The Way of Joy
Session 14 (Paragraphs 238-258)
I come to my final reflection on Evangelii Gaudium. In this section the Holy Father points to different areas of dialogue required for evangelisation. Earlier I spoke about the image the Holy Father gave us of the Church being a community on the move. We are a community walking side by side towards God’s kingdom and we invite others to join us on the way. As we walk, there are necessary dialogues we should have. I will touch on a few of the areas of dialogue the Holy Father points out.
Dialogue between faith and reason
The Holy Father writes,
“Faith is not fearful of reason; on the contrary, it seeks and trusts reason, since the light of reason and the light of faith both come from God and cannot contradict each other.” (E.G. 242)
The Church has a balanced view of faith and reason. Saint John Paul II wrote in the opening paragraph of the encyclical Fides et Ratio, “Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth.” The church is not anti-science.
The main focus of the Church is that scientific advancement needs to remain respectful of the centrality and supreme value of the human person at every stage in life. (E.G. 242). Science is at the service of humanity and the common good.
The Catholic faith always takes a both/and position not either/or. The Holy Father outlines how faith and reason work together to achieve truth.
“Whenever the sciences – rigorously focus on their specific field of enquiry – arrive at a conclusion that reason cannot refute, faith does not contradict it. Neither can believers claim that a scientific opinion which is attractive but not sufficiently verified has the same weight as a Dogma of the faith.” (E.G. 243)
Faith is not superstition or wishful thinking. Faith is certitude of things unseen.
In this area of dialogue the Holy Father writes the credibility of the Christian message would be stronger if various Christian groups could overcome divisions. When it comes to different Christian groups we are joined by baptism but not yet in full communion. We don’t all accept the same beliefs but we continue to work toward unity. The Holy Father calls various Christian denominations to put aside suspicion and mistrust and turn our gaze to what we are all seeking: the radiant peace of Christ’s face. (E.G. 244).
Inter religious dialogue
The Holy Father says, inter religious dialogue is necessary for peace in the world. With ecumenism we have Christ as our common ground. In inter religious dialogue we have human existence as our common ground. In the Holy Father’s words it is a matter of “being open to various religions, sharing their joys and sorrows.” (E.G. 250). For inter religious dialogue, justice and peace should become the basic principles which unite us.
When it comes to dialogue, either with other Christians or other religions, we need to stay true to who we are. We never water down our faith by saying all religions are basically the same. We need to have good vigorous discussion with charity about our beliefs. We should push each other to express the reason for their hope and belief. In the area of dialogue the Holy Father says the synods fathers state that religious freedom is a fundamental human right, even if it is a belief in non-belief with atheist and agnostics. When in dialogue convictions and beliefs must never be imposed, this will never lead to peace. (E.G. 255). Our dialogue is always an invitation not a competition.
Session 15 (Paragraph 259 – end of exhortation)
We come to the final reflection on the Holy Fathers joy of the Gospel. If you only read one part of this exhortation I would encourage you to read this section. This part of the exhortation is about being a Spirit filled evangeliser. The Holy Father states,
“How I long to find the right words to stir up enthusiasm for a new chapter of evangelisation full of fervour, joy, generosity, courage, boundless love and attraction! Yet I realize that no words of encouragement will be enough unless the fire of the Holy-Spirit burns in our hearts.” (E.G. 261).
Yes no words can do this without the Holy Spirit, but the Holy Father gives his all to encourage us in this final section of the exhortation.
The Holy Father asks us to be “fearlessly open to the workings of the Holy Spirit.” (E.G. 259). I am reminded of a scene from the Lord of the Rings. Frodo reflects on a saying of Bilbo, “It’s a dangerous thing walking out your front door. If you are not careful you don’t know where your feet will take you.” Our challenge as Christians is to let the Holy Spirit take us to where He wants. The place He leads us is often a place we would rather not go but we hold onto the conviction that the Holy Spirit always leads to the fullness of life.
Follow the lead of the Holy Spirit is what evangelisation is all about. The Holy Father states, ”Jesus wants evangelisers who proclaim the good news not only with words, but above all by a life transfigured by Gods presence” (E.G. 259). As Pope Francis’ name sake, St Francis of Assisi, once said, “Preach always and when necessary use words.”
This understanding of The Holy Spirit transforming our lives is what spirituality is all about. The Holy Father talks about spirituality as “an interior impulse which encourages, motivates, nourishes and gives meaning to our individual and communal activity.” (E.G. 261). Spirituality is not some abstract activity but the grounding of all our activities in God.
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. (E.G. 262)
The Holy Father says our faith is a treasure of life. It never deceives or disappoints us. It penetrates the depths of our hearts, sustains, and ennobles us. The infinite love of God is the cure to our infinite sadness. This conviction needs to be sustained by constantly renewing and savouring our experience of Christ’s friendship and message. (E.G. 265-266).
In this concluding section of the Holy Fathers exhortation he asks, Why do we evangelise? The Holy Father’s answer is, we evangelise because with Jesus life becomes richer and that with Him it is easier to find meaning in everything. (E.G. 266). Meaning is what every human person is searching for. Evangelisation is about helping people find meaning and in the process we find meaning in our own lives. The Holy Father says a true missionary knows that God is working through him or her. They know that Jesus is speaking, breathing, and working in his or her actions. To experience God working through us is a source of great joy. Furthermore, that joy is increased as we developing a spirit of being close to people’s lives. (E.G. 268).
Loving others is a spiritual force drawing us to union with God; indeed, one who does not love others “walks in the darkness”, “remains in death” and “does not know God”. Benedict XVI has said that “closing our eyes to our neighbour also blinds us to God.” (E.G. 272)
The Holy Father says to live a life locked up in ourselves refusing to share, refusing to give, focusing on our own comforts is nothing less than slow suicide. (E.G. 272). “Consequently; if we can help at least one person to have a better life, that already justifies the offering of our life.” (E.G. 274). If we can help just ONE person that already justifies our life. Image a life focused on looking for opportunities to be a witness of Christ’s love.
The Holy Father turns to Mary at the end of his exhortation on the Joy of the Gospel. He writes,
Mary was able to turn a stable into a home for Jesus, with poor swaddling clothes and an abundance of love. She is the handmaiden of the Father who sings his praises. She is the friend who is ever concerned that wine not be lacking in our lives. She is the woman whose heart was pierced by a sword and who understands all our pain. As mother of all she is a sign of hope for peoples suffering the birth panes of justice. . . As a true mother, she walks at our side, she shares our struggles and she instantly surrounds us with Gods love. (286).
Mary is the one who turns sorrow to joy. At the wedding feast of Cana she was the one who kept the party going. Mary sees our struggles and pain because she experienced pain and difficulty but she always focused on the Lord and held all things in her heart. Let us turn to her as we strive to follow the Holy Father lead in spreading the joy of the Gospel.
Mary help of Christians pray for us.