Session 7 (Paragraphs 64-86)
Last week I spoke about the challenges of secularisation and an ‘economy of exclusion’. That is people are viewed as outcasts, leftovers, and simply thrown away.
The challenge of a secular world view is it tends to reduce the faith and the Church to the sphere of the private and personal. (E.G. 64). This can leave society at best tolerating the Church but as soon as it proposes a Gospel truth that leads to the flourishing of life that is often rejected. The Church is always about the common good and the flourishing of society.
This touches on the faith and works relationship as mentioned by St James in Scripture. Faith and works go hand in hand. Our faith calls us to make a difference in the world. As Christians we are called to help bring about the Kingdom of God. This is a kingdom of peace and justice which starts here and now.
The Holy Father writes:
Again and again, the Church has acted as a mediator in finding solutions to problems affecting peace, social harmony, the land, the defence of life, human and civil rights, and so forth. And how much good has been done by Catholic schools and universities around the world! (E.G. 65)
We can be proud of our Catholic faith. Her works are numerous: they Church established hospitals to take care of the sick; set up orphanages; helps support the poor; the Church is the largest charitable organisation in the world; the Church educates more children than any other institution; she developed scientific method and laws of ethics; she founded universities; she defends the dignity of all human life; she upholds marriage and family.
The Holy Father goes on,
This is a good thing. Yet, we find it difficult to make people see that when we raise other questions less palatable to public opinion, we are doing so out of fidelity to precisely the same convictions about human dignity and the common good. (E.G. 65)
Some of those less palatable teachings of the Church are those concerning contraception, same sex marriage, euthanasia, and abortion. In the case of the family the Holy Father is clear. The Pope says the family is the fundamental cell of society, where we learn to live with others, despite our differences, and to belong to one another. It’s the place where faith is passed on. The Pope writes, today marriage tends to be viewed as a mere emotional satisfaction that can be modified at will. Marriage transcends the feelings and momentary needs of a couple. (E.G. 66).
The Holy Father touches on some difficult topics but he is always hopeful. He says the Gospel is the remedy for restoring the dignity of human life. To achieve this, the Holy Father says “we need to provide an education which teaches critical thinking and encourages the development of mature moral values.” (E.G. 64). That is the development of our intellect (knowing the truths of our faith and developing critical thinking) and the development of our will (living authentic lives, training our will to choose the good). The Holy Father adds, when we face the challenge of difficult teachings it will form us into better Christians who bear much fruit. (E.G. 75).
I am sure most people are aware of the humility of the Holy Father. This comes through in his statement,
I am grateful for the beautiful example given to me by so many Christians who joyfully sacrifice their lives and their time. This witness comforts and sustains me in my own effort to overcome selfishness and to give more fully of myself. (E.G. 76)
When we strive to live our faith in challenging circumstances we not only bear much fruit we also help those around us including the Holy Father himself!
Session 8 (Paragraphs 87-109)
As we move on with the Evangelli Gaudium the Holy Father outlines what he calls Spiritual Worldliness.
The Holy Father says,
Spiritual worldliness, which hides behind the appearance of piety and even love for the Church, consists in seeking not the Lord’s glory but human glory and personal well-being. (E.G. 93)
Spiritual worldliness can be so invasive. We may be a practicing Catholic or Christian and love God and the Church but in our hearts we can focus on personal glory and well-being. Personal well-being is good, we are called to love ourselves, but we can make an idol out of well-being. Personal well-being can be the motivating force behind all our actions which ends in selfishness. Being Christian means, in a radical way, God’s greater glory should motivate the way we live. St Ignatius’ first rule of discernment is, ‘Whatever will give God greater glory that is what I will do.’ This is the focus of a saint. The saint is primarily focused on God, then their neighbour, then their own well-being. The truth of our faith is when we give our life away as a gift we find our life, we find well-being.
The Holy Father points to the problem of Spiritual worldliness as exhausting one’s energies on introspection which fails to be concerned about Jesus and others. This closes the door to life giving grace. (E.G. 94)
We need to be careful of Spiritual worldliness even when we want to serve God. The Holy Father says, “How often we dream up vast apostolic projects, meticulously planned, just like defeated generals! [Our service of God and the Church can be more about proving ourselves as superior.] But this is to deny our history as a Church, which is glorious precisely because it is a history of sacrifice, of hopes and daily struggles, of lives spent in service and fidelity to work, tiring as it may be, for all work is ‘the sweat of our brow’.” (E.G. 96) The ultimate truth of our faith is the glory of the resurrection is always achieved through the sacrifice of the cross.
The Holy Father points out, “This stifling worldliness can only be healed by breathing in the pure air of the Holy Spirit who frees us from self-centredness cloaked in an outward religiosity bereft of God. Let us not allow ourselves to be robbed of the Gospel!” (E.G. 97)
The Holy Father says evangelisation, and I would add personal glory, is achieved through care for one another. He states, “How much good it does us to love one another, in spite of everything.” (E.G. 100). The Holy Father acknowledges this is difficult but he says,
At least let us say to the Lord: ‘Lord, I am angry with this person, with that person. I pray to you for him and for her’. To pray for a person with whom I am irritated is a beautiful step forward in love, and an act of evangelisation. Let us do it today! (E.G. 101)
Session 9 (Paragraphs 110-131)
Last week we finished chapter 2 of Evangelii Gaudium, which was all about the challenges of evangelisation. Today we begin Chapter 3 which is about proclaiming the Gospel. The Holy Father calls this ‘the task which bears upon us in every age and place.’ (E.G. 110). The task of the Church is proclaiming the Gospel which makes the Church a sacrament of salvation. The Church is the vehicle which God uses to continue the work of salvation.
The Holy Father goes on to say,
The Church, as the agent of evangelisation, is more than an organic and hierarchical institution; she is first and foremost a people advancing on its pilgrim way towards God. (E.G. 111)
We are approaching Easter. During Easter the Gospel presents Christ making His way up to Jerusalem. Christ journey was ultimately a journey of following the Father’s plan of salvation which involved the cross and resurrection of Christ. As Christ’s followers we follow Christ up to Jerusalem to fulfil the Father’s plan for us. A plan that does involve the cross, dying to self, but also the new life of the resurrection. The Holy Father presents evangelisation as a people on the move, following the Father’s will, who invite others to follow after them to salvation.
The Pope reminds us that the work of salvation is primarily the work of God. It is God who draws us to Himself. The Pope says,
The salvation which God offers us is the work of his mercy. No human efforts, however good they may be, can enable us to merit so great a gift. God, by his sheer grace, draws us to himself and makes us one with him. (E.G. 112)
In the work of evangelisation it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking we need to have the right answer, we need to have right words, or the answers to correct errors. These do have a place in evangelisation and these come as our faith matures, but I believe the Holy Father is saying it is God who places the desire for Himself on people’s hearts. Often it only takes one word from us to ignite the flame of divine love.
The work of evangelisation can be daunting. We may feel unequipped for the work of evangelisation and as I mentioned we become more effective evangelisers as our faith matures. The more we reflect the face of Christ the better evangelisers we become. However the Holy Father says we shouldn’t wait to get a degree in Theology before we evangelise. The Pope says, “Every Christian is a missionary to the extent that he or she has encountered the love of God in Christ Jesus: we no longer say that we are ‘disciples’ and ‘missionaries’, but rather that we are always ‘missionary disciples”. (E.G. 120)
As young people you can make a powerful witness for Christ by not being afraid to explain your faith in Christ and your belief in the Church and her teachings. To conclude this weeks reflection the Holy Father says,
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. (E.G. 127)
We should be ready and grasp these opportunities to draw people along the way of salvation.