Evangelii Gaudium…

joy of the gospel

We got a present in the post today from our friend Maggy. The note with it said something like ‘I am not given to reading Papal documents as a matter of course, but this one is different’. So different that she sent a copy to us!

This one is the first such document to be written by Pope Francis, and could be seen as his personal agenda, his manifesto, for his papacy. He has called it Evangelii Gaudium, or The Joy of the Gospel. You can read it on-line here, which I had tried to do, but given up. It is much easier to read in paper form so thanks Maggy!

The ‘Gospel’ that Francis talks about ‘Evangelising’ is a very different Gospel that the Evangelicals that I grew up with would recognise. For them the Gospel was simply this- repent, because unless you say the sinners prayer you are going to hell. Francis’ Gospel is about the truth of Christ growing within us, so that as we experience his profound liberation we become ever more sensitive to the needs of others.

Francis is also concerned that the church may be a poor church, for the poor. Here are a couple of quotes which immediately light me up;

“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? This is a case of exclusion. Can we continue to stand by when food is thrown away while people are starving? This is a case of inequality. Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalised: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape.


“Human beings are themselves considered consumer goods to be used and then discarded. We have created a ‘disposable’ culture which is now spreading. It is no longer simply about exploitation and oppression, but something new. Exclusion ultimately has to do with what it means to be a part of the society in which we live; those excluded are no longer society’s underside or its fringes or its disenfranchised – they are no longer even a part of it. The excluded are not the ‘exploited’ but the outcast, the ‘leftovers’.”

I look forward to reading more of the story that Francis would encourage us to see ourselves part of- the good news Gospel story that our world desperately needs to hear anew.

And I will contrast it with the other stories, like this one.

I will read other stories through the shape given by the Gospel.


Outrageous response…

violence, violins

I have been thinking about the response we make to violence, partly in the wake of the attack on the shopping mall in Kenya, but also because of this on going so-called ‘war’ on terror. We try to fight a handful of extremists using technology- be it spying on a billion peoples banal internet messages, or the use of Raptor pilot-less planes armed with rockets. In the process of this we loose out own humanity and breed a climate of fear and insecurity.

Our response to outrage can not be to cause yet more of the same.

We in the church are complicit in much of this, we tend towards the same language of crisis. We hear people describe how we are ‘under attack’ from the rising forces of evil secularism, and how we have to step forward, using our own Raptors, to ‘defend the faith’.

I am increasingly impressed by the things Pope Francis is saying. The other day, he said this;

“The complaints of today about how ‘barbaric’ the world is – these complaints sometimes end up giving birth within the church to desires to establish order in the sense of pure conservation, as a defence. No: God is to be encountered in the world of today. If the Christian is a restorationist, a legalist, if he wants everything clear and safe, then he will find nothing.”

When the saints go marching in (it will be crowded…)


Pope Francis broke new records on Sunday by creating saints out of  813 citizens of Otranto, in southern Italy, who refused the demand of their Ottoman conquerors in 1480 to convert to Islam and were therefore beheaded.

There seems to have been a lot of saint making of late- John Paul II made 483 of them for instance- and there are now around 10.000- one per 100,000 Catholics.

‘What makes for a saint?’ you might ask- particularly those who are not of a religious persuasion. The rules are straightforward – check out Saints for dummies – basically you have to be responsible for two miracles from beyond the grave, and these have to be investigated and ‘proved’ before the Pope gives you the nod.

The recent batch where given their halos after the cure of Sister Francesca Levote from ovarian cancer after her fellow nuns prayed to them. The fact that she was also given chemotherapy and radiotherapy confuses things a bit however.

I confess I have always struggled a bit with all this sainting. I think there are some aspects of the reformation that still hold me, and one of these is the freedom from complicated formulaic means of accessing God through mediators, be they earthly or ghostly figures. However, in the way of remaining open and respectful of religious traditions that are not my own, I wondered what all these saints may bring to us that is of use in our own faith stories.

I suppose the most useful thing about all these saints is what they can teach us as examples of good people who lived out their faith.

Although to be fair, some of the saints are a bit, shall we say, suspect? Nobody is perfect (not even a saint) but we have people like St Ambrose, who inspired us to hate Jews. There were also a few that were a bit too liberal with the scarification, rolling in nettles and thorns a bit too much for my liking.

Some of them were great fun though. This from here;

 In the third century, St. Lawrence, who was burned to death on a grill, over hot coals, called out to his executioners, “This side is done. Turn me over and have a bite.” In the fourth century, St. Augustine of Hippo, puckishly prayed, “Lord, give me chastity … but not yet.”

Some saints were known specifically for their rich sense of humor. St. Philip Neri, a 16th-century Italian priest, for example, was called “The Humorous Saint.” Over his door he posted a small sign that read, “The House of Christian Mirth.” En route to a ceremony in his honor, he once shaved off half his beard, as a way of poking fun at himself. “Christian joy is a gift from God, flowing from a good conscience,” he said. And “A heart filled with joy is more easily made perfect than one that is sad.”

St. Francis de Sales, the 17th-century bishop of Geneva and renowned spiritual master, espoused what you might call a sensible, cheerful and gentle spirituality. “When you encounter difficulties and contradictions, do not try to break them, but bend them with gentleness and time,” he once wrote. His humane approach to spiritual matters stood in contrast to some of the rigidities of his day. So did his desire to help lay people live a life of deep spirituality — when “real” spirituality was thought to be the province of clerics. His classic text Introduction to the Devout Life was written specifically to help laypeople on their path to God.

Francis de Sales also knew how to use a joke to good effect. He was, for example, a great friend of St. Jane Frances de Chantal, a French noblewoman, and together, in 1610, they founded a religious order for women, the Visitation sisters. After Jane had initially decided to follow a strict religious life and remain unmarried after being widowed, she continued to wear low-cut dresses showing off her décolletage. On the night of their first meeting, Francis de Sales took a look at her dress quipped, “Madame, those who do not mean to entertain guests should take down their signboard.”

My kind of saints these.

Gentleness and time- I like that.

Anyone else got a favourite saint?