Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Evangelii Gaudium

For those interested in such things, I encourage them to take the time to read the Pope's Evangellii Gaudium, his first apostolic exhortation. I'm in the midst of working on three different projects all at once and I've not quite read the whole letter with the attention it deserves.

One particularly plum section I did manage to read, however, deserves mention and applies particularly to clergy. Under the subtitle No Spiritual Worldliness (93-97), the Holy Father gives a marvelous diagnosis for a problem facing many clergy today. Sad to say, I know not a few priests - Jesuit, other religious orders and congregations, and diocesan - afflicted with a form of spiritual worldliness:
This worldliness can be fueled in two deeply interrelated ways. One is the attraction of gnosticism, a purely subjective faith whose only interest is a certain experience or a set of ideas and bits of information which are meant to console and enlighten, but which ultimately keep one imprisoned in his or her own thoughts and feelings. The other is the self-absorbed promethean neopelagianism of those who ultimately trust only in their own powers and feel superior to others because they observe certain rules or remain intransigently faithful to a particular Catholic style from the past. A supposed soundness of doctrine or discipline leads instead to a narcissistic and authoritarian elitism, whereby instead of evangelizing, one analyzes and classifies others, and instead of opening the door to grace, one exhausts his or her energies in inspecting and verifying. In neither case is one really concerned about Jesus Christ or others. These are manifestations of an anthropocentric immanentism. It is impossible to think that a genuine evangelizing thrust could emerge from these adulterated forms of Christianity. (94)
If ever there were a great turn of phrase, "self-absorbed promethean neopelagianism" has count to count as one. Further, and more importantly, this section on spiritual worldliness forces all of us to consider how we envision the Church: is it a beautiful relic from a long-gone past, a gilded sarcophagus redolent of past glory and incense, or is the Church a doorway to a joyful encounter with the Living One? Should the Church cling to its past or open itself up for the coming future?

There are too many in the Church today - lay and clergy - who have become defeatist, querulous and disillusioned pessimists, "sourpusses." (85). These are the people who hearken back to some (non-existent) "good-old days" and grumble about the present. They forget exactly what the Holy Father continually reminds us of: the life of Christian discipleship is a life lived, always, under the shadow of the Cross. Or, in one of the more memorable lines heard from a homily: You can't be a friend of Jesus and an enemy of the Cross. Christian disciples cannot help but to see the Cross, to see its imposing form in the horizon, to feel its shadow fall over us. Yet, in faith, we realize that the Cross we see appears against the horizon of the Resurrection, the promise that life triumphs over death, that good conquers evil.

The Joy of the Gospel doesn't promise that we will live different lives. Instead, we are called to live our lives differently: not as pickle-pusses or narcissists, but as joyful pilgrims following the Risen One, accepting His Cross, and rejoicing in his triumph over death.

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