On Evangelii Gaudium
Sr. Helen Sanchez, MPF
General Counselor, Rome
Pope Francis in his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium gives us so much to ponder in our day to day living. This will be the first of a series about this interesting church document and about applying it to daily life for me as a religious and as an average Christian trying to make a difference in today’s world. “The joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus” (1). I have to ask myself, “Do I take the time to encounter Jesus?” or am I just quickly trying to get through recited prayers to get on with the day’s activities? How often do I fully appreciate that Christ is my Spouse and that this fact should give me unlimited joy and energy for a life full of endless encounters with Jesus in the people I meet each day? As baptized Christians, do we recognize how fortunate we are to have a Savior who cares about us individually? He is waiting to meet us instead of chasing us down and forcing us into an encounter? He loves us that much to give us the freedom to choose when and where the encounter will take place. His trust in Him is far greater than my trust in myself!
I had to laugh when I read “There are Christians whose lives seem like Lent without Easter” (Evangelii Gaudium 6). It is so true! Too many of us each and every day look as if we were never saved, as if there is nothing that could possibly bring us joy. I walk down the street, sit on a train or bus, enter a room and often all I see are people who seem stressed or lost in their own disconnected world of audio technology. Too many are consumed by the music on the iPod or the game on the tablet to even notice the others nearby. Where is the joy of smiling or greeting someone? It may be something little and maybe seems simplistic but we need to start connecting with each other. Yesterday on the train I met a couple from Holland who looked at me and because I smiled, they felt encouraged to ask for directions. They were trying to get to the subway en route to the airport. We spoke of the pope whom they had seen days before. It was a simple gesture – helping them, yet it led to an exchange of best wishes for the New Year and an encounter of faith. Do we really believe we are saved, enough to risk sharing joy with others?
“The joy of the Gospel is such that it cannot be taken away from us by anyone or anything” (Evangelii Gaudium 84). As I reflect on this passage, I realize all too well that it doesn’t mean there won’t be sad experiences. However like Job, somehow with God’s help and a lot of faith we can say, “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21b). If anything the struggles and crosses we bear make us more like Christ and help us to appreciate all He did for us. That’s when we experience the joy of resurrection and can surmount the present sorrow to experience that joy that never ends in Him.
“Evangelization is the task of the Church” (Evangelii Gaudium 111). Thinking of evangelization as preaching on street corners trying to convert others…? With the bishops’ and pope’s call for the New Evangelization, We know it is so much more. Moreover, with Pope Francis’ daily example and words, I have come to understand that evangelization is more of an “encounter” – first of all, with the Christ within as well as with His presence in others. We, as Church, must be that “place of mercy freely given, where everyone can feel welcomed, loved, forgiven and encouraged to live the good life of the Gospel” (EC 114). Everywhere I go then becomes a place to evangelize, not in an ostentatious fashion like that “noisy gong” Paul writes about but in a gentle more sensitive style of openness.
“Thy kingdom come.” We pray those words countless times when we say the Our Father. Do we realize what we are asking God to do? Pope Francis, in his Exhortation says, “To evangelize is to make the kingdom of God present in our world” (EG 176). He is saying that it is our job to bring about that kingdom, here and now… For some, that may mean how they impact our world politically, economically, sociologically… For me as a consecrated religious, I have to help bring about that kingdom on a spiritual level by my ministry as well as personal conversion. If I am a believer, then the Kingdom grows ever more present in this world with each one of us that lives more truly like Christ. The Our Father isn’t just a plea for the final kingdom of judgment to arrive but a call for each of us to bring it to reality where we live, work and pray.
“My mission of being in the heart of the people is not just a part of my life…it is not an ‘extra’…Instead, it is something I cannot uproot from my being without destroying my very self” (Evangelii Gaudium 273). Reading these words of Pope Francis, it’s easy to believe them because I see it here in Rome every time He speaks, meets and greets people. If we really believe we have a calling from God and that we are following it, then every one of us can say this too. I am called to be a consecrated religious who in joyfully following the Lord cannot see myself ever doing anything else – it is who I am in my deepest center.
“We are not asked to be flawless, but to keep growing… as we advance along the path of the Gospel…What is essential is that the preacher (Christian) be certain that God loves him…and that his love always has the last word” (EG 151). I am a perfectionist so this is not the easiest phrase to accept but on the other hand, it also lets me off the hook a bit.
But as I examine these words, I wonder if this shouldn’t also apply to all of our relationships… If a spouse isn’t convinced of reciprocal love, how can the marriage continue? If a member of a religious community isn’t experiencing the love of her/his community, she/he will find it difficult to belong. Do we take the time to grow and to appreciate each other’s growth? Do we bring the Gospel values into our growth journey or do we leave them in the chapel or church? Do we allow ourselves to be loved by God? Spouse? Friends? Community? Family? God is in each exchange of real love… Do we bother to notice? If we do, we will grow… if we don’t, then the relationships will wither and die… Love is the Word of life!
People of faith are needed in today’s deserts (EG 86). “Desert” isn’t just a geographical designation. Too many individuals are feeling lost, thirsty and desperate because they have no direction. Pope Francis suggests that we are to be “the living sources of water from which others can drink.” But how do we reach so many in need? How do we stretch ourselves in so many directions? Sometimes the really frustrating part is that people don’t even realize that they are in the desert and that there are persons and places where they can go for spiritual nourishment and strength, for some direction and compassion. Go into that church and sit in a quiet spot and sense the presence of God when the noise of life is overwhelming… Go to that soup kitchen and quench the thirst of a brother and sister.
Oases do exist in the worst deserts – we only need to go out of ourselves to locate them and discover that there are wonderful people there waiting to greet us with the new life of hope.