The Joy of the Gospel, Chapter 3

 

This chapter focuses on how to get the Gospel out there, and although it involves preaching it’s not limited to that.

The Entire People Proclaims the Gospel (Chapters 110-134)

This section is about why we should all be involved in Evangelization. It starts from God and goes to all. It includes all races and cultures, and says that God can be found in every culture that receives the Gospel, no culture has a monopoly on the Gospel, and there is no independent Christian culture that exists apart from every other culture. The Gospel needs to be inculturated into every society, using its language and images.

Evangelization is the task of the Church. The Church, as the agent of evangelization, is more than an organic and hierarchical institution; she is first and foremost a people advancing on its pilgrim way towards God. She is certainly a mystery rooted in the Trinity, yet she exists concretely in history as a people of pilgrims and evangelizers, transcending any institutional expression, however necessary.” (111)

All are missionary disciples by virtue of their baptism, and the new evangelization calls for everyone’s personal involvement. We do this knowing we are in need of grace, and God’s isn’t finished with any of us. Popular piety can be a great agent of evangelization, since it is faith embodied in the culture. It “manifests a thirst for God which only the poor and simple can know.” (Pope Paul VI Evangelii Nuntiandi, quoted in 123)

The Gospel doesn’t have to be communicated in memorized fixed formulas or specific words with invariable content. The Gospel preached in the categories of a new culture creates a new synthesis with the culture. Once I heard the French Jesuit composer, Joseph Gelineau say that when the Gospel is introduced to a new culture, it attacks everything in that culture that doesn’t conform to it. The standard was set by a letter from Pope Gregory the Great (590-605) to Augustine of Canterbury regarding the conversion of the English: everything in the local cultures that was in harmony with the faith was to be tolerated.

He talks about the preaching ordinary people engage in: It has to do with bringing the Gospel to the people we meet, whether they be our neighbors 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. . .In this preaching, which is always respectful and gentle, the first step is personal dialogue, when the other person speaks and shares his or her joys, hopes and concerns for loved ones, or so many other heartfelt needs. Only afterwards is it possible to bring up God’s word, perhaps by reading a Bible verse or relating a story, but always keeping in mind the fundamental message: the personal love of God who became man, who gave himself up for us, who is living and who offers us his salvation and his friendship. This message has to be shared humbly as a testimony on the part of one who is always willing to learn, in the awareness that the message is so rich and so deep that it always exceeds our grasp. At times the message can be presented directly, at times by way of a personal witness or gesture, or in a way which the Holy Spirit may suggest in that particular situation. If it seems prudent and if the circumstances are right, this fraternal and missionary encounter could end with a brief prayer related to the concerns which the person may have expressed. In this way they will have an experience of being listened to and understood; they will know that their particular situation has been placed before God, and that God’s word really speaks to their lives.” (127-8)

The challenge is the skill of listening. It’s particularly important to note that we shouldn’t spend time as we’re listening to plan a response: if we’re thinking of what scripture to quote or doctrine to cite, then we risk losing something important we’re being told. The cycle is listen, digest, then respond as needed.

All charisms are gifts that renew and build up the Church, gifts of the spirit. “A sure sign of the authenticity of a charism is its ecclesial character, its ability to be integrated harmoniously into the life of God’s holy and faithful people for the good of all. Something truly new brought about by the Spirit need not overshadow other gifts and spiritualities in making itself felt. To the extent that a charism is better directed to the heart of the Gospel, its exercise will be more ecclesial. It is in communion, even when this proves painful, that a charism is seen to be authentic and mysteriously fruitful. (130)” Diversity is something we aspire to, and: “Diversity must always be reconciled by the help of the Holy Spirit; he alone can raise up diversity, plurality and multiplicity while at the same time bringing about unity. (131)”

Famous quote: “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.” St. Augustine.

Faith is always in dialogue with science and human experience. The church encourages the charism of theologians to advance this dialogue, and Catholic universities and schools.

The Homily (135-175)

It is worthy remembering that “the liturgical proclamation of the word of God, especially in the eucharistic assembly, is not so much a time for meditation and catechesis as a dialogue be- tween God and his people, a dialogue in which the great deeds of salvation are proclaimed and the demands of the covenant are continually restated”.112 The homily has special importance due to its eucharistic context: it surpasses all forms of catechesis as the supreme moment in the dialogue between God and his people which lead up to sacramental communion. The homily takes up once more the dialogue which the Lord has already established with his people. The preacher must know the heart of his community, in order to realize where its desire for God is alive and ardent, as well as where that dialogue, once loving, has been thwarted and is now barren.” (137)

Although only bishops, priests and deacons may preach, there is material in this section that is helpful for all in understanding the mission of preaching and what is intended in the homily. “. . .it is God who seeks to reach out to others through the preacher, and he displays his power through human words.” A homily is a mother’s instruction to her children, that inspires “encouragement, strength and enthusiasm.” (139)

Caution: this isn’t about judging a preacher’s ability to give a good message. Taking on evaluation mode during a liturgy pulls us out of prayer and encounter with Christ. We aren’t consumers of preaching, spirituality, or liturgical performance even though quality makes a difference. We’re here to share Eucharist, and preaching serves that goal. How we prepare ourselves to receive it makes as big a difference as everything else.

Inculturated preaching is proclaiming a synthesis rather than ideas or detached values. (143) The preacher’s task is to join the hearts of God and His people. The homily enters an ongoing dialogue between God and his people (which happens directly all the time) to strengthen the covenant between them and consolidate the bond of charity, facilitating the later dialogue between God and the individual.

Preparation for preaching takes: study, prayer, reflection, pastoral creativity. It’s also a priority that shouldn’t be sacrificed for other pastoral responsibilities. It starts with a reverence for the truth of Scripture, doing the detailed study behind the text as well as discerning each passage’s principal meaning for the people preached to. As John Paul II said, we “approach the Word with docile and prayerful hearts.” Lectio Divina is a recommended method, we must be moved by the Word we preach.

The preacher must reverence the people he preaches to as much as he reverences the Word (also a good concept for evangelization: reverence for the people targeted). “The preacher also needs to keep his ear to the people and to discover what it is that the faithful need to hear.” (154) He must endeavor to answer the questions they ask and talk about what they need to hear, not answer unasked questions. For those in the pews, there’s a challenge to talk to your preachers, and evaluate what you bring forward for them. This is more than a list of “this is what I want to hear about.” Sometimes what we think we need to hear is mistaken. Means of presentation: “this is my story, from my perspective, and this is what I’m wondering.” (Beware the Typical Mind Fallacy.)

For Catechesis, Pope Francis particularly recommends the Apostolic Exhortation Catechesi Tradendae (1979), the General Catechetical Directory (1997), among others, saying there are more than enough resources. (163) The starting point, the first announcement, or kerygma is: “Jesus Christ loves you; he gave his life to save you; and now he is living at your side every day to enlighten, strengthen and free you.” This is also the touchstone for all other teaching, we do not progress away from it. Mystagogy is also tagged as an important process, as well as via pulchritudinis, the way of beauty. Following and believing in Christ is not only right and true, but also: “. . .something beautiful, capable of filling life with new splendor and profound joy, even in the midst of difficulties. (167)” It should be part of the effort of passing on the faith.

The art of accompaniment is something he talks about a lot, and developing skills for it. It’s something all of us can do as well as preachers (169). It must: “. . .lead others ever closer to God, in whom we attain true freedom.” It’s not about enabling aimless, self-absorbed wandering away from God. It calls us to practice the art of listening, respectful and compassionate listening, that helps us find the right gestures and words. A good listener respects the mystery of God’s relationship with every person and never gives in to frustrations and fears. (172) It begins and flourishes in the context of service to the mission of evangelization.

All evangelization is centered on the word of God: listened to, meditated upon, lived, celebrated and witnessed to. “The study of the sacred Scriptures must be a door opened to every believer.” (175)

Not only the homily has to be nourished by the word of God. All evangelization is based on that word, listened to, meditated upon, lived, celebrated and witnessed to. The sacred Scriptures are the very source of evangelization. Consequently, we need to be constantly trained in hearing the word. The Church does not evangelize unless she constantly lets herself be evangelized. It is indispensable that the word of God “be ever more fully at the heart of every ecclesial activity”.God’s word, listened to and celebrated, above all in the Eucharist, nourishes and inwardly strengthens Christians, enabling them to offer an authentic witness to the Gospel in daily life. We have long since moved beyond that old contraposition between word and sacrament. The preaching of the word, living and effective, prepares for the reception of the sacrament, and in the sacrament that word attains its maximum efficacy.”

The talks on this chapter are here and here.

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