Table of Content
IIa Relation between EG and Evangelii Nuntiandi
IIb Relation between EG and Redemptoris Missio
III Qualities of a missionary Church
IV Challenges (temptations) facing pastoral agents
V Proclamation of the Gospel
VI The homily
VII Special care for the poor
VIII Spirit-filled evangelisers
The Apostolic Exhortation of Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium (EG), was issued on 24 Nov 2013 and is considered the first document completely written by Pope Francis. It is true that he had issued the encyclical, Lumen Fidei (Light of Faith), earlier that year on 29 June, but as he stated, some of it had already been written by his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI. However, the exhortation is truly the expression of the mind of Pope Francis and indicates his vision of the Church today.
Actually, Pope Francis gave his vision of the Church during the congregations, the meetings of cardinals that took place before the conclave, during which he was elected pope. In fact, many have expressed the opinion that the short intervention that the then Cardinal Bergoglio gave was the decisive moment that convinced many cardinal electors that he should be the next pope.
Therefore, let us listen to those words that I would like to propose as giving us elements to interpret and appreciate the insights in EG. This is what Cardinal Bergoglio said when he was given the opportunity to address the cardinals. This text was given by Vatican Radio:
Evangelising implies Apostolic Zeal
- Evangelising presupposes a desire in the Church to come out of herself. The Church is called to come out of herself and to go to the peripheries, not only geographically, but also the existential peripheries: the mystery of sin, of pain, of injustice, of ignorance and indifference to religion, of intellectual currents, and of all misery.
- When the Church does not come out of herself to evangelise, she becomes self-referential and then gets sick (cf the deformed woman of the Gospel). The evils that, over time, happen in ecclesial institutions have their root in self-referentiality and a kind of theological narcissism. In Revelation, Jesus says that he is at the door and knocks. Obviously, the text refers to his knocking from the outside in order to enter but I think about the times in which Jesus knocks from within so that we will let him come out. The self-referential Church keeps Jesus Christ within herself and does not let him out.
- When the Church is self-referential, inadvertently, she believes she has her own light; she ceases to be the mysterium lunae and gives way to that very serious evil, spiritual worldliness (which according to De Lubac, is the worst evil that can befall the Church). It lives to give glory only to one another.
Put simply, there are two images of the Church: Church which evangelises and comes out of herself, the Dei Verbum religiose audiens et fidente proclamans; and the worldly Church, living within herself, of herself, for herself. This should shed light on the possible changes and reforms which must be done for the salvation of souls.
- Thinking of the next pope: He must be a man who, from the contemplation and adoration of Jesus Christ, helps the Church to go out to the existential peripheries, that helps her to be the fruitful mother, who gains life from “the sweet and comforting joy of evangelising.”
A few days later, after he was elected pope, on Wednesday of Holy Week, 27 March 2013, Pope Francis gave his teaching, or catechesis, for his first General Audience. Consistent with his pre-conclave speech, the pope urged attendees to “step outside yourself.” Specifically, he said:
Holy Week is a time of grace which the Lord gifts us to open the doors of
our hearts,our lives, our parishes – what a pity, so many parishes are closed!
– in our parishes,movements, associations, and to ‘step outside’ towards
others, to draw close to them so we can bring the light and joy of our faith.
Always step outside yourself! And with the love and tenderness of God,
with respect and patience, knowing that we put our hands, our feet, our
hearts, but then it is God who guides them and makes all our actions
fruitful. May you all live these days well, following the Lord with
courage, carrying within a ray of His love for all those whome we meet.
In these four paragraphs and fifth one from the talk at the Audience, Pope Francis described the Church that he wants using the phrase “to come out of itself” seven times. He clearly wants us to go out from ourselves in order to evangelise not only to the geographical peripheries, but also to “the existential peripheries.”
He says that failure to go out of ourselves leads to a type of Church that is sick, inward looking, self-referential. It would be based on “theological narcissism.” It would be a Church that keeps Christ locked in, and instead of opening the door from outside, we would need to open the door from inside in order to let Christ out.
He already uses an important phrase that we will find in the exhortation, “spiritual worldliness,” which he describes “as the worst evil that can befall the Church.” A worldly Church is one that lives for itself and within itself.
We need, Cardinal Bergoglio said, a Church that goes outside of itself in order to share “the sweet and comforting joy of evangelising.” This, too, is an important theme that we will find throughout EG. It is not a matter of teaching the truth of the doctrine, but the joy of the Gospel.
These thoughts that Cardinal Bergoglio expressed before the conclave and then at his first General Audience are summed up perfectly in EG, where he writes in number 49:
Let us go forth, then, let us go forth to offer everyone the life of Jesus
Christ. Here I repeat for the entire Church what I have often said to the
priests and laity of Buenos Aires: I prefer 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 own security. I
do not want a Church concerned with being at the centre and which then
ends by being caught up in a web of obsessions and procedures. If something
should rightly disturb us and trouble our consciences, it is the fact that so
many of our brothers and sisters are living without the strength, light, and
consolation born of friendship with Jesus Christ, without a community of faith
to support them, without meaning and a goal in life. More than by fear of
going astray, my hope is that we will be moved by the fear of remaining shut
up within structures which give us a false sense of security, within rules
which make us harsh judges, within habits which make us feel safe, while at
our door people are starving and Jesus does not tire of saying to us: “Give
them something to eat” (Mk 6:37) (EG 49).
Consequently, we arrive at an important conclusion already at the start of this talk, that is, most of the content of this document represents expressions of the direct concerns of the Holy Father himself who sees this exhortation as containing “guidelines which can encourage and guide the whole Church in a new phase of evangelisation, one marked by enthusiasm and vitality” (17), without in anyway, he writes, “taking the place of local bishops in the discernment of every issue which arises in their territory” (16).
Clearly, the Holy Father presents his teaching as a dialogue with the local Churches who themselves must reflect upon its own situation and cultures and arrive at their own to evangelise, and certainly Pope Francis has given us sound guidelines to undertake that reflection and to implement concrete ways to bring the joy of the Gospel to others.
He tells us explicitly that while he has taken advice from other sources, he himself decided “to discuss at length the following questions: 1) the reform of the Church in her missionary outreach, 2) the temptations faced by pastoral workers, 3) the Church, as understood as the entire People of God which evangelises, 4) the homily and its preparation, 5) the inclusion of the poor in society, 6) peace and dialogue within society, and 7) the spiritual motivation for mission.”
The document is composed of five chapters. After the introduction, there is 1) the Church’s missionary transformation, 2) amid the crisis of communal commitment, 3) the proclamation of the Gospel, 4) the social dimension of evangelisation, 5) spirit-filled evangelisers.
Interestingly enough, there are seven themes, but only five chapters. This means that the document must be read in its entirety and as a whole. For example, chapter two which speaks about the crisis of communal commitment and therefore the difficulties faced by pastoral agents will find corresponding answers or insights on how to deal with them in chapter five.
In itself the phrase, “the Church is missionary,” is something as old as the Church herself. When Christ passed his mission of salvation to his apostles, he defined what the Church would be forever, not a closed-in community thinking about itself or concentrating on its rituals and ceremonies, its laws and decrees, its customs and traditions, but rather it would be an outgoing community. Nothing could be clearer than these words: “Go into the world and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Mt 28:19-20).
At the close of his earthly ministry, never once do we see Christ say: stay in your rooms and preserve the gift of faith that you have received; never once do we hear him say be content only the celebration of the sacraments; never once do we hear him say to concentrate only on the preservation of the communion of the Church, although he does pray that we all be one at the Last Supper (cf John 17). As Pope Francis states, however, “communion and mission are profoundly interconnected” (23).
If we fast-forward to our times, we recall that recent popes have also focused on the missionary life of the Church. Without question, the apostolic exhortation of Pope Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi, remains necessary reading, as well as the encyclical of St John Paul II, Redemptoris Missio.
They indicate that from the second half of the last century, the missionary aspect of the life of the Church was a focal point of consideration within the whole Church, certainly inspired by the experiences of the Second Vatican Council which was an opening of the Church to the world, going outside of itself to embrace “the joys and the hopes, the grief and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, they are the joys and hopes, the grief and anxieties of the followers of Christ” (Gaudium et spes, n. 11).
An article on the apostolic exhortation that appeared in “Civilta Cattolica,” on 7 Dec 2013, points out other important influences that the Holy Father may have had in mind when he wrote the present document, namely, Gaudete in Domino of Paul VI issued on 9 May 1975, and the discourse of St John XXIII given at the opening of the Second Vatican Council, Gaudete Mater Eccleia, which he actually refers to twice in nn 41 and 84. The titles of both of these documents contain the word joy.
Of course, the “Aparecida” document of 2007, to which Cardinal Bergoglio was a major contributor, inspires almost every page of the exhortation.
In the present document, Pope Francis seems to go even beyond the important insights found in his predecessors’ writings, because it is evident that here the Holy Father is not telling us that we must be missionaries, nor does he give a theological or philosophical thesis on the meaning of the Church as missionary, but rather he defined the qualities of a Church that goes forth into the world and gives the characteristics that the evangelisers, that is, every member of the Church, must have if the person of Christ is to be effectively presented to those waiting for him.
In speaking about the purpose of the exhortation, Pope Francis states that he writes this document “not with the intention of providing and exhaustive treatise, but simply as a way of showing their important practical implications for the Church’s mission today. All of them help give shape to a definite style of evangelisation which I ask you to adopt in every activity which you undertake” (18, emphasis in the text itself).
Later he says, “I want to emphasise that what I am trying to express here has a programmatic significance and important consequences” (25). The Holy Father then sees this exhortation as a document whose contents are not just to be reflected upon, but rather they are to be acted upon, leading to “a pastoral and missionary conversion, which cannot leave things as they are” (25). In another section, he writes: “we need to move from a pastoral ministry of mere conservation to a decidedly missionary ministry” (15). He is talking about radical change, reform and transformation.
This reform is based on an authentic self-examination within the entire Church, which Pope Francis recalls that Paul VI had already insisted upon fifty years ago in 1964. The Holy Father returns to that “memorable text that continues to challenge us” (26): “The Church must look with penetrating eyes within herself, ponder the mystery of her own being … This vivid and lively self-awareness inevitably leads to a comparison between the ideal image of the Church as Christ envisaged her and loved her as his holy and spotless bride (cf Eph 5:27), and the actual image which the Church presents to the world today … This is the source of the Church’s heroic and impatient struggle for renewal: the struggle to correct those flaws introduced by her members which her own self-examination, mirroring her exemplar, Christ, points out to her and condemns’ (Ecclesial Suam, nn 9, 10, 11).
There is no doubt that the document represents something very new. It gives us a concrete roadmap of the kind of Church the Holy Father is guiding us toward. For each and every one of us, this blueprint requires of us deep changes, a real conversion, in the way we think and act. Only by incorporating these words of Pope Francis into our lives will we witness and live the true transformation of the Church that we are waiting for.
Consequently, as we examine this document, I would like to suggest that we think of this question: “How can we apply this idea or suggestion of the pope in our concrete situation, in our parish, in the archdiocese or diocese, and above all, in our very lives as disciple missionaries?”
IIa. Relation between Evangelii Gaudium and Evangelii Nuntiandi
The Importance of Evangelii Nuntiandi (EN)
EN was issued on 8 Dec 1975 by Pope Paul VI, an apostolic exhortation, after the conclusion of the Third General Assembly Synod of Bishops of 1974 on evangelisation. As Paul VI writes: “At the end of that memorable assembly, the Fathers decided to remit to the Pastor of the universal Church, with great trust and simplicity, the fruits of all their labours, stating that they awaited from him a fresh forward impulse, capable of creating within a Church still more firmly rooted in the undying power and strength of Pentecost a new period of evangelisation” (n 2).
EG, too, is the result of a synod, the XIII Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops of October 2012, on the theme “The New Evangelisation for the Transmission of the Christian Faith.”
EN is an important source in EG, as Pope Francis cites it eight times in his own exhortation. In some ways, it sets the basic thrust of EG. In no 10, Pope Francis states: “Let us recover and deepen our enthusiasm, that, – then quoting EN – ‘delightful and comforting joy of evangelising, even when it is in tears that we must sow … And may the world of our time, which is searching, sometimes with anguish, sometimes with hope, be enabled to receive the good news not from evangelisers who are dejected, discouraged, impatient or anxious, but from ministers of the Gospel whose lives glow with fervour, who have first received the joy of Christ.’”
We see many themes in EG in those few words of Paul VI: joy, a world that is searching, the ability to receive the message, temptations of evangelisers, spirit-filled evangelisers filled with fervour, etc.
On 17 June 2014, the pope gave us an important insight of his appreciation for EN. When speaking to a conference of the diocese of Rome, he affirmed: “I wish to say one thing, without doubt, I am happy that you, Fr Giampiero, mentioned EN. Also today, EN is a pastoral document of great importance, which has not been surpassed, in this post-conciliar period. We must always go there. It is a field of inspiration. It was written by the great Paul VI, by his very hand. Because after that synod, there was not a consensus on whether or not to write an exhortation.
At the end, the relator, who was by the way, St John Paul II, took all the papers and handed them over to Paul VI, as if to say: “You figure this out, my brother.’ Paul VI read all of the documentation, with that patience which he had, and then began to write. And so, it is for me, the great pastoral testimony of the great Paul VI. It has not been surpassed. It contains a field of ideas for pastoral activity. Thank you for mentioning it, and may it always be a reference” (17 June 2014).
Then in the course of his meeting with priests during his visit to Caserta on 26 July 2014, the Holy Father said that EN is a post-conciliar pastoral document that has yet to be surpassed. He affirmed: “It is of great relevance even today.” In other places and situations, Pope Francis has called this document, prophetic.
So now, let us take a look at this important document that provides a basis for the thought of EG, and at the same time, shows how that thought has developed within the Church in these forty years.
The following are five points of interest:
- Evangelisation as essential to the Church
From the very beginning of EN, Paul VI declares that evangelisation is not optional (n 5) as it is the very essential meaning of the Church, which exists precisely for evangelisation (n 4). It is her vocation, given by Christ himself as a command (n 14).
The Church is “linked to evangelisation in her most intimate being” (n 15). The Church is sent out by Christ himself and therefore, she is not an institution closed within herself (n 15).
These are the exact words of Paul VI: “For the Christian community is never closed in upon itself. The intimate life of this community – the life of listening to the Word and the apostles’ teaching, charity lived in a fraternal way, the sharing of bread this intimate life only acquires its full meaning when it becomes a witness, when it evokes admiration and conversion, and when it becomes the preaching and proclamation of the Good News” (n 15).
Paul VI describes the dynamic of evangelisation that Pope Francis develops in EG; Pope Paul recalls that Christ was the first evangeliser who “proclaims salvation … which is liberation from everything that oppresses man, but which is above all liberation from sin and death” (n 9). Christ, in turn, sends out his disciples. “To reveal Jesus Christ and His Gospel to those who do not know them has been, ever since the morning of Pentecost, the fundamental program which the Church has taken on as received from her Founder” (n 51).
Ever since, Pope Paul writes, “the Church has been deeply aware of her duty to preach salvation to all,” a message not reserved to a few or an elect group, for “the Church is also conscious of the fact that, if the preaching of the Gospel is to be effective, she must address her message to the heart of the multitudes, to communities of the faithful whose action can and must reach others” (n 57). “The Good News of the kingdom which is coming and which has begun is meant for all people of all times” (n 13).
In that context, it is important to point out that Paul VI already plants an important theme that Pope Francis will develop enormously, namely, preaching especially to the poor. In EN, Paul VI defines the evangelising work of Jesus by quoting Luke, where Christ refers to the prophet Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord has been given to me, for he has anointed me. He has sent me to bring the good news to the poor.” Then he writes: “Going from town to town, preaching to the poorest – and frequently the most receptive – the joyful news” of the Gospel (n 6).
Another theme in this part of the reflection is the evangelised become evangelisers. Paul VI writes: “Those who sincerely accept the Good News” … “make up a community which is in its turn evangelising.” In other words, “those who have received the Good News and who have been gathered by it into the community of salvation can and must communicate and spread it” (n 13).
To put all of this reflection in a succinct manner, Paul VI affirms: “The Church is entirely and completely evangelising. This means that, in the whole world and in each part of the world where she is present, the Church feels responsible for the task of spreading the Gospel” (n 60).
Evangelisation for transformation
This is the second theme that is clearly present in EN, and one which we must keep in mind when evaluating the means and ways that we adopt in our evangelisation activities and the criteria which we use to evaluate these activities.
Paul VI states that evangelisation has as its goal the transformation of people. In EN 4, he poses three questions which form the axis of our evangelisation activity:
- In our day, what has happened to that hidden energy of the Good News, which is able to have a powerful effect on man’s conscience?
- To what extent and in what way is that evangelical force capable of really transforming the people of this century?
- What methods should be followed in order that the power of the Gospel may have its effect?
In other words, the Church in her evangelisation mission wants to put the Gospel “into people’s hearts with conviction, freedom of spirit and effectiveness” (n 4), that is, the goal of evangelisation in this context is to touch the hearts and consciences of people.
It deals with attaining “a radical conversion, a profound change of mind and heart”
(n 10). “For the Church, evangelising means bringing the Good News into all the strata of humanity, and through its influence transforming humanity from within and making it new … The purpose of evangelisation is therefore precisely this interior change, and if it had to be expressed in one sentence the best way of stating it would be to say that the Church evangelises when she seeks to convert, solely through the divine power of the message she proclaims, both the personal and collective consciences of people, the activities in which they engage, and the lives and concrete milieu which are theirs” (n 18).
“Strata of humanity which are transformed: for the Church it is a question not only of preaching the Gospel in ever wider geographic areas or to ever greater numbers of people, but also of affecting and as it were, upsetting, through the power of the Gospel, mankind’s criteria of judgment, determining values, points of interest, lines of thought, sources of inspiration and models of life, which are in contrast with the Word of God and the plan of salvation” (n 19).
It applies to the evangelisation of culture and cultures, “always taking the person as one’s starting point and always coming back to the relationships of people among themselves and with God” (n 20). So evangelisation is person centred, a theme that Pope Francis repeats over and over in EG.
So what about the explicit announcement of the Gospel, the very name of Jesus, through which conversion takes place and transformation is accomplished? How about the question of the entry into the Church and so forth? Needless to say, these elements are explored in EN. In a sense, it is the basic question dealing with the relationship between direct and indirect evangelisation.
Paul VI affirms that these two ways of evangelisation are not mutually exclusive and proposes this reflection: “Evangelisation, as we have said, is a complex process made up of varied elements: the renewal of humanity, witness, explicit proclamation, inner adherence, entry into the community, acceptance of signs, apostolic initiative. These elements may appear to be contradictory, indeed mutually exclusive. In fact they are complementary and mutually enriching. Each one must always be seen in relationship with the others. The value of the last synod was to have constantly invited us to relate these elements rather than to place them in opposition one to the other, in order to reach a full understanding of the Church’s evangelising activity” (n 24).
In the end, evangelisation is based on the evangelising mission of Jesus which was to bring into the world the kingdom of God. EN explores this evangelical dimension of evangelisation in nn 9-12. Paul VI writes: “Christ proclaims salvation, this great gift of God which is liberation from everything that oppresses man but which is above all liberation from sin and the Evil One, in the joy of knowing God and being known by Him, of seeing Him, and of being given over to Him” (n 9).
“This kingdom and this salvation, which are the key words of Jesus Christ’s evangelisation, are available to every human being as grace and mercy (n 10), and how did Christ do this? Through word (proclamation) and signs (works), see nn 11 and 12.
Need for renewal
In order for the Church to fulfil her mission of evangelisation, Paul VI in EN, recalls that the objective of the Second Vatican Council, which was a council of renewal and change, was “to make the Church of the twentieth century ever better fitted for proclaiming the Gospel to the people of the twentieth century” (n 2). In particular, he stated that “the conditions of the society in which we live, oblige all of us therefore to revise methods, to seek by every means to study how we can bring the Christian message to modern man” … “in a way that is as understandable and persuasive as possible” (n 3).
These ways, he writes, will ‘vary according to the different circumstances of time, place and culture, and because they thereby present a certain challenge to our capacity for discovery and adaptation,” and consequently, the Church has “the responsibility for reshaping with boldness and wisdom, but in complete fidelity to the content of evangelisation, the means that are most suitable and effective for communicating the Gospel message to the men and women of our times” (n 40).
Moreover, the goal of renewal is twofold. First, “the Church has a constant need of being evangelised, if she wishes to retain freshness, vigour and strength in order to proclaim the Gospel. The Second Vatican Council recalled and the 1974 Synod vigorously took up again this theme of the Church which is evangelised by constant conversion and renewal, in order to evangelise the world with credibility” (n 15).
Secondly, the renewal must have as its goal an effective result. In other words, to what extent does our real concrete mission lead to real and concrete results (n 4)? Pope Francis also addresses this point and says that in the end it is not the numbers or statistics that count, but the effort made to encounter even one person.
How to evangelise
EN offers concrete “places” of evangelisation. Paul VI emphasises that the primary way to evangelise is through witness. He affirms in no qualified terms: “Above all the Gospel must be proclaimed by witness” (n 21).
It is worth listening to his entire reflection on this important point: “Take a Christian or a handful of Christians who, in the midst of their own community, show their capacity for understanding and acceptance, their sharing of life and destiny with other people, their solidarity with the efforts of all for whatever is good and noble. Let us suppose that, in addition, they radiate in an altogether simple and unaffected way their faith in values that go beyond current values, and their hope in something that is not seen and that one would not dare to imagine. Through this wordless witness these Christians stir up irresistible questions in the hearts of those who see how they live: Why are they like this? Why do they live in this way? What or who is it that inspires them? Why are they in our midst? Such a witness is already a silent proclamation of the Good News and a very powerful and effective one. Here we have an initial act of evangelisation. The above questions will ask, whether they are people to whom Christ has never been proclaimed, or baptised people who do not practice, or people who live as nominal Christians but according to principles that are in no way Christian, or people who are seeking, and not without suffering, something or someone whom they sense but cannot name. Other questions will arise, deeper and more demanding ones, questions evoked by this witness which involves presence, sharing, solidarity and which is an essential element, and generally the first one, in evangelisation” (n 21).
Elsewhere in EN, Paul VI states that “to evangelise is first of all to bear witness, in a simple and direct way, to God revealed by Jesus Christ, in the Holy Spirit, to bear witness that in His Son, God has loved the world” (n 26).
Evangelisation is, at the same time, the explicit and clear announcement of Jesus Christ. Pope Paul puts it this way: “The Good News proclaimed by the witness of life sooner or later has to be proclaimed by the word of life. There is no true evangelisation if the name, the teaching, the life, the promises, the kingdom and the mystery of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God are not proclaimed” (n 22). “Evangelisation will also always contain – as the foundation, centre, and at the same time, summit of its dynamism – a clear proclamation that, in Jesus Christ, the Son of God made man, who died and rose from the dead, salvation is offered to all men, as a gift o God’s grace and mercy (n 27).
Evangelisation only achieves its fulfilment “when it is listened to, accepted and assimilated, and when it arouses a genuine adherence in the one who has thus received it (n 23). That adherence leads to an entrance into a community of believers, the Church (n 23).
All of these aspects, as mentioned earlier, are not mutually exclusive, but mutual enriching (n 24). Indeed, “evangelisation would not be complete if it did not take account of the unceasing interplay of the Gospel and of man’s concrete life, both personal and social. This is why evangelisation involves an explicit message, adapted to the different situations constantly being realised about the rights and duties of every human being, about family life without which personal growth and development is hardly possible, about life in society, about international life, peace, justice and development, a message especially energetic today about liberation (n 29, 30).
Consequently, there is a link between evangelisation and human advancement and development (n 31). He describes this link as “profound” (n 31). However, it is more than just “temporal project.” Reducing evangelisation to a mere “temporal project” brings with it many dangers. He writes that evangelisation reduced to an exclusively temporal project would “reduce her aims to a man-centred goal; the salvation of which she is the messenger would be reduced to material well-being. Her activity, forgetful of all spiritual and religious preoccupation, would become initiatives of the political or social order. But if this were so, the Church would lose her fundamental meaning. Her message of liberation would no longer have any originality and would easily be open to monopolisation and manipulation by ideological systems and political parties. She would have no more authority to proclaim freedom in the name of God (n 32).
For the Church, the concept of liberation is different, that is, there is “a specifically religious finality of evangelisation. This latter would lose its reason for existence if it were to diverge from the religious axis that guides it: the kingdom of God, before anything else, in its fully theological meaning” (n 32). In this sense, the concept of liberation is global and inclusive of both the temporal and the spiritual. Liberation within the context of evangelisation means that:
- It cannot be contained in the simple and restricted dimension of economics, politics, social or cultural life; it must envisage the whole man, in all his aspects, right up to and including his openness to the absolute, even the divine Absolute;
- It is therefore attached to a view of man which it can never sacrifice to the needs of any strategy, practice or short-term efficiency (n 33).
Consequently, the Church must always “reaffirm the primacy of her spiritual vocation and refuses to replace the proclamation of the kingdom by the proclamation of forms of human liberation” (n 34), because “the Church links human liberation and salvation in Jesus Christ” (n 35). Temporal liberation cannot lack the spiritual dimension, because even if we create the best and even idealised systems, they soon become inhuman, “if the inhuman inclinations of the human heart are not made wholesome” (n 36).
Therefore, the Church does encourage her members “to devote themselves to the liberation of men. She is providing these Christian ‘liberators’ with the inspiration of faith, the motivation of fraternal love, a social teaching which the true Christian cannot ignore and which he must make the foundation of his wisdom and of his experience in order to translate it concretely into forms of action, participation and commitment. All this must characterise the spirit of a committed Christian, without confusion with tactical attitudes or with the service of a political system. The Church strives always to insert the Christian struggle for liberation into the universal plan of salvation which she herself proclaims” (n 38).
Pope Paul VI makes it very clear in EN that it is the Church that evangelises, and from that affirmation arises two convictions:
“The first is this: evangelisation is for no one an individual and isolated act; it is one that is deeply ecclesial. When the most obscure preacher, catechist or pastor in the most distant land preaches the Gospel, gathers his little community together or administers a sacrament, even alone, he is carrying out an ecclesial act, and his action is certainly attached to the evangelising activity of the whole Church by institutional relationships, but also by profound invisible links in the order of grace. This presupposes that he acts not in virtue of a mission which he attributes to himself or by a personal inspiration, but in union with the mission of the Church and in her name.
“From this flows the second conviction: if each individual evangeliser in the name of the Church, who herself does so by virtue of a mandate from the Lord, no evangeliser is the absolute master of his evangelising action, with a discretionary power to carry it out in accordance with individualistic criteria and perspectives; he acts in communion with the Church and her pastors” (n 60).
Moreover, evangelisation is essentially linked to the communion of the Church, every aspect of that which unites us as a communion of believers. Within that strict ecclesial communion, individuals by virtue of distinct ministries carry out the mission of evangelisation, beginning with the pope to the distant catechist announcing the message in the most remote area.
The bishop is the teacher of the faith; priests act in the person of Christ; religious possess a privileged means of effective evangelisation as they present to the Church and to the community that thirst for holiness, through the silent witness of poverty and abnegation, of purity and sincerity, of self-sacrifice in obedience; lay people who bring the Gospel into the midst of the world and so forth (see nn 67ff).
In particular, let us listen to the words of Paul VI about pastors: “We have been chosen by the mercy of the Supreme Pastor, in spite of our inadequacy, to proclaim with authority the Word of God, to assemble the scattered People of God, to tend this people with the signs of the action of Christ which are the sacraments, to set this people on the road to salvation, to maintain it in that unity of which we are, at different levels, active and living instruments, and unceasingly to keep this community gathered around Christ’s faithful to its deepest vocation. And when we do all these things, within our human limits and by the grace of God, it is a work of evangelisation that we are carrying out” (n 68).
To be complete, let me finish what these words from EN: “It must be said that the Holy Spirit is the principal agent of evangelisation: it is He who impels each individual to proclaim the Gospel, and it is He who in the depths of consciences causes the word of salvation to be accepted and understood. But it can equally be said that He is the goal of evangelisation: He alone stirs up the new creation, the new humanity of which evangelisation wishes to achieve within the Christian community. Through the Holy Spirit the Gospel penetrates to the heart of the world, for it is He who causes people to discern the signs of the times, signs willed by God – which evangelisation reveals and puts to use within history” (n 75).
Pope Francis, in fact, will use this very reflection to remind us that to be evangelisers we must be spirit-filled.
POINTS OF CONTACT BETWEEN EG AND EN
The following are the quotes that Pope Francis takes from EN in his own exhortation:
EG 10: Consequently, an evangeliser must never look like someone who has just come back from a funeral! Let us recover and deepen our enthusiasm, that “delightful and comforting joy of evangelising, even when it is in tears that we must sow … And may the world of our time, which is searching, sometimes with anguish, sometimes with hope, be enabled to receive the good news not from evangelisers who are dejected, discouraged, impatient or anxious, but from ministers of the Gospel whose lives glow with fervour, who have first received the joy of Christ” (EN 80).
EG 12: Though it is true that this mission demands great generosity on our part, it would be wrong to see it as a heroic individual undertaking, for it is first and foremost the Lord’s work, surpassing anything which we can see and understand. Jesus is “the first and greatest evangeliser.” In every activity of evangelisation, the primacy always belongs to God, who has called us to cooperate with him and who leads us on by the power of his Spirit (EN 7).
EG 123: In the exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi, Pope Paul VI gave a decisive impulse in this area (of popular piety). There he stated that popular piety “manifests a thirst for God which only the poor and the simple can know” and that “it makes people capable of generosity and sacrifice even to the point of heroism, when it is a question of bearing witness to belief” (EN 48).
EG 146: The first step, after calling upon the Holy Spirit in prayer, is to give our entire attention to the biblical text, which needs to be the basis of our preaching. Whenever we stop and attempt to understand the message of a particular text, we are practising “reverence for the truth.” This is the humility of heart which recognises that the word is always beyond us, that “we are neither its masters or owners, but its guardians, heralds and servants.” This attitude of humble and awe-filled veneration of the word is expressed by taking the time to study it with the greatest care and a holy fear lest we distort it (EN 146).
EG 150: Today too, people prefer to listen to witnesses: they “thirst for authenticity” and “call for evangelisers to speak of a God whom they themselves know and are familiar with, as if they were seeing him” (EN 76).
EG 156: Some people think they can be good preachers because they know what ought to be said, but they pay no attention to how it should be said, that is, the concrete way of constructing a sermon. They complain when people do not listen to or appreciate them, but perhaps they have never taken the trouble to find the proper way of presenting their message. Let us remember that “the obvious importance of the content of evangelisation must not overshadow the importance of its ways and means” (EN 40).
EG 176: To evangelise is to make the kingdom of God present in our world. Yet “any partial or fragmentary definition which attempts to render the reality of evangelisation in all its richness, complexity and dynamism does so only at the risk of impoverishing it and even of distorting it.” I would now like to share my concerns about the social dimension of evangelisation, precisely because if this dimension is not properly brought out, there is a constant risk of distorting the authentic and integral meaning of the mission of evangelisation (EN 17).
EG 181: We know that “evangelisation would not be complete if it did not take account of the unceasing interplay of the Gospel and of man’s concrete life, both personal and social.” This is the principle of universality intrinsic to the Gospel, for the Father desires the salvation of every man and woman, and his saving plan consists in “gathering up all things in Christ, things in heaven and things on earth” (Eph 1:10) (EN 29).
IIb. Relation between Evangelii Gaudium and Redemptoris Missio
Saint John Paul II signed his encyclical Redemptoris Missio (RM) on 7 Dec 1990, the twenty-fifth anniversary of the document of the Second Vatican Council, Ad Gentes, which dealt with the missionary activity of the Church. Its publication also coincided with the fifteenth anniversary of EN.
With this encyclical, Saint John Paul II, in line with the teaching of the council and his predecessors, wanted to invite the whole Church “to renew her missionary commitment” (n 1), for indeed, “the mission of Christ the redeemer, which is entrusted to the Church, is still very far from completion” (n 1).
The document is composed of eight chapters: 1) Jesus Christ, the only saviour, 2) the kingdom of God, 3) the Holy Spirit, the principal agent of evangelisation, 4) the vast horizons of the mission ad gentes, 5) the paths of mission, 6) leaders and workers in the missionary apostolate, 7) cooperation in missionary activity, 8) missionary spirituality.
The titles of the chapters themselves reveal the continuity of the reflection of the missionary life of the Church as described by the council and then Paul VI. At the same time, it shows the many themes that Pope Francis developed from this document in EG. Many affirm that RM represents a very thorough reflection on evangelisation and mission.
One commentator, Rev Stephen Bevans SVD, in an article, “From: “Church Teaching on Mission, Ad Gentes, Evangelii Nuntiandi, Redemptoris Missio and Dialogue and Proclamation” (online), pointed out three important aspects of the document.
The first is its focus on Christ, as the source and finality of evangelisation. The second deals with broadening the idea of mission, affirming that it is a multifaceted reality in the Church. The third important theme is interreligious dialogue, which is defined as a manifestation of the Church’s respect for other religions. He considers this last point a new concept in the area of mission and evangelisation.
Fr Bevans has shown how the understanding of mission and evangelisation has developed ever since the conciliar document, Ad Gentes:
- Ad Gentes: Church is “missionary by its very nature.” This is not a territory concept but a basic attitude of crossing boundaries and moving beyond itself.
- Evangelii Nuntiandi: Mission (evangelisation) is our “deepest identity.” The Church must first be evangelised itself so that it can continue Jesus’ mission and all in the Church are to participate.
- Redemptoris Missio: Mission “embraces the entire life of the Church.” Christ must be central to our proclamation and witness as we engage in interreligious dialogue.
POINTS OF CONTACT BETWEEN EG AND RM
EG 15: John Paul II asked us to recognise that “there must be no lessening of the impetus to preach the Gospel” to those who are far from Christ, “because this is the first task of the Church.” Indeed, “today missionary activity still represents the greatest challenge for the Church” and “the missionary task must remain foremost” (RM 83, 40, 86). What would happen if we were to take these words seriously? We would realise that missionary outreach is paradigmatic for all the Church’s activity.
EG 116: In the Christian customs of an evangelised people, the Holy Spirit adorns the Church, showing her new aspects of revelation and giving her a new face. Through inculturation, the Church “introduces peoples, together with their cultures, into her own community,” for “every culture offers positive values and forms which can enrich the way the Gospel is preached, understood and lived” (RM 52).
EG 251: 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” (RM 56). What is not helpful is a diplomatic openness which says “yes” to everything in order to avoid problems, for this would be a way of deceiving others and denying them the good which we have been given to share generously with others. Evangelisation and interreligious dialogue, far from being opposed, mutually support and nourish one another.
EG 265: If we succeed in expressing adequately and with beauty the essential content of the Gospel, surely this message will speak to the deepest yearnings of people’s hearts: “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” (RM 45). Enthusiasm for evangelisation is based on this conviction. We have a treasure of life and love which cannot deceive, and a message which cannot mislead or disappoint. It penetrates to the depths of our hearts, sustaining and ennobling us. It is a truth which is never out of date because it reaches that part of us which nothing else can reach. Our infinite sadness can only be cured by an infinite love.
EG 287: Mary is the woman of faith, who lives and advances in faith, and “her exceptional pilgrimage of faith represents a constant point of reference for the Church” (RM 6).
EG 287: Today we look to her and ask her to help us proclaim the message of salvation to all and to enable new disciples to become evangelisers in turn (EG 216). Along this journey of evangelisation we will have our moments of aridity, darkness and even fatigue. Mary herself experienced these things during the years of Jesus’ childhood in Nazareth: “This is the beginning of the Gospel, the joyful good news. However, it is not difficult to see in that beginning a particular heaviness of heart, linked with a sort of night of faith – to use the words of St John of the Cross – a kind of ‘veil’ through which one has to draw near to the Invisible One and to live in intimacy with the mystery. And this is the way that Mary, for many years, lived in intimacy with the mystery of her Son, and went forward in her pilgrimage of faith” (RM 79).
III. Qualities of a missionary Church
The primary focus of the document is to awaken within the entire Church, its missionary activity and life. The Holy Father repeatedly refers to our essential existence that arises from life with God through Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit. Our life with God, given to us at Baptism, puts us in communion with the Trinity, with the Church and with the Saints in heaven. The Church is communion, but as Pope Francis affirms, “communion and mission are profoundly linked” (23). And as such, “in fidelity to the example of the Master, it is vitally important for the Church today to go forth and preach the Gospel to all: to all places, on all occasions, without hesitation, reluctance or fear. The joy of the Gospel is for all people: no one can be excluded” (23).
To be a missionary Church means to go forth, and a “Church which goes forth is a community of disciples who take the first step, who are involved and supportive, who bear fruit and rejoice” (24).
Pope Francis gives us the qualities of our going forth, the characteristics which we must embody when we take that first step, when we get involved and when we present and give witness to the Gospel.
The first quality that we find to define the Church that goes forth is a joyful Church. He says that this “missionary joy” derives from the “joy of the Gospel” itself, as he recalls the various episodes in the New Testament where the disciples, the people, individuals are filled with joy after having been touched by Christ himself (5). Consequently, he invites the entire Church to “enter into this great stream of joy” (5), and as such the Church and her ministers become a joyful community, “an evangelising community filled with joy; it must know how to rejoice always, knowing how to celebrate every step forward in the work of evangelisation” (24).
The second word that defines an outgoing Church is mercy. Not only does Pope Francis emphasise this word in this document, it has been one of the central themes of his entire papacy thus far and one that he is insisting upon as we go to meet others within our Church and outside our Church. He states that a Church, composed of those who have received salvation, must “have an endless desire to show mercy” (24). “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). Cardinal Walter Kasper, president emeritus of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, in a talk on 1 May 2014 given at Boston College, stated: “A Church without charity and mercy would no longer be the Church of Jesus Christ.”
To be a Church of mercy concretely means, to use the pope’s very words, “to get involved in word and deed in people’s daily lives” (24). We must be with the people, walking with them in their daily lives, often marked by struggles and pain, “entering fully into the fabric of society, sharing the lives of all, listening to their concerns” (268). In other words, “Jesus wants us to touch human misery” (268).
It means that we must lower ourselves, at times to get on our knees and wash the feet of our brothers and sisters in need. It means that we must be supportive of people, especially the weak, not only materially but also spiritually, remembering that judgment is left to God alone.
Will we ever forget the piercing words of Pope Francis which had caught the imagination of the whole world: “Who am I to judge?” Obviously, the Holy Father says, we must point the people in the right direction, but we must do it in a non-judgmental and encouraging way. Specifically, the pope writes that in pointing people in the right direction we must do so “with mercy and patience” recognising that there are stages to personal growth and spiritual development” (44).
Even when we deal with the world, we must not approach it as an “enemy who critiques and condemns,” but we must do so with “gentleness and reverence” (1 Pt 3:15). We should do so not appearing as if we are better than others but “in humility counting others better than ourselves” (Phil 2:3). The pope writes, “Jesus does not want us to be grandees, who look down on others, but men and women of the people” (271).
He goes on to say, lest anyone minimises this reflection, that these are not ideas of the pope, but “they are injunctions based on the Word of God, which are so clear, direct and convincing that they need no interpretation which may diminish their power to challenge us” (271). Here the pope is clearly going to the primary source of Christian faith and action, the Gospels themselves, whose words, images and mandates need no contorted manipulation of meaning whose goal is oftentimes to downplay their significance and thus diffuse their power to make us want to change or at least to ask the question, are we really doing what is expected of us?
Simply put, our approach as Church, must be that of the spirit of the father who embraced the prodigal son who never once scolded his son for his wayward behaviour, but merely rejoiced when the son who was lost was then found. On this point, let me quote directly from the words of the Holy Father: “I want to remind priests that the confessional must not be a torture chamber, but rather an encounter with the Lord’s mercy” (44).
For the pope, joy and mercy are linked. He writes: “The good news is the joy of the Father who desires that none of his little ones be lost, the joy of the Good Shepherd who finds the lost sheep and brings it back to the flock” (237).
To find the lost sheep and to bring them back mean that we must go out and find them and show mercy in taking their hand and bringing them back. It is an initiative on our part, for, as Pope Francis affirms, quoting the “Aparecida” document, “we cannot passively and calmly wait in our church buildings” (15). From that experience, which comes from the type of ministry that the pope is describing, we ourselves become subjects again of evangelisation, because in these moments we find once again the joy of the Gospel.
The Holy Father recalls the teaching of St Thomas Aquinas and writes: “Mercy is the greatest of the virtues, since all the others revolve around it and, more than this, it makes up for their deficiencies” (37).
For Pope Francis mercy is boundless. Listen to the words that he spoke to the deacons of Rome, during their ordination to the priesthood in St Peter’s Basilica on 11 May 2014: “And here I want to pause to ask you, for the love of Jesus Christ: never tire of being merciful! Please! Have the ability to forgive that the Lord had, who came not to condemn but to forgive! Be greatly merciful! And if you have scruples about being too “forgiving,” think of that holy priest, who went before the Tabernacle and said: “Lord, pardon me if I have forgiven too much, but it is you who have set me a bad example!” And I tell you, truly: it grieves me when I come across people who no longer confess because they have been beaten and scolded. They have felt as though the church doors were being closed in their faces! Please, do not do this: mercy, mercy! The Good Shepherd enters through the door, and the doors of mercy are the wounds of the Lord: if you do not enter into your ministry through the Lord’s wounds, you will not be good shepherds.”
Cardinal Kasper, in the same talk mentioned above, gave what could be considered a summary of this quality of mercy. “God bends down in order to raise us up; to comfort us and to heal our wounds; and to give us a new chance, to bestow on us new life and a new hope. And who would be so self-righteous as to think that he would not need such mercy? Mercy is the name of our God. Mercy is the call to be human being, who feels with other human beings who suffer and are in need. Mercy is the call to be a real Christian, who follows the example of Christ and meets Christ in his suffering brothers and sisters. Mercy is the essence of the Gospel and the key to Christian life. Mercy is the best and most beautiful news that can be told to us and that we should bring to the world. As God by his mercy always gives us a new chance, a new future, our mercy gives future to the other, and to a world that needs it so much.”
A third word which is so fascinating to describe a Church that is missionary is the word beauty. In this regard, let me go directly to the writing of Pope Francis when he speaks of the presentation of the message in catechesis: “Every form of catechesis would do well to attend to the ‘way of beauty.’ Proclaiming Christ means showing that to believe in him and to follow him is not only something right and true, but also something capable of filling life with new splendour and profound joy, even in the midst of difficulties. Every expression of true beauty can thus be acknowledged as a path leading to an encounter with the Lord Jesus” (167).
We may be tempted to think that the pope is disregarding or downplaying the importance of the truth of the message. Not at all, because he sees it the other way around, that is, we should not begin with the truth and demands of the message and simply impart it in a cold, dogmatic, forceful and absolute fashion, but rather we must begin with “a renewed esteem for beauty as a means of touching the human heart and thus enabling the truth and goodness of the Risen Christ to radiate within it” (167). Once the beauty of Christ overwhelms and captures us, as all beautiful and things do, we are spontaneously compelled and empowered to so all that the Lord has taught. Beauty leads to an enthusiastic desire to be like Jesus.
At the same time, Pope Francis is not shy in putting the need for doctrine in a proper context. He writes: “I do not want a Church concerned with being at the centre and which then ends by being caught up in a web of obsessions and procedures. If something should rightly disturb us and trouble our consciences, it is the fact that so many of our brothers and sisters are living without the strength, light and consolation born of friendship with Jesus Christ, without a community of faith to support them, without meaning and a goal in life. More than by fear of going astray, my hope is that we will be moved by the fear of remaining shut up within structures which give us a false sense of security, within rules which make us harsh judges, within habits which make us feel safe, while at our door people are starving and Jesus does not tire of saying to us: “Give them something to eat” (Mk 6:37) (49).
Instead, he prefers “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 own security” (49).
Consequently, he writes, “we must be bold enough to discover new signs and new symbols, new flesh to embody and communicate the word and different forms of beauty which are valued in different cultural settings” (167). We must make the message “attractive” once again, and by using that word the Holy Father is not talking about making the message superficial or shallow. He is talking about allowing, through our words and actions, the beauty of the Gospel to be felt and embraced. Beauty is attractiveness which leads us to want it and desire it and therefore to embrace it.
In fact, the Holy Father wants us to assist everyone “to be touched by the comfort and attractiveness of God’s saving love” (we return to the theme of mercy). There are no other places and words to find this attractiveness and beauty better than that which comes forth from the heart of the Gospel, which in its basic core, “shines forth as the beauty of the saving love of God made manifest in Jesus Christ who died and rose from the dead” (36). In our announcing the message of the Gospel, the pope tells us that we must “concentrate on the essentials, on what is most beautiful, most grand, most appealing and at the same time, most necessary” (35).
As he writes elsewhere in the document: “If we succeed in expressing adequately and with beauty the essential content of the Gospel, surely this message will speak to the deepest yearnings of people’s hearts” (265). Indeed, “instead of seeming to impose new obligations, we should appear as people who wish to share our joy, who point to the horizon of beauty and who invite others to a delicious banquet. It is not by proselytising that the Church grows, but by attraction” (15).
On this point, I wish to make my own suggestion: let us make the Gospel stories the centre of our evangelising efforts with all their beauty and charm. Who is not touched by the beauty of the parables, the dramatic and loving actions of Jesus, the appeal of the message itself? And all of this is in the Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The message of the Gospel is the essential message of salvation and therefore of our evangelisation efforts.
A fourth point that describes a missionary Church or a Church that goes forward is a Church whose doors are open (46). Again, our Holy Father is concrete in explaining what this phrase means. It means literally to have the doors of our churches open. It means that the doors of the sacraments cannot be closed for any reason, especially Baptism and the Eucharist (47). To have an open door policy means to go to everyone without exception, especially the poor, “for there is an inseparable bond between our faith and the poor” (48). The Holy Father is here very directly calling for a Church of inclusion, a Church where no one is excluded, told to step aside or marginalised for any reason.
That open concept is linked to what the Holy Father in other parts of the document refers to as a Church that lives with “face-to-face encounters” (88ff). This aspect is extremely important for us, agents of evangelisation. Specifically, it means that as ministers we cannot live in isolation, in our offices, in our rectories, in our convents, and so forth. Instead, we must “go outside of ourselves and to join others.” “Isolation,” he writes, “has no place for God,” because only through “face-to-face encounters” do we meet people where they actually are. Through their physical presence before us and with us we come to know not just in our minds what is going in their lives, but rather we come to know with our hearts “their pains and their pleas” as well as their “joy which infects us in our close and continuous interaction” (88).
Pope Francis dealt with the missionary outreach of the Church during his apostolic visit to South Korea in August 2014, especially in his talk to the Asian bishops on Aug 17. Using so many concepts from EG, he told them that when we go to others to meet them we do so “sincerely, honestly and without pretense.” We do it with “simplicity,” because the “simplicity of his word becomes evident in the simplicity of our lives, in the simplicity of our communication, in the simplicity of our works of loving service to our brothers and sisters.”
Elsewhere in the same speech, Pope Francis gives other characteristics of our approach towards others and dialogue with others. He states that authentic dialogue can only take place if we “open our minds and hearts” to the other and if we have “empathy towards others.” In defining this “opening of mind and heart,” there is a certain crescendo in meaning. The pope begins by saying that it is “receptivity to the other”; then he says it is “accepting individuals and cultures” and then he defines acceptance as “come to my house, enter my heart, my heart welcomes you.” Openness to others is receptivity, acceptance and welcome.
The Holy Father also used the word empathy in describing our approach to others. Empathy is that ability to understand and share the feelings of another. But we can only understand the other if we are willing to enter into the other’s reality of life. This is based entirely on the meaning of the incarnation. Indeed, it was the incarnation that enabled God, through his Son becoming flesh, to understand and share the feelings of every human being. In that regard, the pope told the bishops that our commitment to speak with others “is grounded in the very logic of the incarnation, for in Jesus, God himself became one of us, shared in our life and spoke to us in our own language.”
In our going forth, the pope reminds us of the three principal settings of evangelisation:
“In the first place, we can mention the area of ordinary pastoral ministry, which is ‘animated by the fire of the Spirit, so as to inflame the hearts of the faithful who regularly take part in community worship and gather on the Lord’s Day to be nourished by his word and by the bread of eternal life.’ In this category we can also include those members of the faithful who preserve a deep and sincere faith, expressing it in different ways, but seldom taking part in worship. Ordinary pastoral ministry seeks to help believers to grow spiritually so that they can respond to God’s love ever more fully in their lives.
“A second area is that of ‘the baptised 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. The Church, in her maternal concern, tries to help them experience a conversion which will restore the joy of faith to their hearts and inspire a commitment to the Gospel.
“Lastly, we cannot forget that evangelisation is first and foremost about preaching the Gospel to those who do not know Jesus Christ or who have always rejected him. Many of them are quietly seeking God, led by a yearning to see his face, even in countries of ancient Christian tradition. All of them have a right to receive the Gospel. Christians have the duty to proclaim the Gospel without excluding anyone. Instead of seeming to impose new obligations, they should appear as people who wish to share their joy, who point to a horizon of beauty and who invite others to a delicious banquet. It is not by proselytising that the Church grows, but by attraction” (15).
So we arrive at a very important conclusion of our reflection: the Holy Father envisions a community, a Church, which goes forth from itself in personal encounters with people, without fear, to share with them the beauty of the Gospel from which we experience the mercy and joy coming from God’s love. Simply put: Go out to meet people face-to-face, be with people, listen to people, share with people, and minister to them by presenting them the beauty of the Gospel marked by mercy and joy.
IV Challenges facing pastoral agents
I would think that having heard the qualities of an outgoing Church, a missionary Church, we can state that the perspective of the Holy Father is both refreshing and stimulating. However, Pope Francis does not leave the reflection there, but moves on to examine the challenges that confront us in becoming that type of Church and keep us from taking that bold and fearless step in proclaiming the Gospel, living the Gospel and giving witness to the Gospel. What does impede us from being missionary disciples?
It should be pointed out that Pope Francis, in answering this question, does not refer to external forces or realities that we think threaten the Church, like consumerism, philosophical relativism, secularism, materialism and even Islamism, etc.
This is consistent with what he writes: “Every period of history is marked by the presence of human weakness, self-absorption, complacency and selfishness, to say nothing of the concupiscence which preys upon us all. These things are ever present under one guise or another; they are due to our human limits rather than particular situations. Let us not say, then, that things are harder today; they are simply different” (263).
Rather challenges that we face come from within the Church, and in this regard, he dedicates a large portion of the second chapter of EG (76-109) and calls them “temptations faced by pastoral agents.”
The first temptation deals with what he defines as a heightened individualism, which he understands as “an inordinate concern for personal freedom and relaxation.” In this situation, one’s vocation and ministry are not totally integrated into the life of the person, the very being of the person, but rather they are a “mere appendage to their life, as if they were not part of their very identity” (78).
Such an individualism goes against the very nature and understanding of consecrated life, priestly ordination and so forth. For when we describe our lives as being “consecrated,” we mean that we are set apart (not separated), handing over our entire existence to service to God and to people. We live then not for ourselves, our good, our fortunes or so forth, we live for Christ and for the people of God entrusted to our care.
With a mentality of individualism, we have, as Pope Francis points out “a crisis of identity and a cooling of fervour” (78). He says that they are all linked.
Another temptation facing pastoral workers is a sort of inferiority complex (79). This sense of being inferior arises at times as a result of how the Church and its message are considered by those around us. Skepticism arises and even cynicism, and we, believers and messengers of the Gospel, doubt the very word we are preaching. As the Holy Father says, we “relativise or conceal our Christian identity and convictions” (79). That state of mind leads to unhappiness, and we cease to identify ourselves with the mission of evangelisation, thus weakening our commitment. Consequently, we begin to identify with everyone else and less to the Gospel that we are preaching.
Instead, as he states in his talk to the Asian Bishops in South Korea on 17 Aug 2014, our Christian identity “is our living faith in Christ” … “our being rooted in the Lord.” Everything else, he states, is “secondary.” Christ is our life and we are to speak “from him and of him.” Here, we must be careful in our understanding of the phrase “of him.” Nowhere does he mean that we are to speak about him, as if Christ were an object or subject to be discussed. Rather, “of him” signifies our experience of Christ, what he has done for me, namely, salvation, mercy and love.
The third challenge which the Holy Father identifies is relativism, which he defines as “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). For the pope, relativism is closely linked to individualism, because it discounts the existence of God and others, we have relativized the very meaning of what a human being is.
It is very noticeable that the Holy Father, here, is not dealing with doctrinal or theological relativism, because he states that those who have “a solid doctrinal and spiritual convictions frequently fall into a lifestyle which leads to an attachment to financial security, or to a desire for power or human glory at all costs, rather than giving lives to others in mission” (80).
So for Pope Francis, relativism is not at first dealing with the absence of theological absolutism, but rather with egoism and selfishness, placing ourselves at the centre and therefore relativizing everyone and every situation around me, defined by my ideas, my goals and my needs, basically deciding who is important and who is not important.
Another temptation is apathy. Pope Francis links this challenge to the activity which we undertake. He says that sometimes we embark on projects which are unrealistic, or without real motivation or without a true spirituality. Consequently, the very work which we have undertaken far from being rewarding and inspiring leads to a “tense, burdensome, dissatisfying and, in the end, unbearable fatigue.” Many times, this situation arises, because we may be impatient and because we have lost contact with people, and our work has become completely depersonalised (82).
When we, pastoral workers, enter into a sense of apathy, we create a Church that has “a tomb psychology” which transforms “Christians into mummies in a museum.” There is a sense of disillusionment and even a lack of hope (83). Consequently, the pope calls us to overcome another temptation, that is, pessimism. Here, the Holy Father dismisses “the evils of our world and those of the Church” as obstacles to evangelisers. He says that we cannot use them as “excuses” for diminishing our enthusiasm, creating a sense of inertia, as if we have to wait until all is in place and the situation is perfect for us to act (84).
Rather, he wants us to see them as opportunities to use our energy and ourselves to go forward with optimism believing in the beauty of the Gospel and the power of God’s mercy.
Pessimism, in turn, leads to defeatism, another temptation which we may face. With this affliction within us, we are defeated before we fight the fight, run the race and get involved. We have no confidence, no trust in ourselves, others, much less in God who is always present. As the pope affirms: “If we start without confidence, we have already lost half the battle and we bury our talents” (85).
We could say that become frozen in doubts, insecurities and uncertainties. Defeatism, says the Holy Father, is nothing more than “the fruit of an anxious and self-centred lack of trust” (85). As you can see, he has returned to the primary challenge relativism described above, that is, thinking only of self.
In this context of individualism, isolation and defeatism, it is possible that another temptation arises, and it is what the Holy Father calls spiritual worldliness. For the Holy Father, this spiritual worldliness “hides behind the appearance of piety and even love for the Church” and “consists in seeking not the glory of God, but human glory and personal well-being” … “It is a subtle way of seeking one’s own interests, not those of Jesus Christ” (Phil 2:21) (93).
I must say that Pope Francis devotes much space to spiritual worldliness and expresses disdain for it in very sharp and uncompromising terms. He says that it is based on a very “carefully cultivated appearance” (93) and leads to two very damaging attitudes in the Church.
The first is an attitude of a 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 ultimately keep one imprisoned in his or her own thoughts and feelings” (94).
The second attitude arises from “self-absorbed promethean neopelagianism” which signifies trust in one’s own powers and a feeling of superiority to others because they observe certain rules or remain intransigently faithful to a particular Catholic style from the past” (94). Such an attitude leads to a “narcissistic and authoritarian elitism” which is fatal for evangelisation, because, once again using the words of Pope Francis, with such an attitude “instead of evangelising, one analyses and classifies others, and instead of opening the door to grace, one exhausts his or her energies in inspecting and verifying” (94). And here are some very blunt and piercing words of the pope, “in neither case is one really concerned about Jesus or others” (94).
Moreover, according to the pope, there are explicit consequences to this attitude which are verifiable and visible: an ostentatious preoccupation for the liturgy, for doctrine and for the Church’s prestige, but no concern for the impact that the Gospel should and can have on the lives of people. Another sign of this attitude is the creation of a Church as a museum with space only for a select few, something to be admired and looked upon, but not lived or incarnated in my way of living. Another sign is a fascination with social and political gain. Another is operating the Church with a business mentality, whose beneficiary is not God’s people, but the Church as an institution.
It has a direct effect on evangelisation, better yet, it has a negative effect on evangelisation. Concretely speaking, having created a closed, elite, judgmental Church, those living in spiritual worldliness, make no effort 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” (95).
Moreover, those finding satisfaction in this attitude are totally removed from the human reality, from the ecclesial reality, because they are looking from afar. They have no genuine relations with others. In that context of life, the pope says: “they reject the prophecy of their brothers and sisters; they discredit those who raise questions; they constantly point out the mistakes of others and they are obsessed by appearances” (97).
Pope Francis calls this attitude “a tremendous corruption disguised as a good” (97), hiding behind as he said earlier “the appearance of piety” (93). He says that it is marked by “stifling” and “superficial spiritual and pastoral trappings” (97). It is a “self-centred” attitude, “cloaked in an outward religiosity bereft of God” (97).
In response to all of these challenges, the Holy Father offers much encouragement and reassurance. To the challenge of pessimism, he says that we must encounter the evils, obstacles, and shortcomings of people or situations, “as challenges which can help us grow.” In other words, we must adapt to all situations and to all people with the “eyes of faith” which have the capacity to see light in darkness, possibilities in difficulties and above all hope in despair (84).
To the temptation of defeatism, he returns to the word of St John XXIII and reaffirms that “we must disagree with the prophets of doom … in our times, divine Providence is leading us to a new order of human relations which, by human effort and even beyond expectations, are directed to the fulfilment of God’s superior and inscrutable design (84).
It calls the Church at this point to overcome the attitude of elitism, which is really self-righteousness. He says that we must avoid and reject this temptation “by making the Church go outside of herself, keeping her mission focused on Jesus Christ and her commitment to the poor” (97).
In short, to confront these damaging attitudes, the Holy Father returns to his favourite themes: go out, forge relationships with people and keep ourselves focused on the essential, Jesus and the poor.
In this section of responding to pastoral challenges the Holy Father speaks of many practical questions, namely, the formation of our communities, a more active role of the laity with an emphasis on finding “broader opportunities for a more incisive female presence in the Church” (103), special attention to the young, and vocations.
Let us for a moment look at the challenge of the presence of laity in the work of evangelisation. Pope Francis is very clear that their role must be more evident and argues that “lay people are, simply put, the vast majority of the people of God,” and in fact, “the minority—ordained ministers—are at their service” (102).
The Holy Father offers this analysis and writes: “We can count on many lay persons, although still not nearly enough, who have a deeply-rooted sense of community and great fidelity to the tasks of charity, catechesis and the celebration of the faith. At the same time, a clear awareness of this responsibility of the laity, grounded in their baptism and confirmation, does not appear in the same way in all places” (102).
He explains this discrepancy in the following way: “In some cases, it is because lay persons have not been given the formation needed to take on important responsibilities. In others, it is because in their particular Churches room has not been made for them to speak and to act, due to an excessive clericalism which keeps them away from decision-making” (102).
And, “even if many are now involved in the lay ministries, this involvement is not reflected in a greater penetration of Christian values in the social, political and economic sectors. It often remains tied to tasks within the Church, without a real commitment to applying the Gospel to the transformation of society” (102). It sounds as if Pope Francis is saying the evangelising activity of the laity, where it exists, is happening within the Church and not within society. In any case, “the formation of the laity and the evangelisation of professional and intellectual life represent a significant pastoral challenge” (102).
If we want to see the power of the laity, and this is a particular contribution of the Church in Asia, let us for a moment look at the ecclesial experience in Korea with Pope Francis. Before the Holy Father’s visit to South Korea in August 2014, the Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin said: “This is another reason why the pope is going to Korea, to beatify the 124 Korean martyrs. I think it is important to highlight that there is only priest in this group, all the others are lay people who had all kinds of professions, from the most humble to the most prestigious on the social scale. This echoes one of the characteristic features of the Korean Church and that is that it was born from the testimonies and efforts of the laity who managed to preserve and transmit the faith. I think this is the core message; that is that in the Church we are all called to work together on this mission of proclaiming the Gospel and we are all called to the sainthood, a sainthood which can take on many different forms but which must involve an effort on everyone’s part” (8 Aug 2014).
Then Pope Francis himself reflected on this reality of the Korean Church while there:
- The Church in Korea was born from the impulse of the Holy Spirit within the laity. On that the pope said: “You (the bishops) are also heirs to an impressive tradition which began, and largely grew, through the fidelity, perseverance and work of generations of lay persons. They were not tempted by clericalism: they were laity and they moved ahead on their own” (to the bishops of Korea, 14 Aug 2014). At the Beatification Mass he stated: “In God’s mysterious providence, the Christian faith was not brought to the shores of Korea through missionaries; rather, it entered through the hearts and minds of the Korean people themselves” (16 Aug 2014).
- How did this evangelisation take place? Pope Francis said: “It was prompted by intellectual curiosity, the search for religious truth. Through an initial encounter with the Gospel, the first Korean Christians opened their minds to Jesus. They wanted to know more about this Christ who suffered, died and rose from the dead. Learning about Jesus soon led to an encounter with the Lord, the first baptisms, the yearning for a full sacramental and ecclesial life” (16 Aug 2014).
Earlier to the bishops he had said: “It is significant that the history of the Church in Korea began with a direct encounter with the word of God. It was the intrinsic beauty and integrity of the Christian message – the Gospel and its summons to conversion, interior renewal and a life of charity – that spoke to Yi Byeok and the noble elders of the first generation; and it is to that message, in its purity, that the Church in Korea looks, as if in a mirror, to find her truest self” (14 Aug 2014).
We see the process of evangelisation, encounter with the Gospel, then the Church and then the sacraments.
- However, it did not end there, because as the Holy Father said, it merely marked “the beginnings of missionary outreach. It also bore fruit in communities inspired by the early Church, in which the believers were truly one in mind and heart, regardless of traditional social differences, and held all things in common (cf Acts 4:32)” (16 Aug 2014).
“The beatification of Paul Yun Ji-chung and his companions is an occasion for us to thank the Lord, who from the seeds sown by the martyrs has brought forth an abundant harvest of grace in this land. The fruitfulness of the Gospel on Korean soil, and the great legacy handed down from your forefathers in the faith, can be seen today in the flowering of active parishes and ecclesial movements, in solid programmes of catechesis and outreach to young people, and in the Catholic schools, seminaries and universities. The Church in Korea is esteemed for its role in the spiritual and cultural life of the nation and its strong missionary impulse. From being a land of mission, yours has now become a land of missionaries; and the universal Church continues to benefit from the many priests and religious whom you have sent forth” (to the bishops, 14 Aug 2014).
So we could say, that we have a success story in evangelisation, and it started with the laity.
On the question of vocations, the Holy Father offers his reflection that the lack of vocations is “often due to a lack of contagious apostolic fervour in communities which results in a cooling of enthusiasm and attractiveness” (107). He argues “wherever there is life, fervour and a desire to bring Christ to others, genuine vocations arise” (107).
Furthermore, the pope explicitly states that even though we need more vocations, there is “the need for a better process of selecting candidates to the priesthood” (and I would add to the religious life). He says that the Church cannot accept “candidates on the basis of any motivation whatsoever, especially if those motivations have to do with affective insecurity or the pursuit of power, human glory or economic well-being” (107).
Consequently, it is important for dioceses and religious congregations to examine their acceptance policies to assure that no one enters the congregation or seminary for those reasons. Also, the entire formation process must be evaluated to assure that candidates to the religious life and to the priesthood are being formed with the qualities that the Holy Father wants for the Church, that is, and here I repeat: a Church, which goes forth from itself in personal encounters with people, without fear, to share with them the beauty of the Gospel from which we experience the mercy and joy coming from God’s love.
I would say that the goal of formation must be to have men and women willing to go forth from themselves, able to meet people face-to-face, without fear (therefore courageous, endowed with good human qualities), capable of sharing the beauty of the Gospel (therefore they need to know the Gospel and interiorise its beauty), with the ability to impart the mercy and joy of God’s love. That is what a priest and religious must be in the Church of Pope Francis.
V The Proclamation of the Gospel
We arrive at the centre of the exhortation, chapter 3, entitled “the Proclamation of the Gospel.” Referring to the words of St John Paul II in his own post-synodal exhortation, Ecclesial in Asia, the Holy Father tells us that our “absolute priority” must be evangelisation, which is “the joyful, patient and progressive preaching of the saving death and resurrection of Jesus Christ” (110), “the explicit proclamation of Jesus as Lord” (110).
With reference to this explicit proclamation of Jesus, we must go to the opening chapter of his exhortation, where the Holy Father tells us that the entire proclamation of Jesus comes “from the heart of the Gospel” (34). Only by proclaiming and speaking “from the heart of the Gospel” will we be able to announce that which is of primary importance and “the primary reason for evangelising is the love of Jesus which we have received, the experience of salvation which urges us to ever greater love of him. What kind of love would not feel the need to speak of the beloved, to point him out, to make him known?” (264).
Therefore, the essential and primary proclamation, coming from the heart of the Gospel itself is the love and mercy that Christ has given to us and in turn we are compelled to announce to others. As St Paul writes: “The love of Christ compels us” (2 Cor 5:14).
Therefore, Pope Francis cautions us from the risk of reducing the message “to some secondary aspects,” like moral teachings when they are taken out of the context which gives them their meaning (34). When that happens, that is, when our preaching is “identified with those secondary aspects” then we are not “conveying the heart of Christ’s message” (34). We must always relate what we are announcing “to the very heart of the Gospel which gives (our proclamation) meaning, beauty and attractiveness” (34).
To proclaim “from the heart of the Gospel” leads to a true missionary style of proclamation which must not be “obsessed with the disjointed transmission of a multitude of doctrines to be insistently imposed” (36). Instead, the missionary way of proclaiming wants to “reach everyone without exception or exclusion” and that can only be done, affirms the Holy Father, if we “concentrate on the essentials, on what is most beautiful, most grand, most appealing and at the same time most necessary” and consequently it becomes “all the more forceful and convincing” (35).
Of course, while “all revealed truths derive from the same divine source” only “some of them are more important for giving direct expression to the heart of the Gospel” (36).
So we ask, what is the most essential, what is the primary, what is the fundamental message arising “from the heart of the Gospel” and “giving direct expression” of it? Pope Francis affirms: “In this basic core, 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).
Everything else that forms part of the message would be further down on the “hierarchy of truths.” These truths, that cannot be denied and must be eventually proclaimed, however, can only be “better understood when related to the harmonious totality of the Christian message” (39).
This includes the moral teaching of the Church which has its “own hierarchy,” writes the Holy Father. He defines what the primary moral obligation arising from the Gospel is: “What counts above all else is ‘faith working through love’ (Gal 5:6). Works of love directed to one’s neighbour are the most perfect external manifestation of the interior grace of the Spirit,” which is the foundation of the New Law (37). And “as far as external works are concerned, mercy is the greatest of all the virtues” (37).
Moreover, when dealing with moral teachings, the pope tells us that they must be announced always in reference to the Gospel from which we discover “the centrality of truths” and indeed, “before all else, the Gospel invites us to respond to the God of love 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! All of the virtues are at the service of this response of love. 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. It would mean that it is not the Gospel which is being preached, but certain doctrinal or moral points based on specific ideological options. The message will run the risk of losing it freshness and will cease to have “the fragrance of the Gospel” (39).
It seems very clear that the Holy Father is convinced that “the content” of the proclamation which is the person of Jesus Christ involves the saving love of God, faith working through love and mercy, all of which so strongly arise “from the heart of the Gospel.”
Let us now return to chapter three where the Holy Father reminds us that “the entire people of God proclaims the Gospel” (111). Evangelisation is the task of every member in the Church. As Church, we are a people advancing ourselves towards the mystery of salvation, “transcending any institutional expression” even if necessary. In this last phrase, the Holy Father places the emphasis on the Church as the people of God who evangelises over the Church as institution.
I would suggest that the very basis for his call to reform the structures of the Church arise precisely in his concern that, perhaps, some structures of the Church are impeding evangelisation. Thus, we find expressions like these in the text: “there are ecclesial structures which can hamper efforts at evangelisation” (26) and “mere administration can no longer be enough” (25). He even faults some structures as the very reason for which people leave the Church. He says, and let me quote: “We must recognise that if part of our baptised people lack a sense of belonging to the Church, this is also due to certain structures and the occasionally unwelcoming atmosphere of some of our parishes and communities, or to a bureaucratic way of dealing with problems, be they simple or complex, in the lives of our people. In many places, an administrative approach prevails over a pastoral approach, as does a concentration on administering the sacraments apart from other forms of evangelisation” (63).
Following in that line of thinking, he criticises parish structures and affirms: “We must admit that the call to review and review our parishes has not yet sufficed to bring them nearer to people, to make them environments of living communion and participation, and to make them completely mission-oriented” (28).
In addressing the realities of basic Christian communities and ecclesial movements, the Holy Father, while recognising them as a source of enrichment for the Church, explains that they would be more beneficial if they do not “lose contact with the rich reality of the local parish” and in that way they will be prevented “from concentrating only on part of the Gospel or the Church” (29).
The diocese, too, is called to “missionary conversion” (30), and in that context, the Holy Father encourages “each particular Church to undertake a resolute process of discernment, purification and reform” (30). And for the sake of completeness, the pope includes his own office, the papacy, as subject to this process of reform. He affirms, very explicitly, “I too must think about a conversion of the papacy” (31).
In the ecclesial places of advancing the Gospel, the Holy Father is calling for a deep missionary conversion. For this conversion to take place two things are needed. First, we must, according to Pope Francis, “abandon the complacent attitude that says, ‘we have always done it this way’” (33). Secondly, we must make sure that our evaluations are inspired by an “evangelical spirit” (26), which leads us “to return to the source and to recover the original freshness of the Gospel” (11). When we do this, “new avenues arise, new paths of creativity open up, with different forms of expression, more eloquent signs and words with new meaning for today’s world” (11). Otherwise “without this new and authentic evangelical spirit, without the Church’s fidelity to ‘her own calling,’ any new structure will soon prove to be ineffective” (26).
Consequently for Pope Francis, structures exist in order to advance the work of evangelisation, through which we are ourselves evangelised as we evangelise. As he says so nicely: yes, we are disciples, that is, followers of Christ, but at the same time, we are evangelisers. As such, we are “missionary disciples” (119). In other words, “every Christian is a missionary to the extent that he or she has encountered the love of God in Christ” (119). As such, we are able to say like countless men and women in the Scriptures, “we have found the Christ.”
There are two important reflections with reference to this phrase. First, we are disciples. By virtue of our baptism we were incorporated into the mystery of God’s life; we became children of God; we received as a gift of his grace. For the Holy Father, grace is God’s mercy; it is salvation. The Holy Father reminds us of classic Christian theology that teaches us that “no human efforts, however good they may be, can enable us to merit so great a gift” (112). For Pope Francis, grace and mercy, which give us salvation, are gifts from God. That grace also makes us a people who go forth to introduce others to this gift, this person, Jesus Christ. Once we recognise that this mercy comes from God; once we beg for this grace in our life, then we are able to become evangelisers.
That experience of salvation, as grace, gift and mercy, then leads to the second reflection. It tells us that the essential message is exactly what we experienced. It is grace, gift and mercy. The grace that we received becomes “a beacon which constantly illuminates” our understanding of evangelisation.
Our experience shows that salvation, which we joyfully proclaim, is for everyone. As the Holy Father tells us, the mandate that Christ gave the Church to go forth did not mean that were to form an elitist, exclusive group or club (113). We are sent to all peoples, all kinds of people, all sorts of people, and no one is excluded. In fact, we must never forget that “evangelisation is first and foremost about preaching the Gospel to those who do know or who have always rejected him … all of them have a right to receive the Gospel. Christians have the duty to proclaim the Gospel without excluding anyone” (15).
Therefore, we must take to heart, the very words of Pope Francis: “To those who feel far from God and the Church, to all those who are fearful and 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).
Constantly, in our announcement of the Gospel, we must be people who believe in the free mercy of God, people who are open to all people and people who are respectful of others, even those who may decline or have declined to be a part of this great adventure of journey towards God through the Church.
In this same line of thought, to be evangelisers also means to respect the different cultures of others. How important this is for those of us who come from other countries and cultures. In this regard, we must “develop an understanding and a presentation of the truth of Christ working from the traditions and cultures of where we are,” because “no single culture can exhaust the mystery of our redemption in Christ” (119).
Therefore, it is imperative upon us all to discover the best and most effective ways to communicate Jesus wherever we are. We must know the culture of the place where we evangelise, aware of its development and transition. Since culture is a dynamic reality, there will be new ways and new forms to transmit the faith.
The relation between culture and evangelisation has been and continues to be a topic of much discussion. Pope Francis made one thing perfectly clear upon his return from Korea on August 2014. During his weekly audience after his apostolic visit to that Asian country, he affirmed: “In the history of the faith in Korea we can see how Christ does not destroy cultures. Christ does not destroy cultures and wreck the path of populations who, through centuries and millennia, seek the truth and practice the love of God and their neighbour. Christ does not abolish what is good, but brings it to fulfilment” (General Audience, 20 Aug 2014).
The Holy Father expresses a great admiration for popular piety, and calls it a “precious treasure.” He embraces it, because he sees it as “a spirituality incardinated in the culture of the lowly.” Moreover, it is effective because it expresses the joy of the Gospel not by content and words, but by symbols. Many of them deal with pilgrimages, setting out on a journey towards shrines and holy places or simply walking together as a community praying and singing and expressing the happiness of knowing we are God’s people. Consequently, Pope Francis encourages us to support these great moments of grace.
Another moment of evangelisation is meeting people face-to-face. He calls it “a preaching” in itself. In other words, “being a disciple means being constantly ready to bring the love of Jesus to others, and this can happen unexpectedly and in any place, on the street, in a city square, during work, on a journey” (27).
The Holy Father reminds us that this type of preaching must be done in a spirit of respect, dialogue, gentleness and humility. We must keep in mind, writes the Holy Father, that “the fundamental message is 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” (128). Consequently, it is not the communication of memorised formulations or specific words. No, it is the transmission of an experience and introduction of a person Jesus Christ who loved us and loves us even now.
The homily is a crucial place of proclamation, and Pope Francis treats it at length in this chapter of the exhortation. Given its importance, the homily is dealt with separately in the next reflection.
Catechesis, which is an extraordinary place of evangelisation, is the moment of deepening the faith experience to the extent that people need it. Catechesis is at the service of growth and development in the faith (163). The Holy Father tells us, however, that the first proclamation of catechesis is that “Jesus loves you, he gave his life to save you, and he is now living at your side everyday to enlighten you, strengthen and free you” (164).
Pope Francis makes clear, however, that by saying that these words are the “first” proclamation, he does not mean that they are the first in a series of a sequence of ideas or teachings. They are first, because they are primary, representing the essential core message of the Gospel. Therefore, we do not need to think that catechesis is the means to give a more ‘solid’ formation, because, again these are the words of the Holy Father, “nothing is more solid, profound, secure, meaningful and wisdom-filled than the initial proclamation” (165).
So what is the content of catechesis? Let me quote the words of Pope Francis directly: “The centrality of the kerygma calls for stressing those elements which are most needed today: it has to express God’s saving love which precedes any moral and religious obligation on our part; it should not impose the truth but appeal to freedom; it should be marked by joy, encouragement, liveliness and a harmonious balance which will not preaching to a few doctrines which are at times more philosophical than evangelical’ (165).
In that context, then the pope defines the attitudes which the evangeliser must have “to foster this openness to the message: approachability, readiness for dialogue, patience, a warmth and welcome which is non-judgmental” (165). It must be marked also by compassion (172), person to person contact (169) and familiarity with God’s Word, the Holy Bible (175). In all cases, it must be presented in its beauty, attractiveness and marvel (167).
Before concluding, let’s return to the basic premise that underlies the teaching of Pope Francis on the announcement of the message, that is, evangelisation and proclamation come “from the heart of the Gospel.” In fact, the Holy Father follows his own advice in this regard. There are several places in the exhortation where the Holy Father makes an affirmation and then he affirms that his affirmation is really not his own, but comes from the Gospel or Scriptures themselves. For example, see the introduction, n 4 and 5; n 187; 193; 271, and so forth.
Indeed, he writes, after quoting some texts for the Sacred Scriptures:
“This message is so clear and direct, so simple and eloquent, that no ecclesial interpretation has the right to relativise it. The Church’s reflection on these texts ought not to obscure or weaken their force, but urge us to accept their exhortations with courage and zeal. Why complicate something so simple? … Why cloud something so clear?” (194).
VI The Homily
Pope Francis in his exhortation dedicates almost 25 paragraphs to the whole question of the homily (135-159). For the Holy Father, the homily “surpasses all forms of catechesis as the supreme moment in the dialogue between God and his people which lead up to sacramental communion” (137).
Yet, serious concerns were voiced at the synod on the quality of homilies, and both the laity and the ordained ministers suffer because of them: “the laity for having to listen to them and the clergy for having to preach them!” (135). This problem cannot be ignored. Consequently, an essential area of renewal within the Church must be our understanding of the homily and our preparation for it by those entrusted with this important ministry of evangelisation.
Pope Francis gives concrete characteristics of what a homily should be: they should be brief, not a lecture, guiding people to the Eucharist. It is not a form of entertainment or a speech (138).
As for the message, the pope said that it will always be the same: “the God who revealed his immense love in the crucified and risen Christ” … Whenever we make the effort to return to the source and to recover the original freshness of the Gospel, new avenues arise, new paths of creativity open up, with different forms of expression, more eloquent signs and words, with new meaning for today’s world” (11).
Therefore, “in preaching the Gospel a fitting sense of proportion has to be maintained. This would be seen in the frequency with which certain themes are brought up and in the emphasis given to them in preaching. For example, if in the course of the liturgical year a parish priest speaks about temperance ten times but only mentions charity and justice two or three times, an imbalance results, and precisely those virtues which ought to be more 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).
Elsewhere, the Holy Father states that in proclaiming the Gospel, and this certainly applies to preaching, “instead of seeming to impose new obligations, we should appear as a people who wish to share their joy, who point to a new horizon of beauty and who invite others to a delicious banquet” (15). The homily must portray “the beauty, attractiveness and joy of the message, revealing the loving heart of Christ and the loving heart of the preacher” (142).
With this in mind as far as the content, orientation and style of a homily are concerned, Pope Francis defines preaching as a dialogue between God and his people. Consequently, we who preach must know, love, embrace, understand and interiorise two realities: God as transmitted in the written word, the Scriptures, and the reality, life and experience of the people to whom we preach. Only with an active and living dialogue does the homily become “a heart-to-heart” communication (142) marked by “warmth, closeness, unpretentiousness and joy” (140), and its setting becomes “maternal and ecclesial” (140). Only by preaching from the heart does the homily lead to enlightenment (144).
The Holy Father even gives concrete ways to prepare the homily. He states explicitly that the preparation of the homily requires time and must be priority for those who preach (145). That preparation begins with the focus and concentration on the readings from the Scriptures. They must be studied in order to know what the intention of the author is. In other words, what is the principal message in the text (147)? That requires first of all an overall familiarity with the entire Bible (149) and it requires a detailed awareness of the meaning of the text that will be the centre of the homily. This, without question, requires some reference to a good exegetical source to help us know the meaning of the words and so forth.
The next step, the pope says, is to approach the text with docility and prayer. Only in this way can the word penetrate into our hearts. The preacher himself must deeply feel the word; he is to be comforted, to be assured, to be challenged by it, and so forth. In other words, the word becomes a part of me. Such a penetration helps me, the preacher, experience the love that God has for me, his people, his Church, the entire world. In this way, the beauty of the Gospel comes alive in the heart of the preacher (149-151).
The third step is to have “an ear to the people” (154). In other words, what is their real concrete life situation that as a pastor you meet each day in every encounter with those entrusted to your care? What is needed here is to develop a strong sensitivity to what really affects the lives of people. So, if the earlier step was to contemplate the Scriptures, this step requires contemplation on the people. As such, a linkage is taking place between the Word and the community.
Then it is time to put those two elements together in “a single, clear, direct and well-adapted style” (158), using imagery, an idea or a sentiment (157). This loving dialogue must offer hope, pointing to the future, pointing to the Eucharist (159).
This whole process should take place each week in our preparation of the homily. Permit to suggest a timetable for putting into practice these steps that the Holy Father gave. On Sunday evening, reach the Scriptures that will be proclaimed the next Sunday. Read them once, twice, three times if necessary, until they really get your attention and you begin to be touched by their impact and message. Let them stay with you the following day or two. Then read a respected commentary, not a homily already written on them. Understand the commentary and let that penetrate your heart. In the meantime, in your weekly ministry if you are in touch with your people, you will already know what their situation is and will begin to see how these texts can touch their reality.
In other words, let the whole week be a meditation on the text and the people entrusted to you. Then on Saturday morning write your homily. Yes, write so that you can see what comes from your heart and what has happened in your ministry that week. Then be ready to speak with joy from your heart to the heart of your people inspired by God’s Word and by their lives.
Indeed, as the Holy Father states, “the homily is the touchstone for judging a pastor’s closeness and ability to communicate to his people” and therefore, “can actually be an intense and happy experience of the Spirit, a consoling encounter with God’s word, a constant source of renewal and growth” (135).
VII Special care for the poor
The Holy Father dedicates a substantial portion of EG to the relationship between evangelisation and the poor. That lengthy part of the exhortation, entitled “The inclusion of the poor in society” is found in the second section of Chapter IV and runs from number 186 to 216, a hefty 30 paragraphs.
Before turning our attention directly to that particular theme, let us look at the context in which we find it. As I mentioned, it is in Chapter IV, whose title is “The social dimension of evangelisation,” which begins with this affirmation” “To evangelise is to make the kingdom of God present in our world.” Then quoting from Evangelii Nuntiandi (EN): “Yet ‘any partial or fragmentary definition which attempts to render the reality of evangelisation in all its richness, complexity and dynamism does so only at the risk of impoverishing it and even of distorting it.” I would now like to share my concerns about the social dimension of evangelisation precisely because if this dimension is not properly brought out, there is a constant risk of distorting the authentic and integral meaning of the mission of evangelisation” (176).
Consequently, in just these few lines, we can see that Pope Francis wants an integral evangelisation, which includes attention to the human person as a whole, or to use the phrase of Second Vatican Council in Gaudium et spes: “The Council brings to mankind light kindled from the Gospel, and puts at its disposal those saving resources which the Church herself, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, receives from her founder. For the human person deserves to be preserved; human society deserves to be renewed. Hence the focal point of our total presentation will be the human person: whole and entire, body and soul, heart and conscience, mind and will” (GS 3).
This statement coincides perfectly with the opening line of Chapter IV of EG, where the Holy Father connects evangelisation and the kingdom of God. Specifically, he writes: “To evangelise is to make the kingdom of God present in our world” (176).
The phrase is profoundly biblical, for indeed, let us recall that in the Gospel of Mark, the first words that Jesus speaks are about the coming of the kingdom of God. We see in chapter 1, verse 14: “Jesus went to Galilee and preached the Good News from God. “The right time has come and the kingdom of God is near! Turn away from sin and believe in the Good News.”
The kingdom of God was the very centre of the message of Jesus. What is this kingdom of God that he preached and brought into the world? We need to recall the worldview that existed in the time of Jesus. It was a rather pessimistic one that defined the world, creation, the human being itself, as being no longer in the hands of God, but in the hands of the evil one, described as Satan. The original purity of creation, the original harmony within creation, the original communion of creation with God were all lost due to the decision of Adam and Eve to turn towards the tree of knowledge in an attempt to become God who was the only all-knowing being.
So over time, creation drifted farther and farther from God, and as a result the human person was found to be in a horrible condition of alienation from God and from others, of sickness and the worst condition of all, death itself, finiteness, an end.
So, Christ appears, as Mark writes, to bring Good News, the Gospel itself. And the Good News is this: “I am here to establish the kingdom of God,” by destroying the kingdom of sin and death, the kingdom of Satan. Therefore, the entire life of Jesus, his mission, was precisely to conquer the power of Satan and to usher in the power or reign of God.
And he accomplished that mission given to him by the Father, primarily through the miracles and the parables. The scope of the miracles was to stamp out the presence of Satan who had inflicted on the human person an array of suffering: illness, hunger, sin, despair and death. Therefore, we see in the Synoptic Gospels that the miracles are totally people-centred. (There is only one fishy miracle!) They all have as their goal to restore the human person to that perfection intended by God at creation. So Jesus heals the lepers, expels demons, he forgives sins, and he even raises the dead. In each case, Satan is being conquered, and the power of God is being manifested. In short, he is rescuing the human person from utter destruction. And of course, the greatest “miracle” was the resurrection, because with that one event the worst curse that man had received, death, was even destroyed.
The parables too play an important role in establishing the kingdom of God. The parables are those stories which powerfully attract the listener, and their goal was to have people think in a new way, the way of the kingdom of God and not the kingdom of darkness. The parables draw the listener into the story and forces the listener to make a judgment about the situation being described. So for example, the parable of the Good Samaritan was given after someone asked “who is my neighbour?; and after telling the story, Jesus asks, “so now who is your neighbour?” And the listeners reply more or less in affirming “everyone” without distinction. With the reply the person is forced to change his way of thinking or viewing reality and in a sense, become his own judge in living the new way that Jesus is teaching.
Consequently, “the kingdom, already present and growing in our midst, engages us at every level of our being” (181). Therefore, the message of the Gospel, as Paul VI taught in Populorum Progressio, is directed to “all men and the whole man” (181). Then quoting EN, the Holy Father affirms: “evangelisation would not be complete if it did not take account of the unceasing interplay of the Gospel and of man’s concrete life, both personal and social” (181).
This, then, is what the Holy Father intends when he says that the goal of evangelisation is to make the kingdom of God present, in other words, to continue the work of Jesus in transforming and changing the human condition. Consequently, it means as Pope Francis writes that “at the very heart of the Gospel is life in community and engagement with others” … “centred on charity” (177).
The reason for this encounter with others is not based on sociological concepts, but rather on theological implications of the meaning of faith. Faith, he writes, in a God of love, means that he has conferred on every human being an “infinite dignity” (178). On the Christological level, it means to believe that the Son of God “assumed human flesh” signifies “that each human being has been taken into the very heart of God” (178). The theology of the Holy Spirit teaches us that the Holy Spirit is working in everyone and that implies that “he seeks to penetrate every human situation and all social bonds” (178). The theology of salvation indicates that “God, in Christ, redeems not only the individual person, but also the social relations existing between them” (178).
Theologically, the concept of salvation is not just an individual reality, in which we can say, “I am saved,” it is also a universal reality, by which we can save humanity is saved. Therefore, writes Pope Francis: “From the heart of the Gospel, we see a profound connection between evangelisation and human advancement” (178), and to accept the first proclamation which is an encounter of love between God and the believer “brings forth in our lives and actions a primary and fundamental response to desire, seek and protect the good of others” (178).
The Holy Father goes on to point out that the Scriptures themselves give examples of the connection between the acceptance of the message of salvation and fraternal love. For example, Mt 25:40, “Whatever you do to the least of my brethren, you did it to me.” This line according to Pope Francis, not only shows the requirement to care for others, but also “our brothers and sisters are the prolongation of the incarnation for each of us” (179). In other words, if we want to meet Christ today, one such place is the very persons of our brothers and sisters. This transcendental link is also seen in the phrase “Be merciful, just as your Father has shown mercy” (Mt 7:2).
With these reflections in mind Pope Francis gives two important conclusions: 1) the degree to which we go forth to others becomes a barometer in discerning our spiritual growth and 2) the service of charity is a constituent element of the Church’s mission and the Church “abounds in effective charity and a compassion which understands, assists and promotes” (179).
In this context, the Holy Father moves to the centre of Chapter IV, “The inclusion of the poor in society,” and he writes: “Our faith in Christ, who became poor, and was always close to the poor and the outcast, is the basis of our concern for the integral development of society’s most neglected members” (186).
This concern for the poor belongs to each individual member of the Church and each Christian community. Both at the individual and community level, we are “called to be an instrument of God for the liberation and promotion of the poor, and for enabling them to be fully a part of society” (187).
The pope reminds us that “God’s heart has a special place for the poor, so much so that he himself became poor (2 Cor 8:9). In fact, the entire history of our redemption is marked by the presence of the poor” (197). Then taking some beautiful scenes from the Gospel of Luke, the gospel of the poor, he recalls that it was a lowly maiden who uttered the ‘yes’ of obedience, that the saviour was born in a manger, that he was presented in the temple with the offerings of the poor and so on. Moreover, when Jesus began his public ministry he anointed himself with the words of the Prophet Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor” (Lk 14:18). He also taught that to the poor belongs the kingdom of God (197).
Consequently, our attitude towards the poor must be like that we find in Sacred Scriptures, an attitude of docility and attentiveness. The Holy Father refers to many Scriptural passages that reveal how “our gracious Father hears the cry of the poor.” It is worth recalling them even here:
- The Lord hears the people in need: “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them … so I will send you …” (Ex 3:7-8, 10).
- When the Israelites cried out to the Lord, the Lord raised up for them a deliverer (Jgs 3:15).
- The wages of the labourers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts (Jas 5:4).
- If we do not turn our ear to the cry of the poor, the Holy Father writes, “we oppose the Father’s will and plan.” That poor person “might cry to the Lord against you, and you would incur guilt” (Deut 15:9).
- A lack of solidarity towards his or her needs will directly affect our relationship with God: “For if in bitterness of soul he calls down a curse upon you, his Creator will hear his prayer” (Sir 4:6).
- How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods, and sees a brother or sister in need and year refuses help? (1 Jn 3:17) (187).
Pope Francis then teaches, if this is the way God reacts to the cry of the poor, then, we the Church must respond to their needs, because we have been “born of the liberating action of grace” (188). Consequently, our concern for the poor is not a sociological or humanitarian response, it is based on who we are, people freed by God, who in turn, must free others, because “we are God’s means of hearing the poor” (187).
Moreover, we have been commanded by Christ “to give them something to eat” (Mk 6:37). The Holy Father interprets this phrase to mean: “working to eliminate the structural causes of poverty and to promote the integral development of the poor, as well as small daily acts of solidarity in meeting the real needs which we encounter” (188). Therefore, giving them something to eat is not just the occasional acts of charity, but also concrete endeavours to find ways to eliminate unjust structures which cause poverty and ways to advance the development of the whole person.
Pope Francis injects into his reflection, the word “solidarity.” He says that it is a word that is used so much and therefore requires an explanation. He begins by saying that it does not refer to “sporadic acts of generosity,” but rather, “it presumes the creation of a new mindset which thinks in terms of community and the priority of the life of all over the appropriation of goods by a few” (188).
Concretely speaking, the pope says, “solidarity is a spontaneous reaction by those who recognise that the social function of property and the universal destination of goods are realities which come before private property. The private ownership of goods is justified by the need to protect and increase them, so that they can better serve the common good; for this reason, solidarity must be lived as the decision to restore to the poor what belongs to them. These convictions and habits of solidarity, when they are put into practice, open the way to other structural transformations and make them possible. Changing structures without generating new convictions and attitudes will only ensure that those same structures will become, sooner or later, corrupt, oppressive and ineffectual” (189).
It is precisely the idea of the parables whose goal was always to lead the listener to change his/her mind about the view of reality, to embrace a new way of thinking, and therefore, to begin to live in a new manner.
In order for us to have this new mindset, we must “hear the cry of the poor” which means first “to be deeply moved by the suffering of others” (191), and then it means secondly “to desire the general temporal welfare and prosperity of others” (192).
Pope Francis explains what the phrase “to be moved by the suffering of others” mean. He does so by referring to the Sacred Scriptures and specifically the concept of mercy, which he wants to “resound in the life of the Church.”
The Holy Father points out that mercy brings with it salvation. For those who show mercy salvation is given to them:
“Blessed are the merciful, because they shall obtain mercy” (Mk 5:7).
“So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy, yet mercy triumphs over judgment” (Jas 2:12-13).
“Break off your sins by practising righteousness, and your iniquities by showing mercy to the oppressed, that there may perhaps be a lengthening of your tranquillity” (Dan 4:27).
“Almsgiving delivers from death, and it will purge away every sin” (Tob 12:9).
“Water extinguishes blazing fire: so almsgiving atones for sin” (Sir 3:30).
“Maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Pt 4:8) (193).
For Pope Francis, these texts from the Bible, which he says are “clear and direct, simple and eloquent,” “summon us so forcefully to brotherly love, to humble and generous service, to justice and mercy towards the poor.” They do not even need any interpretation, which in fact may “relativise” their meaning, “obscure or weaken their force” and cloud something so clear. Simply put, “why complicate something so simple?” (194). In another part of this section of the exhortation, when the pope reminds all of us of our duty to care for the poor, he says, “I fear that these words too may give rise to commentary or discussion with no real particle effect” (see 201).
In these texts, “Jesus taught us this way of looking at others by his words and his actions. We should not be concerned simply about falling into doctrinal error, but about remaining faithful to this light-filled path of life and wisdom.” Therefore, we should accept them for what they say and follow them with “courage and zeal” (194).
It is very clear that following the mandate of Jesus to care for the poor is as important as preserving doctrine. In fact, the pope points out that “when St Paul approached the apostles in Jerusalem to discern whether he was ‘running or had run in vain’ (Gal 2:2), the key criterion of authenticity which they presented was that he should not forget the poor (cf Gal 2:10). This important principle, namely that the Pauline communities should not succumb to the self-centred lifestyle of the pagans, remains timely today, when a new self-centred paganism is growing. We may not always be able to reflect adequately the beauty of the Gospel, but there is one sign which we should never lack: the option for those who are least, those whom society discards” (195). In other words, to live the beauty of the Gospel has as its essential manifestation to express a fundamental option for the poor.
Pope Francis then affirms that “for the Church, the option for the poor is primarily a theological category” (198), and this “divine preference for the poor has consequences for the Church” (198). He defines this option for the poor, using the words of St John Paul II from Sollicitudo Rei Socialis: as a “special form of primacy in the exercise of Christian charity, to which the whole tradition of the Church bears witness.” Then turning to Pope Benedict XVI, he says that this option “is implicit in our Christian faith in a God who became poor for us, so as to enrich us with his poverty” (from Pope Benedict’s talk to the Fifth General Conference of the Latin American and Caribbean Bishops in 2007) (198).
It is then in this context that Pope Francis articulates the now famous phrase: “This is why I want a Church which is poor and for the poor.” Not only because we must give to them, but also because they have much to give to us. In fact, Pope Francis affirms: “They have much to teach us” and “we need to let ourselves be evangelised by them.” In our desire for a new evangelisation, we should recognise “the saving power at work in their lives and to put them at the centre of Church’s pilgrim way,” by listening to them, to find Christ in them and to lend our voice to their cause (198).
With these reflections in mind, we are certainly inspired and moved to activism. But is the Holy Father calling us to activism as such? He explains that our commitment to the poor is not exclusively manifested in action, but rather it is “an attentiveness which considers the other in a certain sense as one with ourselves” and “to seek their good.” It means to establish a relationship with the poor, so that “in every Christian community, the poor feels at home.” So important is our option for the poor, as Pope Francis teaches, without it, “the proclamation of the Gospel … risks being understood or submerged by the ocean of words which daily engulfs us in today’s society of mass communication” (from St John Paul II, Novo Millennio Ineunte) (199). Of utmost urgency is “a privileged and preferential religious care” (200).
The pope makes it very clear that no one is exempted from the call to care for the poor. “It is required of everyone” and the Holy Father asks all of us, as a community, to seek “creative ways of accepting this call” (201).
In the final paragraphs of this section, the pope addresses some concrete problems which call for our attention. After affirming that “inequality is the root of social ills,” the Holy Father states “the dignity of the human person and the pursuit of the common good should shape all economic policies.” Economic activity should “serve the common good by striving to increase the goods of this world and to make them more accessible to all” (203).
He prays for politicians who are deeply disturbed about the present state of affairs, and calls upon them to seek ways of solving the problems through sincere and effective dialogue and openness to the transcendent. He notes that politics is “a lofty vocation” and “one of the highest forms of charity inasmuch as it seeks the common good” (205).
The Holy Father then carries this idea to the field of economy and affirms that economy is “the art of achieving a fitting management of our common home, which is the world as a whole” and to achieve that “no government can act without regard for shared responsibility” and what is needed “at this juncture of history is a more efficient way of interacting which, with due regard for the sovereignty of each nation, ensures the economic well-being of all countries, not just a few” (206).
How important are these words of Pope Francis. Let us listen to the manner in which he ends this section:
“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, however much it may talk about social issues or criticise governments. It will easily drift into a spiritual worldliness camouflaged by religious practices, unproductive meetings and empty talk (207).
“If anyone feels offended by my words, I would respond that I speak them with affection and with the best of intentions, quite apart from any personal interest or political ideology. My words are not those of a foe or an opponent. I am interested only in helping those who are in thrall to an individualistic, indifferent and self-centred mentality to be freed from those unworthy chains and to attain a way of living and thinking which is more humane, noble and fruitful, and which will bring dignity to their presence on this earth” (208).
The Holy Father then moves on to speak about the Church’s concern for the vulnerable, but while affirming that “it is essential to draw near to new forms of poverty and vulnerability” which he lists as “the homeless, the addicted, refugees, indigenous peoples, the elderly who are increasingly isolated and abandoned, and migrants” (210). He gives a particular reflection to human trafficking (211) and he affirms “doubly poor are those women who endure situations of exclusion, mistreatment and violence (212).
He also states that “among the vulnerable for whom the Church wishes to care with particular love and concern are unborn children, the most defenceless and innocent among us” and reminds us, however, that his defence of unborn life is closely linked to the defence of each and every other human right. It involves the conviction that a human being is always sacred and inviolable, in any situation and at every stage of development (213).
Here we can see that the Holy Father is placing the Church’s teaching on abortion in the context of the entire and total question of caring for those who are vulnerable. Writing on behalf of Pope Francis, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Secretary of State, told the pro-life movement in Ireland on 25 July 2014 that the pope was confident that the Day of Life would “inspire young Catholics in particular, not only to help to ensure adequate legal protection of the fundamental human right to life, but also by seeking to bring the merciful love of God as a lifegiving balm to those troubling new forms of poverty and vulnerability which are increasingly evident in contemporary society.” It is clear that Pope Francis is widening the definition of protected vulnerable life.
Even in reaffirming the Church’s teaching on abortion, which he says cannot change, the Holy Father laments that “we (the Church) have done little to adequately accompany women in very difficult situations, where abortion appears as a quick solution to their profound anguish” (214).
Pope Francis ends this section of the exhortation by stating: “Starting from certain social issues of great importance for the future of humanity, I have tried to make explicit once again the inescapable social dimension of the Gospel message and to encourage all Christians to demonstrate it by their words, attitudes and deeds” (258).
VIII Spirit-filled evangelisers
In light of these reflections, the Holy Father leaves us with a challenge to become what he calls “spirit-filled evangelisers” that is, “evangelisers fearlessly open to the working of the Holy Spirit” (259). The pope brings us back to Pentecost and recalls on that day, “the Spirit made the apostles go forth from themselves and turned them into heralds of God’s wondrous deeds, capable of speaking to each person in his or her own language. The Holy Spirit also grants the courage to proclaim the newness of the Gospel with boldness (parrhesia) in every time and place, even when it meets with opposition” (259).
Indeed, before the coming of the Holy Spirit, the disciples were locked in a room, closed up within themselves, afraid, frightened and discouraged. They had fallen into the temptations facing evangelisers. They had forgotten the message that Christ had given to go forth and seemed to be content to stay around the altar of the upper room.
We do not know what went on there. Maybe they were re-enacting the Last Supper, over and over again, maybe they were recalling all that the Lord had taught. For sure, they were in communion with the Lord and with one another. Yet, only when the Spirit came did they receive the impulse to go out of self and to bring the message to others.
We say that is the moment the Church was born. At that moment, we see the characteristics of an evangelising Church, with Spirit-filled evangelisers, which the Holy Father delineates: going forth, heralds of God’s wondrous deeds (the beauty and attractiveness of the Gospel), speaking to others in their own language (being with people and communicating what they understand), proclaiming the newness of the Gospel (making the message alive today), with boldness (no fear or pessimism) (see 259).
Two important signs of spirit-filled evangelisers are that they pray, “because without prayer all our activities risk being fruitless and our message empty” (259) and that they give witness “by a life transfigured by God’s presence” (259).
Let us listen to how Pope Francis defines the phrase “spirit-filled.” He states that it refers to “an interior impulse that encourages, nourishes and gives meaning to our individual and communal activities (259). The Spirit fills us with fervour, joy, generosity, courage, boundless love and attraction,” and “a spirit-filled evangelisation is one guided by the Holy Spirit” (261).
If we are filled with the Spirit, we become evangelisers who pray and work by giving witness to our faith.
The Holy Father when speaking of prayer is calling us to “an interior space which can give a Christian meaning to commitment and activity. Without prolonged moments of adoration, of prayerful encounter with the Word, of sincere conversation with the Lord, our work easily becomes meaningless; we lose energy as a result of weariness and difficulties, and our fervour dies out. 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” (262).
He cautions that our prayer should lead us to action. He affirms: “Mystical notions without a solid social and missionary outreach are of no help to evangelisation, nor are dissertations or social or pastoral practices which lack a spirituality which can change hearts” (262).
Consequently, he writes: “We must reject the temptation to offer a privatised and individualistic spirituality which ill accords with the demands of charity, to say nothing of the implications of the incarnation. There is always the risk that some moments of prayer can become an excuse for not offering one’s life in mission; a privatised lifestyle can lead Christians to take refuge in some false forms of spirituality” (262).
It is clear that Pope Francis is rejecting escapism that some may take in shallow pietism and trivial rituals. He spoke about this at length in his description of spiritual worldliness (n 93ff). Prayer and all spiritual exercises are not ends in themselves, but rather the means by which we come to be touched “by the fire of the Holy Spirit burning in our hearts” (261), which in turn impels us to go forth into the world and give witness to the Gospel. They become the spiritual motivation for active evangelisation.
He calls us also “to learn from the saints … who confronted the difficulties of their own time” (263), but nonetheless gave witness to the Gospel. The Holy Father reminds us that the things today are not harder than the past, they are just different. Every age has had difficulties and obstacles to evangelisation. But every age of Christians always went forward, and the best examples of that going forward are the saints who emerged in every time.
Pope Francis gives us the reasons by which the saints were able to confront the difficulties of their times:
The first is the personal encounter with the saving love of Jesus. Indeed, writes the Holy Father, “the primary reason for evangelising is the love of Jesus which we have received, the experience of salvation which urges us to ever greater love of him” (264). The primary force or power of evangelisation, as the pope has repeated throughout his exhortation arises from our personal experience of having been saved, having been forgiven, having been touched by the immense love of God. Therefore, the Holy Father asks: “What kind of love would not feel the need to speak of the beloved, to point him out, to make him known?” (264).
Prayer then has that goal, to ask the Lord to touch our hearts. “We need to implore his grace daily, asking him to open our cold hearts and shake up our lukewarm and superficial existence” (264).
We do that by recovering “a contemplative spirit” which enables us to feel his touch and love. We can do this standing before the crucifix, kneeling before the Blessed Sacrament or simply being in his presence.
To become spirit-filled evangelisers, the Holy Father puts much emphasis on contemplating the Gospels, “with love, lingering over its pages and reading it with the heart” (264). In this way, “the beauty of the Gospels will amaze us and constantly excite us.” By absorbing the pages of the Gospels, we discover over and over again that “Jesus’ whole life. His way of dealing with the poor, his actions, his integrity, his simple daily acts of generosity, and finally his complete self-giving, is precious and reveals the mystery of his divine life” (265).
We will come “to realise ever anew that we have been entrusted with a treasure which makes us more human and helps us to lead a new life” (264) and “we become convinced that it is exactly what others need” (265). Perhaps, “we lose our enthusiasm for 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).
Our missionary impulse begins with the conviction that people are expecting something more, sometimes unconscious, unknown or undetermined. It is like the Greeks, when Paul sees that there was an altar to an unknown God, and he says, “what you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you” (Acts 17:23). Once we rediscover the beauty of the Gospel, we become convinced that its “essential content will speak to the deepest yearnings of people’s hearts” (265).
The Holy Father explains this dynamism powerfully when he writes: “Enthusiasm for evangelisation is based on this conviction. We have a treasure of life and love which cannot deceive, and a message which cannot mislead or disappoint. It penetrates to the depths of our hearts, sustaining and ennobling us. It is a truth which is never out of date because it reaches that part of us which nothing else can reach. Our infinite sadness can only be cured by an infinite love” (265).
With those words in mind, Pope Francis reminds us, however, that this conviction must be constantly strengthened by our own “constantly renewed experience of savouring Christ’s friendship and his message” (266). We need to be convinced from our own life experience with Christ that our relationship with Jesus does make a difference. In other words, we need to be convinced “that it is not the same thing to have known Jesus as not to have known him, not the same thing to walk with him as to walk blindly, not the same thing to hear his word as not to know it, and not the same thing to contemplate him, to worship him, to find our peace in him, as not to. It is not the same thing to try to build the world with his Gospel as to try to do so by our own lights” (266).
There is no doubt that the Holy Father is speaking in evangelical terms, as he goes on to say that “we know well that with Jesus life becomes richer and that with him it is easier to find meaning in everything.” Without this evangelical conviction we cannot evangelise. “A person who is not convinced, enthusiastic, certain and in love, will convince nobody” (266).
This conviction becomes pure and single-hearted when we make sure that we evangelise for only one reason to give glory to God. In referring us to the heart of Jesuit spirituality, Pope Francis writes: “Beyond all our own preferences and interests, our knowledge and motivations, we evangelise for the greater glory of the Father who loves us” (267).
The second reason that we learn from the saints in fortifying us in our missionary zeal is “the spiritual savour of being a people.” Pope Francis writes: “To be evangelisers of souls, we need to develop a spiritual taste of being close to people’s lives and to discover that this is itself a source of greater joy. Mission is at once a passion for Jesus and a passion for his people” (268).
We learn from our meditation on the life of Jesus, as becomes “the model of evangelisation which brings us to the very heart of his people” (269). Jesus was close to everyone. Here the pope turns to the Scriptures and points out:
- If he speaks to someone, he looks into their eyes with deep love and concern: “Jesus, looking upon him, loved him” (Mk 10:21).
- We see how accessible he is, as he draws near the blind man (cf Mk 10:46-52).
- He eats and drinks with sinners (Mk 2:16) without worrying about being thought a glutton and a drunkard himself (Mt 11:19).
- We see his sensitivity in allowing a sinful woman to anoint his feet (Lk 7:36-50) and in receiving Nicodemus by night (Jn 3:1-15).
We can add that the crucifixion itself is described in the Gospel of John as the culmination of the mission of Jesus to gather the entire creation into the love of his heart. “When I am lifted up, I will draw everyone to me” (Jn 12:32).
The entire life of Jesus was precisely to touch every aspect of being human and to penetrate into the depth of the human experience and to enter into the vast reality of humanity.
Therefore, writes Pope Francis, “moved by his 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; arm in arm with others, we are committed to building a new world. But we do so not from a sense of obligation, not as a burdensome duty, but as a result of a personal decision which brings us joy and gives meaning to our lives” (269).
In other words, “Jesus wants us to touch human misery, to touch the suffering flesh of others” (270). Our spirituality is based in the scriptural reflection that “loving others is a spiritual force drawing us to union with God; indeed, one who does not love others ‘walks in the darkness’ (1 Jn 2:11), ‘remains in death’ (1 Jn 3:14) and ‘does not know God’ (1 Jn 4:8).
Benedict XVI has said that ‘closing our eyes to our neighbour also blinds us to God’ and that love is, in the end, the only light which ‘can always illuminate a world grown dim and give us the courage needed to keep living and working.’ When we live out a spirituality of drawing nearer to others and seeking their welfare, our hearts are opened wide to the Lord’s greatest and most beautiful gifts. Whenever we encounter another person in love, we learn something new about God” (272).
As missionaries, whose ministry is an integral and identifying part of our lives (273), “we also have to realise that every person is worthy of our giving,” because as creatures of God, “every human being is the object of God’s infinite tenderness, and he himself is present in their lives” … “Consequently, if I can help at least one person to have a better life, that already justifies the offering of my life” (274).
Our movement towards others “achieve fulfilment when we break down walls and our heart is filled with faces and names” (274). Approaching people with names and faces is the process of fostering what the Holy Father calls in other places, “a culture of encounter.” Here, we should note that when we must speak in giving reasons for our positions, or as the pope says, reasons for our hope and ideals, we must do so “not as an enemy who critiques and condemns” or “as appearing better than others” or “as grandees who look down on others” (271). Instead, we must do so with gentleness, reverence, humility, and as “men and women of the people” (271).
Another characteristic that we find in the lives of the saints is the strength that they found in “mysterious working of the risen Christ and his Spirit.” Our belief in the mystery of how the Spirit moves and breathes assists us in overcoming the temptations facing us as pastoral agents of pessimism, fatalism and mistrust. This attitude leads us to live only in comfort, convinced that there will never be change and therefore, it is useless to make any effort.
Pope Francis responds by saying that this attitude “is only a malicious excuse for remaining caught up in comfort, laziness, vague dissatisfaction and empty selfishness. It is a self-destructive attitude” (275).
Instead, we must “recall that Jesus Christ has triumphed over sin and death and is now almighty. Jesus Christ truly lives. Put it another way, “… if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain” (1 Cor 15:14). Our spirituality must be able to rediscover this, to experience once again the Risen Christ, because “Christ’s resurrection is not an event of the past; it contains a vital power which has permeated this world. Where all seems to be dead, signs of the resurrection suddenly spring up” (276). A spirituality based on the resurrection means that we live with the trust that “however dark things are, goodness always emerges and spreads. Each day in our world beauty is born anew, it rises transformed through the storms of history. Values always tend to reappear under new guises, and human beings have arisen time after time from situations that seemed doomed. Such is the power of the resurrection, and all who evangelise are instruments of that power” (276).
Just think of the great saints of the Church. They seemed to have emerged precisely in the most depressed, sad and fateful period, and their presence and their ministry fit perfectly in those situations and they gave rise to hope, a new way of living and a future marked by a bright horizon.
We need that spiritual force that tells us and assures us that “God is able to act in every situation, even amid apparent setbacks” (279). This certainty is what we call “a sense of mystery,” but we can only appreciate that with a contemplative spirituality. This leads to a missionary fervour marked by zeal and confidence, and it is kept alive by a “firm trust in the Holy Spirit” and “allowing ourselves 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. The Holy Spirit knows well what is needed in every time and place. This is what it means to be mysteriously fruitful” (280).
Our prayer must be one of intercession, which reflects contemplation, because authentic contemplation has a place for others. Our prayer must also be that of gratitude to God for others. It is a prayer of thanksgiving for what God is doing in the lives of others (282).
Our spirituality then leads us to reflect the love of God which has been poured into our hearts (Rom 5:5). So we can conclude with the premise that has guided the entire document: we are missionaries because we are disciples, and we are disciples because we are missionaries.
The document has as its goal a reform of the Church, a change of our attitudes, and once we have new attitudes we will begin to act differently as Church with our proclamation of the message of the Gospel centred on beauty and attractiveness, mercy and inclusiveness with that special attention to the poor and abandoned.
As I bring to a close this reflection, let me point out that Pope Francis has asked us to undertake this activity of reform without complacency and without fear. He says: “Pastoral ministry in a missionary key seeks to abandon the complacent attitude that says: ‘We have always done it this way.’ I encourage everyone to apply the guidelines found in this document generously and courageously, without inhibitions or fear” (33). He even says that we should not be afraid of making mistakes. As he states in n 49: “I prefer 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 own security. I do not want a Church concerned with being at the centre and which then ends by being caught up in a web of obsessions and procedures.”
Moreover, he also reminds us that this undertaking is a community endeavour: “The most important thing is not to walk alone, but to rely on each other as brothers and sisters, and especially under the leadership of the bishops, in a wise and realistic pastoral discernment” (33).
Therefore, with this encouragement in mind, I wish to conclude with this concrete request of Pope Francis to each diocese:
“Each particular Church, as a portion of the Catholic Church under the leadership of its bishop, is likewise called to missionary conversion. It is the primary subject of evangelisation, since it is the concrete manifestation of the one Church in one specific place, and in it ‘the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church of Christ is truly present and operative.’ It is the Church incarnate in a certain place, equipped with all the means of salvation bestowed by Christ, but with local features. Its joy in communicating Jesus Christ is expressed both by a concern to preach him to areas of greater need and in constantly going forth to the outskirts of its own territory or towards new sociocultural settings. Wherever the need for the light and the life of the Risen Christ is greatest, it will want to be there. To make this missionary impulse even more focused, generous and fruitful, I encourage each particular Church to undertake a resolute process of discernment, purification and reform” (30).
“The bishop must always foster this missionary communion in his diocesan Church, following the ideal of the first Christian communities, in which the believers were of one heart and one soul (cf Acts 4:32). To do so, he will sometimes go before his people, pointing the way and keeping their hope vibrant. At other times, he will simply be in their midst with his unassuming and merciful presence. At yet other times, he will have to walk after them, helping those who lag behind and –above all- allowing the flock to strike out on new paths. In his mission of fostering a dynamic, open and missionary communion, he will have to encourage and develop the means of participation proposed in the Code of Canon Law, and other forms of pastoral dialogue, out of a desire to listen to everyone and not simply to those who would tell him what he would like to hear. Yet, the principal aim of these participatory processes should not be ecclesiastical organisation but rather the missionary aspiration of reaching everyone” (31).
Let me add, for the sake of completeness, these affirmations of Pope Francis found in his Message for World Mission Day 2014 (par 4):
“All the Lord’s disciples are called to nurture the joy of evangelisation.”
“The bishops, as those primarily responsible for this proclamation, have the task of promoting the unity of the local Church in her missionary commitment. They are called to acknowledge that the joy of communicating Jesus Christ is expressed in a concern to proclaim him in the most distant places, as well as in the constant outreach to the peripheries of their own territory, where great numbers of the poor are waiting for this message.”
“I encourage parish communities, associations and groups to live an intense fraternal life grounded in love for Jesus and concern for the needs of the disadvantaged.”
“We should not overlook lay vocations to mission. There has been a growing awareness of the identity and mission of the lay faithful in the Church, as well as a recognition that they are called to take an increasingly important role in the spread of the Gospel. Consequently, they need to be given a suitable training for the sake of an effective apostolic activity.”
At the beginning of these reflections, we were reminded that the Holy Father told us that the purpose of the exhortation was to present some guidelines which would guide the whole Church in a new phase of evangelisation (17) and whose purpose would be to show important practical implications for the Church’s mission today (18).
In that regard, Pope Francis wrote: “I dream 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 evangelisation of today’s world rather than for her self-preservation. The renewal of structures demanded by pastoral conversion can only be understood in this light: as part of an effort to make them more mission-oriented, to make ordinary pastoral activity on every level more inclusive and open, to inspire in pastoral workers a constant desire to go forth and in this way to elicit a positive response from all those whom Jesus summons to friendship with himself” (27).
And for this dream to become a reality, we must reconfirm our own relationship with Christ, and for that reason, at the very beginning of the exhortation, the Holy Father wrote: “I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ” (3). Certainly, when that happens we will all rediscover “the joy of the Gospel.”