The Way of Joy (part 2)

Session 4 (20-24)

In session 3 we finished the introduction section of Evangelii Gaudium. The Holy Father concludes his introduction by saying he wrote this Apostolic Exhortation to present a definitive style of evangelization which he wants all of us to adopt in every activity we undertake.

The title of the first Chapter is “The Church’s Missionary Transformation”. Seeing this title one might assume the Holy Father will launch into methods the Church can adopt to transform the world. It is interesting that the first part of this Chapter isn’t about transforming the world, it’s about the Church being transformed through it work of spreading the Gospel. It’s not the Church transforming the world but the Church being transformed through its work of evangelization.

So how is the Church changed through spreading the Word of God?

In paragraph 20 the Holy Father outlines God’s command in Scripture to go forth. The Pope adds we, as members of the Church, are also called to go forth from our comfort zones to spread the light of the Gospel. The first way we are changed is by being sent out of our comfort zone. God has a mission for each and everyone of us and we are meant to go forth to our places of work and recreation to spread the light of the Gospel.

The Holy Father notes that the Spirit moved Jesus to go from town to town. Jesus preached healed and moved on, He didn’t stop to explain every mystery. He planted the Word of God in people’s hearts and kept moving. (E.G. 21). There is a place for explaining Church teaching and consolidating the faith but the Word of God keeps us moving. It surpasses our limited way of thinking. The challenge of the Gospel is do more, grow more, be more. (E.G. 22).

This outgoing attitude affects our relationship with Christ. The Pope says if we want to experience the Joy of the Gospel we need to be willing to go beyond our comfort zones. As we talk about our faith and spread our faith, our faith continues to grow. (E.G. 23). As the saying goes, ‘the more you give the more you get’. Fr. Robert Baron says this is a spiritual physics. The more we give of ourselves the more the spiritual life wells up inside of us.

In paragraph 24 the Holy Father makes an important point when talking about evangelization. It is the Lord who takes the initiative. God is already stirring our soul when good intentions arise. God is the one who calls forth our good works. It is only up to us to respond. We have to respond to such an extent to be like “the shepherd who takes on the smell of the sheep.”

You may be saying to yourselves, ‘OK evangelization is important, it calls us out of our comfort zone, it affects our relationship with Christ, but what is the goal? What are we focused on? What are we working towards?’ The Holy Father says the goal of evangelization is to see God’s word accepted and its capacity for liberation and renewal revealed. If I was to sum up the Holy Father I would say, we first experience the liberation of the Gospel then we are called to help others experience the liberation of the Gospel. Once this happens the joy of the Gospel increases in our hearts.

 

Session 5 (25-49)

The state of mission spoken about in session 4 according to the Holy Father is meant to be a ‘permanent state of mission’. “Spreading the Gospel is not simply a work of the Church it is at her very heart. It is why the Church exists.” (E.G. 25)

In paragraph 27 the Holy Father gives us his own Martin Luther King speech. The Pope writes, “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 channeled for the evangelisation of today’s world rather than for her self-preservation.”

The Holy Father then focuses on parish life. The parish is where evangelisation happens. The Holy Father says a parish is not “a useless structure out of touch with people or a self-absorbed group made up of a chosen few. The parish is the presence of the Church in a given territory, an environment for hearing God’s word, for growth in the Christian life, for dialogue, proclamation, charitable outreach, worship and celebration. . . The parish encourages and trains its members to be evangelizers.” (E.G. 28). The parish is where the mission of spreading the Gospel happens. Being a missionary doesn’t necessarily mean we have to go off to a distant country.

The Holy Father then goes on to warn us of the challenge of spreading the Gospel. He says the message of the Gospel in today’s world runs the risk of being distorted and focus on secondary teachings rather than the fundamental truths. (E.G. 34) Central to evangelisation is spreading the message of the Gospel and specific dogmas of the Church what counts above all is ‘faith working through love’ (Gal 5:6). (E.G. 36) The heart of the Gospel message is “The Gospel inviting 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.” That is what it is all about. (E.G. 39).

The Holy Father’s writings are both challenging and encouraging at the same time. In paragraph 42 the Holy Father says if we are to spread the Gospel we need to live its teachings of the Gospel. “All religious teaching ultimately has to be reflected in the teacher’s way of life, which awakens the assent of the heart by its nearness, love and witness.” The faith is often caught more than taught. The Holy Father also acknowledges that living Gospel values is something to strive for but it is obtained one step at a time. Our religion is not about servitude but living in the freedom of God’s mercy. (E.G. 43). I love this quote from the Holy Father when talking about God’s mercy, “I want to remind priests that the confessional must not be a torture chamber but rather an encounter with the Lord’s mercy which spurs us on to do our best. . . A small step, in the midst of great human limitations, can be more pleasing to God than a life which appears outwardly in order but moves through the day without confronting great difficulties.” As Christ says, “I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” (Lk 15:7).

To conclude the first chapter of the exhortation the Holy Father compares the Church to the

Father’s house in the parable of the Prodigal Son. The Father’s front door was always open waiting for his son to return. (E.G. 46) The Holy Father writes, “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.” (E.G. 49)

 

Session 6 (50-64)

In the last session I noted the Pope outlined the challenges of evangelising .Those challenges being people can fail to focus on the heart of the message of the Gospel and people can fail to live the Gospel message. The Holy Father also noted the parish community is the place where evangelisation occurs. The parish community is the training ground for evangelisers.

In chapter two of Evangelii Gaudium the Pope turns his attention to factors that could “restrain or weaken the impulse of missionary renewal.” (E.G. 50).

The root problem here is an ‘economy of exclusion’. “Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless.” (E.G. 53). The Holy Father says that the economy of exclusion has degraded from exploiting people to simply treating others as outcasts, leftovers, and thrown away. The consumer mentality that is so rampant today is now applied to people. (E.G. 53).

I believe this has its roots in envy. The envious always compares themselves to others to measure up their self-worth. Rather than acknowledging their own innate dignity as a child of God they search for it outside of themselves by seeing how they measure up to other people. The envious person says if someone else succeeds I fail, or when someone fails I am exalted. This is not the view of the Gospel. The Gospel says we are all related, we are in fact parts of one body according to St Paul. This means when another person succeeds I succeed, when another person is hurting it affects me. The Holy Father wants to remove exclusive and envious thinking.

The Holy Father equates an ‘economy of exclusion’ with the idols of the Old Testament. He says “We have created new idols. The worship of the ancient golden calf (Ex 32:1-35) has returned in a new and ruthless guise in the idolatry of money and the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose.” (E.G. 55). It is ironic that the symbol of Wall Street is a large golden bull. The Pope goes on to say, “Man is reduced to one of his needs alone: consumption.” (E.G. 55). The problem with this is the financial system rules rather than serves. The Pope says, “Money must serve, not rule! The Pope loves everyone, rich and poor alike, but he is obliged in the name of Christ to remind all that the rich must help, respect and promote the poor.” (E.G. 58). I came across a quote a while ago which went something like, ‘The poor need the rich to survive, but the rich need the poor to get into heaven.’

The flow on effect of an ‘economy of exclusion’ is violence. Violence and terrorism seems to be on the increase in our world. The Holy Father points out, “When a society – whether local, national or global – is willing to leave a part of itself on the fringes, no political programmes or resources spent on law enforcement or surveillance systems can indefinitely guarantee tranquility.” (E.G. 59).

The Pope goes on to say on one hand mass media enflames the problem of the ‘economy of exclusion’ and its negative effects on society. He says, “As a result, the negative aspects of the media and entertainment industries are threatening traditional values, and in particular the sacredness of marriage and the stability of the family.” (E.G. 62). On the other hand the Pope says the faith rather than being an influencing force of good in our society has been limited to the sphere of the private and personal. (E.G. 64).

These are very challenging statements. Spreading the joy of the Gospel is not some nice activity, it’s not about being friendly to everyone. Spreading the joy of the Gospel is about reaching the heart of our culture and turning it away from exclusivity, slavery to an economic system, violence, and the degrading of traditional values. All of these undermine our peace and joy. The Holy Father says responding to these challenges, “We need to provide an education which teaches critical thinking and encourages the development of mature moral values.” (E.G. 64).