On November 24, 2013 Pope Francis gave us a valuable thermometer to evaluate the temperature of the life and mission of the Church through the Apostolic Exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium “(EG). The Apostolic Exhortation on the one hand confirms the way we have taken during the post-Conciliar period and on the other it exposes shortcomings and challenges us. The first issue of “In Word and Deed” (IWD) “reminds us that “In The year 1967, two years after the end of Vatican II, the Congregation held its IX General Chapter aimed at redefining our life and mission in the light of the Vatican Council” (IWD, No. 1, p. 9). Therefore, together we can take a look at some fundamental turning points of our Congregational Directions (CD) in the light of the Apostolic Exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium” of Pope Francis.
1) The way of intercultural (CD 5/6) dialogue (In Dialogue with the Word, No. 11). The word evangelization is mentioned 73 times in the Apostolic Exhortation and is defined as “the way of dialogue” with states, society, science and other believers. (EG 238) The term dialogue in turn is repeated 51 times. Concepts related to culture are mentioned at least 100 times. For the Pope, “Grace supposes culture, and God’s gift becomes flesh in the culture of those who receive it” (EG 115) for it is not essential to impose a specific cultural form, no matter how beautiful or ancient it may be, together with the Gospel. (EG 117)
2) Way of dialogue with the poor. Evangelization requires closeness and communion of life with those excluded from society. We are called “to be evangelizers of souls”. To be evangelizers of souls, means that we need to develop a spiritual taste for being close to people’s lives and to discover that this in itself is a source of greater joy. Mission is at once a passion for Jesus and a passion for his people. (EG 268) Therefore, the dimension of Justice and Peace and Integrity of Creation is a central theme of evangelization once the “authentic faith arouses a deep desire to change the world” and its structures. (EG 188) To the extent that he (Jesus) reigns within us, the life of society will be a setting for universal fraternity, justice, peace and dignity. (EG 142) When there is no commitment with those at the margins we continue to follow a “disembodied Jesus”. (EG 89)
3) Way in community and with the laity. For Pope Francis, true faith in the incarnate Son of God is inseparable from self-giving, from membership in the community, from service, and from reconciliation with others.(EG 88) Therefore,”the task of evangelization is participatory, shared, never alone”. It is also a way towards a wider community, shoulder to shoulder with the baptized, once every Christian is a missionary (EG 120) and the greatest dignity comes from baptism (EG 104). It is the Church as the whole people of God that evangelizes. These aspects are reflected in the resolution 1.2.3 and recommendation 2.1.2 of the 17th General Chapter and challenge us in a clear and concrete way.
4) Conversion from prayer and contemplation. Pope Francis stresses that every person is “a mission on this earth” (EG 273). We are imbued with an inalienable individual responsibility in building the kingdom of God. “The mission is exodus, even if in the process, its shoes get soiled by the mud of the street” (EG 45) or result in a “Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets” (EG 49). Individualism, identity crisis and falling fervor caused by the “heightened concerns about the personal spaces of autonomy and dissension” lead us to “carry out the tasks as a mere appendage of life”. According to the Pope these are the three evils that afflict pastoral workers, including consecrated men and women. (EG 78) The spiritual life is confused with “religious moments” that provide relief “but does not feed the encounter with others, engagement in the world, or a passion for evangelization”. (EG 78) This kind of attitude, defined by Pope Francis as “spiritual worldliness” (EG 93-97), is an impediment to our mission and does not permanently produce abundant fruits. Profound changes require a life of prayer and contemplation “familiarity with God’s word”. (EG 175) Sharing intercultural life (IDW Part 2) implies a sincere search for personal and communal conversion and shared paths for improvement. An honest look at ourselves and our communities leads us to note that some of these aspects challenge and question us: What do we lack as SVD to radically embody these aspects of our mission?
5) Evangelize and be evangelized. The Spirit of Jesus is that which evangelizes, so whoever evangelizes allows himself/herself to be evangelized. We are all learning and teaching, giving and receiving. The words and significant gestures of Pope Francis remind us that there is no place for arrogance but to recognize the “signs of the Spirit” coming from inside or outside the Church. These signs can come from the simplest and unnoticed, because the Lord hides from the wise and intelligent and shows himself to the small and humble (cf. Mt 11, 25). We will be “mysteriously fruitful” if in freedom we allow ourselves to be guided by the Holy Spirit, to calculate and give over control of everything. He knows what is needed at every time and moment. (EG 268) “What we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked upon and have touched with our hands, that we announce” (1 John 1: 1-3). The mission must be permeated with joy, a word that is repeated at least 72 times in the Apostolic Exhortation. This is the joy of the “spirit filled evangelizers” (EG 261) that touches the “suffering flesh of Christ in others”. (EG 24)
“Without love no gift or charism could serve the Church, for where there is not love there is an emptiness that becomes filled with selfishness…. that is why it is necessary that love unite us. Our smallest gesture of love benefits everyone!
Therefore, to live out unity in the Church and communion in charity means not seeking one’s own interests but sharing the suffering and the joy of one’s brothers and sisters (cf. 1 Cor 12:26), ready to carry the weight of the poorest and the weakest. This fraternal solidarity is not a figure of speech, a saying, but an integral part of the communion among Christians. If we live it, we are a sign to the world, the “sacrament” of God’s love.”
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