Ten years of EVANGELII GAUDIUM (part 3) - "The whole people of God proclaims the Gospel". The Church as a missionary people

Thursday, 23 November 2023

by Gianni Valente
Rome (Agenzia Fides) - The salvation that God offers us and that the Church proclaims, says the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium - "is the work of his mercy. No human efforts, however good they may be, can enable us to merit so great a gift" (§112). The entire programmatic letter of Pope Francis, whose publication marks the tenth anniversary tomorrow, repeats - citing Pope Benedict XVI - that in the dynamic of salvation proclaimed by the Church, "the first word, the true initiative, the true activity comes from God and only by inserting ourselves into the divine initiative, only begging for this divine initiative, shall we too be able to become – with him and in him – evangelizers". (§112).

A people, not a lobby

On the path of history - writes Pope Francis - the mystery of salvation works through the facts and instruments he has chosen. To show that the Salvation created by Him "and which the Church joyfully proclaims, is for everyone, God has found a way to unite himself to every human being in every age. He has chosen to call them together as a people and not as isolated individuals. No one - recalls Evangelii gaudium, quoting the Gospel of Matthew - "is saved by himself or herself, individually, or by his or her own efforts. God attracts us by taking into account the complex interweaving of personal relationships entailed in the life of a human community. This people which God has chosen and called is the Church. Jesus did not tell the apostles to form an exclusive and elite group. Jesus says: "Go and make disciples of all nations". (§113).
The people described by Evangelii Gaudium are therefore not a people of self-convenience, who come together and "build" their communities to pursue common objectives or on the basis of shared ideas or beliefs. What unites this people "sui generis" (Paul VI) is the very work of God who, "by his sheer grace, draws us to himself and makes us one with him. He sends his Spirit into our hearts to make us his children, transforming us" (§112).

The people of God - Evangelii gaudium also recognizes this - is not a political subject, a collective lobby which joins in self-promotion campaigns. It is the personal encounter with Jesus that unites people into a people. The people of those who met him and who began to follow him. This is why the Christian path is never a matter reserved for isolated careerists, for a handful of daring people, for those who have the tools and the knowledge, for restless climbers of who knows what ascetic and spiritual summit.
The Church - adds Evangelii gaudium - "is more than an organic and hierarchical institution; she is first and foremost a people advancing on its pilgrim way towards God". A "people of pilgrims and evangelizers". And "this way of understanding the Church" finds "its ultimate foundation in the free and gracious initiative of God" (§111).

Walking together to make the path easier

One of the underlying notes that runs through the entire text of Evangelii gaudium is the expression "facilitate".
The horizon of every apostolic work is to facilitate the encounter with Jesus or at least to remove the obstacles that stand in the way of his desire to heal and embrace everyone. This horizon also includes the recognition of the Church as a "people on mission". If you walk among a people and not alone, the path can become easier. And this people has “many faces”. The educated and the clever along with the wounded by life, the ignorant and the uninformed. Every day in church we see again what Jesus had in mind when he thanked the Father for hiding "these things" from the wise and revealing them to the little ones.

The Church as a missionary people (which is also the title of the valuable study by Father Fabio Nardelli ofm, published by Cittadella Editrice), which is described in Evangelii gaudium is not a collection of maneuvers, not a gathering of activists of an idea, a religion, a philosophy of life. It is simply a people of baptized people. The sign that unites and characterizes them is baptism. Their missionary status is not expressed in mobilizing themselves for events and activities that are in addition to the ordinary struggles of life. Their mission is fulfilled simply by living the gift of faith in the environment in which they find themselves, amidst the ordinary dynamics and unexpected events, the constraints and limitations of daily life.
"Today, as the Church seeks to experience a profound missionary renewal " we read in the Apostolic Exhortation "there is a kind of preaching which falls to each of us as a daily responsibility. It has to do with bringing the Gospel to the people we meet, whether they be our neighbours or complete strangers. This is the informal preaching which takes place in the middle of a conversation, something along the lines of what a missionary does when visiting a home. Being a disciple means being constantly ready to bring the love of Jesus to others, and this can happen unexpectedly and in any place: on the street, in a city square, during work, on a journey". (§127).
These words are in agreement with Lumen Gentium, the dogmatic Constitution of the Second Vatican Council, which describes the proper vocation of the laity as those who "the proper vocation of the laity consists of seeking the reign of God precisely through the stewardship of temporal things that they ordain according to God. They live in the middle of the century, that is to say engaged in all the various duties and works of the world, in the ordinary conditions of family and social life of which their existence is woven. They are called there by God that by exercising their proper function and led by the spirit of the Gospel they may work for the sanctification of the world from within as a leaven. In this way they may make Christ known to others, especially by the testimony of a life resplendent in faith, hope and charity". (LG31).

The temptation to "clericalize the laity"

The mission of the Church as a "missionary people" - as it says in the apostolic exhortation "Evangelii gaudium", which also deals with topics that came into the focus of the media during the recent synod on the synodality of the church - does not manifest itself primarily in an effort to "redistribute" roles and powers in the church apparatus, as happens in corporate restructuring. In the apostolic exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium” only one paragraph is dedicated exclusively to the “lay people”. The word "laity" appears a total of 13 times throughout the text of the letter, while the word "bishops" appears 25 times. Implicitly, Pope Francis' intolerance for the forms of "clericalization of the laity" that he has so often evoked in his speeches and homilies also finds an echo in Evangelii gaudium. When he thinks of “clericalism,” said the current Bishop of Rome on February 17, 2022, in his address at a symposium on the theology of the priesthood, he also thinks of the “clericalization of the laity,” of the emergence of a small elite, which around the priest also distorts the basic mission of the laity. (Agenzia Fides, 23/11/2023)