Living life to the full, reaching out to the peripheries

Before we focus on the Bishop of Rome’s new encylical on the ecology which is just out, it might be good to recall several key phrases from his Joy of the Gospel exhortation, released in November 2013.

Jun 18, 2015

Anil Netto

By Anil Netto
Before we focus on the Bishop of Rome’s new encylical on the ecology which is just out, it might be good to recall several key phrases from his Joy of the Gospel exhortation, released in November 2013.

But first, recall the words of Jesus, “I have come so that they may have life and have it to the full” (John 10:10).

That raises the question, what does it mean to live life to the full? Wouldn’t it imply moving from captivity and bondage, from anything that is holding us back, to freedom? But freedom to do what?

Freedom to love one another as God loves us, which is the greatest commandment. At the social level, as a human family, it means working in solidarity to remove the chains that hold back our sisters and brothers in the world from living life to the full.

The paradox is that it is in giving of ourselves to others in love that we will find the greatest joy and fulfilment, which is what led Jesus to the cross after a ministry dedicated to heralding this new kindom. “The Joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness. With Christ, joy is constantly born anew…. (ref. 1, Joy of the Gospel).

This joy is another gift of the Spirit. Francis observes that there are Christians whose lives seem like Lent without Easter. “I realise, of course, that joy is not expressed the same way at all times in life, especially at moments of great difficulty. Joy adapts and changes, but it always endures, even as a flicker of light born of our personal certainty that, when everything is said and done, we are infinitely loved.”

Even those who are suffering can find this joy of faith. “I understand the grief of people who have to endure great suffering, yet slowly but surely, we all have to let the joy of faith slowly revive as a quiet yet firm trust, even amid the greatest distress…” (ref. 6).

Meanwhile, we are challenged to come out of our comfort zone and proclaim the Good News, even unto the furthest ends. “Each Christian, and every community, must discern the path that the Lord points out, but all of us are asked to obey his call to go forth from our own comfort zones in order to reach all the “peripheries” in need of the light of the Gospel” (ref. 20).

Proclaiming the Good News also means taking a more concerned look at Sin in the world and how it has held people captive in many ways e.g. exploitation and oppession, slavery, trafficking, wars, injustice. All these are created by unjust and yes, sinful, structures that perpetuate a system of domination in the world that enriches a small group of the elite and allows them to lord it over the rest.

No wonder Francis stresses that we are called to say “No to an economy of exclusion and inequality, No to the new idolatry of money, No to a financial system which rules rather than serves, and No to the inequality which spawns violence.” All these are key sub-headings in Francis’ Joy of the Gospel.

Today, the Good News we are called to proclaim must include addressing all these issues as they are holding back vast sections of humanity from experiencing the rightful freedom to live life to the full.

The missionary impulse today means channeling the Church’s energies and ways of doing things into the “evangelization of today’s world rather than for her (the Church’s) self-preservation,” says Francis.

We must make ordinary pastoral activity more inclusive and open so that pastoral works can reach out to all those Jesus wants to be friends with. That means we should not fall prey to “ecclesial introversion,” as St John Paul II put it (ref. 27)

Francis wants us to abandon the complacent attitude of pastoral ministry that says, “We have always done it this way.”

Instead, he invites everyone “to be bold and creative in this task of rethinking the goals, structures, style and methods of evangelization in their respective communities” (ref. 33).

This piece is dedicated to Archbishop Emeritus Soter Fernandez, who highlighted to me the relevant sections of the Joy of the Gospel exhortation mentioned above. His concern for the poor and those on the periphery of society has been an inspiration to many.

The full text of Joy of the Gospel is available at the HERALD, No. 5 Jalan Robertson, 50150 Kuala Lumpur. Tel: (03)-2026-8290/8291 @ RM5.00 per copy.

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