I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving with your families and friends. It was a beautiful time for me also. There is so much I am grateful for in this past year!
I also had the blessing of celebrating the conclusion of the Year of Faith with a Mass at our historic San Buenaventura Mission. In God’s Providence, the Year of Faith ended on the 300th anniversary of the birth of Blessed Junípero Serra, the great apostle of California and one of the spiritual heroes of the first evangelization of the New World.
As many of you know, I have long had a devotion to Blessed Junípero. So it was a moving experience for me to celebrate the Eucharist near the spot where he offered the Eucharist to consecrate San Buenaventura — the last of the nine missions he established in California.
This Year of Faith has been a season of grace me and for our Church. And to mark the year’s end, Pope Francis issued Evangelii Gaudium (“The Joy of the Gospel”). I’ve been slowly reading and praying over our Holy Father’s words. This is truly a remarkable document — a powerful reflection on our identity and mission as Christians, written in deeply personal language.
The pope offers a strong analysis of the cultural challenges the Church faces. He urges us to overcome our selfishness and greed and to work for a world that is more just and more compassionate. He also offers us detailed practical guidance on areas that he calls “programmatic” for the Church’s mission — areas such as preaching; parish life; religious education; and youth ministry and social outreach.
But Evangelii Gaudium is really aimed at our hearts. The pope is challenging us — personally as Catholics and institutionally as the Church. Who are we and what are we living for? Is our faith changing us and making us different? Or instead are we trying to reshape and “downsize” the Gospel to make us feel more comfortable with our weaknesses?
These are the tough questions the pope is asking us.
“Every Christian is challenged — here and now — to be actively engaged in evangelization,” our Holy Father writes. “Indeed, anyone who has truly experienced God’s saving love does not need much time or lengthy training to go out and proclaim that love.”
In other words, the pope is saying, we have no excuses. If we love Jesus, we need to proclaim him. Even if we don’t have special training and none of us is a saint, we still have a duty to proclaim Christ.
“In your heart you know that it is not the same to live without him,” the pope writes. “What you have come to realize, what has helped you to live and given you hope is what you also need to communicate to others.”
“Our falling short of perfection should be no excuse,” he adds. “On the contrary, mission is a constant stimulus — not to remain mired in mediocrity but to continue growing.”
The pope reminds us that listening is the first step in evangelizing. Listening “when the other person speaks and shares his or her joys, hopes and concerns for loved ones or so many other heartfelt needs.” Only after listening — and always listening in ways that are “respectful and gentle” — should we speak to others of God.
And always we need to keep in mind the Gospel’s “fundamental message” — God’s “personal love” for every person and his desire to save us and be our friend.
Evangelii Gaudium is not only a document “about” the new evangelization. It’s a beautiful example of what the new evangelization looks like in practice.
So as we begin this new Church year in this season of Advent, let’s ask God to open our hearts to really hear what our Holy Father is calling us to. Let’s get rid of the noise and chatter that tries to “spin” our new Pope’s message one way or the other. Let’s just listen personally to what he is saying to us.
“The primary reason for evangelizing is the love of Jesus which we have received, the experience of salvation which urges us to ever greater love of him. … If we do not feel an intense desire to share this love, we need to pray insistently that he will once more touch our hearts.”
And with Pope Francis, let’s make this prayer to our Blessed Mother: “Mother of the living Gospel, wellspring of happiness for God’s little ones, pray for us.”