From Paul VI to Pope Francis
by: Félix Álvarez Sagredo, CM
[This article has been published in Anales, volume 122, #3 Mayo-Junio 2014 p. 263-283 and also in Vincentiana]
On December 8th, 1975, the feast of the Immaculate Conception, Pope Paul VI published his Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Nuntiandi. This document was published ten years after the close of the Second Vatican Council and after he had presided over the Third Synod of Bishops which dealt with the theme of evangelization.
At the outset I want to highlight the beginning and the conclusion of that exhortation because in addition to revealing the purpose of that document, they will also reveal the Pope’s concern and deep feelings with regard to believers and all of humankind. There is no doubt that the effort to proclaim the Gospel to the people of today, who are buoyed up by hope but at the same time oppressed by fear and distress, is a service rendered to the Christian community and also to the whole of humanity (Evangelii Nuntiandi, #1). The penultimate paragraph is dedicated to Mary, the star of evangelization (Pope Francis did the same in his Exhortation) and there we are also reminded about the closing of the Second Vatican Council and the beginning of the process of evangelization (Pentecost and the sending forth of the Spirit).
Forty-eight years later Pope Francis published his Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, after having presided over another Synod of Bishops that dealt with the theme, the new evangelization for the transmission of the Christian faith. Pope Francis stated the purpose of his Exhortation: In this Exhortation I wish to encourage the Christian faithful to embark upon a new chapter of evangelization marked by this joy, while pointing out new paths for the Church’s journey in years to come (Evangelii Gaudium, #1).
Several factors have motivated me to write this article. First, I believe that we have before us two vital texts that are of critical importance to the Church at the beginning of the third millennium. Both Popes accepted the evangelizing process as the most important activity of the present day Church. The Popes valued the great documents of the Second Vatican Council and attempted to assume their profound theological and pastoral content in order to make it part of their teaching and activity. Both Popes point out the great priorities of the Church today, namely, to become aware of its proper identity, to accept the fact that the Church must live in a state of on-going renewal and conversion, and to dialogue sincerely and openly with the contemporary world. There are countless testimonies that support these claims and the most authoritative reference is that of Paul VI and his encyclical letter, Ecclesiam Suam, published on 6 August 1964, i.e., during the celebration of the Second Vatican Council (cf., Ecclesiam Suam, #6).
Pope Francis has continually insisted on those priorities from the first day of his pontificate. He has used various phrases, some novel and surprising language, in an attempt to continue to advance the reforms that were begun at the Second Vatican Council. The following words are an example of his eloquence: I dream of a “missionary option”, that is, a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything, so that the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structure can be suitably channeled for the evangelization of today’s world rather than for her self-preservation (Evangelii Gaudium #27). The Pope’s constant invitation to go to the peripheries of society and of life has penetrated into the awareness of the men and women of our era.
I believe the idea is clear: all the members of the Church, by virtue of their Baptism and according to their state, participate in the prophetic, priestly and royal dimension of Jesus Christ. All people are called to evangelize, called to proclaim the word of Jesus Christ and to give witness of their belief through the example of their life.
I cite here the words of John Paul II who addressed this same theme: The mission of Christ the Redeemer, which is entrusted to the Church, is still very far from completion. As the second millennium after Christ's coming draws to an end, an overall view of the human race shows that this mission is still only beginning and that we must commit ourselves wholeheartedly to its service (Redemptoris Missio, #1).
In light of this introduction, I do not feel that there is any need for further comments about the purpose of this presentation. The evangelizing mission that the Church today ought to undertake is so urgent and demanding and involves such a profound commitment that it deserves all of our personal and community effort, as well as all of our resources.
Therefore, it seems appropriate to draw up a synthesis of both pastoral exhortations that deal with the theme of evangelization in order to deepen our understanding of their content and their teaching. Hopefully, this, in turn, will renew our enthusiasm and our commitment at this time of the new evangelization.
Before going into detail about the various sections of both documents, let me explain the method that I will employ: this will be a parallel study of both texts in which I highlight the more significant affirmations.
Pope Francis begins his exhortation with the phrase: The joy of the gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus (Evangelii Gaudium, #1). Those words place us in the presence of Francis’ thesis, whose meaning and implications are explained in the sections that follow. We must remember that the personal encounter with God is an encounter with the living gospel of God, an encounter with a person, with Jesus Christ. The whole mystery of God is revealed in the Word who reconciles us with the Father and with all humankind, who transforms us and frees us and gives us a Christian image of God and a resulting image of humanity and their destiny (Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas est, #1).
Among the many testimonies and witnesses that Pope Francis refers to we mention here the references to Saint Luke and Jesus’ infancy. There are also three references to Jesus’ farewell discourses that are found in John’s gospel as well as various references to the Acts of the Apostles. The joy that the disciples experienced in their encounter with the Risen Lord is perhaps the best example of the content of this section.
The result of the joyful encounter is evident: those who have experienced this encounter feel impelled to share and proclaim the Good News to their brothers and sisters, that is, to all people. Pope Francis cites many and various biblical texts to explain the wonderful dynamic of this experience: The love of Christ impels us (2 Corinthians 5:14). Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel (1 Corinthians 9:16). With this freshness Christ is always able to renew our lives and communities, and even if the Christian message has known periods of darkness and ecclesial weakness, it will never grow old. Jesus can also break through the dull categories with which we would enclose him and he constantly amazes us with his divine creativity (Evangelii Gaudium, #11).
From Christ the evangelizer to the evangelizing Church
Those words, that is, from Christ the evangelizer to the evangelizing Church, were used by Paul VI to entitle the first section of his exhortation. Also in this regard we find two gospel texts that articulate that theme and perspective. In the gospel of Luke, the author of the third synoptic gospel and the Acts of the Apostle, we find a description of the events that occurred in Nazareth at the time when Jesus initiated his public ministry: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor (Luke 4:18) … because for this purpose I have been sent (Luke 4:43).
Jesus himself, the Good News of God, was the very first and the greatest evangelizer; he was so through and through, to perfection and to the point of the sacrifice of his earthly life. Above all else, Jesus proclaimed a kingdom, the kingdom of God. The Lord will delight in describing in many ways the happiness that belongs to the kingdom: the demands of the kingdom and its Magna Charta, the heralds of the kingdom, its mysteries, its children, the vigilance and fidelity demanded of whoever awaits its definitive coming (Evangelii Nuntiandi, #7, 8).
In the last paragraphs of this chapter some affirmations with regard to the primacy of the mission of the Church are highlighted. Those affirmations are introduced with words that were spoken during the October 1974 Synod: We wish to confirm once more that the task of evangelizing all people constitutes the essential mission of the Church. It is a task and mission which the vast and profound changes of present-day society make all the more urgent (Evangelii Nuntiandi, #14). Evangelization is, in fact, the proper vocation of the Church, her most profound identity … the Church exists in order to evangelize.
Here we note some of the reciprocal relationships between the Church and evangelization: The Church is born of the evangelizing activity of Jesus and the Twelve … having been born consequently out of being sent, the Church in turn is sent by Jesus … the Church is an evangelizer, but she begins by being evangelized herself … the Church is the depository of the Good News to be proclaimed … Having been sent and evangelized, the Church herself sends out evangelizers (Evangelii Nuntiandi, 15).
What is evangelization
As we attempt to answer this question we find a twofold focus that describes a broad yet complex panorama. We recall the fact that that those elements that provide us with a definition will basically follow the lines of those transmitted to us by the Second Vatican Council, especially in Lumen Gentium, Gaudium et Spes and Ad Gentes. Therefore, we must be mindful of the various elements and their significance which are expressed clearly and precisely and are seen as most relevant in today’s world.
For the Church, evangelizing means bringing the Good News into all the strata of humanity, and through its influence transforming humanity from within and making it new: “Now I am making the whole of creation new” (Evangelii Nuntiandi, #18).
We have before us a complete statement of some key elements that need to be developed in the practical order. The initial statement is followed by multiple echoes which are part of the main message. Indeed, at play is the renewal of humanity because when the Church evangelizes she seeks to convert, through the divine power of the Message she proclaims, both the personal and the collective consciences of people, the activities in which they engage and the lives and concrete milieu which are theirs (Evangelii Nuntiandi, #20).
We are dealing with a process of evangelization that not only involves preaching the Gospel in ever wider geographic areas or to ever greater numbers of people, but also of affecting and as it were upsetting, through the power of the Gospel, humankind’s criteria of judgment, determining values, points of interest, lines of thought, sources of inspiration and models of life, which are in contrast with the Word of God and the plan of salvation (Evangelii Nuntiandi, #19).
In this regard it is interesting to listen to some of the words of Pope Francis as he speaks about the missionary transformation of the Church: Evangelization takes place in obedience to the missionary mandate of Jesus: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations … teaching them to observe all that I have commended you” (Evangelii Gaudium, #19). The word of God constantly shows us how God challenges those who believe in him “to go forth”. The gospel joy, which enlivens the community of disciples, is a missionary joy. In fidelity to the example of the Master, it is vitally important for the Church today to go forth and preach the gospel to all: to all places, on all occasions, without hesitation, reluctance or fear. The joy of the gospel is for all people; no one can be excluded (cf., Evangelii Gaudium, #20, 21, 23, 48).
Later, the Pope states that the whole Church must engage in this missionary movement and must go forth to everyone without exception. But who are the ones that should be privileged in this regard. The answer is clear and precise: the poor are the privileged recipients of the gospel and the fact that it is freely preached to them is a sign of the kingdom that Jesus came to establish (Evangelii Gaudium, #48).
Such an affirmation has all kinds of implications for the present era, especially if we want to live in a manner that is consistent with the purpose and the charism of the Congregation of the Mission. There is no doubt that the privileged beneficiaries of evangelization are the poor … we need only recall Jesus’ words in the synagogue at Nazareth (cf., Luke 4:18).
I am glad to be able to highlight this affirmation that has been constantly repeated by the present Pope, that is, the preferential option for the poor. This is an option that for us, as Vincentians, should be all the more radical since that really describes the purpose of the Congregation of the Mission. This option is in the forefront of Pope Francis’ teaching and he invites all the members of the Church to become converted and return to the true source of the gospel, the true source who is Christ. Perhaps it is this that has influenced the Pope to repeat the words: go to the peripheries of life, to the peripheries of society where the suffering of people is most obvious and clear.
The Pope, during his recent meeting with the superior generals of the various religious orders and congregations, responded to a question about his insistence that we go to the peripheries of society and stated: We have to look at things from the periphery. We have to go there in order to really know the life of the people. Otherwise we tend to embrace stern, fundamentalist positions, based on a centralized vision. This is not healthy. He then added: I am convinced that the most important hermeneutic key and the complement of the evangelical command is: Go! Go! 
In light of the question that introduces this section of the exhortation, namely, what is evangelization, I want to make two further comments and I do this in order to include the more important elements of the Pope’s global response. Therefore, the first element refers to personal witness of one’s life. Take a Christian or a handful of Christians who, in the midst of their own community, show their capacity for understanding and acceptance, their sharing of life and destiny with other people, their solidarity with the efforts of all for whatever is noble and good. Let us suppose that, in addition, they radiate in an altogether simple and unaffected way their faith in values that go beyond current values, and their hope in something that is not seen and that one would not dare to imagine. Such a witness is already a silent proclamation of the Good News and a very powerful and effective one. Here we have an initial act of evangelization, but there is no true evangelization if the name, the teaching, the life, the promises, the Kingdom and the mystery of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God, are not proclaimed (Evangelii Nuntiandii, #21, 22).
On many occasions I have reflected on those words of the Apostolic Exhortation, especially in the context of my situation as a believer in a Muslim country where an explicit proclamation of the person of Jesus Christ is impossible. I reflected on the First National Assembly of Catholics from the four dioceses of Algeria which was recently held in the capital. For those men and women the proclamation of Jesus Christ consists of living a specific lifestyle and being present in the midst of people in a certain way that is in harmony with the criteria that Pope Benedict outlined in his encyclical Deus Caritas Est. When an explicit proclamation is impossible then we should allow the quality of our presence and the example of our life to speak with greater eloquence and conviction so that no words need be spoken. I am once again reminded of the meeting in Algeria which was a very enriching experience. At the same time I am also reminded of the invitation that was extended to me by some leaders of the Muslim community to participate in their religious meetings and dialogues.
Although it is not my intention to comment on all the nuances and the various aspects that are mentioned in this section, it seems necessary to cite the following paragraph: evangelization would not be complete if it did not take account of the unceasing interplay of the Gospel and of man's concrete life, both personal and social. This is why evangelization involves an explicit message, adapted to the different situations constantly being realized, about the rights and duties of every human being, about family life without which personal growth and development is hardly possible, about life in society, about international life, peace, justice and development -- a message especially energetic today about liberation (Evangelii Nuntiandi, #29).
The Pope presents a broad vision in this regard and at some later time it would be good to reflect further on this theme which is developed in the fourth chapter of the Pope’s exhortation. Here I present a brief synthesis of the more important ideas.
Three fundamental convictions and dynamics of the evangelizer
Before entering into a commentary on another essential dimension of evangelization, namely, the content of evangelization, I take this opportunity to pause and reflect on three fundamental convictions of the evangelizer. The gospel of Jesus reveals these convictions in a very clear manner and the Church’s teaching continually emphasizes these convictions.
First, there is an awareness of being sent. We could formulate this conviction by saying that the initiative always proceeds from God. We see this at the very beginning of revelation (cf., Genesis 12:1ff.) and throughout the whole of the history of salvation (cf., Exodus 3:10). Perhaps the divine initiative is seen most clearly in the ministry of the prophets. At the same time, however, this divine initiative is highlighted in the person of Jesus Christ. I have already referred to the Lucan text that describes Jesus at the beginning of his public ministry, yet it would be good to hear once again the key words of that text: the Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives … and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord (Luke 4:18, 19). As the Father has sent me, so I send you (John 20:21). This awareness of being sent was very natural to Jesus who also said: My food is to do the will of the one who sent me and finish his work (John 4:34).
In order to summarize and synthesize this first conviction of Pope Francis, I refer to the following texts: It is important always to know that the first word, the true initiative, the true activity, comes from God and only be inserting ourselves into the divine initiative, only begging for this divine initiative, shall we too be able to become, with him and in him, evangelizers (Evangelii Gaudium, #112). There is, however, another passage in the Exhortation that is more precise on this point and uses the surprising phrase, first step: The Church which “goes forth” is a community of missionary disciples who take the first step, who are involved and supportive, who bear fruit and rejoice. An evangelizing community knows that the Lord has taken the initiative, he has loved us first (cf.,m 1 John 4:19), and therefore we can move forward, boldly take the initiative, go out to others, seek those who have fallen away, stand at the crossroads and welcome the outcast (Evangelii Gaudium, #24).
The second conviction that is necessary for every evangelizer and every evangelizing community refers to the message that they are called to transmit. If we speak about the content of the kerygma or if we refer to the doctrine and the teaching of the Church, evangelizers know that, in accord with Jesus’ paradigm, the message that they transmit is not theirs and does not belong to them. In both apostolic exhortations there are multiple references in this regard.
Thus it is most appropriate to begin with Jesus’ testimony: My teaching is not my own but is from the one who sent me (John 7:16). Also the testimony of Paul in the first letter to the Corinthians is most eloquent … here we are dealing with the first proclamation and Paul states: for I handed on to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:3).
The third conviction deals with the dynamism and the efficaciousness of the word that is proclaimed. The value that is given to the word often depends on good preparation and accompanying the word that is transmitted. All of this is explained in both documents, but at this time I am going to focus on some biblical references on this matter and will also refer to two affirmations of the Pope.
Paul wrote to the Thessalonians and to us, urging us to always give thanks to God because in receiving the word of God from hearing us, you received not a human word but, as it truly is, the word of God, which is now at work in you who believe (1 Thessalonians 2:13). The prophet Isaiah describes the action of the word of God with beautiful images: For just as from the heavens the rain and snow come down and do not return there till they have watered the earth, making it fertile and fruitful, giving seed to him who sows and bread to him who eats, so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; it shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it (Isaiah 55:10-11).
Pope Francis affirms: God’s word is unpredictable in its power … the Church has to accept this unruly freedom of the word, which accomplishes what it wills in ways that surpass our calculations and ways of thinking (Evangelii Gaudium, #22).
The gospel is always an inexhaustible source of inspiration and wisdom. Any expression, no matter how simple or brief, conveys an extraordinary message that contains an incredible richness. I therefore conclude this section with the following affirmation of Jesus which is found in his discourse on the vine and the branches: It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain (John 15:16).
Here my intention is to point out the principles that are enunciated in the teaching of the Popes. I will, however, make an observation and cite a text that refers to the renewal of the Church: The renewal of structures demanded by pastoral conversion can only be understood in this light: as part of an effort to make them more mission-oriented, to make ordinary pastoral activity on every level more inclusive and open, to inspire in pastoral workers a constant desire to go forth and in this way to elicit a positive response from all those whom Jesus summons to friendship with him (Evangelii Gaudium, #27).
With regard to the essential content and the secondary elements of evangelization, there is an almost total harmony. Paul VI affirms that there is an essential content in the process of evangelization, the living substance which cannot be modified or ignored without seriously diluting the nature of evangelization itself (Evangelii Nuntiandi, 25). Therefore, to evangelize is first of all to bear witness, in a simple and direct way, to God revealed by Jesus Christ, in the Holy Spirit. Jesus Christ is at the center of the message of salvation, a message that affects life, a message of liberation that necessarily involves the promotion of the human person. It is a message that arises from a gospel vision of the human person and demands an on-going and necessary conversion.
I refer now to the following words of Pope Francis: 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 … 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 (Evangelii Gaudium, #34, 35).
Pope Francis referred to the role of the media with regard to the transmission of the message. Pope Paul VI also spoke about different ways of communicating the message, for example, person to person dialogue, the proclamation of the Word, sacramental preparation, etc. In Evangelii Gaudium we find some important practical teaching with regard to the homily. The homily can actually be an intense and happy experience of the Spirit, a consoling encounter with God’s word, a constant source of renewal and growth. Preparation for preaching is so important a task that a prolonged time of study, prayer, reflection and pastoral creativity should be devoted to it (Evangelii Gaudium, (#135, 145).
I would now like to share my concerns about the social dimension of evangelization, precisely because if this dimension is not properly brought out, there is a constant risk of distorting the authentic and integral meaning of the mission of evangelization (Evangelii Gaudium, #176). Those words are used to introduce the chapter entitled: the social dimension of evangelization. I am going to follow the outline of the Exhortation in the next three sections and I will also attempt to synthesize as much as possible the various affirmations, arguments, criteria and practical suggestions.
Communal and societal repercussions of the Kerygma
The kerygma has a clear social content: at the very heart of the Gospel is life in community and engagement with others. The content of the first proclamation has an immediate moral implication centered on charity. This inseparable bond between our acceptance of the message of salvation and genuine fraternal love appears in several scriptural texts which we would do well to meditate upon, in order to appreciate all their consequences. God’s word teaches that our brothers and sisters are the prolongation of the incarnation for each of us. The way we treat others has a transcendent dimension. The kingdom, already present and growing in our midst, engages us at every level of our being and reminds us of the principle of discernment which Pope Paul VI applied to true development: it must be directed to “all men and the whole man” (Evangelii Gaudium, #176-185; Evangelii Nuntiandi, 25; Matthew 25:31ff.).
The Inclusion of the poor in society
Our faith in Christ, who became poor, and was always close to the poor and the outcasts, is the basis of our concern for the integral development of society’s most neglected members. Each individual Christian and every community is called to be an instrument of God for the liberation and promotion of the poor, and for enabling them to be fully a part of society. Solidarity is a spontaneous reaction by those who recognize that the social function of property and the universal destination of goods are realities which come before private property. These convictions and habits of solidarity, when they are put into practice, open the way to other structural transformations and make them possible. Changing structures without generating new convictions and attitudes will only ensure that those same structures will become, sooner or later, corrupt, oppressive and ineffectual. We need to grow in a solidarity which would allow all peoples to become the artisans of their destiny, since every person is called to self-fulfillment (cf., Evangelii Gaudium, #186, 187, 189, 190).
Yet we desire even more than this; our dream soars higher. We are not simply talking about ensuring nourishment or a “dignified sustenance” for all people, but also their “general temporal welfare and prosperity”. This means education, access to health care, and above all employment, for it is through free, creative, participatory and mutually supportive labor that human beings express and enhance the dignity of their lives. A just wage enables them to have adequate access to all the other goods which are destined for our common use (cf., Evangelii Gaudium, #192).
We incarnate the duty of hearing the cry of the poor when we are deeply moved by the suffering of others. Let us listen to what God’s word teaches us about mercy and allow that word to resound in the life of the Church. This message is so clear and direct, so simple and eloquent, that no ecclesial interpretation has the right to relativize it. We should not be concerned simply about falling into doctrinal error, but about remaining faithful to this light-filled path of life and wisdom (cf., Evangelii Gaudium, #193, 194).
For the Church, the option for the poor is primarily a theological category rather than a cultural, sociological, political or philosophical one. This divine preference has consequences for the faith life of all Christians, since we are called to have “this mind… which was in Jesus Christ”. Inspired by this, the Church has made an option for the poor which is understood as a special form of primacy in the exercise of Christian charity, to which the whole tradition of the Church bears witness. This is why I want a Church which is poor and for the poor. They have much to teach us. Not only do they share in the sensus fidei, but in their difficulties they know the suffering Christ. We need to let ourselves be evangelized by them (Evangelii Gaudium, #199).
This entails appreciating the poor in their goodness, in their experience of life, in their culture, and in their ways of living the faith. True love is always contemplative, and permits us to serve the other not out of necessity or vanity, but rather because he or she is beautiful above and beyond mere appearances: “The love by which we find the other pleasing leads us to offer him something freely”. The poor person, when loved, “is esteemed as of great value” and this is what makes the authentic option for the poor differ from any other ideology, from any attempt to exploit the poor for one’s own personal or political interest (cf., Evangelii Gaudium,#199).
The dignity of each human person and the pursuit of the common good are concerns which ought to shape all economic policies. At times, however, they seem to be a mere addendum imported from without in order to fill out a political discourse lacking in perspectives or plans for true and integral development. I beg the Lord to grant us more politicians who are genuinely disturbed by the state of society, the people, the lives of the poor! (cf., Evangelii Gaudium, #203, 205).
Any Church community, if it thinks it can comfortably go its own way without creative concern and effective cooperation in helping the poor to live with dignity and reaching out to everyone, will also risk breaking down, however much it may talk about social issues or criticize governments. It will easily drift into a spiritual worldliness camouflaged by religious practices, unproductive meetings and empty talk (cf., Evangelii Gaudium, 207).
My words are not those of a foe or an opponent. I am interested only in helping those who are in thrall to an individualistic, indifferent and self-centered mentality to be freed from those unworthy chains and to attain a way of living and thinking which is more humane, noble and fruitful, and which will bring dignity to their presence on this earth (cf., Evangelii Gaudium, #208).
In accord with all of this the Pope expresses his concern for the most vulnerable members of society: doubly poor are those women who endure situations of exclusion, mistreatment and violence, since they are frequently less able to defend their rights (Evangelii Gaudium, #212).
Unborn children are the most defenseless and innocent among us. Nowadays efforts are made to deny them their human dignity and to do with them whatever one pleases, taking their lives and passing laws preventing anyone from standing in the way of this (Evangelii Gaudium, #213).
The defense of unborn life is closely linked to the defense of each and every other human right. It involves the conviction that a human being is always sacred and inviolable, in any situation and at every stage of development. Human beings are ends in themselves and never a means of resolving other problems. Once this conviction disappears, so do solid and lasting foundations for the defense of human rights, which would always be subject to the passing whims of the powers that be. Human beings are not only the beneficiaries but also the stewards of other creatures (Evangelii Gaudium, #213, 215).
The common good and peace in society
Peace in society cannot be understood as pacification or the mere absence of violence resulting from the domination of one part of society over others. Nor is peace simply the absence of warfare, based on a precarious balance of power; it is fashioned by efforts directed day after day towards the establishment of the ordered universe willed by God, with a more perfect justice among men. In the end, a peace which is not the result of integral development will be doomed; it will always spawn new conflicts and various forms of violence (Evangelii Gaudium, #218, 219).
Progress in building a people in peace, justice and fraternity depends on four principles related to the constant tensions present in every social reality. These are derived from the pillars of the Church’s social doctrine, which serve as primary and fundamental parameters of reference for interpreting and evaluating social phenomena: time is greater than space; unity is greater than conflict; realities are more important than ideas; the whole is greater than the part (Evangelii Gaudium, #221, 222, 228, 231, 234).
The workers of evangelization or missionary disciples
I am fully aware of the fact that many themes are dealt with in these two exhortations and there is neither the time nor the space to comment on each and every theme. Nevertheless, I have decided to include two more sections in this article: the workers for evangelization and the missionary spirit.
It is very heartening for the Church to realize the fact that the laity are very aware of the need to become fully integrated into the community of the new People of God in order to participate in the saving mission of the Church. There are two well-known affirmations that merit being highlighted once again. The People of God is holy as a result of the anointing of the Spirit who makes them infallible in credendo. As part of his mysterious love for humanity, God furnishes the totality of the faithful with an instinct of faith --- sensus fidei --- which helps them to discern what is truly of God (Evangelii Gaudium, #119).
The present statements on the laity as agents of evangelization are an authentic sign of the relevance of the teaching of the Second Vatican Council on this and other matters. I will cite here two important affirmations from the Council. The first is taken from Lumen Gentium and the second reference is from Apostolicam Actuositatem.
Lumen Gentium states: the apostolate of the laity is a sharing in the salvific mission of the Church. Through Baptism and Confirmation all are appointed for this apostolate by the Lord himself … all the laity, then, have the exalted duty of working for the ever greater spread of the divine plan of salvation to all people, of every epoch, and all over the earth (#33).
After giving some consideration to the theological foundation of the lay apostolate, Apostolicam Actuositatem affirms the following: on all Christians, accordingly, rests the noble obligation of working to bring all people throughout the whole world to hear and accept the divine message of salvation (#3).
From that perspective, then, the following references are truly enlightening. I will proceed in a chronological order so that we might see more clearly the nuances in each of the documents.
After affirming that the Church has a divine mandate to go to every part of the world in order to proclaim the gospel to all people (Dignitatis Humanae, #33) and that the whole church is missionary and therefore the ministry of evangelization is a fundamental duty of the people of God (Lumen Gentium, #5), Paul VI, in a very structured manner, addresses the various agents of evangelization and excludes no one from the obligation to evangelize.
The statement with regard to the Church being sent and having a mandate to evangelize the whole world should make us aware of a twofold conviction: evangelization is never an individual act but is profoundly ecclesial … a profound act of communion and a participation in the most important mission of the Church (Evangelii Nuntiandii, #60).
Paul VI refers to a distinctive perspective within a global vision: the perspective of the universal church and the perspective of the local church. Here I would like to highlight some key points. First of all with regard to adaptation and the use of language we read: Evangelization loses much of its force and effectiveness if it does not take into consideration the actual people to whom it is addressed, if it does not use their language, their signs and symbols, if it does not answer the questions they ask, and if it does not have an impact on their concrete live. But on the other hand evangelization risks losing its power and disappearing altogether if one empties or adulterates its content under the pretext of translating it; if, in other words, one sacrifices this reality and destroys the unity without which there is no universality (Evangelii Nuntiandi, #63).
Under the title “differing tasks” Paul VI presents the diversity of ministries that must be accomplished. This diversity of services in the unity of the same mission makes up the richness and the beauty of evangelization. In this section of the document (Evangelii Nuntiandi, #67-72) all the evangelizers, who are members of the new People of God, are referred to, that is, the successor of Peter, bishops and priests, religious, the laity, the family, young people.
Pope Francis states: The new evangelization calls for personal involvement on the part of each of the baptized. Every Christian is a missionary to the extent that he or she has encountered the love of God in Christ Jesus: we no longer say that we are “disciples” and “missionaries”, but rather that we are always “missionary disciples” (Evangelii Gaudium, #120).
Evangelizers filled with the spirit or the spirit of evangelization
In this section Pope Francis wants to place before us some reflections on the spirit of the new evangelization. Yet no words of encouragement will be enough unless the fire of the Holy Spirit burns in our hearts. A spirit-filled evangelization is one guided by the Holy Spirit, for he is the soul of the Church called to proclaim the Gospel (Evangelii Gaudium, #261).
Spirit-filled evangelizers are men and women who pray and work. Without prolonged moments of adoration, of prayerful encounter with the word, of sincere conversation with the Lord, our work easily becomes meaningless; we lose energy as a result of weariness and difficulties, and our fervor dies out (Evangelii Gaudium, #262).
Paul VI expressed similar fundamental convictions and ideas: Evangelization will never be possible without the action of the Holy Spirit. It is not by chance that the great inauguration of evangelization took place on the morning of Pentecost, under the inspiration of the Spirit (Evangelii Nuntiandi, #75).
As a result of this profound conviction Paul VI affirmed the following: techniques of evangelization are good, but even the most advanced ones could not replace the gentle action of the Spirit. The most perfect preparation for evangelization has no effect without the Holy Spirit. Without the Holy Spirit the most convincing dialectic has no power over the heart of men and women. Without him the most highly developed schemas resting on a sociological or psychological basis are quickly seen to be quite valueless (Evangelii Nuntiandi, #75).
When speaking about the fundamental convictions of evangelizers there is mention of the transforming ability of the Word. It is stated that the Church evangelizes as she seeks to convert, through the divine power of the Message she proclaims, both the personal and the collective consciences of people, the activities in which they engage and the lives and concrete milieu which are theirs (Evangelii Nuntiandi, #20). Once again I am reminded of Jesus’ words that are part of his discourse on the bread of life: The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life … We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God (John 6:63, 69).
Paul VI added other affirmations that I would like to summarize in a brief manner. It is often said that the present century thirsts for authenticity and this is especially true of young men and women. Either tacitly or aloud, but always forcefully, we are being asked: do you really believe what you are proclaiming? Do you live what you believe? Do you really preach what you live? The witness of life has become more than ever an essential condition for real effectiveness in preaching (cf., Evnagelii Nuntiandi, #76).
Beside the authentic witness of life Paul VI insisted that every evangelizer ought to be animated by other elements: they are to be servants of the truth, the truth which liberates and which alone gives peace of heart. The work of evangelization presupposes in the evangelizer an ever increasing love for those who are being evangelized. The Apostle Paul wrote the following words to the Thessalonians and those words are a program for all of us: With such yearning love we chose to impart to you not only the gospel of God but our very selves, so dear had you become to us (1 Thessalonians 2:8; Evangelii Nuntiandi, #78, 79).
The first motive to evangelize is the love of Jesus that has been given to us. The fact that we have been saved by Jesus should motivate us to love Jesus even more deeply. This conviction is sustained by our own experience which must be constantly renewed in accord with our relationship with Jesus and also in accord with Jesus’ message. Another important motive is expressed in the following words: to be evangelizers of souls, we need to develop a spiritual taste for being close to people’s lives and to discover that this is itself a source of greater joy. Mission is at once a passion for Jesus and a passion for his people. He takes us from the midst of his people and he sends us to his people; without this sense of belonging we cannot understand our deepest identity (Evangelii Gaudium, #268).
An attentive reading of both exhortations ought to make us ask questions on both a personal as well as a community level. Today we often speak about challenges and priorities, about fidelity to our charism and mission. We also speak about bold and creative responses, for example, the theme of the next General Assembly of the Daughters of Charity is the boldness of charity for a new missionary momentum.
Our enthusiasm as missionaries and our joy as evangelizers should be lived in an intense manner. Furthermore, we need to insist on the three priorities that are highlighted in the Church’s teaching if we want to confront in a responsible manner the challenge of evangelizing the poor, which is the purpose of the Congregation. That means that  we must deepen our awareness of our identity,  we must also live in a state of on-going conversion and renewal,  we must maintain an open and sincere dialogue with the present world, especially with the world of the poor and the world of those marginalized by society.
Are we willing and capable of responding to these challenges with the same boldness that was shown by the first disciples of Jesus and with the same passion and creativity that was manifested by our Founder as he listened to the cries of the poor and was attentive to the more urgent needs of the Church?
I conclude this presentation by calling upon Mary, the same way that both exhortations conclude: On the morning of Pentecost she watched over with her prayer the beginning of evangelization prompted by the Holy Spirit: may she be the Star of the evangelization ever renewed which the Church, docile to her Lord's command, must promote and accomplish, especially in these times which are difficult but full of hope! (Evangelii Nuntiandi, #82). We ask the Mother of the living Gospel to intercede that this invitation to a new phase of evangelization will be accepted by the entire ecclesial community (Evangelii Gaudium, #287).
- ↑ Pope Francis' Dialogue with the Superior Generals in Rome, November 27-29, 2013, http://www.africamission-mafr.org/Pope_Francis_meets_Superiors_General.pdf
Translated by: Charles Plock, CM