Ten years of EVANGELII GAUDIUM (Part 4). The mission, the "sensus fidei" of the People of God and popular piety

Friday, 24 November 2023 mission   evangelization   pope francis   spirituality   popular worship  

by Gianni Valente
Rome (Agenzia Fides) - After the Lord Jesus ascended into heaven - as the Gospel of Mark - his disciples "went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the Word through accompanying signs". The Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii gaudium, which Pope Francis published on November 24, 2013, exactly ten years ago, affirms that even today the faith, charity and mission of Christians can only be moved by the impact with what Jesus and the Spirit operate in the present.
There is also in today's world - according to "Evangelii gaudium" - a reality that has a kind of elective kinship that benefits it in recognizing the deeds and works of the Lord in the present. There is a People of God, gathered and loved by Jesus who, in turn, continues to ask for his presence and comfort in the tribulations of life. Who entrusts his expectations to the words of simple prayers.
The Holy Spirit - writes Pope Francis in the Exhortation - guides the People of God "in truth and leads it to salvation". The work of the Holy Spirit - the Bishop of Rome continued, furnishes the totality of the faithful with an "instinct" of faith – sensus fidei - which helps them to discern what is truly of God. "In all the baptized, from first to last, the sanctifying power of the Spirit is at work impelling us to evangelization", the Pontiff recalls. The people of God is holy thanks to this anointing, which makes it infallible "in credendo". This means that it does not err in faith, even though it may not find words to explain that faith" (§119).

Preference for God's people is part of the mystery of God's love for humanity. "God furnishes the totality of the faithful with an "instinct" of faith – sensus fidei - which helps them to discern what is truly of God. "The presence of the Spirit" insists the Pontiff "gives Christians a certain connaturality with divine realities, and a wisdom which enables them to grasp those realities intuitively, even when they lack the wherewithal to give them precise expression". (§119).

The sensus fidei of the People of God, gift of the Spirit and sign of his preference, is shown - as Evangelii Gaudium affirms - with unique force in what Evangelii Gaudium calls the "spirituality" or "popular piety". The free and grateful movement of the people of God to the shrines to entrust themselves to Jesus, Mary and the Saints, without having to follow pastoral plans. Of these gestures and practices one can say that a people continuously evangelizes itself", and which must be recognized as "a true expression of the spontaneous missionary activity of the people of God" (§122).
The Apostolic Exhortation quotes the "Aparecida Document" (fruit of the V Assembly of CELAM, held in July 2007) which describes "the riches which the Holy Spirit pours forth in popular piety by his gratuitous initiative" (§124). Popular piety, "a spirituality incarnated in the culture of the lowly" - Pope Francis reiterates in Evangelii gaudium - "brings with itself the grace of being a missionary, of coming out of oneself and setting out on pilgrimage: "Journeying together to shrines and taking part in other manifestations of popular piety, also by taking one’s children or inviting others, is in itself an evangelizing gesture". (§124).
Pope Francis invites everyone to "Appreciate the theological life present in the piety of Christian peoples, especially among their poor. I think of the steadfast faith of those mothers tending their sick children who, though perhaps barely familiar with the articles of the creed, cling to a rosary; or of all the hope poured into a candle lighted in a humble home with a prayer for help from Mary, or in the gaze of tender love directed to Christ crucified". Evangelii gaudium also calls for these gestures not to be seen as expressions of the natural search for the Divine, because "No one who loves God’s holy people", writes the Pope, "will view these actions as the expression of a purely human search for the divine. They are the manifestation of a theological life nourished by the working of the Holy Spirit who has been poured into our hearts" (§125). For this reason, underlying popular piety, "as a fruit of the inculturated Gospel, is an active evangelizing power which we must not underestimate: to do so would be to fail to recognize the work of the Holy Spirit" (§126).
In the preface written for Enrique Ciro Bianchi's book on the Theology of the People, Pope Francis affirms that "popular spirituality is not the Cinderella of the house. It is not those who don't understand, who don't know. I get upset when someone says: "We have to educate them". We are always haunted by the specter of the Enlightenment, this ideological-nominalistic reduction that leads us to ignore concrete reality. And God wanted to speak to us through concrete realities. The first heresy of the Church is Gnosticism, which the Apostle John criticized and condemned. Even today there can be Gnostic positions regarding this fact of spirituality or popular piety.

In the spirituality of the people, according to Evangelii Gaudium, love for Jesus, Mary and the saints manifests itself as gratitude for the experience and recognition of the fact of being loved. The late Argentine priest Rafael Tello, the father of
"Theology of the People" together with Father Lucio Gera, called on us to distance ourselves from the "deplorable confusion" that has prevailed in pastoral practice in recent decades: the misunderstanding shared by many - and often nurtured by good intentions – that the gift of the sacraments coincides with a certain degree of "spiritual awareness" of Christian doctrine, which must be acquired through preparatory courses along the lines of vocational training courses. If many still recognize the sacraments as gratuitous gestures of the Lord, this is not so much due to the strategies of the clergy, but rather to the “sensus fidei” that the spirituality of the people preserves in the faithful. "This custom of gestures and practices," wrote Father Tello at the time, "with which the people evangelize themselves, 'better than even priests usually do', and of which the concern for the baptism of their children is "the most important manifestation". "Through these paths", explained Father Tello in his most passionate homilies and lectures, "leads the path most used by our people, which we call sacramental: a sensitive fact (the rite of baptism) perceived as a sign that God takes them for himself. This is how it is for our people. He takes the child who is to be baptized and clothes him with Christ. This is Catholicism in the deepest sense of the word: I bring the child to him; maybe he will live like a wretch, but he is already clothed with Christ". (Agenzia Fides, 24/11/2023)