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 of Malta on Saturday.
By Andrea Tornielli
Addressing around three thousand people gathered Saturday afternoon outside the Ta’ Pinu shrine on the Maltese island of Gozo, Pope Francis explored the essentials of faith.
Many were struck by his spontaneous remark: “The joy of the Church is to evangelize”.
Pope Francis did not repeat it once, but seven times.
He concluded each paragraph by repeating that the joy of the Church is the act of evangelization: Evangelii gaudiumtitle of his Apostolic Exhortation of November 2013 which has become the roadmap of his pontificate.
Returning to origins, the pope said, is not a vague notion of improbable plunges into the distant past, nor the idealization of eras never to return.
To return to the origins means to return to the essential, that is to say to rediscover the spirit of the first Christian community, to listen to the heart of the 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.
Consequently, the concern of the Church cannot and must not be that of the prestige of the community and of its ministers. It cannot and should not be his social influence, that is, a desire to “count”, to be “relevant” on the world stage, in society or in places of power. It cannot and should not be the search for a zone of influence and attention.
Nor can the concern of the Church be the refinement of worship, that is, seeking to perfect liturgical ceremonies at the risk of becoming what Joseph Ratzinger called “an empty theatre”.
The desire to announce and bear witness, while trying to find all the possible means to help the men and women of our time to encounter the living Jesus: this is what moved the disciples of Jesus Christ, the Nazarene, and what moves those who testify of the gospel today.
In other words, the joy of the Church is to evangelize, that is, to spread the joy of the Christian message.
Be open to risk
It is significant that nine years after his election as Bishop of Rome, Pope Francis still returns to Evangelii gaudiumits most important and perhaps least understood message.
The message it contains has encountered resistance, but has also risked and still risks being transformed 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 that the Pope strongly desires for the whole Church is not exempt from the risk of being “normalized” in ecclesiastical bureaucracies, instead opening us up to risk and openness with a listening ear for impetus renewed missionary.
There is, however, a litmus test, Pope Francis explained, to see to what extent the Church is imbued with the spirit of the Gospel.
This decisive test is precisely the welcome and the free help offered to those who suffer.
The pope addressed the faithful on Malta, an island that has been a ‘haven of peace’ over the centuries, and the landing place where St Paul arrived and where early Christians were treated ‘with unusual kindness “.
“We cannot welcome each other only to the shelter of our beautiful churches, while outside so many of our brothers and sisters suffer, crucified by pain, poverty and violence,” the Pope said, making echo the words of the Father of the Church, Saint John. Chrysostom.
In one of his famous sermons, the Saint said, “Do you want to honor the Body of the Saviour? Don’t despise him when he’s naked. Do not honor him in church with silk garments while outside he is naked and numb with cold.
Today, as two thousand years ago, the Church is being offered the same litmus test as a measure of its faith.