A brief section of Evangelii Gaudium today, in which Pope Francis offers the first half of a discourse on “The kingdom and its challenge.” As we’ve heard, the Church is not a personal encounter experience nor is it a public service organization:
180. Reading the Scriptures also makes it clear that the Gospel is not merely about our personal relationship with God. Nor should our loving response to God be seen simply as an accumulation of small personal gestures to individuals in need, a kind of “charity à la carte”, or a series of acts aimed solely at easing our conscience.
These can be feel-good experiences, and as such, they turn the spiritual journey or an effort to serve into an exercise in narcissism. How do we avoid that?
The Gospel is about the kingdom of God (cf. Lk 4:43); it is about loving God who reigns in our world. To the extent that he reigns within us, the life of society will be a setting for universal fraternity, justice, peace and dignity. Both Christian preaching and life, then, are meant to have an impact on society. We are seeking God’s kingdom: “Seek first God’s kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Mt 6:33). Jesus’ mission is to inaugurate the kingdom of his Father; he commands his disciples to proclaim the good news that “the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Mt 10:7).
When the Gospel effort is directed at all people, not just subsets or even individuals, and when Christ is proclaimed as the central message–this is when we are close to faithfulness. When we individuals are serious about listening to input from others (and not just hearing unpleasant news) and when we can submit to a collective discernment we’ve shared with others–then we can be more reasonably sure we are working for God, and not just our personal image of who we want God to be.