Tuesday, November 26, 2013

"Evangelii Gaudium," "The Joy of the Gospel" - Post-Synodal Exhortation from Pope Francis

Pope Francis's post-synodal exhortation, "Evangelii Gaudium," was released today.  It's rather long, and I've read quickly through the whole thing once, but it deserves a more careful read than that.  There is a great deal worth thinking about.

My initial conclusions can be summed up pretty quickly:

     1. Pope Francis is calling us to conversion and mission, very strongly and urgently (#3, 5, etc).  In this sense he is, once again and like his namesake, both perfectly radical, and perfectly traditional.  I think this is very important to keep firmly in mind, because (a) his pastoral experience and referents are different than ours here in Iowa, and (b) sometimes he writes with less than perfect clarity, with round-about references to things that aren't obvious to all; and therefore if we're not focused on his meaning-with-the-Church, we might mistake it for something else.

     2. Pope Francis is stressing once again, just as his predecessors did, the personal quality of encounter with Christ, through the Gospel and the Church's ministry of the Gospel (#20, 27, etc).  Christ changes us, he insists.  Two of the aspects of that conversion, which he wants to stress here, are joy (even in the face of difficulties, as he says several times), and the desire for others' encounter with Christ also, which is "evangelization."  Hence the title.

     3. Pope Francis seems to have an excellent read on the modern world.  He expresses clearly the seductive but disheartening qualities of modern life (#52ff) - individualism (and its isolation), materialism (and its exploitation), secularism (and its persecution), freedom (and its stagnation), and so on.  He also sees all of these, not just in their guises outside the Church, which we oppose with the Gospel, but also their insidious corruption inside the Church, sapping the joy of believers.  This is a nuance too little talked about; I am pleased he's not afraid to point clearly to it.

     4. One could quibble with a few things he says, and a few things he doesn't say, even in a document as long as this.  For example, he points out the flaws and abuses to which capitalism is prone (e.g. #54), without (here) noting the (even greater) problems with statism/socialism (e.g. in #240, 241); his discussion of Islam is idealistic, and doesn't consider the absence of "magisterial" unity in that religion (#252, 253); except for two brief sections on popular piety (#122ff) and the homily (#135-159), he mostly waits till near the very end to point to the defining importance of the Church's liturgical life for both the initial and ongoing encounter with Christ, and the particular and necessary shape it gives our efforts at evangelizing.  These minor issues won't, in the end, take away from the significance and depth of the exhortation as a whole.

     5. His Marian conclusion is excellent (#284-288).  He calls Mary the "star of the new evangelization," and almost every sentence here has something powerful packed into it.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Homily for Wednesday of 33rd Week, 11/20/13

Today I preached from the first reading, 2 Mac 7:1, 20-31.

Almost every religion of the world believes in some sort of afterlife.  Most people are willing to believe in the possibility that the soul survives the death of the body.  But what makes Judaism and Christianity unique on this point is that we believe, not just in a life for the soul after our death, but that the body also has an eternal destiny. 

In this first reading, we see the core of the Jewish belief.  This is one of the key places in the Old Testament, where the idea of a bodily resurrection is revealed, especially in the words of the devout mother, "Therefore... the Creator of the universe ... in his mercy, will give you back both breath and life..."  The breath is the soul, and the life is the body, which in some mysterious way not yet understood, also continues after death.  Both are raised and saved by God.  This belief prepared for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, not only in His divinity and His human soul, but also in His human body - as we see, for example, when He shows Himself to the Apostle Thomas, with the wounds of the Passion still marked in His flesh.  It is the same body!  The same flesh that He carried in His earthly life was the flesh of His Resurrection.  This is not without change - as St. Paul says, our flesh will be changed "from corruption to incorruption," so that in Heaven our bodies, like Christ's, will no longer be subject to weakness, injury, age, and so on.  But it remains the same body.

This is part of the promise of our faith in Jesus Christ, in His Resurrection.  Mary is one of the very few for whom this has already been fulfilled.  Before Mass, we prayed the Glorious Mysteries, including the mystery of the Assumption: Mary is already taken up into Heaven in her body, and glorified in her body.  This is by way of promise to all of us, that God wants this as part of His eternal gift to us.  And so we say this in the Creed: "I believe in the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting." 

[For the sake of time, I skipped this transition, which I hope was understood: namely, that this belief in the resurrection of the body necessitates the understanding that the person is not the soul, wearing the body in some temporary fashion, and discarding it at death, but rather the person is the union of soul and body.  This also means, of course, certain things about life beginning at conception, and the redemptive possibilities in suffering, and so on.]  There are a number of things that flow from this belief, but here let me just mention two.

First, since the body is destined for its resurrection, what we do to or with the body in this life really does matter.  Most especially, there is no way to reconcile this belief with abortion or euthanasia.  It is simply a contradiction to say on the one hand that the body is meant for Heaven, and that the person is the union of the body and the soul; and to say on the other hand that we can treat people or their bodies as disposable.  There simply is no way that these evil practices can be made compatible with our Catholic faith.  [One could obviously say much more here about pro-abortion politicians trying to claim the pro-life label, or about how the "personally opposed, but..." arguments all fail, and so on; but, desiring a shorter homily, I demurred.]

Second, we are invited to pray for the dead.  The general resurrection hasn't happened yet.  Apart from Jesus and Mary [and Elijah], all the dead are still waiting to be reunited with their restored bodies.  And so our prayers for them now can still be effective.  We can and do hope and pray that our own beloved dead, and all the dead, when they are reunited with the flesh, will also be glorified with Jesus Christ, and be eternally saved.  Especially in this month of November, we are reminded in a special way to pray for the dead, for forgiveness of sins and their eternal blessedness, body and soul in Heaven.