by Kevin Cody
There is a lot of excitement around the leadership of Pope Francis.
This is true both within and outside of the Church. At the time of this writing, he recently had been named Time Magazine’s Person of the Year.
The primary resource that people have turned to for Pope Francis’s viewpoints is his first apostolic exhortation, titled Evengelii Gaudium (“On the Proclamation of the Gospel in Today’s World”). I, too, am enthusiastic about his approach and vision of evangelization and catechesis.
What I would like to do here is to extract portions of his 220-page exhortation that I think will/can have an impact on catechetical leaders as we evaluate and make improvements to our efforts in evangelism and catechesis. There is no way I could highlight them all in this rather short column, so I will give attention to how Pope Francis perceives our call to evangelize.
This “Great Stream of Joy”
Pope Francis invites Christians everywhere to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, “or at least an openness to letting him encounter them” (n. 3). In his experience, the Lord doesn’t disappoint those willing to take the risk. The Old Testament predicted the joy of salvation, and the Gospel constantly invites us to rejoice.
Pope Francis asks, “Why should we not also enter into this great stream of joy?” (n. 5) We can experience it daily as a response to the loving invitation of the Father. How can we, as catechetical leaders, not be enthusiastic about being part of this kind of new evangelization?
Pope Francis reminds us of our motivation in answering the call to catechetical ministry: “For if we have received the love which restores meaning to our lives, how can we fail to share that love with others?” (n. 8) “If we wish to lead a dignified and fulfilling life, we have to reach out to others and seek their good” (n. 9).
Francis reminds us of our duty to proclaim the gospel without excluding anyone. Instead of appearing to be imposing new requirements on people, we should appear as individuals who want to share our joy. “It is not by proselytizing that the Church grows, but by attraction” (n. 15). Francis notes that the precepts that Christ and the Apostles gave to their followers are very few. He cites St. Augustine as saying, “The precepts subsequently enjoined by the Church should be insisted upon with moderation so as not to burden the lives of the faithful and make our religion a form of servitude, whereas God’s mercy has willed that we should be free” (n. 43).
Francis maintains that this warning is very timely today and ought to be used as a criteria in our reform efforts designed to enable us to reach everyone. For example, he states that sometimes we can act as “arbiters of grace” rather than facilitators when there is no good reason when someone, moved by the Spirit, is kept from the Sacraments that are “not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak” (n. 47).
Francis encourages us to have heart in the wake of the scandals and failures of members of the Church. He says to be fair, he must point out that the contribution of the Church in today’s world is enormous. He says that the pain and shame that we feel “must never make us forget how many Christians are giving their lives in love,” including “those who devote themselves to the education of children and young people” (n. 76). He warns that with the media’s skepticism and cynicism toward the Church’s message, we can develop a sort of inferiority complex that can lead us to relativize or hide our convictions. This can end up stifling the joy of our mission, and cause our work of evangelization to become forced. He expresses his gratitude for the “beautiful example given to me by so many Christians who joyfully sacrifice their lives and their time” (n. 76).
In order for us to communicate that joy, Francis advises that we shouldn’t look like “sourpusses” who have just come back from a funeral, and encourages us to recover and deepen our enthusiasm so that “the world of our time, which is searching, sometimes with anguish, sometimes with hope, be enabled to receive the good news not from evangelizers who are dejected, discouraged, impatient or anxious, but from ministers of the Gospel whose lives glow with fervor” (n. 10) This should be done with mercy and patience so that even small steps can be made toward the comfort and attraction of God’s saving love (see n. 44).
It is our conviction that it is God who calls us to this ministry to cooperate with him, and it is God who leads us, guides us, provokes us, and accompanies us, “that enables us to maintain a spirit of joy in the midst of a task so demanding and challenging that it engages our entire life. God asks everything of us, yet at the same time he offers everything to us” (n. 12).
Kevin Cody is the Director for Religious Education at St. Alphonsus Parish in Lemont, IL. He is a past president of the National Association of Parish Catechetical Directors and currently serves on the Archdiocese of Chicago Advisory Board and on the board of the Chicago Association of Religious Educators.
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This article was written by the Catechist Staff and appeared in Catechist magazine, August 2014.
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