Tag Archives: Evangelii Gaudium

Star of the New Evangelization

31 Mar

Pope and BVMWe now come to the final installment of our series on Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation on the joy of the Gospel (Evangelii Gaudium, or “EG”).

As is typical of many papal documents in recent memory, the Holy Father concludes with some reflections on the Blessed Virgin Mary and a prayer seeking her maternal intercession for the “new evangelization” (EG 284-88).

The Pope describes Mary as being singularly present in the midst of God’s people. As at Pentecost, her prayer for the coming of the Holy Spirit gives birth to “the Church which evangelizes” (EG 284). We look to her to understand the spirit of the new evangelization, for which we fervently desire a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Father continually stresses the close connection between Mary, the Church, and each individual believer. At the foot of the Cross, at the moment of the new creation, Jesus entrusted the Blessed Virgin Mary to John—and to us! The Church would never have to journey in this world without a mother (EG 285).

I found some of the titles for Mary at the conclusion of EG to be quite interesting and revealing. She is called the “Mother of the Living Gospel” and “Star of the New Evangelization.” She is the model of both contemplation (cf. Luke 2:19, 51) and pastoral concern for others (cf. John 2:5). She teaches us about a different sort of strength, one rooted in love, humility, and tenderness. The Pope calls upon the Church to embrace this Marian “style” of evangelization (EG 288), so that the joy of the Gospel may truly reach to the end of the earth, especially to God’s little ones.

Spirit-Filled Evangelizers

24 Mar

Pope Francis 4In the final chapter of his apostolic exhortation on the joy of the Gospel (Evangelii Gaudium, or “EG”), Pope Francis exhorts us to be bold, Spirit-filled evangelizers. He calls all of us to proclaim the Gospel “not only with words, but above all by a life transfigured by God’s presence” (EG 259). To that end, he shares with us his thoughts on the proper spirit of the new evangelization (EG 260), yet recognizing that his words of encouragement can only go so far. We must allow our hearts to be set on fire by the Holy Spirit! (EG 261).

The Holy Father offers some reasons for a renewed missionary impulse in our time. He is looking for a new generation of evangelizers who are truly willing to “pray and work” (EG 262). He especially encourages Eucharistic adoration, but then he expects the faithful to leave the adoration chapel ready to be a blessing to others in their need.

Every period of history poses its own unique challenges to those who would be missionaries. Yet there is much that we can and must learn from the saints of previous generations, “who were filled with joy, unflagging courage, and zeal in proclaiming the Gospel” (EG 263).

The Pope emphasizes that the primary reason for evangelization is the love of Jesus—a love that urges us to love Him more deeply in return and to share that love with others (EG 264). We need to implore His grace daily, begging that our love may not grow cold or lukewarm. We must spend time with Jesus. In that regard, the Holy Father especially encourages us to slowly contemplate the pages of the Gospel, reading it from the heart.

Our enthusiasm for evangelization is based on the conviction that the Gospel responds to a universal hunger for God (EG 265). We must sustain this conviction by constantly renewing and savoring our own friendship with Jesus. The Pope pointedly notes that a true missionary never ceases to be a disciple. Further, he warns that “a person who is not convinced, enthusiastic, certain, and in love will convince nobody” (EG 266). A missionary must be willing to set aside all other motivations and agendas and “evangelize for the greater glory of the Father who loves us” and who sent His only Son to redeem us (EG 267).

God saves us as a people, and His love extends to all. Evangelization must entail entering others’ lives. We simply can’t be evangelists if we don’t have a passion for God’s people (EG 268). Rather than keep ourselves at arm’s length, Our Lord wants us “to touch human misery, to touch the suffering flesh of others” (EG 270).

The Holy Father stresses that we must truly become men and women “of the people” (EG 271) and not their critic or enemy. He quotes several Scripture passages that exhort us to live humbly and peaceably with others, always seeking to “overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21). Living this way is not an “extra” or part of our “job,” but rather part of our deepest identity 24/7 (EG 273). Every person has inestimable dignity and value, and therefore every person is eminently worthy of our giving (EG 274).

We must avoid getting caught up in the pursuit of selfish comforts or pleasures, which the Pope says can easily occur when we do not have a deep spiritual life (EG 275). When that happens, we lose hope and are fooled into believing that things are not going to change—even though Jesus Christ has definitively triumphed over sin and death!

Instead, Christ must always be the wellspring of our hope. We do well to remember that the Resurrection is not merely an event in the distant past, but rather is an ongoing reality that has power in the present (EG 276). If we rely on our own steam rather than the power of the Resurrection, we will grow weary and eventually give up (EG 277). While we don’t always see tangible results from our evangelistic labors, the Pope says we have an interior certainty that God is always mysteriously at work, allowing our efforts to bear fruit in His good time (EG 279-80).

The Pope concludes this section with some reflections on the missionary power of intercessory prayer, through which we seek the good of others (EG 281). Authentic prayer opens us up to others, leading us to be grateful for the gift of others (cf. Romans 1:8), as we become more conscious of what God is doing in their lives. Our prayer frees us from self-absorption and opens us to others’ needs (EG 282). Our prayers of intercession allow God’s power, love, and faithfulness to shine ever more clearly in the midst of His people (EG 283).

Dialogue, Peace, and Evangelization

11 Mar

Pope Francis5Pope Francis devotes a section of his apostolic exhortation on the joy of the Gospel (Evangelii Gaudium, or “EG”) to the role of social dialogue in the promotion of peace (EG 238-58). He considers this a significant part of the Church’s overall mission to carry the Gospel out to all the world. He cites three specific areas of dialogue: with states, with society (including cultures and sciences), and with believers who are not members of the Catholic Church (EG 238).

The Church supports the efforts of the State to promote peace in ways that respond to the dignity of the human person and promote the common good (EG 241). While this may sound too grandiose for the average believer, the Holy Father also reminds us that every baptized person is called to be “a peacemaker and a credible witness to a reconciled life” (EG 239).

Dialogue between science and faith is also part of the work of evangelization at the service of peace. The Holy Father calls for a synthesis of empirical science and other areas of knowledge, especially philosophy and theology. The new evangelization must be attentive to scientific advances and “shed on them the light of faith and the natural law” (EG 242). The Church delights in the progress and potential of science. Problems occur only when science—or faith—exceeds the limit of its respective competence. At that point, the issue is not one of truth, but of ideologies that can only block “the path to authentic, serene, and productive dialogue” (EG 243).

When the Holy Father speaks of “other believers” (EG 238) he is referring to both ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue. He sees ecumenism as “a contribution to the unity of the human family” (EG 245). He is painfully conscious of the counter-witness of division among Christians, especially in Asia and Africa. In light of the vast numbers of people who have not received the Gospel, “our commitment to a unity that helps them to accept Jesus Christ can no longer be a matter of mere diplomacy or forced compliance, but rather an indispensable path to evangelization” (EG 246).

Pope Francis accords Judaism a special place among non-Christian religions. After all, the Church looks upon the Jewish faith as one of the sacred roots of our own Christian identity (cf. Romans 11:16-18). The Holy Father cites our current friendship with the Jewish people as well as our bitter regret for past persecutions and injustices (EG 248). While we must always proclaim Jesus as Lord and Messiah, we continue to share the Hebrew Scriptures with them as well as many ethical convictions (EG 249).

The Pope says that “interreligious dialogue is a necessary condition for peace in the world, and so it is a duty for Christians as well as for other religious communities” (EG 250). Here he stresses the close relationship between dialogue and proclamation. We need to be clear and joyful regarding our own convictions and identity, while also being open to understanding those of other faiths in a spirit of candor and goodwill (EG 251). Pope Francis singles out dialogue with Islam as especially important in our time. One comment he made that I found especially eye-opening was this: “[O]ur respect for true followers of Islam should lead us to avoid hateful generalizations, for authentic Islam and the proper reading of the Koran are opposed to every form of violence” (EG 253).

The Holy Father concludes this section with some consideration of religious freedom, a fundamental human right that includes “the freedom to choose the religion that one judges to be true and to manifest one’s beliefs in public” (EG 255).  Redefining religious liberty as a right that only applies in private consciences and inside church buildings is “a new form of discrimination and authoritarianism” (EG 255). Respect can be given to non-believers without silencing the convictions of the believing majority. Such a heavy-handed approach can only feed resentment, not  tolerance and peace.

In all of this, the Holy Father is relentlessly stressing the social dimension of the Gospel, which beckons all of us to “get our shoes dirty”—to boldly bring the Gospel to the world in words, attitudes, and deeds (EG 258).

Leaping to Action

12 Feb

frogs on log“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” –Matthew 28:19-20

Like St. Matthew’s Gospel, the Mass ends with a commissioning, as we’re to go forth and glorify the Lord by our lives. We are sent to bring the light of Christ to all the world. Deep down we know we’re not supposed to keep our faith to ourselves or under a bushel basket, but instead it is given to us so that in turn we can give it away.

Faith, without words, without actions, is dead (cf. Jas. 2:17). A faith that does not change us and does not lead to godly action is ineffectual–for ourselves and others. As Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia once said, it’s not an accident that the book of the Bible is called “Acts of the Apostles” and not “Pious Sentiments of the Apostles” or “Good Intentions of the Apostles.” Our faith impels us to act for, as recent popes have stressed, the Church by her nature is missionary.

Pope Francis has beautifully written that once we accept the faith, which draws us into God’s love and leads us to love Him in return, “brings forth in our lives and actions a primary and fundamental response: to desire, seek and protect the good of others” (Evangelii Gaudium, no. 178).

I’ve used the following riddle with my children: Three frogs are sitting on a log. Two of them decide to jump into the water. How many are left on the log? The answer, of course, is three, because there’s a huge difference between deciding to jump and actually jumping. Good actions come from good intentions, but are not their necessary consequence. Sometimes my kids will very sincerely tell me they’ll clean their room or be attentive at Mass, but something is lost in the execution. At that point, I tell them to be “wet frogs,” and they finally begin to put their good intentions into action.

Jesus warns all His disciples, both through parables and explicit exhortations, that one doesn’t dabble in Christianity. If we’re truly with Him and His Church, we must jump off the log and bear witness to Him in word and action.

The Cry of the Poor

23 Jan

pope francis 6As mentioned in our last installment of our series on Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation on the joy of the Gospel (Evangelii Gaudium, or “EG”), the Holy Father believes that the inclusion of the poor in society is an urgent issue for the Church today. He therefore devotes an entire section of this document (EG 186-216) to this most significant topic.

Pope Francis begins by pointing to our faith in Jesus Christ, who was always close to the poor and outcast, as the basis for our concern for the most forgotten members of society (EG 186). He also quotes several Scripture passages that impel the people of God to hear the cry of the poor in our midst (EG 187). He emphasizes that compassion for the poor is not the concern of only a few, but rather flows from the grace working through the entire body of believers, leading us to think in terms of the good of others and the good of the wider community (EG 188).

What the Pope is calling for is an authentic solidarity that is not only open to the renewal of social structures, but even more to the renewal of our convictions and attitudes (EG 189). He speaks with particular force and urgency regarding the cry of entire peoples: “the mere fact that some people are born in places with fewer resources or less development does not justify the fact that they are living with less dignity” (EG 190). And the goal is not merely “dignified sustenance” for all, but their welfare and prosperity, which includes education, access to healthcare and, above all, employment (EG 192).

We hear the cry of the poor when we are moved by the suffering of others. This must elicit mercy from us (EG 193). “Blessed are the merciful, because they shall obtain mercy” (Matthew 5:7). One concrete, biblical expression of mercy toward the poor is almsgiving (cf. Tobit 12:9; Sirach 3:30).

Pope Francis stresses that the Gospel is simple and clear when it comes to our responsibility to be just and merciful to the poor (EG 194). Doctrinal orthodoxy is of no avail if we don’t take to heart this teaching.

For St. Paul, the key criterion of a Christian’s authenticity is whether he remembers the poor (EG 195; cf. Galatians 2:10). The Pope challenges us to “remember” and not allow ourselves to become distracted by the consumerism that surrounds us (EG 196).

God has demonstrated a special love for the poor throughout salvation history, culminating in the coming of the Savior’s embrace of poverty (EG 197). The Church’s tradition bears witness to the fact that the “option for the poor” holds a place of primacy in the exercise of Christian charity. For that reason, the Pope declares “I want a Church which is poor and for the poor” (EG 198). In saying that, the Holy Father is not calling for mere activism, but for loving attentiveness and identification with the poor. When we don’t welcome the poor, the proclamation of the Gospel loses its compelling resonance (EG 199). The Pope also emphasizes that the preferential option for the poor includes spiritual care, which sometimes is lacking (EG 200), and that no one is exempt from the concern for social justice (EG 201).

Pope Francis then discusses the economy and the just distribution of resources. He calls inequality the root of society’s problems. While welfare programs provide temporary solutions, we must address the sources of inequality (EG 202). Clearly economic policies must be based on the dignity of the human person and the pursuit of the common good. We cannot be indifferent toward these concerns, nor can we exploit them through recourse to empty rhetoric (EG 203).

Gone are the days in which we can trust in the “invisible hand of the market” (EG 204). Rather, we must be intentional when it comes to bringing about necessary reform. Therefore, the Pope prays that Lord will grant us politicans who realize that charity is not only inter-personal, but also the principle that must govern our life in society (EG 205). He stresses the value of governments working together, as economic decisions in one part of the world have repercussions elsewhere (EG 206).

Pope Francis here returns to the Church community, and says that the Church has to do its part in reaching out to the poor in action, and not through “unproductive meetings and empty talk” (EG 207). The Holy Father uses strong language through must of the exhortation, which he acknowledges in EG 208, but he affirms his affection for all and his desire for the good of all apart from any personal or political interest.

In the last part of this section, Pope Francis says that since Jesus the Evangelizer identified with the vulnerable, so too must we in our apostolic outreach (EG 209). He then refers to several classes of people who are particularly vulnerable in our present-day circumstance. He mentions the homeless, addicts, refugees, the elderly, and many others. He mentions the particular challenge posed by migrants, noting that he is “the pastor of a Church without frontiers” (EG 210).

The Holy Father expresses particular love and concern for unborn children (EG 211). He says that “it is not ‘progressive’ to try to resolve problems by eliminating a human life” (EG 212). In a very pastoral manner, he also affirms that the Church must do more to accompany women in difficult situations, such that abortion does not appear to be the best or only solution in those circumstances.

He concludes by affirming our role as stewards over all of creation (EG 215), and in the spirit of St. Francis of Assisi calls us to watch over and protect the fragile world in which we live, as well as its inhabitants (EG 216).

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.

Going Deeper

7 Jan

Pope as CatechistAfter a Christmas hiatus, it is time to continue our overview of Pope Francis’ apostolic letter on the new evangelization (Evangelii Gaudium, or “GE”).

When most people think of “evangelization,” they think of the initial proclamation of the Gospel (the technical term is “kerygma”), that invites people to a new relationship with Christ.

Yet, as Pope Francis points out, when Christ sent out His apostles as missionaries, He gave them this instruction: “Teach them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:20). The Holy Father sees in this instruction the need for ongoing formation and maturation, what we traditionally call “catechesis” (GE 160), which is part of the larger process of evangelization.

For those of us familiar with CCD and School of Religion programs, we must admit that sometimes we think of catechesis as primarily intellectual formation—a “class” that one has to attend. Yet the Holy Father is clear that catechesis is not primarily doctrinal, but about growing in grace and virtue (GE 161), recognizing that it is always the Lord who initiates the process (GE 162).

Pope Francis acknowledges the normative role of Church teaching on catechesis (GE 163), but offers further reflections that are significant for our time. One point of emphasis is the heart of the Gospel, the kerygma, which is both Trinitarian and Christ-centered. Just because it comes “first” doesn’t mean it can be forgotten later (GE 164). Rather, all catechesis must continually circle back to the heart of the message, which means that God’s saving love must be stressed ahead of religious and moral obligations (GE 165).

Pope Francis emphasizes the role of mystagogic catechesis, which is catechesis that is liturgical and involves the entire community (EG 166). This is just one more way that the Pope is emphasizing the need for catechetical formation that affects the entire person (not just a “head trip”) and one’s environment or culture. Like Pope Benedict, Pope Francis emphasizes the role of beauty in catechesis, including new forms or modes of beauty that are meaningful to today’s seekers (cf. EG 167). Catechesis also has a moral component, and the Holy Father decidedly prefers a joyful, positive approach that presents the moral life as the quest for authentic wisdom, self-fulfillment, and enrichment (EG 168)

Perhaps the most striking insight that the Holy Father gives us in this section is his call that all members of the Church be initiated in the “art of accompaniment” (EG 169), which in some ways reminds me of some of the writings of Blessed John Paul II, especially Crossing the Threshold of Hope.  This simply means that the Church needs people who can help lead others closer to God (EG 170). Those who serve as spiritual mentors must be good listeners (EG 171), fostering spiritual growth and the development of virtues in a spirit of patience and compassion (EG 171-72). Also, spiritual accompaniment isn’t an end in itself, but is part of the Church’s never-ending mission to bring the Gospel to the world. As the Holy Father says, “Missionary disciples accompany missionary disciples” (EG 173).

Pope Francis ends this section of the apostolic exhortation by stressing that Sacred Scripture is at the heart of all Church activity (EG 174). The Church evangelizes only to the extent she continually allows herself to be evangelized through the ministry of the Word. For that reason, the Pope invites all believers to become intimately familiar with Scripture, which he calls a “sublime treasure” (EG 175).

Homily Help

17 Dec

Homily HelpPope Francis devotes a substantial portion (paragraphs 135-59) of his apostolic exhortation on the joy of the Gospel (Evangelii Gaudium, or “EG”) to the preparation and delivery of homilies, as he recognizes their pivotal role in the proclamation of the Gospel.

One cannot help but chuckle at the Holy Father’s opening comment that homilies can be a source of suffering for ordained ministers and the faithful alike (EG 135). Yet, the fact that most people will readily nod their heads at this light-hearted comment shows that the Church too often falls short in this area. For this reason, it is refreshing that the Pope would pay such meticulous attention to all that goes into the preparation of a homily, recognizing that through the homily God reaches out in love to His people (EG 136).

The Pope stresses the liturgical, Eucharistic context of the homily, which requires that the homily is less a time for meditation or catechesis than it is a time for an encounter between God and the community (EG 137). The homily is a distinctive type of presentation, one that is neither “entertainment” nor a dry speech or lecture (EG 138). It should not be so long that the minister, rather than the Lord Himself, becomes the center of attention.

Pope Francis reminds us that the Church is our mother.  Her preaching should be likened to the way a mother speaks to her child. The faithful should always come away from a homily knowing that they are loved and trusting that the Church has their best interests at heart (EG 139). This “warmth” is fostered by preaching in the faithful’s native language (EG 139) and by the engaging, joyful, and unpretentious manner of the homilist (EG 140-41).

The Holy Father considers preaching to be something much more than the cold, detached communication of truth. Rather, in the homily, truth goes hand in hand with beauty and goodness and is thereby ordered to a heart-to-heart encounter with the Lord (EG 142). This emphasis on the heart is a game-changer, as it moves the typical response from one of boredom to one of authentic fervor (EG 143). Still, it’s not enough that our hearts be on fire; they must also be enlightened by the fullness of divine Revelation (EG 144). This Revelation gives us our identity and makes us desire the embrace of our heavenly Father.

Pope Francis then turns to the important subject of homily preparation. He says that a “prolonged” period of study, prayer, reflection, and “pastoral creativity” must be devoted to the homily. A preacher who does not take this admonition to heart is, according to the Holy Father, “dishonest and irresponsible” (EG 145).

The homilist prayerfully approaches the Mass readings. These biblical texts must provide the subject matter for the homily. The ordained minister manifests “reverence for the truth” by patiently and humbly striving to understand the meaning of a particular text (EG 146). While every detail is important, the preacher must never lose sight of the primary message that the sacred author is trying to convey. For example, “if a text was written to console, it should not be used to correct errors” (EG 147).

Also, to ensure that a passage is not taken out of context, it must be read in light of “the entire Bible handed on by the Church” (EG 148; cf. Catechism, no. 112).

A point of emphasis for Pope Francis is that the preacher must have “a great personal familiarity with the Word of God” (EG 149). He’s not referring here to scholarly erudition, but rather holiness. “Whoever wants to preach must be the first to let the Word of God move him deeply and become incarnate in his daily life” (EG 150). People “thirst for authenticity,” and this thirst can only be quenched by preachers who are living witnesses to what they preach.

In fact, Pope Francis quite bluntly states that a homilist who does not spend time with the Word of God in prayer is “a false prophet, a fraud, a shallow imposter” (EG 151).

As one traditional way of listening to God’s Word, the Holy Father recommends lectio divina. Such a meditative reading of Scripture begins with a study of the literal sense of the text but then leads to the consideration of the spiritual senses, so as to bring about personal enlightenment and renewal in Christ (EG 152; cf. Catechism, nos. 116-17). We must never stop taking pleasure in the daily encounter with God’s Word! (EG 153).

The Pope then turns to the question of how to bring the message to the people. He says that it’s not a matter of “shrewdness or calculation” but a matter of “evangelical discernment,” which leads the preacher in the Spirit to say what the people really need to hear (EG 154). Therefore, the homilist must not seek to answer questions people don’t have, nor should he strive simply to be hip or interesting—the Pope says we have TV for that! (EG 155).

The Holy Father says homilists should frequently use “images” that help the faithful connect the message to their own lives (EG 157). The best homilies are simple, clear, direct, and well-adapted to the audience (EG 158). And, in the concluding the section, Pope Francis calls for homilies that are “positive” (EG 159), which offer hope, point to the future, and offer attractive ways to grow in love of God and neighbor.

Evangelizing Church

11 Dec

Pope Francis 4As we well know, our Holy Father chose as his patron and model St. Francis, who is known for the statement, perhaps apocryphal, that we should “preach the Gospel at all times, and when necessary use words.” While there is some wisdom in that statement, we cannot conclude (or perhaps rationalize) that words aren’t important in the work of evangelization. In fact, they are usually necessary!

Pope Francis surely thinks so. He opens chapter three of his apostolic exhortation on “the joy of the Gospel” (Evangelii Gaudium, “EG”) with the statement (quoting Blessing John Paul II) that “there can be no true evangelization without the explicit proclamation of Jesus and Lord, and without the primacy of the proclamation of Jesus Christ in all evangelizing work” (EG 110). He says that our “absolute priority” must be “the joyful, patient, and progressive preaching of the saving death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.”

In today’s installment of our series on Evangelii Gaudium, we will unpack the first half of the chapter on the proclamation of the Gospel (EG 111-34), in which the Pope focuses on the role of all Catholics in the work of evangelization. He reminds us that evangelization is the work of the entire Church, understood as the pilgrim People of God (EG 111). Now, it may be daunting to hear that we are personally called to be on the front lines of the Church’s mission to bring the joy of the Gospel to all people, but the Holy Father quickly adds a few crucially important considerations:

  • It’s not about our own efforts, but about allowing God’s grace to work through us, so that the Church may be the sacrament of the salvation God offers the world (EG 112). Grace always comes first!
  • Drawing on a key emphasis of Vatican II, Pope Francis says that we are saved not as isolated individuals, but as a family (EG 113). The Church is our home, and all are welcome to share our joy.
  • As Church, we are have the dignity of being leaven in the world, offering hope, mercy, and encouragement to all (EG 114).

The Holy Father spends a considerable amount of time talking about “culture,” which has to do with “the lifestyle of a given society, the specific way its members relate to one another, to others, and to God” (EG 115). Grace presupposes and builds upon culture, and at the same time culture gives flesh to the faith. The Holy Father stresses that “Christianity does not have simply one cultural expression” (EG 116). He especially points out that European Christianity at a particular moment in history does not exhaust the richness and possibilities of our faith (EG 118). He does not see “cultural diversity” as a threat to Church unity or Catholic orthodoxy, but rather as a telltale sign of the Church’s vitality. After all, unity is not the same as uniformity (EG 117).

Perhaps the “heart” of this section of the apostolic exhortation is the Holy Father’s insistence that we become not mere missionaries and not mere disciples, but “missionary disciples” (EG 120). He challenges all of us, right now, in the present moment, to be agents of the new evangelization. He says we can’t be “passive observers” so as to leave the work of evangelization to so-called ”professionals” (EG 120). He doesn’t deny that we need to mature in the faith through ongoing catechesis, but nonetheless we should not “postpone” evangelization until some later time (EG 121).

One way that the Gospel gets “inculturated” is through expressions of popular piety and devotion (EG 122).  The Pope affirms things such as taking children on pilgrimages, fingering the Rosary, lighting candles, praying before a crucifix and other simple yet profound expressions of the Holy Spirit at work in individual hearts and in our culture (EG 123-26).

The Pope also discusses the person-to-person dimension of evangelization, even in the midst of conversations with strangers (EG 127). In paragraph 128, he describes how we can share our faith in dialogue with others. Some of the adjectives he uses are “respectful,” “gentle,” “humble,” and “willing to learn.” We can’t lose sight of the fundamental message: the personal love of God who became man, who gave Himself up for us, who is living and who is offering us His friendship and salvation.  When the circumstances are right, he encourages us to pray with people and to remember that we don’t have to have “fixed formulations” memorized in order to communicate our faith (EG 129).

He encourages us to be open to various charisms or gifts of the Holy Spirit, which build up the entire Church (EG 130). We seek the Holy Spirit to build unity amidst our diversity and to heal divisions. We ask for the Spirit’s grace to be open to differences that at times can be “uncomfortable” (EG 131).

The Holy Father promotes apologetics in the work of evangelization—perhaps not so much in the traditional sense of responding to Protestant arguments, but in the sense of putting reason and the sciences at the service of evangelization (EG 132). In that regard, Pope Francis is very supportive of the work of theologians, yet he does remind them that theology exists for the purpose of evangelization (EG 133). He ends this section with a brief mention of Catholic universities and schools, which combine education with the explicit proclamation of the Gospel, so as to foster the evangelization of culture (EG 134).

In the next post, we will turn to what Pope Francis has to say about the role of the Sunday homily in the work of evangelization!

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.