Time magazine’s “Man of the Year,” “Best Dressed Man of the Year,” etc., Pope Francis has certainly received a great deal of press coverage since coming on the world scene less than a year ago. It seems like a new day for the church, and especially for the head of the largest part of the church. People are asking “Who is this man? What is happening?” And, of course, “What’s next?”
The photographs emerging out of the Vatican and the streets of Rome and elsewhere are engaging and impressive: washing the feet of a convicted criminal, hugging and kissing a terribly disfigured homeless person, driving his own modest car, holding and smiling happily with a baby in his arms. Who is this and just where is he leading the church?
Recently Pope Francis released his first “Apostolic Exhortation; Evangelii Gaudium, i.e., the Joy of the Gospel, to “the bishops, clergy, consecrated persons and the lay faithful on the proclamation of the Gospel in Today’s World.” I spent a few hours reading this important document and I was surprised and captivated by what I read. In a time when church leaders are calling for a rediscovery of the church’s mission in the world the Pope’s remarks offer some fresh inspiration. But instead of a detailed theological critique of this multiple page document, I would like to simply offer some actual quotes from the text of the document itself, highlighted by subject.
- Opening invitation commitment to Jesus Christ
“I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day. No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her, since ‘no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord.’ The Lord does not disappoint those who take this risk; whenever we take a step towards Jesus, we come to realize that he is already there, waiting for us with open arms. Now is the time to say to Jesus: “Lord, I have let myself be deceived; in a thousand ways I have shunned your love, yet here I am once more, to renew my covenant with you. I need you. Save me once again, Lord, take me once more into your redeeming embrace.”
- The Delightful and Comforting Joy of Evangelizing
“And may the world of our time, which is searching, sometimes with anguish, sometimes with hope, be enabled to receive the good news not from evangelizers who are dejected, discouraged, impatient or anxious, but from ministers of the Gospel whose lives glow with fervor, who have first received the joy of Christ.
- The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Faith
“Christians have the duty to proclaim the Gospel without excluding anyone. Instead of seeming to impose new obligations, they should appear as people who wish to share their joy, who point to a horizon of beauty and who invite others to a delicious banquet. It is not by proselytizing that the Church grows, but ‘by attraction.’”
The Church’s Missionary Transformation
“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, time and schedules, language and structure can be suitably channeled for the evangelization of today’s world rather than for her self-preservation.”
“Let us go forth, then, let us go forth to offer everyone the life of Jesus Christ. Here I repeat for the entire Church what I have often said to the priests and laity of Buenos Aires: 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. I do not want a Church concerned with being at the center and then ends by being caught up in a web of obsessions and procedures. 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. More than by fear of going astray, 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.’” (Mark 6:37)
We Are All Missionary Disciples
“Every Christian is challenged, here and now, to be actively engaged in evangelization; indeed, anyone who has truly experienced God’s saving love does not need much time or lengthy training to go out and proclaim that love. 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”. If we are not convinced, let us look at those first disciples, who, immediately after encountering the gaze of Jesus, went forth to proclaim him joyfully: ‘We have found the Messiah!’ (Jn. 1:41) The Samaritan woman became a missionary immediately after speaking with Jesus and many Samaritans come to believe in him ‘because of the woman’s testimony’ (Jn. 4:39). So too, Saint Paul, after his encounter with Jesus Christ, ‘immediately proclaimed Jesus’ (Acts 9:20; cf. 22:6-21. So what are we waiting for?”
Reasons for a Renewed Missionary Impulse
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. 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 fervor dies out…The church urgently needs the deep breath of prayer and to my great joy groups devoted to prayer and intercession, the prayerful reading of God’s word and the perpetual adoration of the Eucharist spirituality are growing at every level of ecclesial life.
“The primary reason for evangelizing is the love of Jesus which we have received, the experience of salvation which urges us to ever greater love of him. What kind of love would not feel the need to speak of the beloved, to point him out, to make him known? If we do not feel an intense desire to share this love, we need to pray insistently that he will once more touch our hearts. We need to implore his grace daily, asking him to open our cold hearts and shake up our lukewarm and superficial existence.”
Certainly there is a great deal here for us to ponder, to re-examine ourselves in the light of these inspiring words from a world spiritual leader and to re-commit to the kind of joyous proclamation in word and deed that the “Man of the Year” calls for here.
What do you think?