Wednesday, March 26, 2014


1. My task this evening is to reflect with you on the contents of Chapter 3 of Pope Francis’ 84-page exhortation under the title “The Joy of the Gospel”. Thus far in our series we have discussed in Chapter 1 – The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Faith. In Chapter 2, under the title of “The Crisis of Communal Commitment”, the Pope talked about challenges to evangelization coming from today’s social environment and also about some of the temptations that pastoral workers face today in the work of evangelization. This is the gist of what was contained in Fr. Hehir’s magnificent presentation last week. Chapter 3, our present concern, bears the title “The Proclamation of the Gospel”. We will look at this question in three distinct steps. The first step deals with the topic obviously dear to the heart of Pope Francis, that is, when we come to the work of evangelization in the Church at this time, and when we ask the important question: Who are to be the evangelizers? , the answer is the entire people of God are the ones who must proclaim the Gospel. The second sub-section deals with the question of the homily and how the homily in the liturgical life of every parish must play a significant role in the work of evangelization. Finally we will turn to the third issue – the crucial question of the role catechetics must play in the proclamation of the Gospel. This third section will be of major concern in what I have to suggest this evening. Evangelization demands an ever-deeper understanding of what Francis calls the “kerygma”. It’s good for us to remember that for the first three centuries of the Church’s existence the official language of the Church was Greek. Kerygma is just an ordinary Greek word meaning “the message”, “the teaching” that must be proclaimed in evangelizing. As I mentioned in our opening talk, proclamation is the language of evangelization. Although the evangelizer does not have to say something every time he or she is evangelizing, after all witness of a gospel life is far more important than talking about the gospel life, but when the evangelizer must use language, the language is the kerygma.

2. My reading of Chapter 3 suggests another possible title, especially for our first topic this evening – “Faith and Culture and the Primacy of Grace”. We see the primacy of grace very clearly in paragraph 112. It reads as follows: “The salvation which God offers us is the work of his mercy. No human efforts, however good they may be, can enable us to merit so great a gift. God, by his sheer grace, draws us to himself and makes us one with him. He sends his Spirit into our hearts to make us his children, transforming us and enabling us to respond to his love by our lives. The Church is sent by Jesus Christ as the sacrament, the outward, visible, tangible sign of the salvation offered by God to everyone. Through her evangelizing activity, she cooperates as an instrument of that divine grace which works unceasingly and inscrutably.” The Pope quotes his predecessor Benedict XVI who wrote – “It is important always to know that the first word, the true initiative, the true activity comes from God and only by inserting ourselves into the divine initiative, only begging for this divine initiative, shall we too be able to become – with him and in him – evangelizers”. This principle of the primacy of grace must become a beacon which constantly illuminates our reflections on evangelization. This primacy of grace means also, of course, the primacy of the Lord Jesus himself. Pope Francis reminds us that “there can be no true evangelization without the explicit proclamation of Jesus as Lord”, and without “the primacy of the proclamation of Jesus Christ in all evangelizing work”. As Pope John Paul II, when addressing the concerns of some Asian bishops, reminded them that “if the Church is to fulfill its providential destiny, evangelization as the joyful, patient and progressing preaching of the saving death and resurrection of Jesus Christ must be your absolute priority”. All primacy, all that pertains to the Gospel must acknowledge the primacy of Christ.

3. Who then must do the work of evangelization whether by preaching, by personal witness in the home, in the cloister, in the pulpit, in the classroom, in the workplace? Francis answers – All of the above, that is, the entire people of God must be in some way proclaimers of the Gospel. Evangelization is the task of the Church. The Church in this context is much more than an organic and hierarchical institution. The Church is first and foremost a people advancing on pilgrimage to God. The Church thus, as we will see later on, is a mystery rooted in the Trinity, yet existing concretely in human history as a people of pilgrims and evangelizers, transcending every institutional expression, however necessary. Thus we must always bear in mind “that the salvation God offers us and which the Church joyfully proclaims is for everyone”. God has found a way to unite himself to every human being in every age. He has chosen to call them together as a people and not as isolated individuals. No one is saved by himself or herself individually or by his or her own efforts. God attracts us by taking into account the complex interweaving of personal relationships entailed in the life of a human community. This people, which God has chosen and called, is the Church. Jesus did not tell the Apostles to form an exclusive and elite group. St. Paul reminds us that in the people of God, in the Church, there is neither Jew nor Gentile; all are one in Christ Jesus and to those who feel far from the Church, as many in the world do today, and to all those who are fearful or indifferent, Francis would like to say – the Lord Jesus, “with great respect and love, is calling you to be a part of his people”.

4. The people of God has many faces. Think for a moment of the United Nations. The people of the world live in many different countries of the world; they represent many different nationalities; they speak many different languages; they represent many different cultures. The faith that is ours in its objective phase and which we are to preach to the end of the world and which transcends all cultures but belongs to all cultures was first a spoken faith which became literarily objectified in the language of the New Testament. The first task the Church confronted was the preaching of the “good news” of the Old Testament fulfillment in the mystery of Christ to the Jews. This mission to the Jews was the easier task but was not very successful. The second task was the preaching of the Gospel to the Gentiles who knew nothing of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and the Father of the Lord Jesus. This was the more difficult task but by the providence of God gigantically successful. The Philippians, Corinthians, Ephesians and Thessalonians responded eagerly to Paul and his companions and were incorporated into the body of Christ. The issue at stake was this – How does the Church preach one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all to the many people with their many languages and cultures, and how does the Church do so in such a way that the faith becomes inculturated within the many cultures of the world, yet remains the one Lord, the one faith, the one baptism, first preached by the Apostles?

5. Human beings are social beings who live in various kinds of societies all over the globe. When social beings reflect on their socialness, when they reflect on their life together, that is, when they think about their social setting and how they relate to one another and what are their common values, common interests, common concerns, their art, their technology, their religion, this is what gives rise to a culture. I’ve often thought if the Apostles had journeyed eastward and not westward from Palestine, Christianity’s land of birth, we would be talking about the Peking-Nanking Creed rather than the Nicene-Constantinople Creed. How do faith and culture relate? Sometimes the Church confronts the culture and must be counter-cultural; sometimes the Church can accommodate itself to the demands of the culture, and we see this practice in many missionary situations in past Church history. Most importantly of all, the Church must always be the evangelizer of the culture so as to transform the culture in the light of the Gospel. No easy task in our world today.

1. The second section of Chapter 3 is entitled “The Homily”. Some who have not yet read the Exhortation may be surprised at the topic; after all, we have to listen to the homily on Sunday, why do we have to talk about homilies on Monday? Francis writes – “Let us now look at preaching within the liturgy, which calls for serious consideration by pastors”. As I read this section of the document, I sense that the Holy Father senses a sort of response on the part of the reader and hearer, as he says to the reader or hearer: “I will dwell, in particular and even somewhat meticulously on the homily and its preparation, since so many concerns have been expressed about this important ministry, and we cannot simply ignore them. The homily is the touchstone for judging a pastor’s closeness to his people and his ability to communicate with them. We know,” says the Pope, and I wonder if you all agree with him, “that God’s faith-filled people attach great importance to the homily and both they and the ordained members in the priesthood suffer greatly because of homilies – our lay folks for having to listen to them and our bishop, priests and deacons for having to preach them! It’s sad this is the case. The homily can actually be an intense and happy experience in the Spirit, a consoling encounter with God’s word, a constant source of renewal and growth in the Lord.” Thus Francis says to us – “Pastors and people, let us renew our confidence in preaching.” We can do so based on the conviction that it is God who seeks to reach out to others through the preacher and that he displays his power through human words. St. Paul speaks forcibly about the need to preach, since the Lord desires to reach other people by means of the word (Rom 10:14-17). By his words, Our Lord won over the hearts of the people; “They came to hear him from all parts; they were amazed at his teachings and they sensed that he spoke to them as one with authority.” By their words, the Apostles, whom Christ established “to be with him and to be sent out to preach”, brought all nations to the bosom of the Church.

2. As we begin to reflect on the homily, it is essential we locate it in its proper, sacramental, liturgical context. The Liturgy of the Word is not a time for meditation or catechesis in the proper meaning of these words. It is a time for a dialogue between God and his people. The homily has special importance because of its Eucharistic context. The risen Christ makes himself present, both in word and sacrament. The homily is not the time for detailed instruction on the faith nor is the homily the time for a theological treatise. The homily is a distinct literary form since it is preaching which is situated within the framework of a liturgical celebration; hence it should be brief and avoid taking on the semblance of a speech or a lecture. It is meant to be an offering made at the Eucharist and to be a meditation on the grace which Christ pours out during the Eucharistic celebration. This special context demands that the preacher should guide the assembly and the preacher as well to a life-changing communion with the risen Christ. This means that the words of the preacher must be measured so that the Lord Jesus, risen in glory and present in sacramental mystery, will be the center of attention. As St. Paul tells the Corinthians – “We do not preach ourselves but Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as servants for the sake of Jesus.” The preacher’s motto must always be that of John the Baptist – “I must decrease so that Christ may increase”.

3. As we reflect on the homily in its liturgical-sacramental context, I suppose we could raise some questions which Pope Francis has not asked in this document, but others have raised them: Who should preach at the liturgy? Who should be the presider at the liturgy? The holiest among us? – No. Should the choice be the most learned among us? – Once again, the answer is “No”. The Lord Jesus chose some fishermen to be his first preachers and the Holy Spirit filled them with wisdom and courage to respond. Preachers today can certainly count on the grace of the Holy Spirit but only if they labor diligently in prayer and in scriptural understanding. Who then should be preaching in the Church? Special occasions, of course, have their own customs and regulations, but ordinarily those who preach are those whom the bishop has ordained for the liturgical-sacramental work of the Church through which the risen Christ encounters his people and his peoples encounter him. Preachers are never the owners of God’s word but rather the guardians, the heralders, the servants of God’s word. Above all preachers ought to listen to the oft-quoted words of Pope Gregory the Great who asks the questions – Why did the Lord Jesus send out his disciples two-by-two? He did so to symbolize the two-fold love of God and neighbor which obviously must be at the heart of all preaching. Then Gregory adds – “One who does not know love ought not to preach”. As Francis writes – “Jesus was angered by those supposed teachers who demanded much of others, teaching God’s word without their first being enlightened by it themselves. In this context the Apostle James tells his community of faith – Not many of you should become teachers, my brethren, for you know we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. Whoever wants to preach must be the first to let the word of God move him deeply and become incarnate in his daily life.

4. I would like to add a postscript of my own. When it comes to preaching, it takes three to be successful – the preacher, the congregants and the Holy Spirit. If these three do not conspire, that is, prepare well for the liturgical celebration, the words spoken in any homily will not be effective. If a preacher is to prepare well for his homily, it follows that parishioner-worshipers coming to the Eucharist must make preparations of their own. In any theology on preaching, the dominant power is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit acts first in the person of the preacher but, if the preaching is to be successful, we must add that the Holy Spirit is at work in the parishioners listening to the homily. The parishioners should know ahead of time something about the prayers and scriptural readings of the day. Some parishes put a notice in the parish bulletin the week prior to the Sunday Mass. Some few families read the assigned scripture readings the night before the Sunday Liturgy. This brings up a sort of sticky point – to hear the Sunday readings, getting to church on time is of great importance. This is not a chastisement. I appreciate many of the difficulties many families have here in the parish, as in every parish, families of one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God the Father of all and perhaps two bathrooms. I am very much aware of the difficulties mommy and daddy and three to five children face every Sunday morning in getting the family to church on time.

P.S.: I have had the interesting situation with regard to homilies. One lady thanked me profusely for one of my homilies. She said that it struck her most forcefully. I thanked the woman and didn’t have the courage to say – “Madam, I didn’t preach the homily; that was Father Imbelli”, and I certainly didn’t have the courage to suggest that she call her ophthalmologist. On another occasion, a lady thanked me profusely for my words of wisdom. She said – “Your homily ought to be published, Father”. I thanked her and said perhaps it could be published posthumously. “Oh good”, she replied. “Will that be soon?”


1. We come now to the third sub-section of Chapter 3: The Lord’s missionary mandate – Go and preach and bear witness to the Gospel which also contains the mandate to all of us that we hear very clearly the call to grow and mature in the faith. All of us in the Church starting with the Pope need ongoing formation. Ongoing formation should not be seen exclusively or primarily in terms of doctrinal formation – even though doctrinal formation is so very important. Ongoing formation involves observing all that the Lord has shown us – growth in the virtues, growth in the first and greatest commandment, growth in the one commandment that best identifies a disciple of the Lord – that we learn to love others as the Lord has loved us. The one who loves his or her neighbor has fulfilled the law – and who is our neighbor? Anyone for whom the Lord offered his life on the cross.

2. The third sub-section bears the title – “Evangelization and the Deeper Understanding of the Kerygma”. What is needed, says the Holy Father, is the catechizing that is both kerygmatic and mystagogical. These two words, kerygmatic and mystagogical, are quite sufficient perhaps to tempt a good number of you to bolt for the doors! To catechize means to instruct and ongoing instruction is necessary for our young people, our adults, our priests, our bishops. Who is it among us who is unaware that he or she stands in need to be evangelized? Catechesis must be kerygmatic and mystagogical. These are ancient and venerable terms which arose in the Church at the time when the Church spoke Greek. Kerygmatic means that it comes from the heart of the Gospel. Kerygmatic means the first announcement of the “good news”. The kerygma, the message from the heart of the Gospel, stands at the heart of the Gospel. Francis writes – “It is the fire of the Spirit given at Pentecost in the form of tongues and leads to belief in Jesus Christ who, by his death and resurrection, reveals and communicates to us the Father’s infinite mercy.” On the lips of every catechist, the first proclamation must ring out over and over again – Jesus Christ loves you; he gave his life to save you; he is now living at your side every day to guide you; you see him at work with the eyes of faith as he enlightens you, strengthens you and sets you free from our two great enemies – sin and death. Francis calls this message “the first message”, not because it exists at the beginning and then can be forgotten or replaced by more important things. It is first because it is the principal proclamation, one we must hear about again and again at every level and every moment of the life in the Church.

3. What about the word “mystagogical” or “mystagogy”? Mystagogy sounds as though there should be a “mrstagogy, but that’s not the way it works. Mystagogy means “leading into the mystery”. “To lead into the mystery” stands for a type of catechesis which is called liturgical catechesis which aims to initiate candidates for full membership in the Church into the full mystery of Christ. More specifically, it designates the catechetical period which follows the reception of the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist, the sacraments that make us Christian, and are received usually at the Easter Vigil at the completion of Holy Week. Thus mystagogical catechesis takes place during the weeks following Easter Sunday and leading to the great feast of Pentecost. Thus we are talking about a type of catechetical instruction which is very much interlinked with evangelization. The newly-made Christian, born again through the sacraments of initiation, has a golden opportunity to reflect on what has happened to him or to her at the Easter Vigil. In this way the new Christian enters more deeply into the mystery of Christ.

4. It might be helpful if we focus on a few basics. The Greeks called the sacraments “mysteries”. The Latin word for the Greek word “mysteriom” is sacramentum. And what do we say about a sacrament? A sacrament is an effective sign, that is, an outward, visible, tangible sign that through the power of the Holy Spirit effects, that is, makes present what it signifies. Water is the sign of Baptism which truly, under the Holy Spirit, effects within us our inner cleansing from original sin. Bread and wine which nourishes us is the sacrament of Christ himself, our bread of life who by the words of consecration and the power of the Holy Spirit become really, truly, sacramentally the body and blood of our Savior. Sacraments are all part and parcel of the mystery of the Incarnation. We say of the Word of God, the second Person of the Trinity, that he became truly and really one of us without ceasing to be his divine self, like unto God in his divinity, like unto us in our humanity.

5. Mystagogy is at the heart of the RCIA Program, that is, the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. The RCIA is a process with various succeeding stages in the journey one takes from unbelief to belief, darkness into enlightenment, sin to grace. This journey leads to full membership in the mystical, just another name for sacramental, body of Christ. The risen Christ has, as you know, three bodies – his physical body in heaven at the right hand of the Father, his ecclesial body on earth which is the Church, and his sacramental body which we are privileged to receive as food and drink in the Eucharist. How do we describe the process which is the RCIA? A person is attracted to Christ and his Church for all sorts of reasons. Perhaps he or she has heard the kerygma that God loves them and wants them to be with him in the mystery of his Church. Perhaps they’ve heard of the Eucharist as that Blessed Sacrament whereby Christ has promised to be with us until the end of time. Then comes suitable instruction as the candidate knows more about Jesus and wants to accept what he offers them in the Easter sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist. After a brief Easter holiday, the new fully members of the Church enter into the Easter season which is the time for mystagogy. This is a time when, under the grace of the Spirit, the new Christian is led deeply into the mysteries celebrated at the Easter Vigil. Prior to Baptism, the candidate had to undergo pre-baptismal catechesis. During the Easter period, the already baptized person needs post-baptismal catechesis, that is, the person is led more deeply into the sacraments and into the life they bring, and this is called mystagogy.

6. But what do we mean by mystery? It’s not like an Agatha Christie mystery, and we are not talking about something we do not understand right now; for example, where is the Malaysian airplane at this moment? It’s not really a mystery and someday probably will be resolved. Mystery in the Christian sense of the word suggests something hidden which has been spoken about in divine revelation. Mystery is something unapproachable which invites entry; mystery is something which is unknowable but offers true understanding. See “mystagogy” in NDT (New Dictionary of Theology). The Second Vatican Council has told us how human reason, if it is enlightened by faith, does indeed, when it seeks persistently and prayerfully, achieves by God’s gift some understanding and something most profitable about the mystery. This is at the heart of the mystery of God. This shares in the mystery of the Trinity. This helps us to grasp something of the mystery of the Incarnation. This tells us something about our sharing in the mystery of God’s own life which he already pledges to us in the Sacrament of the Eucharist. The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us – “Christ’s whole earthly life – his words and deeds, his silences and sufferings, his manner of being and speaking – is revelation of God the Father. Christ’s whole life is a mystery of redemption. Redemption comes to us above all through the blood of the cross but this mystery is at work throughout his entire life.” And because mysteries of Christ are now our mysteries in the liturgies, this mystery is more at work within us throughout our entire life. Do we not often say – “Lord Jesus, you came in history to gather us into the Father’s kingdom. You come now in sacrament to share in Christ’s mystery. You will come again, Lord Jesus, at time’s end with salvation for your faithful people.”

7. Two weeks ago at our first session, a parishioner, out of great love and concern for his children, wanted to know how his children could get hold of the fire of the Holy Spirit, and enter into Christ’s mysteries and settle into their new life of grace which we all have in Christ as we journey to heaven. The questioner had been intrigued by my twice quoting Pope Benedict when he said “Being a Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but an encounter with an event, with a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction”. How will our children come to catch the fire of the Holy Spirit and become knowers and lovers of the Lord Jesus? Perhaps I could offer an ideal picture of how our young people can enter into the mystery of life, how Christ encounters them and they encounter Christ – not until the Sacrament of Confirmation but until death they do part. Please bear with me as I present this idyllic scenario. Harry and Harriet, baptized, confirmed and regular worshipers at the Sunday liturgy, become dear friends who fall in love and become husband and wife in marriage. They become father and mother as their family begins to grow. Because they are followers of Christ, they are really and truly evangelizers, one for the other and now become evangelizers for their children. Their home becomes a little church. It is called “ecclesiola” where the children learn to pray and love and give and forgive and be forgiven and share and serve the needs of all in the household, as everybody in the family must contribute to its peace and well-being. Then the children are ready to enter the bigger church on Glen Road where they see so many others praying and paying and some eating little Cheerios and some of the big people going forward to receive food and drink at the altar and the priest does not give the little children anything, but that’s okay because soon they will be eating donuts and stuff after Mass. When the children begin to come to the big church and prepare for the sacraments, they need two hands and two wings – liturgy and catechesis; liturgy without catechesis and catechesis without liturgy will not work. The liturgy will teach them how to celebrate their faith and the catechesis will help them to understand what they are celebrating. In the Liturgy of the Word they will talk to God and God will talk to them. In the Liturgy of the Eucharist, they will give to God and God will give to them. All of this ideally will work most successfully – not by what we do but by what the Holy Spirit will do. In this way our young people will catch the fire of the Holy Spirit and will fall in love with their saving Lord and they will begin to live lives that bring God’s Gospel into the public square. They will need constantly the nourishment provided by both the Liturgy and the Catechism, both of which is kerygmatic and mystagogical and that is what the Pope is suggesting.



1. On the basis of our two sessions thus far, and, as a result of some conversations with parishioners in Newton Centre and here in Wellesley Hills, I have the impression that many of us are really not at ease with the word “evangelization” and perhaps with the reality the word expresses. I suggest for a moment that we turn our clocks backward twenty-three years and listen to the opening words of an address given by theologian Avery Dulles, S.J. The title of his talk – John Paul II and the New Evangelization. Dulles writes – and remember the date is 1991 – “The majority of Catholics are not strongly inclined toward evangelization. The very term for them has a Protestant ring. The Catholic Church is highly dogmatic and sacramental and hierarchical in character. Its activities are primarily directed toward the instruction and pastoral care of its own members, whose needs and demands tax the institution to its limits. Absorbed in the inner problems of the Church, and occasionally in the issues of peace and justice, contemporary Catholics feel little responsibility for spreading the faith.”

Building on catechetical development at the time, the Second Vatican Council made use of the terminology “evangelization”: Lumen Gentium tells us – “Christ has sent the Church to preach the Gospel to every creature; because the Church is missionary by its very nature; it is the duty of every Christian to evangelize.” Pope Paul VI began to use the term frequently. (The name he chose – Paul – tells us of his interest to follow the example of St. Paul as missionary, as evangelizer. Pope Paul changed the name of The Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith to The Congregation for the Evangelization of all People.) Paul VI was the first pope to make apostolic journeys to all the other continents of the world, and he wrote his wonderful encyclical letter on the subject of evangelization. He said – “Evangelization is in fact the grace and vocation proper to the Church, her deepest identity. The Church exists to evangelize, that is to say, in order to preach and teach, to be the channel of the gift of grace, to reconcile sinners with God, and to perpetuate Christ’s sacrifice in the Mass which is the memorial of his death and glorious resurrection.” Let us look at a few words:

2. Good etymology promotes good theology! So let us look at a few words:
a) angel – the Greek word for messenger or the message itself.
b) evangel – two Greek words for a messenger of good news or a message of good news.
c) evangelist – the name for the four writers of the gospels, that is, the good news and joyful tidings of our God of mercy, redeeming us, his creatures, and making us his children through his divine Son and the Holy Spirit.
d) to evangelize – to tell the good news, to tell people about Jesus the Christ.
e) Turning from Greek to Anglo-Saxon, we have the ancient word “godspell”. Godspell means literally “the story about God”.

3. The word “evangelization” is about 100 years old. It came into use through the work of the great Protestant theologian Karl Barth. The reality the word expresses is as old as the gospels themselves. The word expresses the gospel’s missionary command in Matthew 28:28 – “Go preach the good news of God’s gospel to all the world”.

4. To tell the “good news” is not unique to Christians. Roman emperors often sent good news to their people, usually about the emperor himself or his public projects or his new taxes. Only the emperor thought what he was telling the people was good news. Now that we are gearing up for the Boston Marathon, do we not remember the great battle the Athenians fought on the plains of Marathon 600 years before the coming of Jesus? The conquering general dispatched a runner who ran 26 miles, 385 yards to announce to the Athenians “I have good news and glad tidings. We have won the battle,” (at which moment he collapsed and died). We find John Paul II in 1979 at Puebla in Mexico at a conference entitled “Evangelization at Present and in the Future of Latin America”. While accepting Pope Paul’s identification of evangelization with the very mission of the Church, Puebla emphasized that through evangelization the Church intends to contribute to the construction of a new society that is more fraternal and just. John Paul II at that time was focused on two great milestones in Church history. He was preparing us to celebrate in 1992 the 500th Anniversary of the coming of Christianity to the Americas, and in the year 2000 to celebrate the coming of Christianity into the world. To distinguish a contemporary use of evangelization from the great missionary work of the 16th and 17th centuries, John Paul called his view the “new” evangelization. It’s also new in the sense that it did not concentrate on fields afar only as did the missionary work of previous centuries. So many in our own backyards today need missionary work as do those who live in fields afar and do not know the Lord Jesus.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014


Joseph, from the pages of the Old Testament, was called by his brothers, who did not like him, “the dreamer”. Joseph from the pages of the New Testament was given providential help by way of his dreams. Martin Luther King had a dream which has profoundly impacted for the good our country’s social fabric. Now, our Holy Father Francis tells us that he too has a dream, and this evening we gather here to find out what the Pope’s dream is all about, and to ask ourselves whether under God’s grace we are willing to appropriate the Pope’s dream and thus come to know the Joy of the Gospel.


1. Pope Francis calls his dream “A Missionary Option”. How does Francis phrase his missionary option? He writes – “I dream of a ‘missionary option’, that is, a mission impulse capable of transforming everything so that the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channeled for the evangelization of today’s world rather than for her own self-preservation”. He describes this option as an ecclesial renewal that cannot be deferred. He then quotes John Paul II in his support: “All renewal in the Church must have mission as its goal if it is not to fall prey to a kind of ecclesial introversion”.

2. The Apostolic Exhortation – under the title “The Joy of the Gospel” – is the papal response to and creative summary of the work that took place at the 13th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops that gathered in Rome in October 2012 to discuss “the New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith”. You may recall that it was Pope Benedict who presided over the 2012 Synod of Bishops. It was Benedict who had proposed the topic “Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith”. To prepare for the Synod Pope Benedict inaugurated the “Year of Faith”. To guide us through the Year of Faith, Pope Benedict issued his Apostolic Letter, “Porta Fidei”, the Door of Faith. It was Benedict who had already issued two excellent encyclicals – one on the virtue of charity and the second on the virtue of hope – and who began a third encyclical on faith which he left to Pope Francis to complete and make his own. It’s title is, “Lumen Fidei” – the Light of Faith. Did we ever think we would see the day when two popes, one emeritus, would issue together one encyclical? The two popes are so very different in style and personality, but from my reading quite similar in their thinking. How often Benedict spoke about evangelization and how often he referred to the joy of the Gospel. I mention this at this time only to say, that while I’m most enthusiastic and hopeful about our new Pope Francis and I applaud excitedly his call for reform, for simplicity, for poverty, I deplore what sometimes happen in the communications industry which speaks so unfavorably and, I would suggest so unlearnedly, about Pope Benedict.

3. How does Francis express his purpose in this exhortation? He tells us – “In this exhortation I wish to encourage the Christian faithful to embark on a new chapter of evangelization… while pointing out new paths for the Church’s journey in years to come”. In paragraph 3 of the exhortation, the Pope makes an amazing and bold request: he writes – “I invite all Christians everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or, at least, an openness to letting him encounter them. No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her since no one is excluded from the joy brought to us by the Lord.” To support this profound and serious request, Francis adds – “I never tire of repeating the words of Benedict XVI that take us to the heart of the Gospel – ‘Being a Christian’, Benedict writes, ‘is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but an encounter with an event, a person, which gives life to a new horizon and a decisive direction’.” This event, this person, obviously is the risen Christ who came in human history to call the nations into the peace of the Father’s kingdom and who comes now in word and in sacrament so that we may encounter him as he encounters us. This request which Francis directs to each one of us is crucial; on it rests the rise or fall of the missionary option. If we, all of us, respond favorably, the Pope’s missionary option will become reality. If not, “the Joy of the Gospel” will just be a document filed away in the Vatican Museum. It would seem that Francis is saying to each one of us – if we give ourselves to the Lord who gives himself to us, we will become mission-minded, we will become evangelizers, and then we will experience the joy that comes from the Gospel. We cannot be joyful just because someone tells us, even the Pope, to be joyful. Joy is the echo of God’s life within us.

4. This document we are studying did not fall whole and entire from the heavens in some mysterious fashion. Evangelization is the work of Jesus, the great evangelizer, and he is at work within us reviving in our days the mystery of the Church through which the risen Christ continues down the centuries the work he first began in his human history. Only Jesus is the evangelizer who needs no evangelization. The Church, all of us, called to the work of evangelizing must ourselves be evangelized. (This suggests a great problem in the Church today. Many have fallen away from the practice of the faith. So many of our young people receive Confirmation and then are no longer participants in the faith. Many have become baptized unbelievers in the world of this time. There are many reasons for this state of affairs which we cannot handle at this time. What I can say is that many of these baptized unbelievers of ours have attended Catholic schools and colleges. The problem, as I see it, is this – they may have been catechized but not truly evangelized. Catechesis without evangelization cannot suffice.)

5. Let’s talk about evangelization. Chapter One of our document is called, “The Church’s Missionary Transformation”. Paragraph 19 reminds us that evangelization takes place in obedience to the mandate of Jesus, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” This is from Matthew’s Gospel. Each of the other Gospels has the same missionary command. Although most of us were brought up in the Church to cherish as most important the mission of the Church in fields afar (the foreign missions), it is not easy to get a good grasp on the nature of evangelization. It won’t be particularly helpful to offer some abstract definitions. The best thing to do is to pick up one of the Gospels and watch what Jesus does and what he says. Pick up the book we call the Acts of the Apostles and see what Peter, James and John are doing and saying. That’s evangelization. Think of someone like Francis Xavier who left his native Paris and education at the University of Paris and followed Ignatius into the Jesuits and spent his life preaching and teaching Jesus in the Far East. That’s evangelization. Or think of Thérèse of Lisieux who never left her Carmelite Convent and died at the age of 24, who dreamed of being a preacher like St. Paul, a teacher like St. Thomas, a scripture scholar like St. Jerome. She even dreamt also of learning Greek and Hebrew so she could read the New Testament in its original languages. These were only her dreams as she offered her prayers and works and sufferings to God for the work of the missions of the Church as she went about her humble tasks in her Carmelite Convent, and is now co-patron with Xavier in heaven of the Church’s missionary work. That’s evangelization. What about ourselves? On the day of our baptism, the celebrant said to us – “God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has freed you from sin, has given you a new birth by water and the Holy Spirit and has welcomed you into his holy people. He now anoints you with the chrism of salvation. As Christ was anointed Priest, Prophet and King, so may you live always as a member of his body, sharing everlasting life.” We share in the three-fold office of Christ who is Priest, Prophet and King by the sacraments of initiation. When we pray, when we celebrate Sunday Eucharist, when we live the sacrificial demands of the Gospel, we share in the life of Christ the Priest, and that’s evangelization. When we teach our children the Catechism, when we continuously inform ourselves about the adult consequences of our faith, when we represent and speak up about our faith in the public square, we advance the work of Christ the teacher, Christ the Prophet, and that’s evangelization. But what does it mean to advance the work of Christ the King? We continue the work of Christ the King when we bring the teachings of the Gospel to society and culture through family life, through the arts and technology, through education and economics, through labor and management, through medicine and politics. This primarily is the work of the lay members of the Church which is to order the temporal things of the world in the light of the Gospel. And that is evangelization.

6. Pope Francis envisions three principal settings for the work of evangelization. He writes, “In first place, we can mention the area of ordinary pastoral ministry, which is ‘animated by the fire of the Spirit, so as to inflame the hearts of the faithful who regularly take part in community worship and gather on the Lord’s day to be nourished by his word and by the bread of eternal life’. In this category we can also include those members of the faithful who preserve a deep and sincere faith, expressing it in different ways, but seldom taking part in worship. Ordinary pastoral ministry seeks to help such believers to grow spiritually so that they can respond to God’s love ever more fully in their lives. A second area is that of ‘the baptized whose lives do not reflect the demands of Baptism’, who lack a meaningful relationship to the Church and no longer experience the consolation born of faith. The Church, in her maternal concern, tries to help them experience a conversion which will restore the joy of faith to their hearts and inspire a commitment to the Gospel.” Thirdly, the Pope reminds us “we cannot forget that evangelization is first and foremost about preaching the Gospel to those who do not know Jesus Christ or who have always rejected him. All of them have a right to receive the Gospel.”


1. So much for the introduction. My charge this evening is the Pope’s first chapter. It is entitled “The Church’s Missionary Transformation”. Transformation is indeed the big word. It involves us all and it will take decades for us to begin to appreciate its implementation whether we are parishioners, pastors, bishops or Popes. This first chapter covers four particular themes: Church and Mission, Conversion and Mission, Communication and Mission, and Mission within the Limitations of Language.

2. First, the Church and Mission – Evangelization takes place in obedience to the missionary command of the risen Christ to his bewildered disciples on the day of the Lord’s glorious return to his heavenly Father. The Church, of course, has no choice; the Church must obey and the Church has obeyed as we can see in the missionary efforts of so many religious congregations at work “in fields afar”. From our earliest days, we began to realize our role of prayer and financial assistance that we were asked to offer as help to the generous men and women who labored so well and so successfully, even unto martyrdom, in bringing God’s Gospel to those who had never heard of God’s love for them. However, times have changed. The present situation is so radically different. Missionary efforts are still essential in far off lands – now brought so incredibly close by modern technology. But now we know that God is dead for the majority of folks living in our own backyards. God loves them and wills only what is for their happiness, now and beyond the grave. We begin to see the dimensions of evangelization beyond praying and paying and we begin to see what the Lord expects of all of us, especially in our parishes which must become centers for evangelization. What is Pope Francis envisioning, and what is he expecting from you and me? In our day Jesus’ command to “go and make disciples” echoes in the changing scenarios and ever-new challenges to the Church’s mission of evangelization. And all of us, in countless diverse ways, are now caught up in this new missionary “going forth”. The Pope’s document is eighty-four pages of exhortation. It is not a document or a job description which every parish must strive to compose. Each parish by the grace of the Holy Spirit must strive to become a parish of “other Christs” following in the steps of Jesus the Evangelizer. Each parish must be seen as “on the move”, going forth like Moses of old to whom God said – “Go – I send you”, or like Jeremiah the prophet – “To whomever I send you, you shall go; whatever I command you, you shall speak. Have no fear before them because I am with you to deliver you”, says the Lord. Each Christian in every community must discern the path that the Lord will point out, but all of us are asked to obey in hundreds of different ways the call to evangelize and thus to go forth, as Francis tell us, from our comfort zones in order to reach all those living in periphery situations so needing the light of the Gospel. The Pope writes – “As every evangelizing community gets involved by word and deed in people’s daily lives, it bridges distances and it embraces human lives and suffering. It is always supportive, standing by people in need or in difficulty.” The parish, as we will see in the next section, is key as it is a parish that holds itself responsible for all people within its borders, a parish of “other Christs” known for their kindness, love and mercy for all they encounter.


1. The section on Church and Mission has helped us, I trust, see the challenges Pope Francis gives us in his exhortation. Now we must ask – What ought the Church be like in terms of the New Evangelization? Our second section – Conversion and Mission – outlines what the new evangelization will cost us all in terms of conversion, both communal and personal. The Pope writes – “I am aware that nowadays documents do not arouse the same interest as in the past and that they are quickly forgotten. Nevertheless, I want to emphasize that what I am trying to express here has a programmatic significance and important consequences. I hope that all communities will devote the necessary effort to advancing along the path of a pastoral and missionary conversion which cannot leave things as they presently are. ‘Mere administration’ can no longer be enough. Throughout the world, let us be ‘permanently in a state of mission’.”

2. The Pope makes reference to Pope Paul’s pastoral encyclical on evangelization telling us that the Church exists for evangelization and making the key distinction between an ideal image of the Church which only the Lord can envisage and the actual image which the Church presents, not particularly favorable or helpful, to the world at this time. This distinction is the source of the Church’s “impatient struggle” for renewal, for conversion, to correct the flaws and sins which are so counter-productive for preaching the Word of God. Thus, this exhortation reminds us that the Second Vatican Council presented ecclesial conversion as openness to a constant self-renewal born of fidelity to Jesus Christ. Christ summons the Church as she goes her pilgrim way to that continual reformation of which she always has need, in so far as she is a human institution.

3. Who must respond to this call for conversion – the parish, other pastoral institutions, such as basic ecclesial communities, the new movements in the Church, such as Opus Dei, Communio e Liberazone, the neo-catechumenates, the presbyterates of the world, the episcopacy, and the papacy? Of course, the answer is – All of the above. There’s not much you and I can do about reforming the papacy, although Pope Francis seems to be off to a hopeful start. You and I can’t do anything practical with regard to bishops and the new lay communities in the Church. For our purposes this evening we must focus on the parish. Paragraph 28 is key – “The parish is not an outdated institution; precisely because it possesses great flexibility, it can assume quite different contours depending on the openness and missionary creativity of the pastor and the community. While certainly not the only institution which evangelizes, if the parish proves capable of self-renewal and constant adaptivity, it continues to be ‘the Church living in the midst of the homes of her sons and daughters’. This presumes that it really is in contact with the homes and the lives of its people, and does not become a useless structure out of touch with people or a self-absorbed group made up of a chosen few. The parish is the presence of the Church in a given territory, an environment for hearing God’s word, for growth in the Christian life, for dialogue, proclamation, charitable outreach, worship and celebration.”

4. With regard to conversion, pastoral ministry today must be a missionary ministry which seeks to overcome the complacent attitude that says – “We have always done it this way”. And so the Holy Father invites everyone to be bold and creative in this task of re-thinking the goals, structures, styles and methods of evangelization in their own respective communities. Early in the nineteen hundreds, it was Pope Pius XI who sought to enlist us all under the banner of Christ the King. Even at that time it was obvious to Pope Pius that the culture of the West was being so threatened by secularization and it could only be encountered by what was then called “Catholic action”, that is, all of us seeking to live the Gospel under the banner of Christ our King It’s motto was “Seek, judge and act”. This is what our Holy Father is asking of us today. We must fearlessly seek to study what the missionary task is for us here and now, and how we are to carry it out in our everyday lives. This is nothing other than what the Second Vatican Council urged on all of us in the Church in its document on the Church in the world of this time – “This Council exhorts Christians, as citizens of two cities, to strive to discharge their earthly duties conscientiously and in response to the Gospel spirit. They are mistaken who, knowing that we have here no abiding city but seek one which is to come, think that they may therefore shirk their earthly responsibilities. For they are forgetting that by the faith itself they are more obliged than ever to measure up to these duties, each according to his/her proper vocation. Nor, on the contrary, are they any less wide of the mark who think that religion consists in acts of worship alone and in the discharge of certain moral obligations, and who imagine they can plunge themselves into earthly affairs in such a way as to imply that these are altogether divorced from the religious life. This split between the faith that many profess and their daily lives deserves to be counted among the more serious errors of our age.”


1. Putting all things in a missionary key affects the way we communicate our Catholic faith: “In today’s world of instant communication and occasionally biased media coverage, the message we preach runs the greater risk of being distorted or being reduced to some of its secondary aspects. In this way certain issues which are part of the Church’s teaching, especially in the moral area, are taken out of context, a context with gives them their meaning. The biggest problem is when the message we preach then seems identified with the secondary aspects which, important though they are, do not in and of themselves convey the heart of Christ’s message.” We need to be realistic, Francis tells us, and not assume that our potential audience understands the full background of what we are saying, or is capable of relating what we say to the very heart of the Gospel which gives it meaning, beauty and attractiveness.

2. This section from the Pope’s exhortation needs careful reading. In my presentation, I have entitled this section “Communication and Mission”. Actually, the Pope has entitled it, “From the Heart of the Gospel”. We find two expressions in this section of Chapter One: The text speaks of what comes from the heart of the Gospel and speaks also of what is of secondary rank. The Pope does not want these two expressions to be identified when it comes to evangelization. Words like “secondary” do not mean what is unimportant or insignificant. There are many issues which are enormously important such as, teachings about abortion, teachings about marital issues and sexual concerns; however, they are not necessarily part and parcel of missionary proclamation. Missionary proclamation means telling the world about God who loves the world and sent his divine Son among us so that we might become sons and daughters of such a wonderful Father whose life we share through the cross. Missionary proclamation tells the world about Jesus who came among us to show us the way to the Father. Jesus teaches us that God wills only what is for our happiness, and how God the Father calls us and all peoples to be numbered among his people. As we seek to explore this section of the document, it might be good to raise the question – How does the Church communicate its faith in the public square? The answer is – The Church does so in three distinct but important ways: evangelization, catechesis and theology. Each has a particular form of language and the language of evangelization is proclamation which comes from the heart of the Gospel. What we must keep in mind is the quotation which Francis takes from Pope Benedict which I have already mentioned: “Being a Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea but an encounter with an event, the Christ event, an incarnate divine person which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction”. It is not possible to teach the Catechism to someone who has not been evangelized; it is not possible for a person to be engaged in the work of theology who has not been properly catechized; furthermore, it is not possible to engage in the work of evangelization if one is not properly evangelized. This is why in paragraph 3 at the beginning of this exhortation on the Joy of the Gospel, and as I have already alluded to, Pope Francis has made a request of every Christian – “I invite all Christians everywhere to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ.” If this does not happen, of course, the rest of the document won’t make much sense.

3. All revealed truths derive from the same divine source and are to be believed with the same faith, yet some of these are more important for giving direct expression to the heart of the Gospel, so that what shows forth is the saving will of God made manifest in Our Lord Jesus Christ who died and rose for the glory of the Father and the true happiness of all people. The Second Vatican Council, in its decree on ecumenism, underscores the teaching that there is an order or hierarchy of truth in the Gospel message since truths vary in their relative relationship to the foundation of the faith. We read in the Council’s decree on ecumenism – “When comparing doctrines with one another, we should remember that in Catholic teaching there exists an order or a hierarchy of truths since they vary in their relation to the foundation of the Christian faith”. The Holy Father turns to Thomas Aquinas who long before the Second Vatican Council taught that the Church’s moral teaching has its own hierarchy in terms of the virtues and the actions which proceed from the virtues. What counts above all else in the moral life is “faith working through love”. (Gal. 5:6) Works of love directed to one’s neighbor are the most perfect external manifestations of the interior grace of the Holy Spirit. The foundation of the new law is – the grace of the Holy Spirit who is manifested in the faith that works through love. St. Thomas tells us that the greatest of all the virtues is mercy since all the others revolve around it. Does not St. Paul in Ephesians tell us that we must be imitators of God and it is proper to God to have mercy through which his omnipotence is manifested in the greatest degree. All this is good wisdom for those who preach or teach the Catholic faith. Such preaching and teaching must manifest a fitting sense of proportion which can be seen in the frequency with which certain themes are brought up and given emphasis. The Pope gives an excellent example – “If in the course of a liturgical year, the parish priest speaks about temperance ten to twelve times and only mentions mercy and justice twice, then an imbalance results. The same thing happens when we speak more about law than about grace, more about the Church than about Christ, and more about the Pope than God’s word.”

4. The other day in The New York Times, the columnist David Brooks wrote – “There is a strong vein of hostility against orthodox religious believers in America today, especially among the young. When secular or mostly secular people are asked by researchers to give their impression of the devoutly faithful, whether Jewish, Christian or other, the words that come up frequently are ‘judgmental’, ‘hypocritical’, ‘old fashion’ and ‘out of touch’.” In his interesting article, Brooks quotes Rabbi Heschel. The Rabbi’s concern centered upon the way that many believers expressed their faith. They speak, for example, about faith as though completely replaced by the Creed, and about worship as though completely replaced by discipline; and when the culture of today is ignored because of the splendor of the past; and when faith becomes an heirloom rather than a living fountain; and when religion speaks only in the nuance of authority rather than with the voice of compassion”.


1. The Church by its very nature is a missionary disciple. This was made luminously clear in the Vatican document on missions – “The pilgrim Church is missionary by her very nature for it is from the mission of the Son and mission of the Holy Spirit that she takes her origin in accordance with the decree of God the Father”. Francis entitles the fourth section of Chapter One – “A Mission Embodied Within Human Limits”. In keeping with the terminology I have been using, we could call this section: “Mission and the Human Limits of Language”. Like all disciplines, whatever the area of concern, it takes time for the Church to mature in its missionary challenge. In order to mature in its challenge, the Church stands in need, need for the work of scripture scholars and the work of theology, the work of sociology and the various social sciences and the expertise and talents of so many of our lay folks. It’s helpful to note that the Church cannot control the evolution of language. Take, for example, the word “propaganda”. For centuries it referred to the universal or catholic outreach of the good news of the Gospel to all peoples everywhere. Now think of what “propaganda” means in our world today. As Pope John XXIII remarked at the opening of the Second Vatican Council – “The Deposit of the Faith is one thing; the way the Deposit of the Faith is expressed at any given time is another”. Francis observes – For those who long for a monolithic body of doctrine guarded by all and leaving no room for nuance, this might appear as undesirable and leading to confusion. But the variety of languages can serve to bring out the different facets of the inexhaustible riches of the Gospel. We ought to say to every preacher what every mother often has to say to her son – Watch your language. When I was a seminarian, a missionary bishop spoke to us about preaching. He told us, and I wondered at the time if this was something of an exaggeration, that twenty percent of the people listening to a homily go away with precisely the opposite view of what the preacher intended. Such are the limits of language.

2. The limits that mission encounters go beyond the limits of language. Certain customs of the past may not speak today to the peoples of our times, and the Holy Father quotes St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine – “Insist that preachers and teachers are not to burden the lives of the faithful who often face limits in terms of ignorance, fear, inordinate attachments and other psychological or social attachments.” Thus, evangelization is no easy task. Faith always remains something of a cross. Francis tells us that we will never be able to make the Church’s teachings always easily understood or appreciated by everyone. And furthermore, people of our day only will listen to teachers who are also witnesses of what they teach. This last section has many wonderful and practical suggestions. I will end by quoting the last paragraph of Chapter One – “Let us go forth, then, let us go forth to offer everyone the life of Jesus Christ. Here I repeat for the entire Church what I have often said to the priests and laity of Buenos Aires: I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security. I do not want a Church concerned with being at the center and which then ends by being caught up in a web of obsessions and procedures. If something should rightly disturb us and trouble our consciences, it is the fact that so many of our brothers and sisters are living without the strength, light and consolation born of friendship with Jesus Christ, without a community of faith to support them, without meaning and a goal in life. More than by fear of going astray, my hope is that we will be moved by the fear of remaining shut up within structures which give us a false sense of security, within rules which make us harsh judges, within habits which make us feel safe, while at our door people are starving and Jesus does not tire of saying to us: ‘Give them something to eat’ (Mk 6:37).”