The second encyclical of Pope Francis was the Joy of the Gospel (Evangelii Gaudium). It is the blueprint of his papacy. This focus on the new evangelization began in the Second Vatican Council and was expanded by Paul VI in Evangelii Nuntiandi. Pope John Paul II also emphasized the need for evangelization (proclaiming the Gospel) and the interaction of the Church and the world, especially humanity, social justice, ecology and respect for other living creatures in the world. Benedict XVI added to this legacy and the blessings coming from the Church to the world and vice versa. What do evangelization and Christian unity have in common? That is what I discuss in this brief article.
The Joy of the Gospel
Pope Francis begins his encyclical with a call for joy. “Rejoice!” is a frequent message of God in the scriptures. The prophets, the psalmists, and Apostles repeatedly call for joy. Pope Francis says it should characterize Christians and all who believe in God and marvel at God’s creation. Evangelization is the process of spreading the good news (god spell/gospel) that God is the Lord of creation and shares his life and love with all that lives and all that exists. Gaudium et Spes patiently develops why faith is reasonable and a gift of God (grace) because it answers the basic and essential questions which mankind asks itself since the beginning of time: who am I, where did I come from, where am I going? Why is faith so important, so liberating and redemptive? How does it give us true freedom? What is its place/role in modern times?
We have much to learn from the scriptures. We also have much to learn from evangelical Christians. One of the great contributions to Christianity from the Reformation is its emphasis on the Bible. Evangelicals focus their faith and spirituality on the scriptures. The Second Vatican Council recognized that the scriptures can facilitate Christian unity and answer to the prayer of Jesus, that all may be one.
The People of God
Lumen Gentium, Vatican II’s dogmatic constitution on the Church, begins with a chapter on the Church as mystery. The second chapter is on the Church as “People of God”. Only in the third chapter does the Church identify itself as “hierarchical”. People of God means everyone who is baptized, and potentially every human being. It is the name for the Jewish people descendant from Abraham, which crossed the Red Sea with Moses leaving the slavery of Egypt. We are children of Abraham because we share his faith in God and are justified by it. We are not a loose collection of humans. We are a communion, a family, a people that God loved and saved. God promised a redeemer and savior – a Messiah, who gave his life to free us from sin and give us eternal life. As Augustine said, by the Eucharist we become the Body of Christ, the Church. The Eucharist that we celebrate is the memorial (anamnesis) by which we celebrate and participate in the paschal mystery of Jesus Christ. It is word and sacrament by which our faith and baptism are renewed in a reaffirmation of our covenant with Jesus, our savior.