Takin’ It to the Streets

16 Jan

Pope Francis5As we continue our tour of Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation on the Joy of the Gospel (Evangelii Gaudium, or “EG”), we come to a chapter that clearly is close to the Holy Father’s heart. This chapter is entitled “The Social Dimension of Evangelization” (EG 176-258). He’s clearly very concerned about an impoverished if not distorted approach to evangelization that would downplay the social dimension of the Gospel (EG 176).

Today we will consider the Pope’s reflections on how the heart of the Gospel, or “kerygma,” necessarily has communal and social repercussions (EG 177-85). After all, according to the Holy Father, “the very heart of the Gospel is life in community and engagement with others” (EG 177). This perspective clearly reflects the understanding that authentic faith cannot be separated from our life in the world.

Pope Francis remarkably notes that Christ has not only come to redeem individual persons, but also human relationships (EG 178). There is a profound connection in the Gospel between evangelization and human development. The Holy Father says that our “primary and fundamental response” to God’s love is “to desire, seek, and protect the good of others” (EG 178).

He then goes on to provide strong biblical support for the proposition that fraternal love must go hand in hand with our acceptance of the Gospel. For that reason, we can say that charity is a “constitutive element of the Church’s mission and an indispensable expression of her very being” (EG 179, quoting Pope Benedict XVI). The Church exists to evangelize, which means that the Church exists to radiate the love of Christ to the world, inviting all to a relationship with the living God.

The Holy Father urges us to avoid two extremes when it comes to the Gospel. On the one hand, he says the Gospel is not merely a “me and Jesus” proposition. On the other hand, it’s also not simply about doing random acts of kindness to make us feel good about ourselves. Rather, the Gospel is all about the Kingdom of God (EG 180)! Our very lives must bear witness to the reality that “the Kingdom of God is at hand” (Mark 1:15). This kingdom encompasses every aspect of human existence, and it injects supernatural hope into human history (cf. EG 181).

From this perspective, we understand that the Church has so much meaning and depth to offer to everyone. For that reason, the Pope insists that faith cannot “be restricted to the private sphere” or seen as existing only “to prepare souls for heaven” (EG 182). God desires us to experience legitimate “enjoyment” (see 1 Timothy 6:17) in this life as a foretaste of the fullness of happiness prepared for us in heaven. Therefore, our conversion necessarily entails our commitment to work for the common good.

Further, faith cannot be considered an exclusively private matter such that it is excluded from our social lives (EG 183). Our faith impels us to seek to make a difference in the world and work for the just ordering of the society. The Pope insists that the Church cannot be relegated to the sidelines in the fight for justice, as her positive message has much to offer the world today.

Pope Francis readily admits that the apostolic exhortation is about evangelization, not the social doctrine of the Church. For the latter, the Pope heartily recommends the faithful to study the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, especially in light of the many grave social issues confronting the world today (EG 184). He also states the obvious fact that the Church does not have a “one size fits all” solution to the various complex issues we face today. While the Church articulates the operative principles, it is up to the local Church and communities to apply these principles to their unique circumstances.

The Pope ends this section by informing us that he is now going to take up two issues that he believes are most urgent and significant at this moment in human history: the inclusion of the poor in society, and the promotion of peace and social dialogue (EG 185). We will take up those issues in the next installment of this series.

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