Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
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The Social Dimension of Evangelization
Fourth in a series of five reflections on Pope Francis’s ‘The Joy of the Gospel’
by Bishop William S. Skylstad, for the Inland Register
(From the Aug. 21, 2014 edition of the Inland Register)
The theme of the fourth chapter of The Joy of the Gospel (“Evangelii Gaudium”) is challenging for us in the Church. Given the disconnectedness and violence in our world, its message could not come at a better time.
As disciples of Jesus, we all are called to be faithful to the Gospel mandate to love neighbor as ourselves. Pope Francis is adamant in saying that if the social dimension of the Gospel is not brought out, there is great risk of distorting and impoverishing the true message of evangelization.
At the very heart of the Gospel is life in community and engagement with others. God confers infinite dignity on all women and men. There is an inseparable bond between acceptance of the message of salvation and genuine fraternal love. Jesus redeems not only the human person, but also social relations that exist among people. This message must be taken seriously if it is to have a real effect in our lives and in our communities. By her very nature as missionary, the Church should abound in effective charity and compassion which understands, assists, and promotes. Reading the Gospel also makes clear that Sacred Scripture is not merely about our personal relationship with God. The mission of proclaiming the good news of Jesus has a universal application. The mandate of loving neighbor includes “all dimensions of individuals, community life and all peoples” (181).
“Consequently, no one can demand that religion should be relegated to the inner sanctum of personal life, without influence on societal and national life, without concern for the soundness of civil institution” (183). Pope Francis observes that situations in different countries vary, and the Christian community should analyze the situation that is proper to their own country.
Then the Holy Father moves on to what he believes are the two great issues that face humanity: first, the inclusion of the poor in society; and second, peace and social dialogue. As Christians, we are called to work for the liberation and promotion of the poor. This approach demands increased sensitivity on our part. As the hymn reminds us, we must “Hear the Cry of the Poor.” The pope talks about structural causes of poverty and the need to be in solidarity with humanity. In this regard, special attention must be paid to the economy and the distribution of wealth.
We address the realities of the poor through education, access to health care, and above all, employment. “God’s heart has a special place for the poor, so much so that he himself became poor” (197). The Holy Father is frank when he says that that is why he wants the church to be poor and for the poor. In that spirit, we as Church should ensure that “in every Christian community the poor feel at home” (199).
Pope Francis says he wants our feet planted in the locality in which we live, but we also must keep before ourselves people of the world and their needs. We are profoundly connected in the human family.
The second great issue the Holy Father stresses is the need for dialogue. Evangelization involves the path of dialogue. He mentions three important areas of dialogue: dialogue with states, dialogue with society, and dialogue with other believers who are not part of the Catholic Church. In dialogue and in the promotion of the Gospel of peace, the Church should strive to cooperate with all national and international entities to assist in safeguarding the immense universal good of humankind.
“The new evangelization calls on every baptized person to be a peacemaker and a credible witness to a reconciled life” (239). This involves living together in the human family with a spirit of social and cultural solidarity. We look to and give support to the integral human development of all. The state plays a very important role in all of this, and in doing so together we should strive for a profound social humility. In the relationship with the state and with society in general, the Church must acknowledge that she does not have solutions for every specific issue.
Dialogue involves faith, reason, and science; ecumenism; relationships with Judaism and the interreligious community (e.g. Islam). Such dialogue should take place in the context of religious freedom. Freedom is a fundamental human right which can and should lead to “the freedom to choose the religion which one judges to be true and to manifest one’s belief in public” (255). The pope states that we should feel close to those who do not belong to any religious tradition, and yet they can also search for the truth, goodness, and beauty in which, in our own tradition, we find God.
All of this dialogue can provide a path of peace in our troubled world. May we all, each in his or her unique way, contribute to that mission.
(Bishop Skylstad is bishop emeritus of the Diocese of Spokane.)
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