Friday, January 3, 2014

Evangelii Gaudium, Part One

One of my (many) resolutions for 2014 is to keep up with this blog on a more regular basis, which includes finishing off our series on Sacrosanctum Concilium and Our Favorite Popes. On another point, though, we're going to go through Evangelii Gaudium. For no other reason, we pretty much have to from all the emails we've gotten about it.

Just a note first. This will just be hitting some marks that have generated discussion for us. This document ranks right up with Caritas in Veritate and some of JPII's greatest hits in terms of long-windedness. Unfortunately, it's also very high on the confusion scale, so we're going to try and cover as many angles as possible.

So let's begin:

The joy of the gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness. With Christ joy is constantly born anew. In this Exhortation I wish to encourage the Christian faithful to embark upon a new chapter of evangelization marked by this joy, while pointing out new paths for the Church’s journey in years to come. 

Sounds good. We’re going to take this opening as the basic theme for the whole exhortation.

2. The great danger in today’s world, pervaded as it is by consumerism, is the desolation and anguish born of a complacent yet covetous heart, the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures, and a blunted conscience. Whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor. God’s voice is no longer heard, the quiet joy of his love is no longer felt, and the desire to do good fades. This is a very real danger for believers too. Many fall prey to it, and end up resentful, angry and listless. That is no way to live a dignified and fulfilled life; it is not God’s will for us, nor is it the life in the Spirit which has its source in the heart of the risen Christ. 

This will not be the last time the Pope speaks of a world overrun by materialism and lacking in charity.

3. 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”.[1] 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”. How good it feels to come back to him whenever we are lost! Let me say this once more: God never tires of forgiving us; we are the ones who tire of seeking his mercy. Christ, who told us to forgive one another “seventy times seven” (Mt 18:22) has given us his example: he has forgiven us seventy times seven. Time and time again he bears us on his shoulders. No one can strip us of the dignity bestowed upon us by this boundless and unfailing love. With a tenderness which never disappoints, but is always capable of restoring our joy, he makes it possible for us to lift up our heads and to start anew. Let us not flee from the resurrection of Jesus, let us never give up, come what will. May nothing inspire more than his life, which impels us onwards! 

This kind of call to penance is more than worthwhile. However, we must ask ourselves a very pointed question. Does it make sense for a person to ask for mercy when they have no acknowledgment of their sin? Most people, it seems, think of themselves as “good people.” Since they haven’t murdered or raped anyone, what need have they for God’s mercy?

6. There are Christians whose lives seem like Lent without Easter. I realize of course that joy is not expressed the same way at all times in life, especially at moments of great difficulty. Joy adapts and changes, but it always endures, even as a flicker of light born of our personal certainty that, when everything is said and done, we are infinitely loved. I understand the grief of people who have to endure great suffering, yet slowly but surely we all have to let the joy of faith slowly revive as a quiet yet firm trust, even amid the greatest distress: “My soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is… But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning. Great is your faithfulness… It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord” (Lam 3:17, 21-23, 26). 7. Sometimes we are tempted to find excuses and complain, acting as if we could only be happy if a thousand conditions were met. To some extent this is because our “technological society has succeeded in multiplying occasions of pleasure, yet has found it very difficult to engender joy”.[2] I can say that the most beautiful and natural expressions of joy which I have seen in my life were in poor people who had little to hold on to. I also think of the real joy shown by others who, even amid pressing professional obligations, were able to preserve, in detachment and simplicity, a heart full of faith. In their own way, all these instances of joy flow from the infinite love of God, who has revealed himself to us in Jesus Christ. I never tire of repeating those words of Benedict XVI which take us to the very heart of the Gospel: “Being a Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction”.[3] 

This last quote from Pope Benedict is a good way to understand Pope Francis’s comments that we can’t always just be talking about abortion or contraception. Christianity isn’t just a philosophical code like Stoicism. It’s far, far more than that.

I was really hoping that this section would turn into a broadside against prosperity gospel types. It didn’t really go there. The Pope’s main point for the next several sections is that proclamation of the Gospel requires a joyful heart on the part of the evangelist. It is at this point that the Holy Father’s lack of an editor begins to show itself. This has been a consistent problem at least since the pontificate of Blessed John Paul II. Pope Francis uses incredibly long-winded phrases to impart very simple ideas. Moving on, though.

Whenever we make the effort to return to the source and to recover the original freshness of the Gospel, new avenues arise, new paths of creativity open up, with different forms of expression, more eloquent signs and words with new meaning for today’s world. Every form of authentic evangelization is always “new”.

Is this true? There is a noticeable lack of examples here.

12. Though it is true that this mission demands great generosity on our part, it would be wrong to see it as a heroic individual undertaking, for it is first and foremost the Lord’s work, surpassing anything which we can see and understand. Jesus is “the first and greatest evangelizer”.[9] In every activity of evangelization, the primacy always belongs to God, who has called us to cooperate with him and who leads us on by by the power of his Spirit. 

This is significant for what comes after. There has been zero reporting about this document’s points on evangelization. In light of God’s mission for the Church in the world, the Pope lists the three targets that the Synod wanted to focus on:

15. In first place, we can mention the area of ordinary pastoral ministry, which is “animated by the fire of the Spirit, so as to inflame the hearts of the faithful who regularly take part in community worship and gather on the Lord’s day to be nourished by his word and by the bread of eternal life”.[11] In this category we can also include those members of faithful who preserve a deep and sincere faith, expressing it in different ways, but seldom taking part in worship. Ordinary pastoral ministry seeks to help believers to grow spiritually so that they can respond to God’s love ever more fully in their lives. 

A second area is that of “the baptized whose lives do not reflect the demands of Baptism”,[12] who lack a meaningful relationship to the Church and no longer experience the consolation born of faith.

Lastly, we cannot forget that evangelization is first and foremost about preaching the Gospel to those who do not know Jesus Christ or who have always rejected him. Many of them are quietly seeking God, led by a yearning to see his face, even in countries of ancient Christian tradition. All of them have a right to receive the Gospel. 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”.[13] 

Ah, “proselytizing.” I wonder if the word has any meaning any more. Of course, this has been latched onto by certain folks who, ignoring the context provided in Pope Benedict’s homily that the Holy Father references here, have decided that “proselytism” and “evangelization” are actually the same thing. Which would make the Pope’s comments insane but play well with the secular narrative.

John Paul II asked us to recognize that “there must be no lessening of the impetus to preach the Gospel” to those who are far from Christ, “because this is the first task of the Church”.[14] Indeed, “today missionary activity still represents the greatest challenge for the Church”[15] and “the missionary task must remain foremost”. .. This task continues to be a source of immense joy for the Church: “Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (Lk 15:7). 

Just pointing out again that the Pope is tying evangelization to repentance.

Nor do I believe that the papal magisterium should be expected to offer a definitive or complete word on every question which affects the Church and the world. It is not advisable for the Pope to take the place of local Bishops in the discernment of every issue which arises in their territory. In this sense, I am conscious of the need to promote a sound “decentralization”. 

Mark this well. And remember.

I have dealt extensively with these topics, with a detail which some may find excessive. 

No joke.

But I have done so, not with the intention of providing an exhaustive treatise but simply as a way of showing their important practical implications for the Church’s mission today. All of them help give shape to a definite style of evangelization which I ask you to adopt in every activity which you undertake. 

So the Pope is looking for a particular “style” of evangelizing? Doesn’t this cut against the earlier comments about new paths and such? He makes similar points about the diversity of cultures, etc. throughout the exhortation. If a certain style is needed, I’m not sure that we can be sure that there is a one size fits all version that is out there.

19. Evangelization takes place in obedience to the missionary mandate of Jesus: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Mt 28:19-20). In these verses we see how the risen Christ sent his followers to preach the Gospel in every time and place, so that faith in him might spread to every corner of the earth. 

In other words, you know, convert them.

24. The Church which “goes forth” is a community of missionary disciples who take the first step, who are involved and supportive, who bear fruit and rejoice. 

This sentence essentially takes the place of a 500 word paragraph and says the same thing.

The Church evangelizes and is herself evangelized through the beauty of the liturgy, which is both a celebration of the task of evangelization and the source of her renewed self-giving. 

Interesting comments given the perception that Pope Francis has no regard for beauty in the liturgy.

I am aware that nowadays documents do not arouse the same interest as in the past and that they are quickly forgotten. 

There is precious little attention paid to why this is, though. Why does something issuing forth from the Magisterium arouse so little engagement these days? I submit the following reasons:

1. Apathy. Nobody cares because they are used to nothing being done to promote or enforce the teaching authority.

2. Perplexity. The documents of the Magisterium have become far too long and far too confusing. The Church writes much but seems to say very little. Just my opinion.

27. 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 evangelization of today’s world rather than for her self-preservation.

Is the suggestion here that these things are currently not being used for evangelization? If so, why is that? If not, same question. Are there particular examples?

We must admit, though, that the call to review and renew our parishes has not yet sufficed to bring them nearer to people, to make them environments of living communion and participation, and to make them completely mission-oriented. 

Just as there wouldn’t seem to be a one size fits all remedy to the evangelical mission of the Church, I’m not sure it’s fair to promote one size fits all criticisms either, at least not from a pastoral activity standpoint. This and the following sections repeat the theme over and over that every part of the Church is called to evangelize.

31. The bishop must always foster this missionary communion in his diocesan Church, following the ideal of the first Christian communities, in which the believers were of one heart and one soul (cf. Acts 4:32). To do so, he will sometimes go before his people, pointing the way and keeping their hope vibrant. At other times, he will simply be in their midst with his unassuming and merciful presence. At yet other times, he will have to walk after them, helping those who lag behind and – above all – allowing the flock to strike out on new paths. In his mission of fostering a dynamic, open and missionary communion, he will have to encourage and develop the means of participation proposed in the Code of Canon Law,[34] and other forms of pastoral dialogue, out of a desire to listen to everyone and not simply to those who would tell him what he would like to hear. Yet the principal aim of these participatory processes should not be ecclesiastical organization but rather the missionary aspiration of reaching everyone. 

This is a big deal for me. I’ve lived in several dioceses with several different bishops. The presence of the bishop is huge. The ones who were always visiting parishes, who were always getting out among the people, who were always teaching the flock, these were the ones who saw lots of conversions and vocations. The ones who spent all their time in their office didn’t have that kind of success.

32. Since I am called to put into practice what I ask of others, I too must think about a conversion of the papacy. It is my duty, as the Bishop of Rome, to be open to suggestions which can help make the exercise of my ministry more faithful to the meaning which Jesus Christ wished to give it and to the present needs of evangelization. Pope John Paul II asked for help in finding “a way of exercising the primacy which, while in no way renouncing what is essential to its mission, is nonetheless open to a new situation”.[35] We have made little progress in this regard. The papacy and the central structures of the universal Church also need to hear the call to pastoral conversion. The Second Vatican Council stated that, like the ancient patriarchal Churches, episcopal conferences are in a position “to contribute in many and fruitful ways to the concrete realization of the collegial spirit”.[36] Yet this desire has not been fully realized, since a juridical status of episcopal conferences which would see them as subjects of specific attributions, including genuine doctrinal authority, has not yet been sufficiently elaborated.[37] Excessive centralization, rather than proving helpful, complicates the Church’s life and her missionary outreach. 

This section has received no response in the mainstream media. Yet it is one of the most disturbing things I have ever read. Ever. Look at the situation in the Church today and imagine still greater authority placed in the hands of the national episcopal conferences. I think de-centralization would be an outstanding course for the Church to take. Really, I do. However, it should be done in a way that empowers the local bishop, not some artificial machinery that only serves to dilute the power of the local ordinary.

See Bishop Martino’s comments here for an example.

Archbishop Muller recently came out with comments on this very issue. I certainly hope he's right. I greatly fear that the action the Pope is talking about here would only bear the fruit of schism. I’d also note that the citation to Vatican II here ignores the Council’s teaching on papal authority, including the absolutely necessary texts from the Nota Praevia.

34. If we attempt to put all things in a missionary key, this will also affect the way we communicate the message. In today’s world of instant communication and occasionally biased media coverage, the message we preach runs a greater risk of being distorted or reduced to some of its secondary aspects. In this way certain issues which are part of the Church’s moral teaching are taken out of the context which gives them their meaning. The biggest problem is when the message we preach then seems identified with those secondary aspects which, important as they are, do not in and of themselves convey the heart of Christ’s message. We need to be realistic and not assume that our audience understands the full background to what we are saying, or is capable of relating what we say to the very heart of the Gospel which gives it meaning, beauty and attractiveness. 

We must also acknowledge an overt hostility to the Gospel that motivates many to intentionally distort the Church’s message. It is a common omission, going back to maybe Blessed John XXIII. Nobody seems to want to admit that the Church has enemies, and they play by a different set of rules. Anyways, this paragraph could be considered a summary of the first months of Pope Francis’s pontificate.

35. Pastoral ministry in a missionary style is not obsessed with the disjointed transmission of a multitude of doctrines to be insistently imposed. When we adopt a pastoral goal and a missionary style which would actually reach everyone without exception or exclusion, the message has to concentrate on the essentials, on what is most beautiful, most grand, most appealing and at the same time most necessary. The message is simplified, while losing none of its depth and truth, and thus becomes all the more forceful and convincing. 

It is funny to see a desire for simplification in a document that is over 50,000 words long.

So there's our first entry. Next time, we'll start to get into some of the more well-publicized language that relates to economic matters.

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