still struggling — I’m much better, but I struggle if I speak too much.”

Since late November, Pope Francis has had respiratory difficulties related to a bronchial infection.

Msgr. Filippo Ciampanelli, an official of the Vatican Secretariat of State, read the pope’s text, which was part of a yearlong series of talks about zeal for evangelization. But Pope Francis took the microphone back at the end of the audience to ask people to continue praying for peace in Ukraine and in Israel and Palestine.

The pope’s main text focused on the need to pray for and rely on the Holy Spirit’s assistance in evangelization. Without the Holy Spirit, the pope wrote, “all zeal is vain and falsely apostolic: it would only be our own and would not bear fruit.”

“The Spirit is the protagonist; he always precedes the missionaries and makes the fruit grow,” the pope said, and that is a comforting thought because then Christians know that while they have an obligation to share the Gospel, the results are always the work of the Holy Spirit.

“The Lord has not left us theological dispensations or a pastoral manual to apply, but the Holy Spirit who inspires the mission,” he said.

Mission outreach inspired by the Spirit “always has two characteristics: creativity and simplicity,” the pope’s text said, and those traits are especially necessary “in this age of ours, which does not help us have a religious outlook on life.”

At “the center of all evangelizing activity and all efforts at church renewal,” he said, is the simple Gospel truth: “Jesus Christ loves you; he gave his life to save you; and now he is living at your side every day to enlighten, strengthen and free you.”

When sharing that Gospel message seems “difficult, arduous (and) apparently fruitless,” he said, people may be tempted to stop trying.

“Perhaps one takes refuge in safety zones, like the habitual repetition of things one always does, or in the alluring calls of an intimist spirituality or even in a misunderstood sense of the centrality of the liturgy,” he said. “They are temptations that disguise themselves as fidelity to tradition, but often, rather than responses to the Spirit, they are reactions to personal dissatisfactions.”

But Christians can be certain that relying on the Holy Spirit and focusing on the key truths of the Gospel, they will find “new avenues arise, new paths of creativity open up, with different forms of expression, more eloquent signs and words with new meaning for today’s world.”

Pope Francis urged Christians to pray for the Holy Spirit’s help and guidance each day and not be afraid “because he, who is harmony, always keeps creativity and simplicity together, inspires communion and sends out on mission, opens to diversity and leads back to unity.”