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Monday, June 23, 2014

Evangelii Gaudium: Chapter V

I'm finally on the home stretch of the pope's encyclical on evangelization and I love the title of Chapter V: Spirit-Filled Evangelizers! They are the ones "fearlessly open to the working of the Holy Spirit." Does that describe you? Does zeal for God's house consume you? The pope exhorts us to this zeal imitating the christian saints of every age who risked all to proclaim the Lord of Life! How can we have this spirit? --through a personal encounter with Christ:
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.
And how do we "shake up" our lives and become zealous for the Lord?
 Standing before him with open hearts, letting him look at us, we see that gaze of love which Nathaniel glimpsed on the day when Jesus said to him: “I saw you under the fig tree” (Jn 1:48). How good it is to stand before a crucifix, or on our knees before the Blessed Sacrament, and simply to be in his presence! How much good it does us when he once more touches our lives and impels us to share his new life! ...The best incentive for sharing the Gospel comes from contemplating it with love, lingering over its pages and reading it with the heart. If we approach it in this way, its beauty will amaze and constantly excite us. But if this is to come about, we need to recover a contemplative spirit which can help us to realize ever anew that we have been entrusted with a treasure which makes us more human and helps us to lead a new life. There is nothing more precious which we can give to others.
And give we must! We were created for two reasons: to love God above all things and to love our brothers and sisters enough to want to bring them too into an intimate relationship with the God who loves them! We live in a sad world where people are trying to find happiness by filling their lives with things that rust and rot, but, as Pope Francis says, "Our infinite sadness can only be cured by an infinite love." And that infinite love can only be experienced by our unbelieving neighbors if we become Christ's voice, hands, and heart to share Him with others. Here's how Pope Francis puts it:
A true missionary, who never ceases to be a disciple, knows that Jesus walks with him, speaks to him, breathes with him, works with him. He senses Jesus alive with him in the midst of the missionary enterprise. Unless we see him present at the heart of our missionary commitment, our enthusiasm soon wanes and we are no longer sure of what it is that we are handing on; we lack vigour and passion. A person who is not convinced, enthusiastic, certain and in love, will convince nobody
267. In union with Jesus, we seek what he seeks and we love what he loves. In the end, what we are seeking is the glory of the Father; we live and act “for the praise of his glorious grace” (Eph 1:6). If we wish to commit ourselves fully and perseveringly, we need to leave behind every other motivation. This is our definitive, deepest and greatest motivation, the ultimate reason and meaning behind all we do: the glory of the Father which Jesus sought at every moment of his life. As the Son, he rejoices eternally to be “close to the Father’s heart” (Jn 1:18). If we are missionaries, it is primarily because Jesus told us that “by this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit” (Jn 15:8). Beyond all our own preferences and interests, our knowledge and motivations, we evangelize for the greater glory of the Father who loves us.
I remember as a child in parochial school being taught to write at the center top of all my papers A.M.D.G., Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam.  Everything we do should be for the greater glory of God. The closer we come to that goal, the more value our actions will have because they reflect God's will and not our own.

The next section of the chapter urges evangelizers to be among the people. We call ourselves the "people of God," part of the body of Christ. That puts us in a special relationship with each other. Pope Francis describes it this way:.
Clearly Jesus does not want us to be grandees who look down upon others, but men and women of the people. This is not an idea of the Pope, or one pastoral option among others; they are injunctions contained in the word of God which are so clear, direct and convincing that they need no interpretations which might diminish their power to challenge us. Let us live them sine glossa, without commentaries. By so doing we will know the missionary joy of sharing life with God’s faithful people as we strive to light a fire in the heart of the world....When we live out a spirituality of drawing nearer to others and seeking their welfare, our hearts are opened wide to the Lord’s greatest and most beautiful gifts. Whenever we encounter another person in love, we learn something new about God. Whenever our eyes are opened to acknowledge the other, we grow in the light of faith and knowledge of God.
In addition to the metaphor of a burning fire that brings light and warmth, the pope also uses the metaphor of a spring that spills over to refresh those around us. That is what being a missionary is all about, being a burning furnace of charity and a refreshing, life-giving spring.  "We have to regard ourselves as sealed," Pope Francis says:
even branded, by this mission of bringing light, blessing, enlivening, raising up, healing and freeing....if we are to share our lives with others and generously give of ourselves, we also have to realize that every person is worthy of our giving. Not for their physical appearance, their abilities, their language, their way of thinking, or for any satisfaction that we might receive, but rather because they are God’s handiwork, his creation.
Evangelizers have the great vocation of bringing about the kingdom even here on earth through our fruitfulness. Even if we don't see the results of the seeds we plant, we can be confident that the Holy Spirit magnifies our efforts to further God's will on earth:
It may be that the Lord uses our sacrifices to shower blessings in another part of the world which we will never visit. The Holy Spirit works as he wills, when he wills and where he wills; we entrust ourselves without pretending to see striking results. We know only that our commitment is necessary. Let us learn to rest in the tenderness of the arms of the Father amid our creative and generous commitment. Let us keep marching forward; let us give him everything, allowing him to make our efforts bear fruit in his good time.
Like his predecessors, Francis is a Marian pope and he closes the encyclical with a meditation on Mary, the Mother of Evangelization. She is the model for us, a model of humility, tenderness, faithfulness, and prayerfulness. The closer we come to perfect imitation of Mary, the more effectively we will promote the new evangelization:
There is a Marian “style” to the Church’s work of evangelization. Whenever we look to Mary, we come to believe once again in the revolutionary nature of love and tenderness. In her we see that humility and tenderness are not virtues of the weak but of the strong who need not treat others poorly in order to feel important themselves. Contemplating Mary, we realize that she who praised God for “bringing down the mighty from their thrones” and “sending the rich away empty” (Lk 1:52-53) is also the one who brings a homely warmth to our pursuit of justice. She is also the one who carefully keeps “all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Lk 2:19). Mary is able to recognize the traces of God’s Spirit in events great and small. She constantly contemplates the mystery of God in our world, in human history and in our daily lives. She is the woman of prayer and work in Nazareth, and she is also Our Lady of Help, who sets out from her town “with haste” (Lk 1:39) to be of service to others. This interplay of justice and tenderness, of contemplation and concern for others, is what makes the ecclesial community look to Mary as a model of evangelization. We implore her maternal intercession that the Church may become a home for many peoples, a mother for all peoples, and that the way may be opened to the birth of a new world.
And how fitting that the final words of the encyclical are a prayer to Mary that ends like this:
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 Gospel
may 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.
Let us go forth in haste like Mary to change our culture of death into a culture ruled by the Lord of Life!

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