The mark of a great coach is to push all his players to become better, whether they’re plumbers or superstars. In Evangelii Gaudium, I sense the Holy Father is masterfully aiming to accomplish this by pushing on Catholics who consider themselves to be faithful.
Pope Francis knows that “faithful” Catholics assent to the Church’s doctrines, but often fail with respect to evangelization and acts of mercy. We often delegate this responsibility by cutting a check to some soup kitchen or organization that does evangelization. That’s not good enough, he says. We need to step out of the witness protection program. The Holy Father is rightly pushing us to become more than we are. His words can be uncomfortable to read, but if we’re honest, most of us will recognize ourselves in one or more of these excerpts.
Some of us love leisure too much:
At a time when we most need a missionary dynamism which will bring salt and light to the world, many lay people fear that they may be asked to undertake some apostolic work and they seek to avoid any responsibility that may take away from their free time.
Some of us are paralyzed pessimists:
One of the more serious temptations which stifles boldness and zeal is a defeatism which turns us into querulous and disillusioned pessimists, “sourpusses”. Nobody can go off to battle unless he is fully convinced of victory beforehand. If we start without confidence, we have already lost half the battle and we bury our talents.
Some of us have checked-out prematurely and run for the hills:
Many try to escape from others and take refuge in the comfort of their privacy or in a small circle of close friends, renouncing the realism of the social aspect of the Gospel. For just as some people want a purely spiritual Christ, without flesh and without the cross, they also want their interpersonal relationships provided by sophisticated equipment, by screens and systems which can be turned on and off on command. Meanwhile, the Gospel tells us constantly to run the risk of a face-to-face encounter with others, with their physical presence which challenges us, with their pain and their pleas, with their joy which infects us in our close and continuous interaction.
Then there are perennial critics:
Instead, we waste time talking about “what needs to be done” – in Spanish we call this the sin of “habriaqueísmo” – like spiritual masters and pastoral experts who give instructions from on high. We indulge in endless fantasies and we lose contact with the real lives and difficulties of our people (…)
It always pains me greatly to discover how some Christian communities, and even consecrated persons, can tolerate different forms of enmity, division, calumny, defamation, vendetta, jealousy and the desire to impose certain ideas at all costs, even to persecutions which appear as veritable witch hunts. Whom are we going to evangelize if this is the way we act?
And the nostalgics and thinkers:
In some people we see an ostentatious preoccupation for the liturgy, for doctrine and for the Church’s prestige, but without any concern that the Gospel have a real impact on God’s faithful people and the concrete needs of the present time. In this way, the life of the Church turns into a museum piece or something which is the property of a select few (…) The mark of Christ, incarnate, crucified and risen, is not present; closed and elite groups are formed, and no effort is made to go forth and seek out those who are distant or the immense multitudes who thirst for Christ. (…)
We cannot demand that peoples of every continent, in expressing their Christian faith, imitate modes of expression which European nations developed at a particular moment of their history, because the faith cannot be constricted to the limits of understanding and expression of any one culture. It is an indisputable fact that no single culture can exhaust the mystery of our redemption in Christ.
Finally, those that anonymously frequent the sacraments and don’t create a sense of community:
Isolation, which is a version of immanentism, can find expression in a false autonomy which has no place for God. But in the realm of religion it can also take the form of a spiritual consumerism tailored to one’s own unhealthy individualism.
Ouch. I certainly recognize myself in some of those quotes. While these words are painful, they are most welcome and needed. The Holy Father has a gift of cutting through the pleasantries and getting to the core of the matter. It’s as if he’s telling us that we’re kidding ourselves if we think that assenting to the right doctrines is somehow sufficient to dispense us of evangelization and acts of mercy. Dare I say that some of us have almost dissented from Jesus’ call to evangelize, because we don’t feel the imperative to do it. He’s not the only one to notice this problem. Dr. Janet Smith recent wrote:
It is undoubtedly true that some of us love truth more than we love those we serve. That is not a Christian attitude. (Source)
The Holy Father is on to something. Without realizing it, some of us have veered close to a form of Gnosticism.
God bless Pope Francis for challenging us to greater things.