The Way of Joy
Session 12 (Paragraphs 176-185)
Chapter 3 – social dimension of evangelisation
I believe in this section of the exhortation the Holy Father touches on the issue of the separation of Church and State. There is autonomy between Church and state. The Church doesn’t dictate to the state and vice versa. But there is a relationship. We are called to live our faith in our specific culture and enhance it with Gospel values. The Holy Father writes,
It is no longer possible to claim that religion should be restricted to the private sphere and that it exists only to prepare souls for heaven. (E.G. 182).
There is a personal aspect of faith but the Holy Father acknowledges the very message of our faith, the message that Christ died to save us from sin and death, has an implication of charity, which means we need to reach out to others with our message of hope. The Holy Father says Christ didn’t just redeem us personally but He also redeemed the way we exist and the way we relate to other people. (E.G. 178).
When we acknowledge God’s love for us and all people it necessarily brings forth our requirement to seek and protect the good of others. The Holy Father says this care and concern for others is the clearest sign that a person is growing in spiritual perfection. (E.G. 179). If you want to know you are ready for heaven ask yourself, how well do I love other people?
To the extent that he [God] reigns within us, the life of society will be a setting for universal fraternity, justice, peace and dignity. Both Christian preaching and life, then, are meant to have an impact on society. (E.G. 180)
In other words if our faith is about thinking “I’m doing ok” it isn’t a mature faith. The Holy Father quotes St Paul to the Romans, “the creation waits with eager longing for the revelation of the children of God.” (Rom 8:19). We have the answer to what every heart longs for – Christ died for us to raise us to a new level of existence with the divine Trinity. So the Church doesn’t just have a place in secular society, it has a responsibility to proclaim the truth of God.
An authentic faith – which is never comfortable or completely personal – always involves a deep desire to change the world, to transmit values, to leave the earth somehow better than we found it. (E.g. 183)
This is certainly challenging and we may feel very small in a big world. When we touch the life of one person it can have a big impact. The Holy Father reminds us the Holy Spirit has been given to us to fulfil our mission. ”The Holy Spirit knows how to loosen the knots of human affairs.” (E.G. 178).
Session 13 (Paragraphs 186-237)
Last week I spoke about the social dimension of evangelisation and how Christ not coming just to redeem us personally but also to redeem the way we exist and relate relate to others. Religion is not just about our own personal journey to heaven its also about transforming our culture. As Christians we are our brothers keeper. We are called to help get our brothers and sisters into heaven and create a culture which encourages holiness. To create a culture in which it is easier to become a saint. There are many areas we can renew our culture but the Holy Father outlines two areas that are fundamental in our time.
Poor in society
This is one of the Holy Father’s favourite topics. Pope Francis is in line with Catholic social teaching which says private property is good because it protects and appreciates the goods people have. However, the Holy Father states, private property should always be used for the common good, especially those in most need. (E.G. 189).
Any Church, if it thinks that it can comfortably go its own way without creative concern and effective cooperation in helping the poor to live with dignity and reach out to everyone, will also risk breaking down, however much it may talk about social issues. . . It will easily drift into a spiritual worldliness camouflaged by religious practices, unproductive meetings and empty talk. (E.G. 207)
The danger of society is that it emphasises success and self reliance rather than helping the weak and less talented find opportunities in life. Jesus the perfect evangeliser went looking for these little ones. He went looking for the marginalised. (E.G. 209). To be effective Christians, to follow Christ, we need to be on the look out to help someone. This may be as simple as helping a mother carry a pram up a flight of steps.
With a focus on helping others, especially the marginalised, we are able to bring about the second area of renewal that is fundamental in our time – peace in society.
Peace in society
The Holy Father says Peace is not simply the absence of war and violence resulting from domination from part of society. Peace is an ordered universe willed by God, with a more perfect justice among men. (E.G. 218-219).
“[Peace] is an ongoing process in which every new generation must take part: a slow and arduous effort calling for a desire for integration and a willingness to achieve this through the growth of a peaceful and multifaceted culture of encounter.” (220).
For me the key words are ‘a culture of encounter’. We live in a world with communication at our finger tips. However ironically with is
The Holy Father writes about four principles needed to build a ‘culture of encounter’ and peace:
1) Peace takes time and it is a process: Peace is not about immediate results but working towards the common good. (223-224)
2) Unity prevails over conflict: Building unity among disagreement requires going deeper than surface conflict to fundamental dignity. Peace is not about negotiating settlement but the conviction of unity brought about by the Spirit which harmonises every diversity. (228-230). Sin separates but the Spirit of God unites.
3) There is a constant tension between the ideal and reality. The ideal situation and the reality of where we find ourselves should never be detached. The reality is where we find ourselves and the ideal is what we work towards. (231-233).
4) There is also a tension between the global and the local. We pay attention to the global to avoid narrow thinking and we look at the local situation to keep our feet grounded in our situation. We constantly try to broaden our horizons. (234-235).
If I were to sum up this section of the Holy Father’s exhortation I would say, ‘If you want to be truly happy do something good for someone.’ If we are open to doing something good for someone each day we will change our culture for the better.