Pascha IV

Pascha IV: The Joy of the Gospel
This is the second in a series of reflections on the Apostolic Exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel (Evangelii Gaudium) of Pope Francis of Rome. Chapter 2. Bracketed [ ] numbers refer to paragraph numbers in the Exhortation.

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Have you noticed how Pope Francis immerses himself in crowds and does not let himself be separated from the people? People energize Francis; the embraces, smiles, the risk of the face-to-face encounter [88] with people who are deformed, imprisoned, children; anyone who reaches out for him. He has chosen the Domus Sanctae Marthae as his residence – Suite 201 rather than the Apostolic Palace. He lives, prays and eats with the workers of the Vatican City State and Saint Peter’s Basilica. Francis does not isolate himself from people and continues to go beyond the directives of the people hired to protect and guard him. Nothing and no one will be allowed to separate him from God’s people.

In contrast, Chapter 2 of his Apostolic Exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel, can be heard, like the Commandments of Sinai, as a series of “Thou shalt nots” against the patterns and choices of life on global and personal levels that separate us from each other: the original sin. The difficulty with “Thou shalt nots” is that they are heard for what they are; clear limitations on what we perceive to be freedom when what we desire is not freedom but license. License understood as unrestrained excess. The freedom Jesus offers us and lives is a true freedom which entails limits and responsibilities. Jesus freely chooses to limit himself and put aside his prerogatives as God to become a slave to humanity [See Philippians 2:6ff]. Jesus chooses not to separate himself from humanity but to be so intimately linked with us that in Jesus God become a human being. The Incarnation overturns and repeals the sin of the garden.

The act of disobedience in the garden separated humanity from God, the animals and the earth. Thus this second chapter is entitled Amid the Crisis of Communal Commitment. The emphasis in the original sin is on the individual not the community or the common good. Francis writes, “We should recognize how in a culture where each person wants to be bearer of his or her own subjective truth, it becomes difficult for citizens to devise a common plan which transcends individual gain and personal ambitions.” [61]

What are the aspects of contemporary life that separate us rather than offering us and fulfilling the promise of a truly human-centered world?

Francis says NO to economic systems that exclude people; that treat humans as consumer goods to be used and discarded. [53]  His questions are keen:

  • How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?
  • Can we continue to stand by when food is thrown away while people are starving?

Francis says NO to idolatry. People consider idolatry an aspect of the lives of ancient peoples but Francis reminds us the “golden calf” [cf. Exodus 32:1-35] continues to rear its head in our generation as the idolatry of money and consumption; this insatiable desire for more, often at the expense of human relationship. “Money must serve, not rule!” [58]

NO to that which causes inequality among people and thus spawns violence. Consider what underlies the violence in our world from Ferguson to Yemen; Ukraine to human trafficking; Central African Republic to the Islamic State; the drowning of migrants heading for Europe to Nigeria. The world is filled with discontent and “until exclusion and inequality in society and between peoples are reversed, it will be impossible to eliminate violence. The poor and the poorer peoples are accused of violence, yet without equal opportunities the different forms of aggression and conflict will find a fertile terrain for growth and eventually explode.” [59]

These aspects of contemporary life separate us from each other. But Francis continues by also looking within his Church. Grateful to the members of the Catholic community who devote themselves giving their lives in love for others and acknowledging the great contribution the church makes to the world, [76] he does not shy away from an honest critique.

What separates Christian from Christian; Christian from other people? Francis sees…

  • An inordinate concern among clergy, pastoral workers and laity for personal freedom and relaxation; avoiding responsibilities that may take away from our free time. [78]
  • Our apostolic work and responsibilities seen as an appendage to life rather than our very Christian identity. [78]
  • A cooling of fervor and lack of adequate motivation. [78] When was the last time you stepped forward when volunteers were requested?
  • In the light of sexual abuse and financial scandals, the closing of churches and schools [84] Francis sees a defeatism among us rather than a trust in the Holy Spirit and the triumphant cross.

Francis calls us to overcome our suspicions, mistrust, defensiveness and fear of losing our privacy. [88] Privacy being one of the great illusions of our culture as every piece of technology we use tracks our calls to our consumer purchases.

The most critical remark and NO of Francis to Christians is the warring among ourselves caused by envy and jealousy. Francis deescalates the situation by writing, “We are all in the same boat and headed to the same port! Let us ask for the grace to rejoice in the gifts of each, which belong to all.” [99] His remedy for this situation in the Christian community? We all have our likes and dislikes,…to pray for a person with whom I am irritated is a beautiful step forward in love, and an act of evangelization. Let us do it today! [101]

To make such a prayer is to put at the heart of our lives a human person.
It is the human person which is at the heart of Francis’ preaching and life choices.
It is the human person that is at the heart of the Gospel.
It is the human being that is at the heart of God’s love;
a love so deep it caused God to became a human being.

And so the apostle Paul was able to believe and write:
“For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” [Romans 8:38-39]

In turn, what Francis is reminding us of is that nothing should separate us from each other.

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