This section of Evangelii Gaudium wraps up the brief discussion of that evangelical Church, the one that “goes forth.” Pope Francis urges “Taking the first step, being involved and supportive, bearing fruit and rejoicing.” Let’s look at these efforts, not necessarily mutually exclusive, but building on and supporting one another. I’ll chop up the narrative of the section with some brief comments. Please feel free to add your own below.
First, a “member” of the Church is definied explicitly as a “missionary disciple.”
24. 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.
On another blog recently, I was discussing with a more traditional-leaning Catholic. He cited the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. Have these formulas, their presentation as lists, outlived their usefulness? Are we being urged to evangelization? And isn’t the following, a call to do so as a community?
An evangelizing community knows that the Lord has taken the initiative, he has loved us first (cf. 1 Jn 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. Such a community has an endless desire to show mercy, the fruit of its own experience of the power of the Father’s infinite mercy.
Pope Francis recognizes God takes the initiative with us. Our response is a response of gratitude. As the Lord has done for us, so we pass on with our best effort at accuracy. Yes, Christians emphasize their personal salvation and take joy in it. But soon, the believer is called to move beyond self-congratulation. The basic outreach of Christ is to show mercy–it’s what we petition in every penitential rite at almost every Mass, remember? We can’t save other people. But we can strive to show mercy.
Pope Francis doesn’t advocate one big leap, one huge gulp. Each believer “tries a little harder.” We are urged to make an improved effort. We are invited to involvement:
Let us try a little harder to take the first step and to become involved. Jesus washed the feet of his disciples. The Lord gets involved and he involves his own, as he kneels to wash their feet. He tells his disciples: “You will be blessed if you do this” (Jn 13:17). An evangelizing community gets involved by word and deed in people’s daily lives; it bridges distances, it is willing to abase itself if necessary, and it embraces human life, touching the suffering flesh of Christ in others. Evangelizers thus take on the “smell of the sheep” and the sheep are willing to hear their voice. An evangelizing community is also supportive, standing by people at every step of the way, no matter how difficult or lengthy this may prove to be. It is familiar with patient expectation and apostolic endurance.
We are urged to patience, and also a reliance on the Holy Spirit to move people as we do our part:
Evangelization consists mostly of patience and disregard for constraints of time. Faithful to the Lord’s gift, it also bears fruit. An evangelizing community is always concerned with fruit, because the Lord wants her to be fruitful. It cares for the grain and does not grow impatient at the weeds. The sower, when he sees weeds sprouting among the grain does not grumble or overreact. He or she finds a way to let the word take flesh in a particular situation and bear fruits of new life, however imperfect or incomplete these may appear.
The disciple is not perfect, but faithful. The disciple does not make enemies. This next section strikes me as a repudiation of the culturewar, the incessant urge to be adversaries of others, even those within the Church:
The disciple is ready to put his or her whole life on the line, even to accepting martyrdom, in bearing witness to Jesus Christ, yet the goal is not to make enemies but to see God’s word accepted and its capacity for liberation and renewal revealed.
This section seems directed to sourpusses:
Finally an evangelizing community is filled with joy; it knows how to rejoice always. It celebrates at every small victory, every step forward in the work of evangelization. Evangelization with joy becomes beauty in the liturgy, as part of our daily concern to spread goodness. The Church evangelizes and is herself evangelized through the beauty of the liturgy, which is both a celebration of the task of evangelization and the source of her renewed self-giving.
This seems where so many of us have gone off the rails. I know that I can more carefully look within to my moments of discouragement, and see these as counterproductive to the Gospel and unbecoming of a disciple.
I like the affirmation of small victories. As a campus minister, I see the value in small words of affirmation. Things may not have gone perfectly, but searching the experience, can I find some small aspect and praise the participant genuinely? Then can I thank God?