“I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ.” (#3) “Every Christian is challenged, here and now, to be actively engaged in evangelization. Every Christian is a missionary to the extent that he or she has encountered the love of God in Christ Jesus: … we are always ‘missionary disciples’. So what are we waiting for?” (#120) “I am a mission on this earth; that is the reason why I am here in this world. We are to regard ourselves as sealed, even branded, by this mission of bringing light, blessing, enlivening, raising up, healing and freeing.” (#273)
Pope Francis speaks with urgent zeal in this Apostolic Exhortation as he calls us all, individually and collectively, to be missionary disciples of Jesus. “The Joy of the Gospel” is the English translation of the Latin title. This joy is the sign of our mission to proclaim the saving death and resurrection of Jesus. The pope shows how a commitment to social justice is entailed by the proclamation of the kingdom of God. Evangelii Gaudium (“On the Proclamation of the Gospel in Today’s World”, published on November 24, 2013) can rightly be called a charter for this papacy, with a depth and a length that make it complex and inspiring. I decided to write this personal response to Evangelii Gaudium because its very richness calls for considered reflection and, of course (!), action.
I need to admit that this was a hard message for me to hear, because, even though I am firmly committed to evangelization in theory, I’m not very good at it in practice. The Pope has this covered: “Not to put the word into practice, not to make it reality, is to build on sand, to remain in the realm of pure ideas and to end up in a lifeless and unfruitful self-centredness and Gnosticism.” (#233) So if you, like me, are a faithful—but sometimes overly passive—Catholic, this is a message you need to hear too. The evangelical passion and the Catholic scope of Pope Francis’ vision will inspire you with the infectious joy of the Gospel.
I intend to ignore the media-created image of the “liberal” Francis. Just to cover the bases: yes, the Pope is Catholic! He values traditional families, speaks up for the unborn, and upholds the reserving of the priesthood for men. But, he also calls for a more incisive role for women in the church and in society, and tells us that inter-religious dialogue and the promotion of social justice are part of evangelization. The categories “liberal” and “conservative” just don’t apply.
What I have focussed on is guided by three aspects of my own experience, which mirror the three venues for evangelization mentioned by Pope Francis:
- as a permanent deacon I engage in “Ordinary pastoral ministry” in the parish,
- as a youth retreat facilitator I encounter “The baptized whose lives do not reflect the demands of Baptism, who lack a meaningful relationship to the Church and no longer experience the consolation born of faith”, and,
- through our local food bank and other community involvements I meet “those who do not know Jesus Christ or who have always rejected him” (#14)
My response is personal because I have chosen to be decidedly selective in drawing together the main themes of the Pope’s message in response to these three experiences. This means that I have left out some important areas, like the beautiful reflection on the incarnate spirituality of popular piety, and the stirring directives about the homily. I hope, however, to have brought forward the essential message of this exhortation. So here are nine themes for you to consider.
I. Knowing Jesus Transforms Us
“Being a Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.” (#7) Pope Francis tells us that he never tires of this quote from Benedict XVI, and it leads him to ask: “What kind of love would not feel the need to speak of the beloved, to point him out, to make him known?” (#264)
“Sometimes we lose enthusiasm for our mission because we forget that the Gospel responds to our deepest needs, since we were created for what the Gospel offers us: friendship with Jesus and love of our brothers and sisters.” (#265) This encounter changes us. “We become fully human when we become more than human, when we let God bring us beyond ourselves in order to attain the fullest truth of our being. Here we find the source and inspiration of all our efforts at evangelization. For if we have received the love which restores meaning to our lives, how can we fail to share that love with others?” (#8)
The transformation, which we undergo because of the experience of knowing the love of Jesus, bears the fruit of joy. Francis urges us “Let us recover and deepen our enthusiasm, that delightful and comforting joy of evangelizing even when it is in tears that we must sow …” (#10) He talks about how joy occurs in different circumstances. “Joy is not expressed the same way at all times in life, especially at moments of great difficulty. Joy adapts and changes, but it always endures, even as a flicker of light born of our personal certainty that, when everything is said and done we are infinitely loved … Slowly but surely we all have to let the joy of faith revive as a quiet yet firm trust, even amid the greatest distress …” (#6)
Francis insists that joy leads us outward; i.e., knowing Jesus is not our personal possession. “Joy is a sign that the Gospel has been proclaimed, and is bearing fruit.” (#21) This experience needs to transform the whole Church. “Missionary outreach is paradigmatic for all the Church’s activity … We ‘cannot passively and calmly wait in our church buildings.’ … This task continues to be a source of immense joy for the Church.” (#15)
“‘Mere administration’ can no longer be enough. Throughout the world, let us be ‘permanently in a state of mission.’ (#25) I dream,” Pope Francis writes, “of a ‘missionary option,’ that is, a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything, so that the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channelled for the evangelization of today’s world rather than for her self-preservation.” (#27) This dream of a missionary option is the true heart of his message for us.
“Preach the Gospel to all: to all places, on all occasions, without hesitation, reluctance or fear.” (#23) Francis indicates the scope of the mission, a mission that must penetrate ordinary parish life. “The parish is not an outdated institution; precisely because it possesses great flexibility, it can assume quite different contours depending on the openness and missionary creativity of the pastor and the community. It is a community of communities, a sanctuary where the thirsty come to drink in the midst of their journey, and a centre of constant missionary outreach.” (#28) And, as if to forestall the inevitable objection that we might offer, he says, “Pastoral ministry in a missionary key seeks to abandon the complacent attitude that says: ‘we have always done it this way.’ (#33) I prefer,” he says, “a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its security.” (#49)
II. Proclaiming the Gospel Message
In seeking to change the culture of the Church, Pope Francis has himself shown us a new style of ministry, not new in content, but with a new emphasis. “Pastoral ministry and missionary style is not obsessed with the disjointed transmission of a multitude of doctrines to be insistently imposed. The message has to concentrate on the essentials: on what is most beautiful, most grand, most appealing and at the same time most necessary. (#35) What shines forth is the beauty of the saving love of God made manifest in Jesus Christ who died and rose from the dead.” (#36)
This shift in emphasis results in “a fitting sense of proportion [that] has to be maintained. [Sometimes] those virtues which ought to be most present in preaching and catechesis are overlooked. The same thing happens when we speak more about law than about grace, more about the Church than about Christ, more about the Pope than about God’s word.” (#38) The content of the faith has not changed. “No truth may be denied. [But] the integrity of the Gospel message must not be deformed… Christian morality is not a form of stoicism, or self-denial, or merely a practical philosophy or a catalogue of sins and faults. The Gospel invites us to respond to the God who saves us, to see God in others and to go forth from ourselves to seek the good of others. Under no circumstance can this invitation be obscured! If this invitation does not radiate forcefully and attractively, the edifice of the Church’s moral teaching risks becoming a house of cards and this is our greatest risk.” (#39)
Perhaps many practicing Catholics have left the Church’s teaching behind because they have never heard, much less embraced, the Gospel message. Why should they obey when they do not know the joy of believing, of being loved by Jesus? This diagnosis can also be applied to the attitudes of Catholics who have drifted away from the Church, and of people outside the Church, for whom our message seems harsh and judgemental (sic).
What then is the central content of our message? “‘There can be no true evangelization without the explicit proclamation of Jesus as Lord.’ If the Church ‘is to fulfill its providential destiny, evangelization as the joyful, patient and progressive preaching of the saving death and resurrection of Jesus Christ must be your absolute priority.’ (#110) The salvation that God offers us is the work of his mercy. No human efforts, however good they may be, can enable us to merit so great a gift. God, by his sheer grace, draws us to himself and makes us one with him. The Church is sent by Jesus Christ as the sacrament of salvation. Through her evangelizing activity, she cooperates as an instrument of that divine grace which works unceasingly and inscrutably.” (#112)
III. Obstacles to Evangelization
Our own intransigence, our unwillingness to evangelize, is by far the harshest theme in Evangelii Gaudium, the most difficult for me personally to hear. “The great danger in today’s world, pervaded as it is by consumerism, is the desolation and anguish born of a complacent yet covetous heart, the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures, and a blunted conscience.” (#2) Here are some of the obstacles that we place in the way of our own evangelizing efforts:
- The occasionally unwelcoming atmosphere of some of our parishes [where] an administrative approach prevails over a pastoral approach (#63)
- A concentration on administering the sacraments apart from other forms of evangelization (#63)
- [Seeking] to escape from others and take refuge in the comfort of … privacy or in a small circle of close friends, (#88)
- Interpersonal relationships provided by screens and systems which can be turned on and off on command [instead of flesh and blood encounters] (#88)
- Thinking that nothing will change and that it is useless to make the effort … a malicious excuse for remaining caught up in comfort, laziness, vague dissatisfaction and empty selfishness. (#275)
- In many pastoral workers, including consecrated men and women, an inordinate concern for personal freedom and relaxation… a heightened individualism, a crisis of identity and a cooling of fervour. (#78)
- A relativism which proves even more dangerous than doctrinal relativism… acting as if God did not exist, making decisions as if the poor did not exist, setting goals as if others did not exist, working as if people who have not received the Gospel did not exist. (#80)
- Many lay people [and priests] fear that they may be asked to undertake some apostolic work and they seek to avoid any responsibility that may take away from their free time [which they are obsessed with protecting] (#81)
- Activity undertaken badly, without adequate motivation, without a spirituality which would permeate it and make it pleasurable. Far from a content and happy tiredness this [leads to] a tense, burdensome, dissatisfying and, in the end, unbearable fatigue. (#82)
- Some throw themselves into unrealistic projects. Others, because they lack the patience to allow processes to mature … want everything to fall from heaven. (#82)
- Lay persons have not been given the formation needed to take on important responsibilities. Room has not been made for them to speak and act, due to an excessive clericalism which keeps them away from decision-making. (#102)
Do you consider yourself a liberal? Here are a few just for you:
- A purely subjective faith whose only interest is a certain experience or a set of ideas and bits of information which are meant to console and enlighten, but which keep one imprisoned in [one’s] thoughts and feelings. (#94)
- A sort of inferiority complex which leads [us] to relativize or conceal [our] Christian identity and convictions. [We] end up being unhappy with who [we] are and what [we] do; [we] do not identify with [the] mission of evangelization (#79)
Would you call yourself a conservative? Try these on for size:
- A supposed soundness of doctrine or discipline [that] leads instead to a narcissistic and authoritarian elitism, whereby instead of evangelization, one exhausts his or her energies in inspecting and verifying [others] (#94)
- An ostentatious preoccupation for the liturgy, for doctrine and for the Church’s prestige, but without concern that the Gospel have a real impact on God’s faithful people and the concrete needs of the present time (#95)
- Some who have solid doctrinal and spiritual convictions frequently fall into a lifestyle which leads to an attachment to financial security (#80)
This list can be a searing examination of conscience for all of us. We know that there are people and forces outside the Church that inhibit our efforts. For example, “people don’t see that when we raise other questions less palatable to public opinion [e.g., abortion, marriage], we are doing so out of fidelity to precisely the same convictions about human dignity and the common good” that motivate our concern for social justice and for the poor (#65). But we need to accept what the above lists show: that we are the major obstacle to evangelization, and that there is much within our power to change. This problem can be summarized by what Pope Francis calls our spiritual worldliness.
IV. Spiritual Worldliness
“Spiritual worldliness, which hides behind the appearance of piety and even of love for the Church, consists in seeking not the Lord’s glory but human glory and personal well-bring. Since it is based in carefully cultivated appearances, it is not always linked to outward sin; from without, everything appears as it should be. But if it were to seep into the Church, ‘it would be infinitely more disastrous than any other worldliness which is simply moral’.” (#93)
“Spiritual worldliness lurks behind a fascination with social and political gain, or pride in their ability to manage practical affairs, or an obsession with programmes of self-help and self-realization, … a concern to be seen, … a social life full of appearances, meetings, dinners and receptions, a business mentality, caught up with management, statistics, plans and evaluations whose principal beneficiary is not God’s people but the Church as an institution. The mark of Christ, incarnate, crucified and risen, is not present; closed and elite groups are formed, and no effort is made to go forth and seek out those who are distant or the immense multitudes who thirst for Christ. Evangelical fervour is replaced by the empty pleasure of complacency and self-indulgence.” (#94)
“Those who have fallen into this worldliness … neither learn from their sins nor are they genuinely open to forgiveness. This is a tremendous corruption disguised as a good. We need to avoid it by making the Church constantly go out from herself, keeping her mission on Jesus Christ, and her commitment to the poor. God save us from a worldly Church with superficial spiritual and pastoral trappings! This stifling worldliness can only be healed by breathing in the pure air of the Holy Spirit who frees us from the self-centredness cloaked in an outward religiosity bereft of God. Let us not allow ourselves to be robbed of the Gospel!” (#97)
What can happen to us on an individual level also strikes at the heart of the Church. “And so the biggest threat of all gradually takes shape: ‘the gray pragmatism of the daily life of the Church, in which all appears to proceed normally, while in reality faith is wearing down and degenerating into small-mindedness.’ A tomb psychology thus develops and slowly transforms Christians into mummies in a museum. Disillusioned with reality, with the Church and with themselves, they experience a constant temptation to cling to a faint melancholy, lacking in hope, which seizes the heart like ‘the most precious of the devil’s potions.’ Let us not allow ourselves to be robbed of the joy of evangelization!” (#83)
V. The Desert, a Place of Renewal
The desert is the image of the world without God, which is also the setting for our mission. “In some places a spiritual ‘desertification’ has evidently come about. In those places ‘the Christian world is becoming sterile, and it is depleting itself like an overexploited ground, which transforms into a desert’. In other countries, violent opposition to Christianity forces Christians to hide their faith. But family and the workplace can also be a parched place. Yet ‘it is starting from the experience of this desert, from this void, that we can rediscover again the joy of believing, its vital importance for us. In the desert we rediscover the value of what is essential for living; thus in today’s world there are innumerable signs, often implicitly or negatively, of the thirst of God, for the ultimate meaning of life.’” (#86)
“‘In the desert people of faith are needed who, by the example of their own lives, point out the way to the Promised land and keep hope alive’. We are called to be living sources of water from which others can drink. At times, this becomes a heavy cross, but it was from the cross, from his pierced side, that our Lord gave himself to us a source of living water. (#86) A committed missionary knows the joy of being a spring which spills over and refreshes others. We do not live better when we flee, hide, refuse to share, stop giving and lock ourselves up in our own comforts. Such a life is nothing less than slow suicide.” (#272)
VI. How to Evangelize
Pope Francis offers us some very important, practical advice on how to evangelize as an ordinary part of daily life, on how to share the joy of the Gospel. “There is a kind of preaching which falls to each of us as a daily responsibility. The informal preaching which takes place in the middle of a conversation… Being a disciple means being constantly ready to bring the love of Jesus to others, and this can happen unexpectedly and in any place, in a city square, during work, on a journey. (#127) In this preaching, which is always respectful and gentle, the first step is personal dialogue, when the other person speaks and shares his or her joys, hopes and concerns for loved ones, or so many other heartfelt needs.” (#128)
This type of encounter can then lead to a further sharing of the Gospel. “On the lips of the catechist the first proclamation must ring out over and over: ‘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.’ (#164) God’s saving love precedes any moral and religious obligation on our part. The kerygma [the proclamation of the Gospel] should not impose the truth but appeal to freedom. It should be marked by joy, encouragement, liveliness and a harmonious balance which will not reduce preaching to a few doctrines. [The attitudes of] the evangelizer [must be]: approachability, readiness for dialogue, patience, a warmth and welcome which is non-judgemental.” (#165)
“Only afterwards is it possible to bring up God’s word, perhaps by reading a Bible verse or relating a story, but always keeping in mind the fundamental message: the personal love of God who became man, who gave himself up for us, who is living and who offers us his salvation and his friendship. At times the message may be presented directly, at times by way of a personal witness or gesture, or in a way which the Holy Spirit may suggest. This fraternal and missionary encounter could end with a brief prayer related to the concerns which the person may have expressed.” (#128)
“The Gospel calls us constantly to the risk of a face-to-face encounter with others, with their physical presence which challenges us, with their pain and their pleas, with their joy which infects us in our close and continuous interaction. (#88) The solution will never be found in fleeing from a personal and committed relationship with God which at the same time commits us to serving others. The only way to learn how to encounter others … is to accept them as companions along the way … It means learning to find Jesus in the faces of others, in their voices, in their pleas. (#91) Every person is worthy of our giving. Not for their physical appearance, their abilities, their language, their way of thinking, or for any satisfaction that we might receive, but rather because they are God’s handiwork, his creation. God created that person in his image, and he or she reflects something of God’s glory.” (#274)
“The Church will have to initiate everyone – priests, religious, laity – into this ‘art of accompaniment’ which teaches us to remove our sandals before the sacred ground of the other (Ex. 3:5). The pace of this accompaniment must be steady and reassuring, reflecting our closeness and our compassionate gaze which also heals, liberates and encourages growth in the Christian life. (#169) We need to practise the art of listening, which is more than simply hearing. [It] is an openness of heart which makes possible that closeness without which genuine spiritual encounter cannot occur. Only through such respectful and compassionate listening can we enter on the paths of true growth and awaken a yearning: the desire to respond fully to God’s love and to bring to fruition what he has sown in our hearts.” (#171)
In the face of this challenge, the Church seeks renewal. “We need to create spaces where pastoral workers can be helped and healed, ‘places where faith itself in the crucified and risen Jesus is renewed, where the most profound questions and daily concerns are shared, where deeper discernment about our experiences and life itself is undertaken in the light of the Gospel, for the purpose of directing individual and social decisions towards the good and beautiful.’” (#77)
“The priest – like every member of the Church – ought to grow in awareness that he himself is continually in need of being evangelized. (#164) We can count on many lay persons, although still not nearly enough, who have a deeply-rooted sense of community and a great fidelity to the tasks of charity, catechesis and the celebration of the faith… The formation of the laity and the evangelization of professional and intellectual life represent a significant pastoral challenge.” (#102)
“God’s word, listened to and celebrated, above all in the Eucharist, nourishes and inwardly strengthens Christians, enabling them to offer an authentic witness to the Gospel in daily life. (#174) Evangelization demands familiarity with God’s word, which calls for dioceses, parishes and Catholic associations to provide for a serious ongoing study of the Bible, while encouraging individual and communal reading.” (#175)
VII. Evangelization and Social Justice
Pope Francis’ well-known advocacy of social justice is, he insists, a necessary outgrowth of the mission of evangelization. He shows us the significance and necessity of this relation by expanding on the fact that evangelization inserts us into the community of faith, that people which is the Church. “The Church, as the agent of evangelization, is more than an organic and hierarchical institution; she is first and foremost a people advancing on its pilgrim way towards God. She is certainly a mystery rooted in the Trinity, yet she exists concretely in history as a people of pilgrims and evangelizers, transcending any institutional expression, however necessary.” (#111)
“The salvation which God has wrought, and the Church joyfully proclaims, is for everyone. God has found a way to unite himself to every human being in every age. He has chosen to call them together as a people and not as isolated individuals. No one is saved by himself or herself, individually, or by his or her own efforts. This people of God which God has chosen and called is the Church. To those who feel far from God and the Church, to all those who are fearful or indifferent, I would like to say this: the Lord, with great respect and love, is also calling you to be a part of his people!” (#113)
“We are to be God’s leaven in the midst of humanity. The Church must be a place of mercy freely given, where everyone can feel welcomed, loved, forgiven and encouraged to live the good life of the Gospel. (#114) [The Father] takes us from the midst of his people and he sends us to his people; without this sense of belonging we cannot understand our deepest identity. (#268) Moved by [Jesus’] example, we want to enter fully into the fabric of society, sharing the lives of all, listening to their concerns, helping them materially and spiritually in their needs, rejoicing with those who rejoice, weeping with those who weep. (#269)
“The kerygma [the proclamation of the Gospel] has a clear social content: at the very heart of the Gospel is life in community and engagement with others. (#177) To believe that the Son of God assumed our human flesh means that each human person has been taken up into the very heart of God. To believe that Jesus shed his blood for us removes any doubt about the boundless love which ennobles each human being. ‘God, in Christ redeems not only the individual person, but also the social relations existing between men. Evangelization is meant to cooperate with the liberating work of the Holy Spirit. From the heart of the Gospel we see the profound connection between evangelization and human advancement.’” (#178)
“The Gospel is not merely about our personal relationship with God. Nor should our loving response to God be seen simply as an accumulation of small personal gestures to individuals in need. The Gospel is about the kingdom of God (Lk 4:43). Both Christian preaching and life, then, are meant to have an impact on society. Jesus’ mission is to inaugurate the kingdom of the Father. (#180) It is no longer possible to claim that religion should be restricted to the private sphere and that it exists only to prepare souls for heaven. Christian conversion demands reviewing those areas … ‘related to the social order and the pursuit of the common good.’” (#182)
“No one can demand that religion should be relegated to the inner sanctum of personal life, without influence on societal and national life, without concern for the soundness of civil institutions, without an opinion on events affecting society. An authentic faith – which is never comfortable or completely personal – always involves a deep desire to change the world, to transmit values, to leave this earth somehow better than we found it (e.g., Saint Francis of Assisi or Blessed Teresa of Calcutta). We love this magnificent planet … and we love the human family. ‘The just ordering of society and of the state is a central responsibility of politics’, the Church ‘cannot and must not remain on the sidelines in the fight for justice.’” (#183)
“Each individual Christian and every community is called to be an instrument of God for the liberation and promotion of the poor. A lack of solidarity to his or her needs will directly affect our relationship with God. (#187) There is one sign which we should never lack: the option for those who are least, those whom society discards.(# 195) The Church has made an option for the poor … as a ‘special form of primacy in the exercice of Christian charity.’ This option – as Benedict XVI has taught – ‘is implicit in our Christian faith in a God who became poor for us, so as to enrich us with his poverty.’ This is why,” Francis says, “I want a Church which is poor and for the poor.” (#198)
“No one can say that they cannot be close to the poor because their own lifestyle demands more attention to other areas. This is an excuse commonly heard in academic, business or professional, and even ecclesial circles. None of us can think we are exempt from concern for the poor and social justice.” (#201)
“Ideologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation … increased profits [and] deified markets … [have] become the only rule. (#56) Behind this attitude lurks a rejection of ethics and a rejection of God. Ethics leads to a God who calls for a committed response which is outside the categories of the marketplace. When these latter are absolutized, God can only be seen as uncontrollable, unmanageable, even dangerous, since he calls human beings to their full realization and to freedom from all forms of enslavement.” (#57)
“Any Church community, if it thinks it can comfortably go its own way without creative concern and effective cooperation in helping the poor to live with dignity and reaching out to everyone, will also risk breaking down. (#207) Jesus, the evangelizer par excellence and the Gospel in person, identifies especially with the little ones (Mt 25:40). The current model, with its emphasis on success and self-reliance, does not appear to favour an investment in efforts to help the slow, the weak or the less talented to find opportunities in life. (#209)
“It is essential to draw near to new forms of poverty and vulnerability: … the homeless, the addicted, refugees, indigenous peoples, the elderly who are increasingly isolated and abandoned. (#210) Migrants present a particular challenge [to] a Church without frontiers, a Church which considers herself mother to all … victims of various kinds of human trafficking (211), women who endure situations of exclusion, mistreatment and violence (212), unborn children, the most defenceless and innocent among us (213).”
VIII. Evangelization and World Religions
“Given the seriousness of the counter-witness of division among Christians, particularly in Asia and Africa, the search for paths to unity becomes all the more urgent. If we can concentrate on the convictions we share, and keep in mind the hierarchy of truths, we will be able to progress decidedly towards common expressions of proclamation, service and witness. The immense numbers of people who have not received the Gospel of Jesus Christ cannot leave us indifferent. If we really believe in the abundantly free working of the Holy Spirit, we can learn so much from one another! Through an exchange of gifts, the Spirit can lead us ever more fully into truth and goodness.” (#246)
“We hold the Jewish people in special regard because their covenant with God has never been revoked. Nor do we include Jews among those called to turn from idols and to serve the true God (1 Thes 1:9). 248. Dialogue and friendship with the children of Israel are part of the life of Jesus’ disciples. (#247) God continues to work among the people of the Old Covenant and to bring to forth treasures of wisdom which flow from their encounter with his word. (#249) We Christians should embrace with affection and respect Muslim immigrants to our countries in the same way that we hope and ask to be received in countries of Islamic tradition.” (#253)
“As believers, we also feel close to those who do not consider themselves part of any religious tradition, yet sincerely seek the truth, goodness and beauty which we believe have their highest expression and source in God. (#257) An attitude of openness in truth and in love must characterize the dialogue with the followers of non-Christian religions.” (#250)
Pope Francis cites a report from the 1996 International Theological Commission, approved by Cardinal Ratzinger (Pope Benedict), in teaching about the meaning of the Church’s evangelizing of members. “Non-Christians, by God’s gracious initiative, when they are faithful to their consciences, can live ‘justified by the grace of God’, and thus be ‘associated to the paschal mystery of Jesus Christ’. But due to the sacramental dimension of sanctifying grace, God’s working in them tends to produce signs and rites, sacred expressions which in turn bring others to a communitarian experience of journeying towards God. While these lack the meaning and efficacy of the sacraments instituted by Christ, they can be channels which the Holy Spirit raises up in order to liberate non-Christians from atheism … or from purely individual religious experiences.” (#254)
“Attention must always be paid to the essential bond between dialogue and proclamation. True openness involves remaining steadfast in one’s deepest convictions, clear and joyful in one’s own identity, while at the same time being ‘open to understanding those of the other party’ and ‘knowing that dialogue can enrich each side’. Evangelization and inter-religious dialogue, far from opposed, mutually support and nourish one another.” (#251)
Overall, Pope Francis insists, “A healthy pluralism, one which genuinely respects differences, values them as such, does not entail privatizing religions in an attempt to reduce them to the quiet obscurity of the individual’s conscience or to relegate them to the enclosed precincts of churches, synagogues or mosques.” (#255)
IX. Spirit-Filled Evangelizers
Pope Francis closes by turning to the Holy Spirit. “How I long to find the right words to stir up enthusiasm for a new chapter of evangelization full of fervour, joy, generosity, courage, boundless love and attraction! Yet I realize that no words of encouragement will be enough unless the fire of the Holy Spirit burns in our hearts. (#261) The Holy Spirit also grants the courage to proclaim the newness of the Gospel with boldness in every time and place, even when it meets with opposition.” (#259)
Turning to the Holy Spirit means that, “The Church urgently needs the deep breath of prayer, and to my great joy groups devoted to prayer and intercession, the prayerful reading of God’s word and the perpetual adoration of the Eucharist are growing at every level of ecclesial life. How good it is to stand before a crucifix, or on our knees before the Blessed Sacrament, and simply to be in His presence! The best incentive for sharing the Gospel comes from contemplating it with love, lingering over its pages and reading it with the heart. (#264) Even so, ‘we must reject the temptation to offer a privatized and individualistic spirituality which ill accords with the demands of charity, to say nothing of the implications of the incarnation.’ (Pope John Paul II)” (#262)
“The missionary is convinced that, through the working of the Spirit, there already exists in individuals and peoples an expectation, even if an unconscious one, of knowing the truth about God, about man, and about how we are to be set free from sin and death. The missionary’s enthusiasm in proclaiming Christ comes from the conviction that he is responding to that expectation. Our infinite sadness can only be cured by an infinite love. (#265) We know well that with Jesus life becomes richer and that with him it is easier to find meaning in everything. A true missionary, who never ceases to be a disciple, knows that Jesus walks with him, speaks to him, breathes with him, works with him. A person who is not convinced, enthusiastic, certain and in love, will convince nobody.” (#266)
“We can know quite well that our lives will be fruitful, without knowing how, or where, or when. No single act of love for God will be lost, no generous effort is meaningless, no painful endurance is wasted. All of these encircle our world like a vital force. (#279) Trust in the unseen can cause us to feel disoriented; it is like being plunged into the deep and not knowing what we will find. I myself have frequently experienced this. Yet there is no greater freedom than that of allowing oneself to be guided by the Holy Spirit, renouncing the attempt to plan and control everything to the last detail, and instead letting him enlighten, guide and direct us, leading us wherever he wills.” (#280)
“At the foot of the cross, at the supreme hour of the new creation, Christ led us to Mary. In her we see that humility and tenderness are not virtues of the weak, but of the strong who need not treat others poorly in order to feel important themselves. [The] interplay of justice and tenderness, of contemplation and concern for others, is what makes the ecclesial community look to Mary as a model of evangelization.” (#285)
(NOTE: Throughout this document italics are from the original, the underlining is my emphasis, and the numbers indicate the paragraph in Evangelii Gaudium.)
The inspiring and challenging message of Evangelii Gaudium leads us to evangelize: in the parish, with those of the faithful who do not “practice”, and with people who do not know the Gospel. This challenge takes us through a series of steps:
- Acknowledging that we are complacent, that we do have the attitude that we are here to administer, not to be on mission
- Repenting of obstacles to our evangelizing efforts, especially from spiritual worldliness
- Seeking the joy that comes from knowing the saving love of Jesus
- Sharing that love with others, because we have been transformed into streams of living water
- Accompanying people in their joys and sorrows, while sharing the Gospel with them on the way
- Proclaiming the kingdom of God which includes the call to social justice, and a church of and for the poor
- Turning to the Holy Spirit as the agent of evangelization in our lives and in our world
Working through Evangelii Gaudium has been inspiring to me. But I also ask you to consider being inspired by reading more from the original. Though I did my best to present the scope of the document as found in several themes, its depth could not be fully explored here. I hope that this reflection will lead both you and me to action: that we will know and share the joy of the Gospel, as a personal and living reality. I hope that you will be inspired by Pope Francis, as I am, to bring about the changes that the Holy Spirit is calling for in our lives, our parishes, and our world. “We are always ‘missionary disciples’. So what are we waiting for?” (#120)
For Further Reflection …
- Do you experience the joy of knowing Jesus? How could you rediscover such joy?
- How would you state the core message of the Gospel? How could you share this message?
- What obstacles to evangelization do you face? What obstacles might you have created?
- Do you see spiritual worldliness in your parish, and its groups? How could they be evangelized?
- What can you do to help being about a change in the culture of your parish, and its groups, from administration to mission?
- What are we offering people when we evangelize? Who are the people connected to you who are most in need of accompaniment? What can you do to support them?
- How could you respond to the invitation to become a church that is poor, and for the poor?
- In what public efforts to proclaim the Gospel of the kingdom of God could you join?
- To what bold initiatives could the Holy Spirit be calling you?
Dcn. Charles Fernandes
Diocese of Hamilton
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