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Evangelii gaudium and the essentials of faith

Our Editorial Director reflects on the phrase—“The joy of the Church is to evangelize”—which Pope Francis repeated seven times to the Church in Malta on Saturday.

Speaking to around three thousand people gathered on Saturday afternoon in front of the shrine of Ta’ Pinu on the Maltese island of Gozo, Pope Francis explored the essentials of the faith.

Many were struck by his off-the-cuff remark: “The joy of the Church is to evangelize.”

Pope Francis did not repeat it only once, but seven times.

He concluded each paragraph by repeating that the Church’s joy is the act of evangelization: Evangelii gaudium, the title of his November 2013 Apostolic Exhortation which has become the road map of his pontificate.

Essential trait

Returning to the origins, said the Pope, is not a vague notion of improbable dips into a remote past, nor is it the idealization of eras never to return.

Returning to the origins means returning to the essential, that is, recovering the spirit of the first Christian community, hearkening back to the heart of faith.

And the heart of faith is our relationship with Jesus and the proclamation of His Gospel to the whole world. This, and only this, is its truly essential aspect.

‘Empty theater’

Therefore, the concern of the Church cannot and should not be that of the prestige of the community and its ministers. It cannot and should not be its social influence, that is, a desire to “matter”, to be “relevant” on the world stage, in society, or in places of power. It cannot and should not be the search for an area of influence and attention.

Neither can the Church’s concern be the refinement of worship, i.e. seeking to perfect liturgical ceremonies while risking to become what Joseph Ratzinger called “an empty theater”.

The desire to proclaim and bear witness, while attempting to find every possible means to help the men and women of our time encounter the living Jesus: this is what moved the disciples of Jesus Christ, the Nazarene, and what moves those who bear witness to the Gospel today.

In other words, the joy of the Church is to evangelize, i.e. to spread the joy of the Christian message.

Opening up to risk

It is significant that nine years after his election as Bishop of Rome, Pope Francis still returns to Evangelii gaudium, his most important and perhaps least understood message.

His message therein contained has met with resistance, but has also risked and still risks being turned into a mere slogan by those who claim to embrace it.

In this way, even the proclamation of the Gospel ends up being caged by its own devices, in the structures and strategies of religious marketing.

Even the synodal path which the Pope strongly desires for the entire Church is not exempt from the risk of being “normalized” in ecclesiastical bureaucracies, instead opening us to risk and openness with a listening ear for a renewed missionary drive.

Welcome towards all

There exists, however, a litmus test, explained Pope Francis, to verify how effectively the Church is permeated by the spirit of the Gospel.

This litmus test is precisely the welcome and gratuitous assistance offered to those who suffer.

The Pope spoke to the faithful of Malta, an island that has been a “safe haven” throughout the centuries, and the landing place where St. Paul arrived and where the first Christians were treated “with unusual kindness.”

“We cannot welcome each other only in the shelter of our beautiful churches, while outside so many of our brothers and sisters suffer, crucified by pain, poverty and violence,” said the Pope, echoing the words of the Church Father, St. John Chrysostom.

In one of his famous sermons, the Saint said: “Do you wish to honor the Body of the Savior? Do not despise it when it is naked. Do not honor it in church with silk vestments while outside it is naked and numb with cold.”

Today, as two thousand years ago, the Church is offered the same litmus test as a measure of her faith. – Andrea Tornielli

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SOURCE: Vatican News

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