Can we joyfully share all that God has given to us?

Categories: Changing our World,Visitor Columnist

Lent is a good time to spread the good news through sacrifice, prayer, almsgiving and action

March 28, 2014, edition
By Bernie Evans

“There are Christians whose lives seem like Lent without Easter.”

Pope francis makes this observation in his encyclical, “The Joy of the Gospel” (6). He writes that evangelizing — proclaiming the good news of salvation — involves every one of us.

13evansWe evangelize through witness and word, and we do so with joy. As the Holy Father states, “an evangelizer must never look like someone who has just come back from a funeral!” (10).

Pope Francis says that this apostolic exhortation is not a social document.

Rather, it is a statement about how we should proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ, how we should carry out the fundamental mission of the church. Still, there is much in this document that connects with Catholic social teachings.

He states that “God, in Christ, redeems not only the individual person, but also the social relations” existing between us. In the Gospel “we see the profound connection between evangelization and human advancement” (178).

His point reflects that of an earlier social document, which stated that the salvation Christ proclaims is liberation from sin and from everything that oppresses people (“Evangelization in the Modern World,” Pope Paul VI, 9).

The economy included

This link between proclaiming the Gospel and working for human advancement has immediate implications.

In a very general way it means we struggle against any form of inequality that keeps some people from living a dignified life.

Part of that effort, according to Pope Francis, must be directed towards the economic realm.

His message is clear and stunning.

“Just as the commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say ‘thou shalt not’ to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills. How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure but it is news when the stock market loses two points?” (53)

He goes on to quote from the fourth century Archbishop of Constantinople, St. John Chrysostom: “Not to share one’s wealth with the poor is to steal from them and to take away their livelihood. It is not our own goods which we hold, but theirs” (58).

Pope Francis is drawing upon the early Christian teaching on the universal purpose of the goods of creation, that God provides adequate resources to meet the needs of everyone, and these must be shared.

We are in the season of Lent, a time when prayer, fasting and almsgiving should mark the life of every Christian.

“The Joy of the Gospel” reminds us that these practices are connected and that they are not meant only for our individual personal piety. Rather, we pray for ourselves and for our neighbor.

Fasting is a way to deepen our own conversion, but also to share in the experience of others who live every day without enough food.

Our fasting also can lead us to contribute to the needs of others more generously, as St. Augustine and other early Christian writers taught.

Finally, we give alms to provide direct assistance and relief to persons who suffer from poverty and any kind of affliction.

Almsgiving also can help us remember that we are called not only to give direct assistance to those in need, but to work for changes in society that make it easier for some persons or groups to live a more dignified life. Prayer, fasting and almsgiving — a way for all of us to evangelize!

An authentic faith Pope Francis provides the reason for moving in this direction: “An authentic faith — which is never comfortable or completely personal — always involves a deep desire to  change the world” (183).

To this task all Christians are called, and to do it with joy.

“The Joy of the Gospel” can be found on line by googling “Evangelii Gaudium. Apostolic Exhortation of Pope Francis.”

Great Lenten reading!

Bernie Evans holds the Virgil Michel Ecumenical Chair in Rural Social Ministries at St. John’s University School of Theology/Seminary in Collegeville. Contact him at bevans@csbsju.edu.