Evangelii Gaudium. The Joy of the Gospel[i].
Fragrance of the Vatican Spring
The ‘Arab Spring’ changed the face of the Middle East. Pope Francis inaugurated the ‘Vatican Spring’ and Evangelii Gaudium (EG) can be seen as the Charter for this Vatican Spring. It certainly has the freshness and fragrance of springtime on every page. Like many of you here I have been reading and analysing papal texts for decades and I have to tell you I have never come across a ‘magisterial’ document like it. As a Vatican text it brought me rare excitement and truly ‘lifted my heart’ with joy.
We have become familiar with some of Pope Francis’ thinking which has appeared in the media coming from his homilies, from the lengthy press interview he gave to Fr Spadaro for Civiltá Cattolica, from accounts of meetings and off-the-cuff remarks at audiences, and from the un-programmed press conference he held on the plane home from Rio de Janeiro[ii]. But EG is much more than that. It’s significance is of a different order. It is an authoritative teaching document of the Magisterium of the Church – formally an Apostolic Exhortation.
And, put very simply, EG has two fundamental focuses: first, transforming the way we live as Church and reenergising us[iii] to become a genuinely ‘missionary Church’; and second, putting the poor back where they belong at the very centre of the Church’s mission. But in fact there are several themes and many subthemes within this document.
It is written in a completely new style. Like a letter from the head of the family to the whole extended family, this letter from the Holy Father addresses the whole family of the Church. He is speaking to each one of us in the first person, in his own warm style, familiar, homely, with lots of colourful touches, with wit and affection but also with harsh words especially for elitism, clericalism and individualism. Three cardinal sins!
It is my conviction (shared last week by the Brazilian bishop of Santarem) that although this letter is addressed to the whole Church it is especially or primarily directed at bishops, priests and pastoral workers. I think it has things to say very directly to us here in Guyana and to the Church in Britain.
Across the globe EG has caused surprise and excitement. People find it refreshing, invigorating, and thought-provoking. I think we may find it both challenging and liberating as it calls us to ‘Stop, Look and Act’.
It is not Francis’ first magisterial document. Earlier he issued the encyclical ‘Lumen Fidei’ which was a kind of duet. It was largely drafted by Pope Benedict and finished off by Pope Francis. It nicely established a continuity of teaching in the Year of Faith. EG is technically the post-synodal document to follow through from the 2012 Synod of Bishops on the ‘New Evangelisation’. It proved to be an ideal vehicle for his debut as a solo performer[iv]!
What is abundantly clear is that in EG Pope Francis is giving unmistakable signposts and directions for his pontificate – some have described it as his manifesto. I’m not sure about that…
EG is long – 288 paras with 50,000 words and 217 footnotes yet….
it’s simple, straightforward, easy to read and easy to follow – but very difficult to summarise. He interweaves the themes and subthemes with a fair bit of repetition - as in a wide-ranging conversation going off at what seem like tangents but then coming back round to the thrust of the argument.
In short it’s not a treatise in solemn language nor a thesis for a master’s degree at Heythrop. It’s a very serious and very passionate engagement with the reader. He is speaking to me and to you, to Ellen, to Andrew, to Vincent and Cathy, about how we live out our faith – seeking as far as he can to “set us on fire” with joy, to reignite our spirits for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
It’s about the music!
There is no laying down of new Church doctrine in EG. No pronouncements of dogma. No changing of magisterial expressions of the fundamentals of the faith of the Church. He insists that it is a not a new block of Catholic Social Teaching. He says:-
184 “This Exhortation is not a social document, and for reflection on those different themes we have a most suitable tool in the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, whose use and study I heartily recommend.”
And in 51“I take for granted the different analyses which other documents of the universal magisterium have offered…”
In other words he is not changing doctrine. But he will add his nuances - “how” we apply and make real that Church teaching. So for example on abortion:
214 ”….the Church cannot be expected to change her position on this question. I want to be completely honest in this regard. This is not something subject to alleged reforms or ‘modernizations’. It is not ‘progressive’ to try to resolve problems by eliminating a human life.”
A clear restatement of doctrine. Then he continues with the pastoral nuance:
“On the other hand, it is also true that we have done little to adequately accompany women in very difficult situations, where abortion appears as a quick solution to their profound anguish, especially when the life developing within them is the result of rape or a situation of extreme poverty. Who can remain unmoved before such painful situations?”
Or again on women priests:
104 “The reservation of the priesthood to males, as a sign of Christ the Spouse who gives himself in the Eucharist, is not a question open to discussion”
Clear restatement; but then a powerful warning:
“but it can prove especially divisive if sacramental power is too closely identified with power in general. It must be remembered that when we speak of sacramental power we are in the realm of function, not that of dignity or holiness. The ministerial priesthood is one means employed by Jesus for the service of his people, yet our great dignity derives from baptism, which is accessible to all. The configuration of the priest to Christ the head – namely, as the principal source of grace – does not imply an exaltation which would set him above others.”
Although EG does not anywhere seek to overturn traditional Church teaching it certainly does seek to overturn (and is fearless in doing so) the way we have done things, our praxis, our practice, the way we bring that teaching to pastoral action, the way we minister, the way we mediate that teaching to our communities. So, in terms of Latin American theology, it’s not about orthodoxy (right teaching) but about orthopraxis (right action).
If we think of evangelisation as a hymn or a song he is not changing the words but he is dramatically changing the music![vii]
It’s not the words it’s the music!
Continuity with Vatican II
Over the last 15 years there has been a gradual side-lining of Vatican II and its teaching with continual attempts made to blunt its renewing and reforming thrust. EG reconnects directly to Vatican II citing John XXIII, Paul VI and the documents of Vatican II. Furthermore it weaves into the text key words and phrases from Vatican II and thereby validates its vocabulary. So for ‘People of God’, ‘Kingdom of God’, ‘the Local Church’, the value of ecumenism and interfaith dialogue,’inculturation’, the pivotal place of ‘episcopal collegiality’, and ‘the signs of the times’ there is more than passing reference; it is a positive endorsement of Vatican II’s language and concepts.
51 “It is not the task of the Pope to offer a detailed and complete analysis of contemporary reality, but I do exhort all the communities to an ever watchful scrutiny of the signs of the times”.
Decentralisation = the problem of the Roman Curia!
32 “Excessive centralization, rather than proving helpful, complicates the Church’s life and her missionary outreach.”
The truth is that for the last two decades continental and national Bishops’ Conferences have been marginalised, downgraded, ignored and overruled. The recent imposition of a new English language translation of the liturgy in the face of widespread opposition within the respective bishop conferences is the most blatant example. Instead of the Roman Curia (the Vatican civil service) being at the service of the Pope and the world’s bishops in the collegial governance of the universal Church we have had the reality of the local bishops across the planet serving the Pope and forced to kowtow to the officials of the Curia, seemingly acting with papal authority. So:
32 “The Second Vatican Council stated that, like the ancient patriarchal Churches, episcopal conferences are in a position to contribute in many and fruitful ways to the concrete realization of the collegial spirit. Yet this desire has not been fully realized, since a juridical status of episcopal conferences which would see them as subjects of specific attributions, including genuine doctrinal authority, has not yet been sufficiently elaborated.” Not sufficiently or not at all? And…
16 ”It is not advisable for the Pope to take the place of local Bishops in the discernment of every issue which arises in their territory. In this sense, I am conscious of the need to promote a sound ‘decentralization’.”
184 “Here I can repeat the insightful observation of Pope Paul VI: ‘In the face of such widely varying situations, it is difficult for us to utter a unified message and to put forward a solution which has universal validity. This is not our ambition, nor is it our mission. It is up to the Christian communities to analyze with objectivity the situation which is proper to their own country’.”
EG pointedly quotes within the body of the text not only from papal documents and Vatican Council decrees but also from the Conferences of Latin American Bishops at Puebla and Aparecida and the national episcopal conferences of Brazil, India, United States, Philippines, France and the DRC. This gives status and authority to their collective deliberations and statements.
Pope Francis reflects on the state of the world and the state of the Church as he examines the very essence of being Church and living as Church. It is an invitation for our reflection and examination of conscience as he holds up a mirror for us.
Caritas Christi Urget Nos – the love of Christ urges us on. Pope Francis presses us to embark on a new chapter of the life of the Church, marked by joy, transforming ourselves into a truly missionary Church with the poor at its very heart. He tells us[viii] that every Christian is a missionary to the extent that he or she has encountered the love of God in Jesus Christ. He insists that we no longer say that we are ‘disciples’ and ‘missionaries’, but rather that we are always ‘missionary disciples’. In a critical paragraph which underlines that he is requesting and requiring change of us all, he declares that the status quo is not an option.
25“I am aware that nowadays documents do not arouse the same interest as in the past and that they are quickly forgotten. Nevertheless, I want to emphasize that what I am trying to express here has a programmatic significance and important consequences. I hope that all communities will devote the necessary effort to advancing along the path of a pastoral and missionary conversion which cannot leave things as they presently are. Mere administration can no longer be enough. Throughout the world, let us be permanently in a state of mission.”
Ecclesial Renewal which cannot be deferred
Over and over again EG reminds us that the Church exists to evangelise, to bring the good news of the gospel to all, but especially to the most excluded and the most vulnerable. That good news, EG reiterates, is the kingdom of God, the kingdom of love, justice, dignity and peace. Evangelisation then is to preach the kingdom of love, justice, dignity and peace and to make it present and real in our world[ix]. Indeed that kingdom is already present and growing in our midst. Jesus’ mission was not to found a Church but to inaugurate the kingdom of his Father. He commands his disciples to proclaim the good news that the kingdom of God is at hand.[x] And here is the plea:
27 “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 evangelization 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.”
In other words, and recalling Michael Winter’s popular book[xi] from 40 years ago, we are about ‘Mission’ not ‘Maintenance.’
The Missionary Church
Marking out the path for a renewed missionary Church EG highlights some of the challenges we face:
2 “The great danger in today’s world, pervaded as it is by consumerism, is the desolation and anguish born of a complacent yet covetous heart, the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures, and a blunted conscience. ….there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor. God’s voice is no longer heard, the quiet joy of his love is no longer felt, and the desire to do good fades. This is a very real danger for believers too. Many fall prey to it, and end up resentful, angry and listless.” And so:
6 “There are Christians whose lives seem like Lent without Easter.”
It is the ‘globalisation of superficiality’ which the Jesuit Father General, Adolfo Nicolás, has spoken of. And Pope Francis has chosen a similar quotable expression: ‘the globalisation of indifference’.
However from our encounter with Jesus, our encounter with God’s love, springs gratitude and joy.
5 “The Gospel, radiant with the glory of Christ’s cross, constantly invites us to rejoice. A few examples will suffice. “Rejoice!” is the angel’s greeting to Mary (Lk 1:28). Mary’s visit to Elizabeth makes John leap for joy in his mother’s womb (cf. Lk 1:41). In her song of praise, Mary proclaims: “My spirit rejoices in God my Saviour” (Lk 1:47). When Jesus begins his ministry, John cries out: “For this reason, my joy has been fulfilled” (Jn 3:29). Jesus himself “rejoiced in the Holy Spirit” (Lk 10:21). His message brings us joy: “I have said these things to you, so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete” (Jn 15:11). Our Christian joy drinks of the wellspring of his brimming heart. He promises his disciples: “You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy” (Jn 16:20). He then goes on to say: “But I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you” (Jn 16:22). The disciples “rejoiced” (Jn 20:20) at the sight of the risen Christ. In the Acts of the Apostles we read that the first Christians “ate their food with glad and generous hearts” (2:46). Wherever the disciples went, “there was great joy” (8:8); even amid persecution they continued to be “filled with joy” (13:52). The newly baptized eunuch “went on his way rejoicing” (8:39), while Paul’s jailer “and his entire household rejoiced that he had become a believer in God” (16:34). Why should we not also enter into this great stream of joy?” And that means:
10 “Consequently, an evangelizer must never look like someone who has just come back from a funeral!”
So, with EG, the era of the beleaguered Church, the defensive Church, the barricaded Church is over. The Church that sees the ‘culture of death’ everywhere and no signs of God’s kingdom breaking through is in the past. The Church that won’t be stained or defiled, the introspective Church, seemingly obsessed with sexual conduct and sexual morality, the glum Church with too many ‘sourpusses’ is put behind us.
As John XXIII’s encyclical proclaimed, the Church is ‘Mater et Magistra’ – ‘Mother and Teacher’. Surely for the last 15 years we have had an excess of ‘Magistra’ with the institutional Church too often resembling a courtroom peopled by over-zealous lawyers, barristers, policemen and judges pursuing, and sometimes excluding, those deemed in error.
Now Francis is moving the Church back into ‘Mater’ mode. EG describes the Church as ‘a mother with an open heart’. The image for the Church suggested now is a field hospital, open and welcoming to all, peopled by pastors, doctors and nurses, and offering healing and care to the tired and weary, to the rambling shambling pilgrim People of God.
It becomes clear that the ‘new evangelisation’ is not some ingenious fancy methodology using Facebook and Twitter, social media novelties and online tricks to attract new believers. No, the new evangelisation is a root and branch renewal of the old evangelisation. Above all that means a root and branch renewal of evangelisers - all of us, the whole infantry of missionary disciples.
33 We must “abandon the complacent attitude that says: ‘We have always done it this way’. I invite everyone to be bold and creative in this task of rethinking the goals, structures, style and methods of evangelization in their respective communities. A proposal of goals without an adequate communal search for the means of achieving them will inevitably prove illusory. I encourage everyone to apply the guidelines found in this document generously and courageously, without inhibitions or fear. The 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.”
Relax – and do it!
As we change the music of our song from a funeral march to Beethoven’s Ninth and the ‘Ode for Joy’ or a Brazilian tango rhythm there are three blocks of reassurance in EG which may help overcome our fears and hesitations. I put them under three headings 1) Hierarchy of Truths; 2) Development & Rearticulation of Doctrine and Inculturation of Faith Practice; 3) An Inclusive Church.
Hierarchy of Truths
Although often forgotten EG reminds us that we have in the Church first, second and third order truths. It will serve our reflections well.
36 “In this sense, the Second Vatican Council explained that in Catholic doctrine there exists an order or a ‘hierarchy’ of truths, since they vary in their relation to the foundation of the Christian faith. This holds true as much for the dogmas of faith as for the whole corpus of the Church’s teaching, including her moral teaching.”
34 “…certain issues which are part of the Church’s moral teaching are continually taken out of the context which gives them their meaning… and the message we preach then seems identified with those secondary aspects of Christ’s message.”
35 “Pastoral ministry in a missionary style is not obsessed with the disjointed transmission of a multitude of doctrines to be insistently imposed.”
38 “First, it needs to be said that 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 or justice two or three times, an imbalance results….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.”
39 “Christian morality is not a form of stoicism, or self-denial…or a catalogue of sins and faults. 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.”
Inculturation and Rearticulation of Teaching.
I imagine theologians will be happy that EG recognises and values their role. Equally helpful is the acknowledgment that proper mutual respect is imperative as science and faith dialogue and interact.
40 “Differing currents of thought in philosophy, theology and pastoral practice…can enable the Church to grow, since all of them help to express more clearly the immense riches of God’s word. For those who long for a monolithic body of doctrine guarded by all and leaving no room for nuance, this might appear as undesirable and leading to confusion. But in fact such variety serves to bring out and develop different facets of the inexhaustible riches of the Gospel.”
243 “The Church has no wish to hold back the marvellous progress of science….Whenever the sciences – rigorously focused on their specific field of inquiry – arrive at a conclusion which reason cannot refute, faith does not contradict it.”
122 “Once the Gospel has been inculturated in a people, in their process of transmitting their culture they also transmit the faith in ever new forms; hence the importance of understanding evangelization as inculturation. Each portion of the people of God, by translating the gift of God into its own life and in accordance with its own genius, bears witness to the faith it has received and enriches it with new and eloquent expressions.”
41 “At the same time, today’s vast and rapid cultural changes demand that we constantly seek ways of expressing unchanging truths in a language which brings out their abiding newness. The deposit of the faith is one thing... the way it is expressed is another. There are times when the faithful, in listening to completely orthodox language, take away something alien to the authentic Gospel of Jesus Christ, because that language is alien to their own way of speaking to and understanding one another….In this way, we hold fast to a formulation while failing to convey its substance.”
An Inclusive Church
46 “A Church which “goes forth” is a Church whose doors are open…we have to be like the father of the prodigal son, who always keeps his door open for when the son returns….”
47 “…our church doors should always be open… nor should the doors of the sacraments be closed for simply any reason. This is especially true of the sacrament which is itself “the door”: baptism. The Eucharist…is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak....Frequently, we act as arbiters of grace rather than its facilitators. But the Church is not a tollhouse; it is the house of the Father, where there is a place for everyone, with all their problems.”
That is poor and rich, women, children and men, black and white, refugees and migrants, unmarried and married, documented and undocumented, homosexual, heterosexual and transsexual, young and the frail elderly, the healthy and people with HIV, clerics and lay folk, saints and sinners all.
But to whom should we go first? The poor, the sick and those who are usually despised and overlooked?
48 “There can be no room for doubt or for explanations which weaken so clear a message. Today and always the poor are the privileged recipients of the Gospel; and the fact that it is freely preached to them is a sign of the kingdom that Jesus came to establish. We have to state, without mincing words, that there is an inseparable bond between our faith and the poor. May we never abandon them.”
And perhaps in reference to those clergy “who prefer cassocks, crew-cuts and cufflinks to compassion, cheer and charity”:-
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... 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).”
Temptations Faced by Pastoral Workers
In summary EG looks at the crisis in the world and the crisis in the Church and leaves us, on each, with four times “thou-shalt-not” or what we might mischievously describe as an octet of anathemas.
- No to an economy of exclusion and inequality!
53 “Such an economy kills. How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?”
54 “…some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralised workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting.”
This paragraph has brought heated controversy in the US[xii].
- No to the idolatry of money!
55 “The worship of the ancient golden calf has returned in a new and ruthless guise in the idolatry of money...”
- No to a financial system that rules rather than serves!
57 “Behind this attitude lurks a rejection of ethics and a rejection of God. Ethics has come to be viewed with a certain scornful derision.”
There follows then a brief reflection on ethics concluding that we should ‘do economics as if people mattered’.
- No to inequality which spawns violence!
No to selfishness and spiritual sloth!
82 “The problem is not always an excess of activity, but rather activity undertaken badly, without adequate motivation, without a spirituality which would permeate it and make it pleasurable. As a result, work becomes more tiring than necessary, even leading at times to illness. Far from a content and happy tiredness, this is a tense, burdensome, dissatisfying and, in the end, unbearable fatigue. This pastoral acedia can be caused by a number of things. Some fall into it because they throw themselves into unrealistic projects and are not satisfied simply to do what they reasonably can. Others, because they lack the patience to allow processes to mature; they want everything to fall from heaven. Others, because they are attached to a few projects or vain dreams of success. Others, because they have lost real contact with people and so depersonalize their work that they are more concerned with the road map than with the journey itself. Others fall into acedia because they are unable to wait; they want to dominate the rhythm of life. Today’s obsession with immediate results makes it hard for pastoral workers to tolerate anything that smacks of disagreement, possible failure, criticism, the cross.”
- No to sterile pessimism!
84 “(Quoting John XXIII at the Opening of Vatican II) At times we have to listen, much to our regret, to the voices of people who… can see nothing but prevarication and ruin. We feel that we must disagree with those prophets of doom who are always forecasting disaster, as though the end of the world were at hand.”
- No to spiritual worldliness!
95 “In some people we see an ostentatious preoccupation for the liturgy, for doctrine and for the Church’s prestige, but without any concern that the Gospel have a real impact on God’s faithful people and the concrete needs of the present time…. Evangelical fervour is replaced by the empty pleasure of complacency and self-indulgence.”
96 “This way of thinking also feeds the vainglory of those who are content to have a modicum of power and would rather be the general of a defeated army than a mere private in a unit which continues to fight.”
No to warring among ourselves!
100 “It always pains me greatly to discover how some Christian communities, and even consecrated persons tolerate different forms of enmity, division, calumny, defamation, vendetta, jealousy and the desire to impose certain ideas at all costs…Whom are we going to evangelize if this is the way we act?”
But this section of EG concludes on an upbeat note:
109 “Challenges exist to be overcome! Let us be realists, but without losing our joy, our boldness and our hope-filled commitment. Let us not allow ourselves to be robbed of missionary vigour!”
Imperatives for the Homily
As the Word of God in Scripture is at the very core of EG, twenty pages are devoted to a reflection on the crucial importance of the homily within the Eucharistic celebration. There are extensive and detailed guidelines for preaching it properly and well - as a critical element within the enterprise of evangelisation. He covers the preparation of the homily, reverence for the Word of God itself, the internal disposition and the external practice of the preacher, the right and wrong content and the delivery of the homily. This section of the document on preaching the Word of God in the homily de facto constitutes a mini catechetical seminar – an encyclical within an encyclical! Fundamentally he is asking preachers to inhabit that Word of God and to allow themselves to be inhabited by that Word of God as they approach the task of ‘setting hearts on fire with love’ in the homily.
174 “Not only the homily has to be nourished by the word of God. All evangelization is based on that word, listened to, meditated upon, lived, celebrated and witnessed to. The sacred Scriptures are the very source of evangelization.”
145 “Preparation for preaching is so important a task that a prolonged time of study, prayer, reflection and pastoral creativity should be devoted to it….Some pastors argue that such preparation is not possible given the vast number of tasks which they must perform; nonetheless, I presume to ask that each week a sufficient portion of personal and community time be dedicated to this task, even if less time has to be given to other important activities….A preacher who does not prepare is not “spiritual”; he is dishonest and irresponsible with the gifts he has received.”
157 “A good homily, an old teacher once told me, should have ‘an idea, a sentiment, and an image’.”
The Poor in Society
The centrality of the poor in the evangelisation project of EG cannot be in doubt. The option for the poor is a thread that runs throughout the text. But it is more than that; there are many echoes of the Jesuit General Congregation 34. Basically he bashes on the head those who would say that we can witness to faith without seeking to promote social justice. And he insists the Church will not be confined to the sacristy.
183 Consequently, no one can demand that religion should be relegated to the inner sanctum of personal life ….the Church cannot and must not remain on the side-lines in the fight for justice”
188 “….it means 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. The word solidarity….refers to something more than a few sporadic acts of generosity. It presumes the creation of a new mind-set which thinks in terms of community and the priority of the life of all over the appropriation of goods by a few.”
He pleads that we hear the cry of the poor.
187 “This demands that we be docile and attentive to the cry of the poor and to come to their aid.”
194 “This message is so clear and direct, so simple and eloquent, that no ecclesial interpretation has the right to relativize it….Why complicate something so simple? … This is especially the case with those biblical exhortations which summon us so forcefully to brotherly love, to humble and generous service, to justice and mercy towards the poor. Jesus taught us this way of looking at others by his words and his actions. So why cloud something so clear?”
197 “The entire history of our redemption is marked by the presence of the poor. “
198 “That is why I want a poor Church for the poor….. to put them at the centre of the Church’s pilgrim way. We are called to find Christ in them, and to lend our voice to their causes.”
This last phrase constitutes a most welcome explicit endorsement of action for justice through advocacy and campaigning from the mouth of Pope Francis.
200 “…I want to say, with regret, that the worst discrimination which the poor suffer is the lack of spiritual care.”
EG is telling us quite bluntly that the option for the poor is no longer a matter for esoteric deconstruction. It’s simple and it’s an imperative. The option for the poor means that the poor come first – first in our priorities, first in our pastoral plans, first in the use of our time, first in the call on our financial and human resources. It will be hard to swallow for the rich Church in the rich world!
Peace and Dialogue
Four great precepts are set out here as a contribution to the path to peace. Each of them is a miniature reflection which I would recommend to you as the basis of a lovely meditation.
- Time is greater than space
- Unity prevails over conflict
- Realities are more important than ideas
- The whole is greater than the sum of its parts
This is the brief wrap-up chapter of EG concluding with the prayer, Mary as Star of Evangelisation.
262 “Spirit-filled evangelizers are evangelizers who pray and work. Mystical notions without a solid social and missionary outreach are of no help to evangelization, nor are dissertations or social or pastoral practices which lack a spirituality which can change hearts.”
268 “Mission is at once a passion for Jesus and a passion for his people.”
273 “My mission of being in the heart of the people is not just a part of my life or a badge I can take off; it’s not an ‘extra’ or just another moment in life.”
And then a paragraph I like very much with the allusion to Moses.
277 “We all know from experience that sometimes a task does not bring the satisfaction we seek, results are few and changes are slow, and we are tempted to grow weary. Yet lowering our arms momentarily out of weariness is not the same as lowering them for good, overcome by chronic discontent and by a listlessness that parches the soul.“
Mary Star of the New Evangelisation
288 “There is a Marian ‘style’ to the Church’s work of evangelization. Whenever we look to Mary, we come to believe once again in the revolutionary nature of love and tenderness. In her we see that humility and tenderness are not virtues of the weak but of the strong who need not treat others poorly in order to feel important themselves. Contemplating Mary, we realize that she who praised God for “bringing down the mighty from their thrones” and “sending the rich away empty” is also the one who brings a homely warmth to our pursuit of justice.”…….
To encapsulate this beautiful letter in a single simple idea is no easy matter. Essentially EG invites us time and again to inhabit the Word of God through meditation, Ignatian imagination, Lectio Divina or whatever method suits us best. Then, allow that Word of God to inhabit us, to get under our skin. At the same time the fervent appeal is to inhabit the world of the poor (don’t keep it at arm’s length) and thereby allow ourselves to be inhabited by that world of the poor, let it permeate the pores of our skin.
So, the call is to inhabit and be inhabited by the Word of God and, simultaneously, to inhabit and be inhabited by the World of the Poor. This would not only signal an authentic missionary disciple but also make manifest a credible witness to the resurrection of Jesus Christ for these times.
Let me quote and underline the plea of Fr James Martin SJ to his fellow Jesuits:
“Please, please, dear Jesuit brothers, read the entire document. Take your time. Be generous with it. Let it excite you. Pray with it. And be open to his call to embark on a new chapter of evangelisation marked by this joy”.
288 “And so with Mary we advance confidently towards the fulfilment of this promise, and to her we pray:
Mary, Virgin and Mother,
you who, moved by the Holy Spirit,
welcomed the word of life
in the depths of your humble faith:
as you gave yourself completely to the Eternal One,
help us to say our own “yes”
to the urgent call, as pressing as ever,
to proclaim the good news of Jesus.
Filled with Christ’s presence,
you brought joy to John the Baptist,
making him exult in the womb of his mother.
Brimming over with joy,
you sang of the great things done by God.
Standing at the foot of the cross
with unyielding faith,
you received the joyful comfort of the resurrection,
and joined the disciples in awaiting the Spirit
so that the evangelizing Church might be born.
Obtain for us now a new ardour born of the resurrection,
that we may bring to all the Gospel of life
which triumphs over death.
Give us a holy courage to seek new paths,
that the gift of unfading beauty
may reach every man and woman.
Virgin of listening and contemplation,
Mother of love, Bride of the eternal wedding feast,
pray for the Church, whose pure icon you are,
that she may never be closed in on herself
or lose her passion for establishing God’s kingdom.
Star of the new evangelization,
help us to bear radiant witness to communion,
service, ardent and generous faith,
justice and love of the poor,
that the joy of the Gospel
may reach to the ends of the earth,
illuminating even the fringes of our world.
Mother of the living Gospel,
wellspring of happiness for God’s little ones,
pray for us.
[i] This is the text of a talk given in Georgetown, Guyana last month (February 2014). It is not an academic paper and was not intended for publication. The talk has drawn freely on articles in America magazine, NCR and elsewhere, often without attribution – for which apologies!
[vii] Nancy Gibbs, Managing Editor, Time Magazine, 11 December 2013.
[xii] It is the word ‘inevitably’ that is the centre of the heated exchanges. Apparently the original Spanish language version could be better translated as ‘on its own’ or ‘in itself’. The latter seems to be tolerable for American conservatives whereas ‘inevitably’ is not!