by Father Robert Lauder
Seventh in a series
As I read Pope Francis’ “The Joy of the Gospel” for the third or fourth time, I continue to discover sections that seem new to me. What I mean is that they strike me in a new way or say something that I appreciate in a new way.
This just happened as I started to read the section on the value of person. Pope Francis emphasizes that we discover who we are by serving others. I think he is offering a profound truth about what it means to be human. If someone were to ask me to indicate in a few words why Pope Francis’ writing is so wonderful, I would say, “He has profound insights into human nature and also into the Catholic faith.” It seems as though every time I read something by the Holy Father, these insights leap off the page at me.
Some of the philosophers whom I have read stress that to be a person is to co-exist with other persons. On every level of being human, we need others. We depend on others and can be profoundly influenced by other persons. In reflecting on the mystery of love, I have come to a conclusion. For me to be the best “Robert Lauder” possible, I need other persons. For others to be the best persons they can be, they depend on me. We are tied together, and there is no such reality as the self-made man. We have been created for relationship with God and with others.
I was especially touched by some of the insights that Pope Francis offers about why we should be enthusiastic about being evangelizers. The pope emphasizes that the primary reason for evangelizing is the love of Jesus, which we have received, and the experience of being saved that moves us to want to deepen our love for Him. If we don’t feel a deep desire to share this love, then Pope Francis suggests that we should pray for that desire and pray that Jesus will touch our hearts again. An evangelizer should be joyful. To be human is to be called to be an evangelizer.
Pope Francis notes that it would be a strange love that did not wish to talk about the Beloved and make the Beloved known. I am wondering about my own enthusiasm about sharing the Gospel with others, and I plan to make that enthusiasm or lack of enthusiasm part of my examination of conscience. It is not a matter of trying to force others to accept Christ or to impose Christ on people or to become “preachy” when we are with others. Rather, it is to live in such a way that it becomes evident how important your love relationship with Christ is to you. Our profound joy at being loved by God and being the temple of the Holy Spirit should attract people.
Pope Francis claims that the best incentive for sharing the Gospel with others comes from reading and contemplating the Gospel with love. Encouraging us to linger over the Gospel and read it with our hearts, the Holy Father says that its beauty will surprise us and excite us. He writes the following:
“Sometimes we lose our enthusiasm for mission because we forget that the Gospel responds to our deepest needs, since we were created for what the Gospel offers us: friendship with Jesus and love of our brothers and sisters. If we succeed in expressing adequately and with beauty the essential content of the Gospel, surely this message will speak to the deepest yearnings of people’s hearts…
“We have a treasure of life and love which cannot deceive, and a message which cannot mislead or disappoint. It penetrates to the depths of our hearts, sustaining and ennobling us. It is a truth which is never out of date because it reaches that part of us which nothing else can reach. Our infinite sadness can only be cured by an infinite love.”
It is important that we appreciate that the Gospel speaks to our deepest needs and desires. The entire meaning of human existence is tied to the meaning of Jesus and His Father and Spirit. Salvation and redemption are exactly what we desire on the deepest levels of our humanity. Pope Francis’ insistence that the message from God cannot mislead or disappoint is important. God’s revelation can speak to us and to everyone. I think that one reason contemporary Catholic theologians encourage evangelizers to help people reflect seriously about their lives and what is important to them is precisely because no messages or insights can compare to the Gospel message. Anything that encourages such reflection is good. Anything that hinders such reflection should be rejected.
I think I understand why Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation is titled “The Joy of the Gospel.”[hr]