The Challenge of ‘Evangelii Gaudium’ – Mission and worldly spirituality
In mapping the
journey of evangelization, Pope Francis warns, discerningly, of obstacles on
the way. He cautions about the “dark side” of secularity: the individualism it
breeds, the relativism it propagates, the consumerism it celebrates, the “throw
away” mentality that follows in its wake. Francis also draws on the church’s
teachings on social justice to denounce a rapacious economic system that
produces dehumanizing poverty, both material and cultural, for many.
But Francis also bluntly addresses
obstacles to the joyful proclamation of the Gospel that reside within the
church itself. Among these he lists the lack of a truly collegial sharing of
gifts and a clericalism motivated more by power-seeking than service of the
Gospel. And his discernment probes deeper still.
The Pope frequently warns of a
“worldly spirituality” that has lost its anchor in Christ and the Spirit and
drifts aimlessly. Too often we permit others to set the agenda rather than
allow Christ and his Gospel to direct our undertakings. He laments:
At times our media culture and some
intellectual circles convey a marked skepticism
with regard to the Church’s message, along with a certain cynicism. As a consequence, many pastoral workers,
although they pray, develop a sort of inferiority
complex which leads them to relativize or conceal their Christian identity and convictions. This produces
a vicious circle. They end up being unhappy
with who they are and what they do; they do not identify with their mission of evangelization and this weakens
their commitment. They end up stifling
the joy of mission with a kind of obsession about being like everyone else and possessing what everyone else possesses.
Their work of evangelization thus becomes
forced, and they devote little energy and very limited time to it (79).
The only remedy for such alienation
is conversion: turning again to the person of Jesus Christ and to the joy of
encounter with him. Thus the Pope writes: “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” (3).
Francis reiterates here what he has
often stressed in homilies and talks: the heart of the Gospel is mysticism more
than moralism. Of course, Christians must come to the aid of the poor and
oppressed. They must be concerned about environmental degradation and religious
intolerance and persecution. But this moral sensibility flows from a compelling
and sustaining vision: the vision of the Lord who was crucified for our
justification and raised to life for our salvation. Ultimately, the love of
Jesus impels us. So Francis writes: “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” (264).
Francis shares with Pope Emeritus
Benedict XVI the conviction that the evangelical task is to promote a new or
renewed encounter with the Mystery of God in Christ. They both insist that our
communication must be “mystagogical:” leading into a deeper realization of the
inexhaustible Mystery of our saving God. Such communication recognizes the
importance of image and symbol, of art and poetry. It urges evangelizers,
homilists, and theologians to appeal not only to truth and goodness, but to
beauty as well. Francis recommends “a renewed esteem for beauty as a means of
touching the human heart and enabling the truth and goodness of the Risen
Christ to radiate within it…. A formation in the via pulchritudinis ought to be part of our effort to pass on the
faith. Each particular Church should encourage the use of the arts in
evangelization, building on the treasures of the past but also drawing upon the
wide variety of contemporary expressions so as to transmit the faith in a new
“language of parables” (167).
The theme of the “newness” of Jesus
Christ permeates Evangelii Gaudium.
The risen Jesus is the heart of the Good News we seek to live and to share.
Pope Francis quotes St Irenaeus: “By his coming, Christ brought with him all
newness”. The Holy Father then comments: “With this newness Jesus is always
able to renew our lives and our communities,
and even if the Christian
message has known periods of darkness and ecclesial weakness, it will never grow old…Each time we return to the source
and recover the original
freshness of the Gospel, new paths open – creative methods, different forms of expression, more eloquent signs,
words filled with new meaning for today’s
world. In reality, every authentic act of evangelization is always ‘new’”(11).
evangelizers can venture forth boldly, even to the farthest peripheries, is
that their Center is secure: Jesus Christ “the same, yesterday, today, and
forever” (Heb 13:8). Because the risen Lord is ever new, he makes all things
Robert P. Imbelli