Wow, would the world be a better place if this was the attitude of every Christian: “We need to help others to realize that the only way is to learn how to encounter others with the right attitude, which is to accept and esteem them as companions along the way, without interior resistance. Better yet, it means learning to find Jesus in the faces of others, in their voices, in their pleas. And learning to suffer in the embrace of the crucified Jesus whenever we are unjustly attacked or meet with ingratitude, never tiring of our decision to live in fraternity.” (91)
I am tempted to let Francis drop the mic and walk off the stage with that one at least on this theme, but he has other treasures on the need for the Church to be local, personal, communal, focused outward. I won’t quote it (you can always get a link to the doc from my “About” tab), but in paragraph 95 he does a great job of pointing to the internal, careerist, organization-building tendency in the Church (and, sociologists would argue, in every human institution). In 97 he says about this temptation: “We need to avoid it by making the Church constantly go out from herself, keeping her mission focused on Jesus Christ, and her commitment to the poor.”
There is, you have to admit, a leaning toward clubbishness in the Church, a tendency to focus on keeping the holy safe from the outside world. Francis won’t have it. “The salvation which God has wrought, and the Church joyfully proclaims, is for everyone…Jesus did not tell the apostles to form an exclusive and elite group. He said: ‘Go and make disciples of all nations.'” (113)
There is a lot in the middle section of the exhortation on the kerygma – the basic kernel of the Gospel (see the earlier post on the essential message). I’m ashamed to say that in all my years as a Christian, I haven’t spent a lot of time practicing how to talk about that message, but many who have seem to articulate it as a solely individual one about your personal relationship with Jesus. But Francis says that isn’t complete. “The kerygma has a clear social content: at the very heart of the Gospel is life in community and engagement with others.” (177) “To believe in a Father who loves all men and women with an infinite love means realizing that ‘he thereby confers upon them an infinite dignity…to believe that Jesus shed his blood for us removes any doubt about the boundless love which ennobled each human being.” (178) He concludes in 180: “Both Christian preaching and life, then, are meant to have an impact on society.” And thus he is off to talk about poverty and peace.
Later, in his talk about unity and dialogue, he has a great section 231-233 on the need for the world of ideas to be ever-grounded in reality (which, if my doctoral professors had adhered to, I might have taken a different path, by the way).
It’s easy to see community simply as the field of mission, and not it’s end, but that is incomplete. “Mission is at once a passion for Jesus and a passion for his people…we want to enter fully into the fabric of society, sharing the lives of all, listening to their concerns, helping them materially and spiritually in their needs, rejoicing with those who rejoice, weeping with those who weep; arm in arm in others, we are committed to building a new world.” (269)
This is the Church Francis wants.