Monday 27 January 2014

EG, Chapter 5.

Since 1975 the renewal of the Church on the basis of a new evangelisation has been led by the Popes. A desire for renewal in the Church (in the UK and Europe) has not been particularly evident at all during this time. That part of the Church which has so far best responded to the papal initiatives has been the new ecclesial movements.
On the other hand, we have experienced a call for reform in the Church in recent decades, a movement led by some bishops, priests, religious and lay people, a reform which has desired a secularisation of the Church and her accommodation to the world. This movement, although false in its vision, is still apparent forty years on, and has led sectors of the Church into a self-referential, neo-pelagian, cul-de-sac.
The call to a new evangelisation then, on the part of four successive Popes is not without precedent. The Catholic Reformation required at least half a century of Papal enablement just to begin to turn the Church's vision to her goal during that era. 
A growing desire for the Church of the New Evangelisation, by a large part of the baptised in the UK and Europe, is itself an essential element of what presently constitutes the New Evangelisation. The message of Pope Francis in this Exhortation is an important part of the nurturing of this desire.
In my opinion, Chapter 5 is the most important part of the Letter. In paragraph 262 he points to the heart of the New Evangelisation as it currently is: it is prayer and work. What shape the New Evangelisation will have is not yet clear, but it will have at its foundation prayer and work. In the past we have seen monastic and missionary responses from the Church. Today, the response is by a renewal of prayer and work in parishes.
Again, the Holy Father states that the New Evangelisation is not a set of tasks to be carried out, but is the soul of the Church who is called to proclaim the Gospel.
The call of the New Evangelisation is a call to change hearts: we must look beyond our own proposals to the Gospel itself. In order to do this we need a 'new interior space'. And that also we cannot let the prevailing culture set the agenda or the tone for the Church.
Paragraphs 264 - 274 express the concrete reality of evangelisation and time should be given to reading and reflecting on this part.
Then in paragraphs 275 - 280 the Holy Father proposes certain criteria by which, as  baptised people, we can genuinely evaluate our attitude.
The Pope then emphasises the place of prayer of intercession and thanksgiving at the centre of the Church today.
Finally, he speaks very beautifully about the Mother of the New Evangelisation, how we need her, how she is our model. The prayer which ends the Exhortation seeks to bring the soul of the Church together with her soul that they might resonate in unison.
The New Evangelisation is the character and ethos of the Church; may we all be formed by the Church, becoming Spirit-filled evangelisers.     

Sunday 26 January 2014

EG, Chapter 4.

If Pope Francis is turning the Church from being self-referential towards a new engagement with her objective mission, then Chapter 4 of the new Letter does this with broad brush strokes. He sets the New Evangelisation in relief by the way he refers to the poor of the world and the common good. The social dimension of evangelisation is not an 'add on', but is integral to the Gospel.
Just as we can't speak of personal morality apart from social morality, or the Spiritual life apart from the moral life, or doctrine apart from Scripture or Liturgy, so "to evangelise is to make the Kingdom of God present in our world." Indeed, what will generate new convictions about the need to address all forms of social disfuntionality in our world, if not the Gospel!
So, we can see our mission in a limited way by trying to make converts, when at root what we are actually called to do is to witness to our faith.
Or, we can see our mission as evangelism - a 'one off' announcement of the Gospel, when in fact we are called to communicate Christ at all times and in any way.
Or, we can see our mission as trying to fit into the surrounding culture in a syncretistic way, when in fact we are called to dialogue with the culture from the very ground of truth itself. 
No, evangelisation is not an element of the Christian life, but is our primary focus.
(In paragraph 254 in this chapter the Holy Father quotes the Enchiridion Vaticanum. For my part, I don't understand why he put this quote here and would like to see it qualified further.) 

1962 Missal.

Just a note to say that I will be celebrating Holy Mass tomorrow, Monday 27th January at 7.30pm, according to the 1962 Missal. St Ignatius' in Ossett. WF5 0DQ.

Thursday 23 January 2014

EG, Chapter 3.

How does one go about renewing the Church on the foundation of mission? How does one go about renewing the Church in a self-referencial age, an age whose vision is filled with what I like, what I think, what I want? The Holy Father is doing it by gently setting the tone himself.
In Chapter 3 of his Letter he looks at the ways in which the Church evangelises, reminding and suggesting these timeless ways in which we set out to communicate Christ.
In the first part of the chapter he speaks about four ways of evangelisation: through popular devotions, by person to person, through the charisms, and by bringing faith and culture together. There is no doubt that groups and communities will benefit by a reflective reading of what the Pope says here.
He then goes on to speak about preaching in the Liturgy. Following on from Benedict XVI, Francis' teaching on this subject is most welcome. Indeed, a renewed understanding of preaching and the formation of the preacher is taking place in the Church. I am happy to say that this was also the case in the Seminary of the Good Shepherd during my time on the staff. The Holy Father's emphasis in this section is that the preacher should be more concerned to warm hearts than to tickle the imagination.
In the next section the Holy Father speaks about the importance of the kerygma - initial proclamation - and a full catechesis, together with a concern for the 'way of beauty' - opening the person to the beauty of following Christ. Finally he speaks about the art of accompaniment - the way in which we accompany people into the mystery of Christ. Evangelisation is not about buying someone a train ticket and telling them when to get off, but is about going with someone on a journey.
And, as the Holy Father says at the beginning of this chapter, this is the task which belongs to every baptised person.


Saturday 18 January 2014

EG, Chapter 2.

In my reading of Evangelii Gaudium, Chapter 2 is the most challenging part for here the Holy Father sits us, as it were, before a mirror, and asks us to honestly critique ourselves. The basis focus of this Chapter is an openness to the Church's reluctance to engage in evangelisation.
The Pope's starting point is Ignatian discernment, which he here uses on behalf of the Church Universal. It is not an easy read. He speaks openly about the many 'reasons' why Catholics find the call to evangelisation a great challenge.
He begins by speaking about the economic situation in the world, a situation which must change in favour of the poor by allowing wealth to "trickle down" through the culture motivated by ethics, and an ethics which is itself inspired by the Gospel.
Then, venturing into the territory of the Church he speaks about how a process of secularisation has entered into the Church, turning our focus away from Christ and onto self, and of how culture itself now inhibits our evangelising fervour. He then lists the ways in which Catholics respond inadequately to the call to evangelise: through retreating into piety, through retreating from modern culture and the culture of the modern city, through retreating into life-styles which conceal our Christian identity, through embracing the tomb-psychology of the "grey pragmatism of the daily life of the Church", and through an attitude of defeatism; all of which lead to pastoral inertia. 
The last paragraphs of this Chapter are perhaps the most difficult of all, for they call each one of us to a prayerful conversion to Christ, and to an honest discernment of the temptations by which I have accepted a distortion of the Gospel, so that I can become newly aware of how God is calling me to live and respond now. For indeed we are called to evangelical fervour.

Wednesday 15 January 2014

EG, Section 1.

If we are looking for the Holy Father to give some defined structure to the New Evangelisation in his new Exhortation, we will not find it presented in a systematic way. In Section One of the Letter, Pope Francis does not give us a rationale for the New Evangelisation - this was given by Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI - but rather, he seeks to change the attitude of the Church; that with a changed attitude, one 'sees' the New Evangelisation and the need for it. (Changing attitudes is, as we know from our own lives, generally a slow process!)
However, I am very much moved by Section 1 of this Letter as the Holy Father speaks of the New Evangelisation as a new era of the Church in which she turns from being a Church of maintenance to being a Church of Mission. The Holy Father does give a concise definition of evangelisation, one which is worth using since the very word 'evangelisation' can put some people off. He calls it simply, "communicating Jesus Christ." 
Important elements in the guiding pastoral hand of the Pope are:
Paragraph 21: that "each Christian and community must discern the path which the Lord points out." It is the Lord's vineyard, not ours, so we have got to listen to Him.
Paragraph 23: "Communion and mission are profoundly interconnected." Indeed, these two words describe the Church.
Paragraph 24: "An evangelising community gets involved by word and deed in people's lives", even to taking on "the smell of the sheep." Self-referenciality is already dead in the water!
Paragraph 25: "Mere administration cannot be enough; let us be permanently in a state of mission." Aren't these words of the Pope wonderful!
Paragraph 27: "I dream of a … missionary impulse capable of transforming everything (about the Church) for the evangelisation of today's world rather than her self-preservation." In this part the Holy Father alludes to the need to reform structures in the Church, but we are at the very beginning of the NE and how the Church will look in the future is not clear to anyone yet.
Paragraph 28: The parish must become "nearer to people … environments for living communion and participation, and completely mission-oriented." These are words that just won't go away. We may wriggle and squirm, but the Pope has said it.
Paragraph 33: "Pastoral ministry in a missionary key … seeks to abandon the complacent attitude that says: "We have always done it this way."' And then, perhaps most importantly the Pope says, "The important thing is not to walk alone." Priests, for one, cannot manage alone in the New Evangelisation.
Paragraph 45 is very beautiful with the Holy Father describing the Christian life from the perspective of a missionary heart. This is a paragraph which we should each take into Adoration.
I'll post on Section Two next.

Saturday 4 January 2014

Francis and the New Evangelisation.

The new Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, coming to us only eight months after Francis' Papal election, suggests that the Holy Father's overriding intention for the Church is to enable the Church of the New Evangelisation; to enable the Church to see the New Evangelisation not as another task to be undertaken, but rather to see the New Evangelisation as her primary focus.
I have read the document over Christmastide, and then spent the first two days of the New Year with four other priests and a seminarian, discussing the Letter section by section. There is a lot of content in the Letter and I will need to read it again as a whole, and in its parts. The Letter proposes the vision of the New Evangelisation for the whole Church and, my hope is that the Church will be ready now to respond. I will make some preliminary remarks in this post before returning to post on each section in greater depth.
Although the Holy Father says in paragraph 16 that he is taking up the request of the Fathers of the 2011 Synod to write the Post-Synodal Letter, he also says that he wishes to express his own concerns about the New Evangelisation. It is not clear where the former ends and the latter continues!
Evangelii Gaudium is a visionary document; it builds upon the vision of the New Evangelisation which was given first by Paul VI and then by John Paul II and Benedict XVI. In many ways, Evangelii Gaudium is a response to Evangelii Nuntiandi of Paul VI. But, whereas Paul VI's Letter went somewhat unheeded, it is hard to see how this new Letter could be side-lined at all.
John Paul II, in his Encyclical Redemptionis Missio, called the whole Church to devote her energies to a new evangelisation. Francis' Letter concretely inculcates the Whole Church in this mission.
Bendict XVI repeatedly pointed us to our encounter with Christ and the relationship which is formed in that encounter. Francis' teaching plunges us into friendship with Christ as the very hinge of whole mystery of the Church.
The vision of both John Paul II and Benedict XVI is unwrapped and exposed by Francis to enable a greater participation.
The overall style of the Letter is one which seeks to be attitude-changing. This is not a dogmatic or disciplinary Letter, but rather one which seeks to inculcate a vision by changing the attitude of individuals, communities and the whole Church. I can't see anyone remaining unchallenged, in some way, by what the Holy Father says to us in this Letter. 
The New Evangelisation burst unexpectedly on the scene in 1975 and, during the Pontificates of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, sectors of the Church began to respond and to engage in it. Francis now seeks to plant the whole Church Universal in the New Evangelisation, and the renewal that this will cause will be very great and very beautiful indeed.

Wednesday 1 January 2014

A fresh start.

On this first day of the New Year I am looking forward to our Winter fraternity session of the SJMV, and to meeting with other priests and seminarians later today. We are going to spend the next couple of days, until Friday afternoon, in priestly fraternity. We will also be opening up together the Holy Father's Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium. I particularly look forward to this. I have read the whole letter and find it to be the fullest call, and  description of the New Evangelisation, which we have yet received. It is rooted in, and builds organically from the first announcement of the New Evangelisation which Paul VI made in 1975, and upon the vision of the New Evangelisation which John Paul II and Benedict XVI gave us. We have received decades of preparation for, and tilling the ground in order to prepare us to be the Church of the new evangelisation. My hope is that this call will find the Church more ready to respond.
Its final and very beautiful paragraphs are focussed on Our Lady; the Holy Father tells us that without her we can't understand the New Evangelisation.
I hope to post more fully on the Exhortation soon - I didn't want to preempt the priestly endeavour which I will be taking part in over the next two days.