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Thursday, December 5, 2013

Evangelii Gaudium: Chapter One

I'm continuing my reading of the pope's Apostolic Exhortation with Chapter One on the Church's mission of evangelization.

The Church's Missionary Transformation

Pope Francis points out that, from the beginning of Christ's ministry, joyous missionary zeal characterized His mission. Jesus moved from town to town never staying long in one place. He sent out the apostles two by two and they returned in joy ecstatic in their successes. We have always been a Church that "goes forth." And the center of this missionary activity should be the individual parish:
The parish is not an outdated institution; precisely because it possesses great flexibility, it can assume quite different contours depending on the openness and missionary creativity of the pastor and the community. While certainly not the only institution which evangelizes, if it proves capable of self-renewal and constant adaptivity, it continues to be “the Church living in the midst of the homes of her sons and daughters”.[26] This presumes that it really is in contact with the homes and the lives of its people, and does not become a useless structure out of touch with people or a self-absorbed cluster made up of a chosen few. The parish is the presence of the Church in a given territory, an environment for hearing God’s word, for growth in the Christian life, for dialogue, proclamation, charitable outreach, worship and celebration.[27] In all its activities the parish encourages and trains its members to be evangelizers.[28] It is a community of communities, a sanctuary where the thirsty come to drink in the midst of their journey, and a centre of constant missionary outreach (28)....
Each particular Church, as a portion of the Catholic Church under the leadership of its bishop, is likewise called to missionary conversion. It is the primary subject of evangelization,[30] since it is the concrete manifestation of the one Church in one specific place, and in it “the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church of Christ is truly present and operative”.[31] It is the Church incarnate in a certain place, equipped with all the means of salvation bestowed by Christ, but with local features. Its joy in communicating Jesus Christ is expressed both by a concern to preach him to areas in greater need and in constantly going forth to the outskirts of its own territory or towards new sociocultural settings.[32] Wherever the need for the light and the life of the Risen Christ is greatest, it will want to be there.[33]To make this missionary impulse ever more focused, generous and fruitful, I encourage each particular Church to undertake a resolute process of discernment, purification and reform. (30)
The pope makes a statement that recalls the quickness of the media to distort his message when he writes:
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. (34)
I hope the pope is listening to his own words considering the misunderstandings based on his interviews and off-the-cuff comments that have led to chortling by Planned Parenthoood, NARAL, and the so-called Catholic dissent groups. Each of us, even the pope, has an obligation to consider the consequences of our words.

In preaching, Pope Francis calls for focusing on the "essentials" and the "hierarchy of truths:"
What counts above all else is “faith working through love” (Gal 5:6). Works of love directed to one’s neighbour are the most perfect external manifestation of the interior grace of the Spirit: “The foundation of the New Law is in the grace of the Holy Spirit, who is manifested in the faith which works through love”. [40] Thomas thus explains that, as far as external works are concerned, mercy is the greatest of all the virtues: “In itself mercy is the greatest of the virtues, since all the others revolve around it and, more than this, it makes up for their deficiencies. This is particular to the superior virtue, and as such it is proper to God to have mercy, through which his omnipotence is manifested to the greatest degree”.[41] (37)
The pope concludes Chapter One with a call to be an open and giving Church, a Church united to the weak and suffering. He calls, in fact, for a Church where the doors are lilterally always open:
49. 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 centre 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 peole are starving and Jesus does not tire of saying to us: “Give them something to eat” (Mk 6:37). (49)
Much of the message of Chapter One appeals to me personally. I think of so many dioceses where the bishops wine and dine the rich and powerful, where fundraising is the first priority, and they pay human respect to those who despise the weak, especially the unborn, where bishops stand in awe of politicians who champion child killing and defer to gay activists rather than their own spiritual sons. When I consider those shepherds so busy feeding themselves and not their sheep (Ez. 34), I relish the pope's words:
If the whole Church takes up this missionary impulse, she has to go forth to everyone without exception. But to whom should she go first? When we read the Gospel we find a clear indication: not so much our friends and wealthy neighbours, but above all the poor and the sick, those who are usually despised and overlooked, “those who cannot repay you” (Lk 14:14). There can be no room for doubt or for explanations which weaken so clear a message. Today and always, “the poor are the privileged recipients of the Gospel”,[52] and the fact that it is freely preached to them is a sign of the kingdom that Jesus came to establish.
As a pro-life activist for most of my adult life, I see the poorest of the poor as the babies in the womb marked for abortion. They are naked, voiceless, unwanted, sometimes sick or handicapped, abandoned even by their own mothers. Can there be a greater poverty? I pray for an increasing missionary zeal among priests for the little ones in the womb.

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