Last of Three Parts
Readers following this three-part article on the Holy Father’s apostolic exhortation may be wondering why this last installment came out today instead of Wednesday. The delay allows the essay to include insights from a two-hour discussion on Evangelii Gaudium (Joy of the Gospel) given yesterday morning — before a bomb threat shut down Ateneo de Manila’s Katipunan campus — at the Loyola School of Theology by LST’s former president Fr. Joel Tabora, now president of Ateneo de Davao University.
One little-known detail about Francis’s first major exposition actually came out after the Tabora talk, which featured his fellow Jesuit and former LST head Fr. Catalino Arevalo. At the launching of “Sentire cum Ecclesia,” an LST book commemorating the respected theologian’s 60 years as an ordained priest, Fr. Arevalo shared information that Evangelii Gaudium began as a summary of the 2012 Synod of Bishops deliberations.
However, the Pope added so many of his own perspectives to the compendium of Synod discussions that the resulting opus became his own document. And Fr. Arevalo urged those who can understand Spanish to read Francis’s exhortation in its original Spanish version, to appreciate many nuances of meaning lost in English translation. Versions in seven languages may be downloaded at: http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/francesco/apost_exhortations/index_en.htm
For his part, Fr. Tabora’s presentation surveyed some of the same ground traversed by this article, which first discussed last Friday Christianity’s overarching missionary task of bringing the joy of the Gospel to all humankind. On Monday, Part 2 then expounded on the challenges posed by two kinds of deadening selfishness: society’s idolatry of wealth and unbridled markets, which enslaves both the poor and the spirit; and the judgmental, exclusionary, and ambitious ways of misguided Catholics, both religious and laity, who drive away those seeking God’s grace and love.
The last three chapters of Francis’s 84-page, five-part encyclical spell out what the faithful should do to fulfill Christ’s command to “make disciples of all nations” in the face of the formidable, entrenched obstacles in the world and in the Church, as recounted in the opening sections of Francis’s exhortation.
Pope to priests: Prepare homilies
There are countless insightful and inspiring instructions, from the crafting of mass homilies to the need for all Catholics to imbue evangelization efforts with closeness to the poor. Fr. Tabora enjoined mass celebrants to read closely the Pope’s admonition for adequate preparation of homilies, instead of just extemporaneously expounding on scripture readings without even a minute of prior study and reflection. To the delight of the packed Cardinal Sin Center hall, Fr. Tabora also called on laity in the audience to urge their parish priests to read and heed the Holy Father’s homily advice. Hear, hear.
Besides devoting ample time to preparation—“even if less time has to be given to other important activities,” says Francis—prelates and priests should review the key messages of Mass readings: “The central message is what the author primarily wanted to communicate; this calls for recognizing not only the author’s ideas but the effect which he wanted to produce.” Francis adds: “we need to relate it to the teaching of the entire Bible as handed on by the Church.”
Thirdly, the Supreme Pontiff declares: “The preacher also needs to keep his ear to the people and to discover what it is that the faithful need to hear. A preacher has to contemplate the word, but he also has to contemplate his people. … He needs to be able to link the message of a biblical text to a human situation, to an experience which cries out for the light of God’s word.”
Be evangelized by the poor
Among a host of other must-read portions of Evangelii Gaudium, we have space for a few more inspired sections. In Paragraphs 160-173, Francis accords highest importance in communicating the kerygma or paramount doctrine of Christianity: “On the lips of the catechist the first proclamation must ring out over and over: ‘Jesus Christ loves you; he gave his life to save you; and now he is living at your side every day to enlighten, strengthen and free you.’ ”
Words alone cannot convey the kerygma. Rather, every Christian must make others feel the love and presence of Christ by his or her own “accompanying” presence: “The Church will have to initiate everyone—priests, religious and laity—into this ‘art of accompaniment’ which teaches us to remove our sandals before the sacred ground of the other” with respect, patience, trust and love.
The Gospel message must also be learned and shared through the Church and the faithful’s special focus on the poor, to whom anything we do is done to our Lord Jesus Christ himself. Thus, Francis states in no uncertain terms:
“This is why I want a Church which is poor and for the poor. They have much to teach us. Not only do they share in the sensus fidei [sense of faith of all believers], but in their difficulties they know the suffering Christ. We need to let ourselves be evangelized by them. The new evangelization is an invitation to acknowledge the saving power at work in their lives and to put them at the center of the Church’s pilgrim way. We are called to find Christ in them, to lend our voice to their causes, but also to be their friends, to listen to them, to speak for them and to embrace the mysterious wisdom which God wishes to share with us through them.”
In sum, through closeness to the poor, Christians not only encounter Christ as one who himself lived in poverty. We also show our love for our Redeemer by serving him in “the least of our brethren,” and we make God’s mercy and providence true and tangible to our fellow human beings by our compassion, caring and charity.
Star of the New Evangelization
Evangelii Gaudium ends with a lengthy exposition on Mother Mary as “star of the New Evangelization,” whose love, humility, and tenderness convey the Gospel message far more completely and eloquently than reams of theological treatises. A concluding prayer to her pleads for and elucidates the evangelizing qualities all Christians need in the mission of spreading Gospel joy:
“Virgin of listening and contemplation, Mother of love, Bride of the eternal wedding feast, pray for the Church, whose pure icon you are, that she may never be closed in on herself or lose her passion for establishing God’s kingdom.
“Star of the new evangelization, help us to bear radiant witness to communion, service, ardent and generous faith, justice and love of the poor, that the joy of the Gospelmay reach to the ends of the earth, illuminating even the fringes of our world.
“Mother of the living Gospel, wellspring of happiness for God’s little ones, pray for us. Amen. Alleluia!”
(The first and second parts were published last Friday and on Monday.)