October 23, 2017

Pope Francis: Living “From the Heart of the Gospel”

Joy of Gospel

I have downloaded and am reading through Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel), the Apostolic Exhortation by Pope Francis on the proclamation of the Gospel in today’s world.

The document reflects the emphasis in the Church regarding “The New Evangelization.” As the Pope states,

Attentive to the promptings of the Holy Spirit who helps us together to read the signs of the times, the XIII Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops gathered from 7-28 October 2012 to discuss the theme: The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith.

…I was happy to take up the request of the Fathers of the Synod to write this Exhortation. In so doing, I am reaping the rich fruits of the Synod’s labours. In addition, I have sought advice from a number of people and I intend to express my own concerns about this particular chapter of the Church’s work of evangelization.

* * *

Today, here is a portion of Evangelii Gaudium that reflects something observers of the Pope have noticed and about which many comments have been made. He has attempted to refocus the message and ministry of the Church around “the heart of the Gospel.” Without abandoning the Church’s moral teaching, he has sought to put it in proper perspective. He wants Christians to remember that our central message is not about abortion or homosexuality, etc., but about God’s saving love in Jesus Christ.

I’d like for us to discuss Pope Francis’s words today, and not my comments on it. However, I will underline certain portions of the excerpt that I find significant and want to point out to you.

Evangelii_Gaudium-255x390III. From the heart of the Gospel

34. If we attempt to put all things in a missionary key, this will also affect the way we communicate the message. 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.

35. Pastoral ministry in a missionary style is not obsessed with the disjointed transmission of a multitude of doctrines to be insistently imposed. When we adopt a pastoral goal and a missionary style which would actually reach everyone without exception or exclusion, the message has to concentrate on the essentials, on what is most beautiful, most grand, most appealing and at the same time most necessary. The message is simplified, while losing none of its depth and truth, and thus becomes all the more forceful and convincing.

36. All revealed truths derive from the same divine source and are to be believed with the same faith, yet some of them are more important for giving direct expression to the heart of the Gospel. In this basic core, what shines forth is the beauty of the saving love of God made manifest in Jesus Christ who died and rose from the dead. In this sense, the Second Vatican Council explained, “in Catholic doctrine there exists an order or a ‘hierarchy’ of truths, since they vary in their relation to the foundation of the Christian faith”.[38] This holds true as much for the dogmas of faith as for the whole corpus of the Church’s teaching, including her moral teaching.

37. Saint Thomas Aquinas taught that the Church’s moral teaching has its own “hierarchy”, in the virtues and in the acts which proceed from them.[39] 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]

38. It is important to draw out the pastoral consequences of the Council’s teaching, which reflects an ancient conviction of the Church. First, it needs to be said that in preaching the Gospel a fitting sense of proportion has to be maintained. This would be seen in the frequency with which certain themes are brought up and in the emphasis given to them in preaching. For example, if in the course of the liturgical year a parish priest speaks about temperance ten times but only mentions charity or justice two or three times, an imbalance results, and precisely those virtues which ought to be most present in preaching and catechesis are overlooked. The same thing happens when we speak more about law than about grace, more about the Church than about Christ, more about the Pope than about God’s word.

39. Just as the organic unity existing among the virtues means that no one of them can be excluded from the Christian ideal, so no truth may be denied. The integrity of the Gospel message must not be deformed. What is more, each truth is better understood when related to the harmonious totality of the Christian message; in this context all of the truths are important and illumine one another. When preaching is faithful to the Gospel, the centrality of certain truths is evident and it becomes clear that Christian morality is not a form of stoicism, or self-denial, or merely a practical philosophy or a catalogue of sins and faults. Before all else, the Gospel invites us to respond to the God of love who saves us, to see God in others and to go forth from ourselves to seek the good of others. Under no circumstance can this invitation be obscured! All of the virtues are at the service of this response of love. If this invitation does not radiate forcefully and attractively, the edifice of the Church’s moral teaching risks becoming a house of cards, and this is our greatest risk. It would mean that it is not the Gospel which is being preached, but certain doctrinal or moral points based on specific ideological options. The message will run the risk of losing its freshness and will cease to have “the fragrance of the Gospel”.

Comments

  1. Marcus Johnson says:

    Even his stance on abortion places some blame and responsibility on the church’s failure to properly minister, rather than on the woman alone:

    On the other hand, it is also true that we have done little to adequately accompany women in very difficult situations, where abortion appears as a quick solution to their profound anguish, especially when the life developing within them is the result of rape or a situation of extreme poverty. Who can remain unmoved before such painful situations?

    It appears as though he is claiming, “Being pro-life is not enough, and does not exempt us from our responsibility to live out the essence of the Gospel.”

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > Even his stance on abortion places some blame and responsibility on the church’s failure to properly minister,

      It is amazingly refreshing to see a major religious leader, or any significant leader, acknowledge pain and despair. Acknowledge it, rather than “yes but…” it.

      > Who can remain unmoved before such painful situations?

      Apparently a great number of people. Although having a media culture that is more than complicit in keeping the oppressed, disadvantaged, and disenfranchised off the screen.

      > Being pro-life is not enough,

      +1

      Naming evil without answering it is just too easy.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        And because it IS too easy, it is very popular.

        “It’s gotta be good — all the Christians are denouncing it!”
        — occasional saying in local Eighties F&SF fandom

  2. David Cornwell says:

    I do not have time for a long comment. However thank you very much for the consideration of the important document.

    The importance he attaches to the “organic unity among the virtues” and the “harmonious totality of the Christian message” cannot be underestimated. This is something that all of us need to take into account and prayerfully work into our lives.

  3. Beautiful! If Pope Francis was pope during my more formative and impressionable years, I would’ve probably turned out to be a Catholic. The guy is the best thing to happen to the Catholic church since Vatican II.

  4. In Colossians 2:20-23, Paul urges us to not be captive to elementary principles of the world (don’t handle, don’t taste, don’t touch) that appear to be the stoicism that Pope Francis is discussing.
    The difficult part of applying this is that the world no longer agrees even on what are its own “elementary principles”.
    If the gospel contains Good News of salvation from sin, but the world doesn’t recognize sin in the first place, then where do you start the dialog?
    We long for people to see Jesus, even if we all still “look through a glass darkly”.
    Hebrews 10:1 calls the Law merely a “shadow”, and not the real form of good things. However, when foolish hearts are darened, even the outlines of shadows get soft and fuzzy, and it gets more difficult to agree on what the shadow actually represents.
    So, without the shared agreement on the world’s own “elementary principles”, how does the world recognize the light of salvation in Christ when they see Him?

    • “Darkened”, not darened.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      In Colossians 2:20-23, Paul urges us to not be captive to elementary principles of the world (don’t handle, don’t taste, don’t touch) that appear to be the stoicism that Pope Francis is discussing.

      In my experience, I think Paul is speaking of the “Gospel” that’s only an ever-lengthening list of “THOU SHALT NOTS”. (I am sure all of us can think of examples of this.) And overemphasis on tribal markers like male celibate clergy for Catholics, ascetic monasticism for Orthodox, tongues for Pentecostals, and “THOU SHALT NOTS” for Holiness..

      (During my time in-country in the Evangelical Circus, I remember being taught the passage of “false humility and worship of angels” as examples meant Those Catholics (and the Medieval Church DID have a lot of weirdness along those lines, from St Rose of Lima’s asceticism-turned-self-destruction to the elaborate speculative Angelologies and Demonologies). And I also remember some guest preacher Proving(TM) that the “Nicolaitans” mentioned in Revelation also meant Those Catholics; I think he started from the fact that Greek has two words for “priest” and went off on a tangent from there; still don’t know how he got from Point A to Point B on that one.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        > how he got from Point A to Point B on that one.

        There really seems to be minimal requirement for that. Last weekend I was listening to the local Christian station and according to that preacher the Obama administration is the fulfillment of old testament prophecies before the predicted Islamic invasion of the United States.

        Yea. Seriously. He was *very* specific.

        When I was growing up it was the Soviet Union and nuclear war.

        Perhaps this reflects that the turn-over into and out of Evangelicalism is ~15-20 years, so few people notice the recycling and re-branding.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          One of the things that shook the hold Hal Lindsay had on my head (besides discovering D&D) was finding End Time Prophecy books that were 30/40/50 years old, claiming now-forgotten news items of the time were Fulfillments of End Time Prophecy. Same proof-texts, same arguments, word-for-word.

          And the Seventh Day Adventist Prophecy book that used the same chapters and verses to Prove(TM) a completely-different interpretation of the Book of Revelation, a completely-different End Times Choreography.

        • Great Point! I thought the End Times were nigh because Russia was doing this, that or the other thing that week. Now, the Anti Christ isn’t going to rise in the form of an Eastern Block Politician, rather in the image of a raving Imam from the wilds of Pakistan. The more things change the more they stay the same. Never once heard a message on how we should be praying for all our enemies in the Eastern Block, not hearing much about loving the Taliban these days either… however, hearing a lot about how all these guys are getting the gospel “right”.

    • You start with one of the most basic of human needs, the need to be loved. Much of the emphasis of Pope Francis really can be summarized in loving your neighbor as yourself. In the Joy of the Gospel, he goes farther and joins together, “though shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy …” with loving your neighbor as yourself.

      His emphasis is that the glory of the Gospel shines through when the two greatest commandments are present in our missionary activity in such a way that it opens the door to hear the message of salvation.

    • Marcus Johnson says:

      I think the world does recognize sin. You don’t have to be a Christian to recognize hopelessness, social injustice, pain, loss, and the general sense that something’s wrong with the world. Combined with what Fr. Enesto wrote about the need to be loved, and the opportunity is there. You’re probably not going to be able to drop Jesus and the Bible on them, but the world recognizes sin.

  5. David Cornwell says:

    I think what Pope Francis is emphasizing is the positive aspects of the gospel of Christ, over against the constant stream of negativism that we so often hear. The doctrinal truths still hold, but central to all that is a high Christology which affirms that “what shines forth is the beauty of the saving love of God made manifest in Jesus Christ who died and rose from the dead.”

    I know there are people who will argue with this, but at the present time only someone like the Pope Francis is in a position to do this service for the Church. I firmly believe with all of my heart that here is a man of God. We can spend hours arguing points of doctrinal disagreement, some of which I share. But the present day Protestant Church is in many ways in a state of chaos and divisiveness which only brings shame to the Church.

    • I would go as far as to say most Protestantism I observe, especially in the US, is possibly even worse off than the Medieval church before the Reformation.

  6. Christiane says:

    What I like about Pope Francis is that from the pictures alone of him with people, we begin to understand what it really means to be formed according to the heart and mind of Christ . . .

    Without those pictures, without his example of a pastoral papacy, would his words have as much gravitas as they do for the world out there? But he is living the gospel and that is a beautiful thing to witness, not just for Catholic people, but for those who are disabled, disfigured, in need of someone to sit by them in their homelessness, and to children who don’t want to be sent away but want to hug and be hugged . . . and for those who just need to SEE what it looks like to bring the healing love of the gospel to life in a world where pain is.

    • David Cornwell says:

      I had not thought of this, but it is very true. At heart he is a pastor, and it shows in everything he does.

  7. Daisey former Missionary and Carmelite says:

    My favorite verses:

    ***** “Works of love directed to one’s neighbor are the most perfect external manifestation of the interior grace of the Spirit”

    ***** “Before all else, the Gospel invites us to respond to the God of love who saves us, to see God in others and to go forth from ourselves to seek the good of others.”

    ***** “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”

    Mercy and Love, Love and Mercy – to truly know what these are is to know WHO these are, is to know God, to have experienced a glimpse of His Countenance. The object of Mercy is misery in all its forms. To know myself and the depths of my own misery and be brave enough to let go and surrender it all to God for His Glory is to experience the Embrace of Mercy Itself – Himself – and the transformative power of the Fire of Divine Love. If we could only comprehend the unmeasureable vastness of the Mercy and Love Gods wishes to bestow upon us. Are our eyes open to see it? Are our hearts open to receive it ? Do we dare give all for such a pearl of great price ? A moment by moment yes to God who looks for us to Love Him in the poor, the downtrodden, the lonely, the ugly, the outcasts, the broken etc., etc., … which is you, me, each one of us. The works of mercy – “whatever you do (or don’t do) to the least of these you do (or don’t do) to me…” God may we always be willing to love You in whomever our paths cross.

  8. Last paragraph especially…

    The Church realizes that now she has to help the world to accept itself. She clearly sees that blame, complacency, and recrimination will clarify nothing as long as they are accompanied only by exhortations to antique piety and the primness appropriate to another age.

    The gravity of the situation is seen in the fact that Catholic theology has had to plunge into the task of acquiring entirely new perspectives in the space of a generation or two. But the fact that these perspectives are Biblical, concrete, existential, thoroughly based on respect for the world and for man in their actuality, gives definite hope—I do not say of solving all the problems of the modern world, but of bringing to that world the light it needs in an hour of risk and uncertainty. But that light is, as always, the light of the Gospel.

    What is new in modern theology is not the essential message, but our rethinking of it, our rediscovery, in it, of insights we had lost. These insights provoke in us neither naive enthusiasms nor petulant slander of the world, but awaken us to the deep truth of man’s sinfulness and hardness of heart, overcome by the love of God and by His restoration of the world in Christ.

    Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, pg. 315ff

  9. I must say that Thomas Aquinas’ position was faith formed by love. It is a scholastic redux of Aristotle arguing that all universals are instantiated. It is an example of empiricism, all knowledge coming from experience. It led in medieval Christianity to grace not being a personal attitude of God to sinners, but a quasi-material stuff dispensed through the sacramental praxis of the church. There can be much said about how this leads to hierarchial understandings of authority and virtue ethics and the principle of merit. I’ll end by saying that Luther had much to say about Aristotle and scholastic methods….one example…”The Holy Ghost is greater than Aristotle”. For Luther fides is fiducia( not faith formed by love). That is, faith is confident trust.