Pope Francis, the Incarnation, and the Not-So “New” Evangelization.
I am absolutely fed up with hearing about the “economic” ramifications of Pope Francis’ newest Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium. I really do not think people are listening to what the Holy Father is really calling Catholics to do, and more importantly, who he is reminding them to be. I have not even finished reading it, but I can tell you that it is so good that in the index alone, I have found everything that I am going to be using for our annual Team Orthodoxy retreat at the end of the month. The 220+ page exhortation is, more than anything, a battlecry for the Church Militant to proclaim the Gospel. The question is: are we listening?
The “Year of Faith” which began during the Pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI and was completed under Pope Francis, has come and gone. I look across my diocese and the parishes within my own city , however, and I have to question whether the call to a renewal of faith was really actualized or not. This is not to say that there are not parishes and dioceses that did really good things. My diocese, however, seemed to largely forget the Year of Faith was even there, when it came to the day-to-day. I appreciated seeing Matt Maher come and do a concert and having a “Year of Faith” day, but this was not the intent of the Holy Father when he inaugurated this special year. Now, with Evangelii Gaudium hot off of the press, I am watching and seeing people are doing the exact same thing with it as they did with the Year of Faith. Heck, let’s take it further. They (much of the Catholic establishment media and the world at large) are doing the exact same with this as they did with the documents of the Second Vatican. They are missing the whole point. I am just sitting and waiting to see when people will actually acknowledge this evangelical molotov cocktail which was thrown into their midst. I truly believe that those within the Church who seek to live out her missionary spirit will really hear these words of Pope Francis in Evangelii Gaudium and find them encouraging. Regrettably, the majority of the Church Militant are too busy looking for something else.
I personally have some struggles with Pope Francis and I have yet to find anyone who grew up and paid attention as part of the “JPII Generation” that doesn’t. The man is not impeccable, and believing otherwise is certainly not the teaching of Holy Mother Church. His teaching, when teaching from the Seat of Peter or Ex Cathedra is infallible. This does not make the man impeccable or give him some supernatural knowledge to know or do the right thing without thinking. I will say this: Our Pope is in love with the person of Jesus Christ and desires that all men be saved. This is what sums up his Pontificate at present.
Our Pope longs for the Church he shepherds to know and love our Blessed Lord with an apostolic intensity. He knows that once we fall in love with Christ, we cannot help but proclaim it. So he calls the faithful to pray in a most real way, a prayer of personal commitment to Jesus. He says, “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”’. He desires for us not to simply have a Sunday get-together with Jesus, but to know Him intimately through daily personal (also known as mental) prayer. From this place of daily personal encounter with the Living and True God through prayer, we become more closely united with Him, and so His desires soon begin to become our own. This is the litmus test of real prayer: If it is causing you to convert, turn away from sin, and turn you towards to world to love people and lead them to the Truth. “Goodness always tends to spread”, Pope Francis tells us. He reminds us that, “We become fully human when we become more than human, when we let God bring us beyond ourselves in order to attain the fullest truth of our being.” What is that truth? That God loves us personally so much as to lay down His very life for us to save us and that He desires that we be in union with Him for all eternity, but more importantly, He desires that union right now. This is Good News! By repenting and turning away from our sin, we lose nothing of ourselves and gain everything. We repent because of the Good News. We should not repent out of fear. We should repent because our God loves us and desires union with us, but sin destroys that union, and prevents us from being with Him. “God asks everything of us, yet at the same time he offers everything to us,” our Holy Father tell us. This is what the world needs to hear, but are we going to respond to this battlecry?
This message is not new. The desire to proclaim it, however, needs to be. This is why Pope Francis says, “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.'” The New Evangelization is new in its fervour, and perhaps new in the way it is communicated. It is, however, simply doing what has been done for 2,000 years with the means put before us. At every juncture of human history in the last 2,000 years, Christians have sought to use every means at their disposal for the proclamation of the Gospel. It is a natural thing for Christians who love Jesus to seek out different means to evangelize. Though the means of communication change, it is unchanging in its message however. The message is Jesus Christ, who is “the same yesterday, today, and forever.” The truth is, so much of the Church across the globe has been, figuratively speaking, putting the cart before the horse. Instead of creating these different committees and conferences, what we all need is to concretely encounter Jesus Christ through the Sacraments, the Word of God, and prayer, and from that place go to the world. The Church needs to facilitate that in a non-abstract way. This is what the Year of Faith called for and Evangelii Gaudium is reiterating. The “New Evangelization” can never take root without a firm loving relationship with Jesus and a love for His Church.
Advent is coming to an end and Christmas is fast approaching. When meditating upon Evangelii Gaudium and the response it has received, I can’t help but think about Christmas. The Jews were waiting for a political messiah to show up and save them from the tyranny of Rome. Jesus was not a political Messiah at all. When Jesus showed up, He was born into poverty and laid in a food trough in a stable and would technically be homeless for years. Our pictures and nativity scenes make it look almost magical but objectively speaking, it was far from that. Only the Three Wise Men and a bunch of shepherds showed up to give him homage. The kings of the earth largely ignored him. King Herod wanted this poor homeless baby to be killed. The world did not want the Truth at all. This story seems a lot like what Pope Francis is dealing with. Instead of listening to the call of a renewed relationship with Christ, we are looking for things to offend us or to challenge our earthly political sensibilities. Yet instead of looking for Jesus amidst the politics, this Christmas we need to find Jesus where He actually is. As baptized Christians, that place is our hearts. Jesus waits for us to come to Him in the stable of our hearts and to make a throne for Him there. As we embark upon a whole new year, may the Nativity be for us the starting point of a renewed relationship with Jesus, so that we can truly help to bring about a real “New Evangelization” in the world.
Posted on December 9, 2013, in Apologetics, Benedict XVI, Catholic, Church Corruption and Renewal, Evangelization, Love, Politics, Pope Francis and tagged Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.