For decades there has been an exchange of greetings between the Pope and the Archbishop of Constantinople. This is what you may say is a traditional expectation between brothers. Rome sends a message through a delegation on the feast of Saint Andrew (today) and the Orthodox do the same on the feast of Saints Peter and Paul (June 29). This year, the feast of Saint Andrew is the first time Pope Francis is able to write to Bartholomew. You’ll note that Pope Francis is keen on working for improved fraternal relations with the Church in Constantinople. Here is a Vatican Radio report.
To His Holiness Bartholomaios I
Archbishop of Constantinople
“Peace be to the brothers, and love with faith,
from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Eph 6:23)
After welcoming with joy the delegation which Your Holiness sent to Rome for the feast of Saints Peter and Paul, it is with the same joy that I convey, through this message entrusted to Cardinal Kurt Koch, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, my spiritual closeness on the feast of Saint Andrew, Peter’s brother and the patron saint of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. With the heartfelt affection reserved for beloved brothers, I offer my prayerful best wishes to Your Holiness, to the members of the Holy Synod, to the clergy, monks and all the faithful, and – together with my Catholic brothers and sisters – join your own prayer on this festive occasion.
Your Holiness, beloved brother in Christ, this is the first time that I address you on the occasion of the feast of the Apostle Andrew, the first-called. I take this opportunity to assure you of my intention to pursue fraternal relations between the Church of Rome and the Ecumenical Patriarchate. It is for me a source of great reassurance to reflect on the depth and the authenticity of our existing bonds, the fruit of a grace-filled journey along which the Lord has guided our Churches since the historic encounter in Jerusalem between Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras, the fiftieth anniversary of which we will celebrate shortly. God, the source of all peace and love, has taught us throughout these years to regard one another as members of the same family. For indeed we have one Lord and one Saviour. We belong to him through the gift of the good news of salvation transmitted by the apostles, through the one baptism in the name of the Holy Trinity, and through the holy ministry. United in Christ, therefore, we already experience the joy of authentic brothers in Christ, while yet fully aware of not having reached the goal of full communion. In anticipation of the day in which we will finally take part together in the Eucharistic feast, Christians are duty-bound to prepare to receive this gift of God through prayer, inner conversion, renewal of life and fraternal dialogue.
Our joy in celebrating the feast of the Apostle Andrew must not make us turn our gaze from the dramatic situation of the many people who are suffering due to violence and war, hunger, poverty and grave natural disasters. I am aware that you are deeply concerned for the situation of Christians in the Middle East and for their right to remain in their homelands. Dialogue, pardon and reconciliation are the only possible means to achieve the resolution of conflict. Let us be unceasing in our prayer to the all-powerful and merciful God for peace in this region, and let us continue to work for reconciliation and the just recognition of peoples’ rights.
Your Holiness, the memory of the martyrdom of the apostle Saint Andrew also makes us think of the many Christians of all the Churches and Ecclesial Communities who in many parts of the world experience discrimination and at times pay with their own blood the price of their profession of faith. We are presently marking the 1700th anniversary of Constantine’s Edict, which put an end to religious persecution in the Roman Empire in both East and West, and opened new channels for the dissemination of the Gospel. Today, as then, Christians of East and West must give common witness so that, strengthened by the Spirit of the risen Christ, they may disseminate the message of salvation to the entire world. There is likewise an urgent need for effective and committed cooperation among Christians in order to safeguard everywhere the right to express publicly one’s faith and to be treated fairly when promoting the contribution which Christianity continues to offer to contemporary society and culture.
It is with sentiments of profound esteem and warm friendship in Christ that I invoke abundant blessings on Your Holiness and on all the faithful of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, asking the intercession of the Virgin Mother of God and of the holy apostles and martyrs Peter and Andrew. With the same sentiments I renew my best wishes and exchange with you a fraternal embrace of peace.
What is Pope Francis encouraging us to do now? His “apostolic exhortation”–called Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel) is a new document (c. 48, 000 words) in which he outlines a bold, new vision of how to be disciples of the Lord, how to be living members of the Catholic Church. The joy here indicates the encounter (the meeting) with the living God, especially in the person of Jesus. Evangelii Gaudium is not an easy document to boil down to a few key points. Therefore, you will need to spend time reading, studying and praying with the document. This is principally true because what is proposed in this document is a new discernment in the truest way possible: according to the Gospel, tradition and the received wisdom of the saints. The papal invitation to each of us is to “recover the original freshness of the Gospel,” finding “new avenues” and “new paths of creativity,” without boxing God in “dull categories.” What is exactly true is that Francis gives us a work that is thought-provoking, surprising and challenging. Evangelii Gaudium is nothing if not very interesting. The status quo is not part of the pastoral plan of any Church guided by the Paraclete.
I go back to what I consider to be the three key ideas proposed by the newly elected Roman Pontiff when he preached at the Mass with the Cardinals: the Christian is to journey, to build and to confess the Body of Christ. His other homilies and addresses have had some form of this triad all aiming at truly living our new humanity given to us in baptism, confirmed in the Holy Spirit and nourished by the Eucharist.
Recently, Father Julián Carrón gave to the members of Communion and Liberation a mini retreat in which he spoke of the new knowledge, the wisdom of the Spirit given to us. For him, it is a new way of living and thinking as a friend of Jesus. But our friendship is not limited to exchanging pious platitudes, it is a true companionship, a way of seeing life, a communio. This way of living with the eyes of faith, it is a faith born of the gaze Jesus had for Andrew and James, Mary Magdalen or Zacchaeus, it is the very same gaze Jesus has for us and that we ought to have for others. Too often have forgotten what it is to live in the freshness of the Good News and hence we now need to first to work our problems of faith by addressing the problem what it means to be living this faith as a knowledge of who Jesus Christ is, and what it means to follow Him.
So, what does the Pope propose as his vision for the Church?
Francis wants a Church that is a joyful community of faith ready to face the world as it is, not through the lens of nihilism or fearfulness of what may or may not be. There is always a bit of trepidation of the unknown or one’s meeting head-on of one’s opponents, and therefore, Evangelii Gaudium may be too challenging for some people. Remember the exhortation of Blessed John Paul and Pope Benedict at the very start of their pontificates: be not afraid! For the Pope blows open a perspective that looks the other way: “Pastoral ministry in a missionary key seeks to abandon the complacent attitude that says: ‘We have always done it this way.’” Traditionalism is killing Christian life. Just because we have done thus-and-such for 1000 years does not mean that it is good and healthy thing to do today.
One description of what it means to live anew…
Evangelization with joy becomes beauty in the liturgy, as part of our daily concern to spread goodness. The Church evangelizes and is herself evangelized through the beauty of the liturgy, which is both a celebration of the task of evangelization and the source of her renewed self-giving.
What Evangelii Gaudium conveys is that Catholics ought to be unafraid of new ways of proclaiming (the kerygma) the Gospel and new ways of thinking about the work of the Church in a way that is a total gift of self. Francis is not changing Church teaching but asking us to explore new forms of pastoral practice based on traditional teaching. We can cite as one example Francis affirming the Church’s inability to ordain women as Catholic priests, but he invites the Church to think about the place of women in the Church in new ways: “the possible role of women in decision-making in different areas of the Church’s life.” Ecclesial renewal and reform at any level is not going to be easy. Yet we have to strive to be renewed and reformed. The bishops with the priests, deacons and religious, for example, will have to ask the hard question of their personal conversion and their manner of living. Perhaps the episcopate in the USA will have to reassess the manner in which the bishops live. I think we are at the point that says, if the Jesuits and Dominicans do not start living their charism with mind of the Church and bishops and secular priests do not stop living like little princes, the laity will start voicing their opposition to the contraception of the vocation before the Church will be even more dismissed as irrelevant. We need for today a NEW St Charles Borromeo, a NEW Sts Benedict and Scholastica, a NEW Sts Ignatius and Sophie Barat, a NEW Sts Dominic and Catherine of Siena and a NEW Sts Francis and Clare.
We have already heard throughout the centuries of the deadly sins of preaching, catechesis, pastoral care, and liturgical praxis: “complacency,” “excessive clericalism,” and Catholics who act like “sourpusses”: it is described by the Pope as Christians whose lives are like “Lent without Easter.” (“Sourpusses” is in the official English-language translation.) All of these attitudes are considered roadblocks. Moreover, the Pontiff has little patience for people who “tempted to find excuses and complain.”
Clearly, there will be no alteration of the Catechism, dogmatic and liturgical and moral theology. Rather, Francis wants a new way of proposing the faith in Jesus as the Way, the Truth and the Life. Orthodoxy is not the big NO as some one want to say; it is about the beauty of living in a completely new way so as be saints on earth and in heaven. As such I am thinking of the groundbreaking work of Jospeh Ratzinger, Introduction to Christianity.
I have to ask myself, Do I have a fundamental and tender joy of living a life centered in Jesus Christ and focused on the hope of the resurrection? My experience tells me that in different periods of personal history I have lost a great deal of hope and joy in the resurrection, and the centrality of Jesus Christ in all of creation (cf. the papal homily closing the Year of Faith on 24 Nov.). But I have choice to live differently where the measure of life and faith is not me but the Lord.
Evangelii Gaudium is a discussion on joy as a requirement for evangelization and a treatise on the value and necessity of “personal dialogue,” a personal meeting of the other, and encounter with the Lord,; the personal approach is needed in extending an invitation to live differently; the faith is a way of knowing, a way of seeing, a way of loving God, others and ourselves.
The Pope restores to our human awareness the plight of those on the margins: the poor, the children, the elderly, the sick and otherwise neglected. Being formed by the Jesuits I heard about the Church’s “preferential option for the poor.” I was rightly taught that a Christian looks at another person as God sees them: “God’s heart has a special place for the poor.” We are not exhorted to open soup kitchens and social concern centers. We are asked to awaken our hearts and minds. Hence, we are not to give lip service saying that God loves the poor in a special way, and let someone else take care of the “problem.” People, whatever, their social-economic-religious status may be, each person has a God-given dignity. Here solidarity is the lens: how do I care and advocate for the poor, the elderly, the sick, etc.? Who has responsibility for the other person? The Pope tells us: “None of us can think we are exempt from concern for the poor and for social justice.” No bishop, priest, deacon, lay person, rich or poor, educated or uneducated can neglect the needs of another; for in the beggar we see ourselves begging before Christ as Dives did.
The Apostolic Exhortation offers critique of the “idolatry of money” and an “economy of exclusion” as tyranny. For Francis, therefore it ought to be the same for all us, we need to live in an economy of communion (see the work of the Focolare Movement for more on this idea). Francis writes, “The Pope loves everyone, rich and poor alike, but he is obliged in the name of Christ to remind all that the rich must help, respect and promote the poor. I exhort you to generous solidarity and a return of economics and finance to an ethical approach which favors human beings. What’s clear to me, caring for the marginalized means addressing the structures that keep people at arm’ length: “The need to resolve the structural causes of poverty cannot be delayed.” This is a call to arms now. The Church is for and of the poor. Period.
Do not be fooled: the hard work of personal conversion is absolutely necessary before we set out on changing things that are perceived to be broken. We cannot point the fingers at others without doing the hard work of spiritual conversion ourselves. Change for the sake of change is not a Catholic thing to do. You can change the right structures for the wrong reasons. The matter is: “Nobody can go off to battle unless he is fully convinced of victory beforehand.” Is Christ the center of our life? We are looking for a revolution of tenderness.
Evangelii Gaudium will be received by some as boilerplate clap-trap that one would expect in a document on the “New Evangelization,” but that would be too reductionistic, even too pessimistic an evaluation; Pope Francis identifies areas of challenge, a hardening of the arteries, and he desires a healing, he wants to see real, visible change in me, and in structures of the Church and civil society. But how is this possible? Francis tells us that evangelization and the life of the Christian is “constantly renewed experience of savoring Christ’s friendship and his message.”
Follow what the Pope says with this in mind: “embark upon a new chapter of evangelization marked by this joy, while pointing out new paths for the Church’s journey in years to come”: these new paths can only be walked if we meet the Lord. These paths are fruitful if live in communion with others. The companionship of the Church is the place of our true freedom.
May Mary, Mother of the Living Gospel, “Star of the new evangelization, help us to bear radiant witness to communion, service, ardent and generous faith, justice and love of the poor, that the joy of the Gospel may reach to the ends of the earth, illuminating even the fringes of our world” help us on our journey.
Today, the Holy See officially released Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium. This is first work that comes from the papal office. The first paragraph of the Exhortation reads,
The joy of the gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness. With Christ joy is constantly born anew. In this Exhortation I wish to encourage the Christian faithful to embark upon a new chapter of evangelization marked by this joy, while pointing out new paths for the Church’s journey in years to come.
The entire text of Evangelii Gaudium may be read here.
The Year of Faith closes with the Pope embracing the relics, the bones, of the Apostles who answer their human need, who broke opened their hearts to see the face of God. Peter and Paul shared in the One they loved with the world, and they presented the world with gift of salvation with whom they desired to share an incomparable journey, a destiny, as Christians, desire to share in. Francis closes a year in which we all lived with intensity of living the faith, meeting the Lord and journeying to a new knowledge and new vigor in the promise of the Hundredfold. The following is the homily delivered today in Rome where he speaks about the essentials of the faith: baptism, the Encounter and centrality of the Christ in our life and the desire for heaven.
Today’s solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, the crowning of the liturgical year, also marks the conclusion of the Year of Faith opened by Pope Benedict XVI, to whom our thoughts now turn with affection and gratitude. By this providential initiative, he gave us an opportunity to rediscover the beauty of the journey of faith begun on the day of our Baptism, which made us children of God and brothers and sisters in the Church. A journey which has as its ultimate end our full encounter with God, and throughout which the Holy Spirit purifies us, lifts us up and sanctifies us, so that we may enter into the happiness for which our hearts long.
I offer a cordial greeting to the Patriarchs and Major Archbishops of the Eastern Catholic Churches present. The exchange of peace which I will share with them is above all a sign of the appreciation of the Bishop of Rome for these communities which have confessed the name of Christ with exemplary faithfulness, often at a high price.
With this gesture, through them, I would like to reach all those Christians living in the Holy Land, in Syria and in the entire East, and obtain for them the gift of peace and concord.
The Scripture readings proclaimed to us have as their common theme the centrality of Christ. Christ as the centre of creation, the centre of his people and the centre of history.
1. The apostle Paul, in the second reading, taken from the letter to the Colossians, offers us a profound vision of the centrality of Jesus. He presents Christ to us as the first-born of all creation: in him, through him and for him all things were created. He is the centre of all things, he is the beginning. God has given him the fullness, the totality, so that in him all things might be reconciled (cf. Col 1:12-20).
This image enables to see that Jesus is the centre of creation; and so the attitude demanded of us as true believers is that of recognizing and accepting in our lives the centrality of Jesus Christ, in our thoughts, in our words and in our works. When this centre is lost, when it is replaced by something else, only harm can result for everything around us and for ourselves.
2. Besides being the centre of creation, Christ is the centre of the people of God. We see this in the first reading which describes the time when the tribes of Israel came to look for David and anointed him king of Israel before the Lord (cf. 2 Sam 5:1-3). In searching for an ideal king, the people were seeking God himself: a God who would be close to them, who would accompany them on their journey, who would be a brother to them.
Christ, the descendant of King David, is the “brother” around whom God’s people come together. It is he who cares for his people, for all of us, even at the price of his life. In him we are all one; united with him, we share a single journey, a single destiny.
3. Finally, Christ is the centre of the history of the human race and of every man and woman. To him we can bring the joys and the hopes, the sorrows and troubles which are part of our lives. When Jesus is the centre, light shines even amid the darkest times of our lives; he gives us hope, as he does to the good thief in today’s Gospel.
While all the others treat Jesus with disdain – “If you are the Christ, the Messiah King, save yourself by coming down from the cross!” – the thief who went astray in his life but now repents, clinging to the crucified Jesus, begs him: “Remember me, when you come into your kingdom” (Lk 23:42). And Jesus promises him: “Today you will be with me in paradise” (v. 43). Jesus speaks only a word of forgiveness, not of condemnation; whenever anyone finds the courage to ask for this forgiveness, the Lord does not let such a petition go unheard.
Jesus’ promise to the good thief gives us great hope: it tells us that God’s grace is always greater than the prayer which sought it. The Lord always grants more than what he has been asked: you ask him to remember you, and he brings you into his Kingdom!
Let us ask the Lord to remember us, in the certainty that by his mercy we will be able to share his glory in paradise. Amen!