Pope Francis Exhorts All to Evangelize

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EVANGELII GAUDIUM: THE JOY OF THE GOSPEL

Two weeks ago, His Holiness Pope Francis released the first apostolic exhortation of his pontificate to close out the Year of Faith. Now if you are like me the first time I heard that, you are probably wondering just what is an apostolic exhortation. An apostolic exhortation is a letter or document from the Holy Father to a specific community of people that urges them to take a specific sort of action. However, it does not define Church doctrine and is generally considered lower in authority than a more formal papal encyclical (such as Lumen Fidei released earlier this year), but not necessarily lesser in importance.

In this case, the apostolic exhortation, called Evangelii Gaudium (in English, “The Joy of the Gospel”) is addressed to all the Christian faithful, rather than a specific group, which means that we can all benefit from reading it. Although as fair warning, it is quite a long document with over 51,000 words! With that in mind, I’ll try my best to summarize it, although I do recommend taking the time to read it if you have the chance. It can be found here:

http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/francesco/apost_exhortations/documents/papa-francesco_esortazione-ap_20131124_evangelii-gaudium_en.html

ALL ARE CALLED TO EVANGELIZE JOYFULLY AND GENEROUSLY

Evangelii Gaudium is addressed to all the Christian faithful because we are all called to be evangelizers, to spread the Gospel message to others, despite the differing levels of theological formation each of us may possess. Evangelization is not just for those who devote their whole lives to Catholic apologetics or missionary work. We must trust in the Holy Spirit to act through us as we seek to evangelize others. However, at the same time, we are also called to delve deeper into our own faith formation to assist us in this mission.

Often we have the misguided belief that we must guard our free time very carefully, that we can only devote so much time to God each week and that the rest belongs to us. This can discourage us from attempting to begin such a daunting task as evangelization, which we believe may not yield results quickly or easily. However, we need to recognize that evangelization is not some task carried out dutifully, perhaps against our own wishes and desires, but rather that it is a joyful response to God’s immense love for us. Successful evangelization of others consists primarily of patience and disregards for the constraints of time. We may not see success after only a few discussions with another, but we do not know if we have planted a seed of faith that will continue to grow after our departure.

Our Holy Father also emphasizes the need to be joyful as we work to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ. He argues that we should not be “Christians whose lives seem like Lent without Easter” [EG 6]. The world needs to hear the Gospel message from those who appear as “joyful messengers of challenging proposals” [EG 168] and whose lives have been radically “transfigured by God’s presence” [EG 259]. Pope Francis recognizes that in all of our lives there are moments of grief when it is often difficult to be joyful. However, we must persevere, knowing that we are infinitely loved by God. “[L]owering our arms momentarily out of weariness is not the same as lowering them for good, overcome by chronic discontent and by a listlessness that parches the soul” [EG 277]. Man cannot live without hope, but Christ is the wellspring of our hope and He will not deprive us of it in our hour of need. To this end, the Holy Father recommends frequent prayer, Eucharistic Adoration, and reading of the Sacred Scriptures to prepare ourselves for the task of evangelization.

REACHING OUT TO THE SPIRITUALLY OR MATERIALLY POOR

The Holy Father also talks at length about whom we need to be evangelizing, and one of the easiest groups of people to evangelize are those we meet in our daily lives. For most, if not all, of us, those lives take place in and around the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Pope Francis talks about a spiritual desertification that has occurred in some societies as a result of attempts to build things without God. This is especially evident in a secular setting such as the UW. In spite of this, the challenge we face is not atheism or secular rationalism as such, the real challenge is the need to respond to people’s thirst for God adequately. True missionary zeal rests in the knowledge that there exists in every individual “an expectation, even if an unconscious one, of knowing the truth about God, about man, and about how we are to be set free from sin and death” [EG 265]. We must work to convince others that the solution is never found by fleeing from a committed relationship with God.

Additionally, Pope Francis desires that we approach the poor and despised with the Gospel message as they are very much in need of it’s saving grace. He especially encourages us not to fall into the thinking that our jobs are too important and so preclude us from taking time to help the least of our brothers. “Jesus wants us to touch human misery, to touch the suffering flesh of others” [EG 270]. Small acts of solidarity performed for those we encounter daily are just as important as working to eliminate the structural causes of poverty in society. All Christians must be concerned with building a better world; we cannot simply seek to build ourselves a nice shelter from human misfortune and ride out the storm, so to speak.

As has been the case with Pope Francis throughout his pontificate, with Evangelii Gaudium the Holy Father is continuing to challenge us to grow in our faith lives and bring the light of Christ to the world. We cannot let our love of Jesus Christ be relegated to just an hour for Mass on Sunday:  we must carry it with us always and we must do so with great joy, confident in the knowledge that Christ is victorious.

Written by Josh Sauppe, UW Graduate Student

“Newness in God’s Surprises”: Wisdom from Pope Francis at Pentecost

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Steve Driscoll/EWTN News

Newness always makes us a bit fearful, because we feel more secure if we have everything under control, if we are the ones who build, program and plan our lives in accordance with our own ideas, our own comfort, our own preferences. This is also the case when it comes to God. Often we follow him, we accept him, but only up to a certain point. It is hard to abandon ourselves to him with complete trust, allowing the Holy Spirit to be the soul and guide of our lives in our every decision. We fear that God may force us to strike out on new paths and leave behind our all too narrow, closed and selfish horizons in order to become open to his own. Yet throughout the history of salvation, whenever God reveals himself, he brings newness – God always brings newness -, and demands our complete trust: Noah, mocked by all, builds an ark and is saved; Abram leaves his land with only a promise in hand; Moses stands up to the might of Pharaoh and leads his people to freedom; the apostles, huddled fearfully in the Upper Room, go forth with courage to proclaim the Gospel. This is not a question of novelty for novelty’s sake, the search for something new to relieve our boredom, as is so often the case in our own day. The newness which God brings into our life is something that actually brings fulfillment, that gives true joy, true serenity, because God loves us and desires only our good. Let us ask ourselves today: Are we open to ‘God’s surprises’? Or are we closed and fearful before the newness of the Holy Spirit? Do we have the courage to strike out along the new paths which God’s newness sets before us, or do we resist, barricaded in transient structures which have lost their capacity for openness to what is new? We would do well to ask ourselves these questions all through the day.”

Homily at the Solemnity of Pentecost, May 19, 2013, St. Peter’s Square

New Saints!

On Sunday, Pope Francis canonized 802 new saints!

Their names are:

  • Saint Laura Montoya, Colombia’s first saint, who lived in the late 19th century as a spiritual mother to the indigenous peoples of the region
  • Saint Maria Guadalupe Garcia Zavala, known as Mother Lupita, who dedicated her life to helping the sick and also assisted Mexican Catholics in avoiding persecution during the government’s enactment of anti-clerical laws during the 1920s
  • The Martyrs of Otranto, a group of over 800 Italian laymen who, when their citadel in southern Italy was overrun by a Turkish invasion, refused to convert to Islam and killed

Saint Laura, Saint Maria, and the Holy Martyrs of Otranto, pray for us!

Viva la Madonna! Long live the Mother of God!

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Tony Gentile/Reuters

In the Catholic Church, the month of May has traditionally been a month to honor the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God.  It is during this month that priests, bishops, and even the Pope himself encourage and highlight the importance of the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary in our lives and our need of her prayers.

It is clear that Pope Francis has a particular love of the Mother of God and wishes for us to love her too. Just last weekend, he traveled to the largest basilica in Rome dedicated to the Virgin Mary, St. Mary Major, to pray the rosary with the faithful.  This is his second visit to this basilica since he was elected pope – the Holy Father came to St. Mary Major the day after his election to ask Our Lady’s intercession for his new pontificate.

More From Catholic News Service:

Mary is a mother who helps Christians grow, face the difficulties of life and use their freedom to make lasting commitments, Pope Francis said. Marking Catholics’ traditional celebration of May as the month of Mary, Pope Francis led the recitation of the rosary May 4 at the Basilica of St. Mary Major. After the service, he went to the steps of the basilica to greet thousands of people who were unable to get inside, and he asked them to say three Hail Marys “for me, because I need it.” He also led the crowd in chanting “Viva la Madonna” (Long live the mother of God). At the beginning and end of the service, Pope Francis venerated the basilica’s famous icon of Mary “Salus Populi Romani” (health of the Roman people, in the above photograph). In a reflection after the recitation of the glorious mysteries of the Rosary, Pope Francis said there are three primary ways in which Mary, as a mother with “great and tender love,” promotes the healthy growth of Christians.

On Monday, May 13th, the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima, Pope Francis will consecrate his pontificate to the patronage of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Why not say three Hail Mary’s today, for Pope Francis but also that your love for the Virgin Mary might increase each day?

Habemus Papam!

Credit: Getty Images

Credit: Getty Images

The smoke began to pour out of the Sistine Chapel chimney shortly after 1:00pm Central Daylight Time.  Just over an hour later, the announcement was made:

HABEMUS PAPAM! We have a pope!

The name that God knows him by is Jorge Mario Bergoglio.

He was the Cardinal Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina.

The name the world will know him by is Pope Francis – the FIRST!

Let us pray for Pope Francis today and all days of his glorious reign!