Evangelical Discernment, part 2

6 Dec

Pope Francis 3In the second half of chapter two of Evangelii Gaudium (EG 76-109), Pope Francis discusses the challenges to evangelization faced by “pastoral workers”—everyone from bishops to those who perform the humblest and most hidden services in the Church. He begins by acknowledging our shame at the sins of members of the Church yet also affirming the many Christians who have given their lives in service of the Gospel (EG 76).

He then notes that all of us are in some way affected by our culture, and that we are all in need of ongoing support and renewal (EG 77). The Pope calls for a renewed enthusiasm for evangelization, which necessarily involves giving of ourselves to others (cf. 1 Thessalonians 2:8). In that regard, he says that a major problem today is an inordinate concern for personal freedom and relaxation (EG 78). Often this entails a spiritual life that is limited to certain religious practices without engaging others and the world. We’re too often focused on ourselves.

Obviously such an approach is self-centered and lacking in fervor. In fact, the Holy Father says that sometimes we go about our business “as if people who have not received the Gospel did not exist” (EG 80). Many otherwise well-formed Catholics too often become attached to their own pursuits other than bringing Christ to others.

He says that our Church culture can become obsessed with “free time” (EG 81). He pointedly says that our seeming “unbearable fatigue” is not caused by an excess of activity, but “activity undertaken badly” (EG 82). By this he’s referring to “pastoral acedia,” a form of the deadly sin of sloth, which drains our energy. He warns us not to allow the joy of evangelization to be undermined by the “gray pragmatism” of the daily grind of life in the Church, which results in what he calls a “tomb psychology” that destroys our zeal (EG 83).

Related to this is the Pope’s urgent call not to succumb to the evils around us and grow disillusioned. “Our faith is challenged to discern how wine can come from water and how wheat can grow in the midst of weeds” (EG 84). He decries a defeatist attitude that creates disillusioned “sourpusses” (EG 85).  One especially calls to mind the situation in Europe (and here, if we’re not vigilant) where a “desertification” has come about through the attempts in some places to destroy the Christian roots of the people (EG 86). The Pope calls forth people of faith to keep hope alive in today’s spiritual deserts.

Pope Francis is big on the communitarian dimension of our faith. He therefore calls us to overcome suspicion and fear and run the risk of face-to-face encounters with others, unfiltered by the many forms of social media (EG 88). He says today’s lack of interpersonal connection creates a false autonomy that leaves no place for God. He says the challenge today is not so much atheism as it is responding adequately to people’s thirst for God (EG 89).

We do not preach a Gospel of well-being or prosperity that demands nothing of us with regard to others (EG 89-90). We need to create “deep and stable bonds” with others (EG 91) and thereby create what he calls a “mystical fraternity” that enables us to see “the sacred grandeur of our neighbor” (EG 92).

Particularly compelling is the Pope’s discussion of “spiritual worldliness,” in which one hides behind the appearance of piety while really seeking out one’s own glory or well-being (93). This worldliness has two basic forms. One is a purely subjective faith that leads one to become imprisoned in his or her own thoughts (EG 94). The other form entails putting one’s trust in one’s own powers or religious observance, which can easily become elitist.

In all forms of spiritual worldliness, we end up serving ourselves or the Church as institution, without regard for the multitudes who are still thirsting for Christ (EG 95). One who falls into worldliness “would rather be the general of a defeated army than a mere private in a unit which continues to fight” (EG 96). But it’s not all about us. We must strive to have expansive hearts, recognizing that stifling self-centeredness must give way to the “pure air of the Holy Spirit” (EG 97).

Pope Francis reminds us of the need for fraternal communion with one another. When tempted by jealousy, we must keep in mind that we are all in the same boat and headed to the same port (EG 99). It may be difficult for some to accept our invitation to forgiveness, but such reconciliation becomes more attractive when accompanied by the powerful witness of Christian love (EG 100). Rather than be overcome by evil, we should “overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21; EG 101).

The Pope concludes this chapter with an array of other challenges facing the Church. He affirms “lay ministry,” but cautions that it must be ordered to a greater penetration of Christian values in the social, political, and economic sectors (EG 102). In other words, we need to go out of ourselves, beyond the walls of our parish church.

He affirms the indispensable contribution of women in society and in the Church (EG 103). He reminds us that the ordination of women “is not a question open to discussion” (EG 104), but stresses that sacramental or “hierarchical” power in the Church should be understood in terms of service, not domination. He stresses that our great dignity is rooted in our Baptism, which is accessible to all (EG 104).

He touches upon the need to evangelize and educate young people (perhaps today we too often assume the former and focus exclusively on the latter), and then empower them to exercise greater leadership roles (EG 106). The Holy Father attributes the vocation crisis in many places to a “lack of contagious apostolic fervor” (EG 107). Where communities rediscover their missionary joy and enthusiasm, vocations will come.

The Pope concludes his reflections in this chapter by saying that it’s important to listen to both the elderly and the young (EG 108). The elderly contribute the wisdom of “memory” (tradition) and experience, while the youth contribute a renewed, expansive hope that opens us to the future, offering new directions lest we cling to structures and customs that are no longer life-giving in today’s world.

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