Novena to Mary, Source of Joy for the Little Ones
with extracts from Evangelii Gaudium, on the joy of the Gospel, which Pope Francis gave to us at the end of the Year of Faith on the Feast of our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe.
The daily prayer is taken from the very end of the apostolic exhortation:
Mary, Virgin and Mother,
you who, moved by the Spirit,
welcomed the Verb of life
in the depth of your humble faith,
totally given to the Eternal One,
help us to say our “yes”
in the urgency, more pressing than ever,
to make the Good News of Jesus resound.
You, filled with the presence of Christ,
brought joy to John the Baptist,
making him exult in his mother's womb.
You, trembling with gladness,
sang the wonders of the Lord.
You, who remained firm before the Cross
with an unwavering faith,
and received the joyous consolation of the resurrection,
you gathered the disciples to await the Spirit
so that the evangelizing Church might be born.
Obtain for us now a new ardour as ones resurrected,
so as to bring to everyone the Gospel of life
which conquers death.
Give us holy audacity to seek new paths
so that the gift of the beauty which never fades
may reach everyone.
You, Virgin of listening and of contemplation,
mother of love, spouse of the eternal wedding feast,
intercede for the Church, of which you are the purest icon,
that she may never be enclosed and never stop
in her passion to establish the Kingdom.
Star of the new evangelisation,
help us to shine in the witness of communion,
of service, of ardent and generous faith,
of justice and love for the poor,
so that the joy of the Gospel
may reach to the ends of the earth,
and no periphery be deprived of its light.
Mother of the living Gospel,
source of joy for the little ones,
pray for us.
You can read Evangelii Gaudium in English, French, German, Italian & Spanish.
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You can pray this novena at any time but it being recorded especially to begin on 29 November in preparation for the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception (8 December 2013). - Apologies for the delay! rest of novena will be up asap!.
1. The joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and the entire lives of those who encounter Jesus. Those who let themselves by saved by Him are freed from sin, from sadness, from inner emptiness and isolation. With Jesus Christ joy is always born and reborn. In this Exhortation I desire to address myself to the Christian faithful, so as to invite them to a new stage of evangelization marked by this joy and so as to indicate ways for the pathway of the Church in the years ahead.
I. Joy which renews and communicates itself
2. The big risk in today’s world, with its multiple and overwhelming offering of consumption, is an individualistic sadness which stems from a comfortable and greedy heart, from a feverish pursuit for superficial pleasures, from an isolated conscience. When the interior life closes in on its own interests, there is no longer space for others, the poor no longer enter, the voice of God is no longer heard, the sweet joy of his love is no longer enjoyed, enthusiasm for doing good does not pulsate. Even believers run this risk, which is certain and permanent. Many succumb to it and become resentful, discontent, lifeless people. This is not the choice of a dignified and full life, this is not the desire of God for us, this is not the life in the Spirit which flows from the heart of the risen Christ.
3. I invite every Christian, in whatever place and situation they may find themselves in, to renew their personal encounter with Jesus Christ this very day or, at least, to make the decision to let themselves encounter Him, to seek him every day without ceasing. There is no reason why anyone can think that this invitation is not for them, because "no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord".  The Lord does not disappoint anyone who takes this risk, and when someone takes a small step towards Jesus, one discovers that He was already awaiting ones arrival with open arms. This is the moment to say to Jesus Christ: “Lord, I have let myself be deceived, in a thousand ways I have fled from your love, yet I am here once again to renew my covenant with you. I need you. Redeem me once again Lord, accept me once more into your redeeming arms.” It does us so much good to return to Him when we are lost! I emphasize once again: God never tires of forgiving us, it is us who tire of asking for his mercy. The one who invited us to forgive “seventy times seven times” (Mt 18:22) gives us the example: He forgives seventy times seven times. He comes back to carry us on his shoulders time after time. Nobody can take away from us the dignity that this infinite and unwavering love confers upon us. He enables us to lift our heads up again and start anew, with a tenderness that never disappoints us and that can always restore our joy. Let us not flee from the resurrection of Jesus, let us never give up, come what may. Nothing can be more than his life which urges us forward!
4. The books of the Old Testament had announced the joy of salvation, which would become superabundant in messianic times. The prophet Isaiah addresses the awaited Messiah by greeting him with jubilation: “You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy” (9:3). He encourages the inhabitants of Zion to welcome him with songs: “Sing and rejoice!” (12:6). The prophet invites the one who has already seen him on the horizon to become a messenger for others: “Come up on a high mountain, herald of good tidings to Zion! Lift up your voice with strength, herald of good tidings to Jerusalem” (40:9). The whole creation participates in this joy of salvation: “Sing, O heavens, rejoice, O earth, shout for joy, O mountains: for the Lord consoles his people and has mercy on his afflicted" (49:13).
Zechariah, seeing the Lord's day, invites us to acclaim the King who arrives "humble and riding on a donkey": “Rejoice greatly, daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king comes to you: he is just and victorious” (Zc 9:9).
Yet perhaps the most contagious invitation is that of the prophet Zephaniah, who shows us God himself as a luminous centre of celebration and joy who wants to communicate to his people this salvific cry. It fills me with life to reread this text: “The Lord your God is in your midst, a powerful saviour. He will rejoice over you with gladness, he will renew you in his love, he will exult over you with cries of joy” (Zeph 3:17). This is the joy that is lived in the little things of daily life, as a response to the affectionate invitation of God our Father: “My child, in the measure to which you can, treat yourself well … Do not deprive yourself of a happy day” (Sir 14:11, 14). How much paternal tenderness can be intuited behind these words!
5. The Gospel, in which the Cross of Christ shines glorious, persistently invites us to joy. A few examples will suffice: “Rejoice!” is the angel’s greeting to Mary (Lk 1:28). Mary’s visit to Elizabeth makes John leap for joy in his mother’s womb (cf. Lk 1:41). In her canticle, Mary proclaims: “My spirit rejoices in God my Saviour” (Lk 1:47). When Jesus begins his ministry, John exclaims: “Now my joy is full” (Jn 3:29). Jesus himself “exulted for joy in the Holy Spirit” (Lk 10:21). His message is the source of joy: “I have said these things to you, so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be full” (Jn 15:11). Our Christian joy springs from the source of his overflowing heart. He promises his disciples: “You will be in sadness, but your sadness will turn into joy” (Jn 16:20). And he insists: “I will see you again and your hearts will be in joy and no one will take your joy from you” (Jn 16:22). Thereafter the disciples, seeing him risen, “were full of joy” (Jn 20:20). The book of the Acts of the Apostles recounts that the first community took "their food with gladness” (2:46). Wherever the disciples went, “there was great joy” (8:8), and they, in the midst of persecution, “were filled with joy” (13:52). A eunuch, who had just been baptized, “full of joy went on his way” (8:39), and the jailer “rejoiced with his entire household for having believed in God” (16:34). Why should we not also enter into this river of joy?
6. There are Christians who seem to have about them an air of Lent without Easter. Yet I recognise that joy is not lived in the same way in all the stages and circumstances of life, which are at times very difficult. Joy adapts and transforms itself, and always remains at least as a flare of light which is born of the personal certainty of being infinitely loved, above (and beyond) all else. I understand people who are inclined to sadness because of the the grave difficulties which they have to suffer but, little by little, it is necessary to let the joy of faith begin to wake up, like a secret but firm trust, even in the midst of the worst anxieties: "I remain far from peace, I have forgotten happiness .. But this I recall to my heart, and for this I wish to have hope: the graces of the Lord are infinite, his mercies are inexhaustible. They are renewed every morning, great is his faithfulness .. It is good to await in silence for the salvation of the Lord" (Lam 3:17, 21-23, 26).
7. The temptation frequently appears in the form of excuses and complaints, as if there must be innumerable conditions for joy to be possible. This usually happens because “technological society has succeeded in multiplying occasions for pleasure, but has great difficulty in generating joy”. I can say that the most beautiful and spontaneous joys that I have seen in the course of my life are those of very poor people who have little to hold on to. I also remember the genuine joy of those who, even in the midst of great professional commitments, have kept a detached, simple, believing heart. In various ways, these joys draw from the source of God's ever greater love, which is manifested to us in Jesus Christ. I will not tire of repeating these words of Benedict XVI which lead us to the centre of the Gospel: “Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a Person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction”.
8. It is only thanks to this encounter – or re-encounter – with the love of God, which blossoms into a happy friendship, that we are rescued from our isolated consciousness and self-absorption. We become fully human when we are more than human, when we allow God to lead us beyond ourselves so as to reach our truest being. Herein lies the source of evangelizing action. Because, if someone has welcomed this love which restores the meaning of life, how can the desire be contained to communicate it to others?
II. The sweet and comforting joy of evangelizing
9. The good tends always to communicate itself. Every authentic experience of truth and beauty seeks by itself its expansion, and any person who lives a profound liberation acquires greater sensitivity to the needs of others. When it is communicated, the good takes root and develops. So, whoever desires to live with dignity and fullness has no other pathway than to recognise the other and seek the other's good. We should not be surprised then by some expressions of St Paul: “The love of Christ urges us” (2 Cor 5:14); “Woe to me if I do not proclaim the Gospel” (1 Cor 9:16).
10. The proposal is to live at a higher level, but not with less intensity: “Life grows by being given and weakens in isolation and comfort. In fact, those who enjoy life the most are those who leave the safety of the shore and are passionate about the mission of communicating life to others”. When the Church calls for the task of evangelizing commitment, she merely indicates to Christians the true dynamism of personal fulfilment: “Here we discover another profound law of reality: that life is obtained and matures in the measure to which it is offered for the lives of others. This is, in the end, the mission”. Consequently, an evangelizer should not permanently have on a funeral face! Let us recover and increase our fervour, the “sweet and comforting joy of evangelizing, even when we must sow in tears … May the world of our time - which is searching, sometimes with anguish, sometimes with hope - be able to receive the Good News, not from evangelizers who are sad and discouraged, impatient and anxious, but from ministers of the Gospel whose lives radiate fervour, who have first themselves received the joy of Christ”.
An eternal newness
11. A renewed proclamation offers believers, as well as those who are lukewarm or non-practising, a new joy in faith and an evangelizing fruitfulness. In reality, its centre and essence are always the same: the God who manifested his immense love in Christ, dead and risen. He renders his faithful ones always new, even if they are old: "they regain their strength, they sour as on eagles wings, they run without becoming weary, they walk without fainting” (Is 40:31). Christ is the “eternal Gospel” (Rev 14:6), and he is "the same yesterday and today and forever” (Heb 13:8), but his richness and beauty are inexhaustible. He is always young and the constant source of newness. The Church never ceases to marvel at “the depth of the riches, wisdom and knowledge of God” (Rom 11:33). St John of the Cross said that “this thickness of God's wisdom and knowledge is so deep and immense that, although the soul knows something of it, it can always penetrate more into it”. Or, as St Irenaeus also affirmed: “By his coming, [Christ] brought with him every newness”. He can always, with his newness, renew our lives and our communities and, even if the Christian proposal has crossed dark epochs and ecclesial weaknesses, it never grows old. Jesus Christ can also break through the boring molds in which we intend to confine him and he surprises us with his constant divine creativity. Each time we seek to return to the source and recover the original freshness of the Gospel there emerge new paths, creative methods, other forms of expression, more eloquent signs and words charged with renewed meaning for today’s world. In reality, each authentic evangelizing action is always “new”.
12. While this mission asks of us a generous commitment, it would be a mistake to understand it as a heroic personal task, as the work is first of all his, beyond what we can discover and understand. Jesus is "the first and greatest evangelizer".  In any form of evangelization the primacy is always of God, who wanted to call us to collaborate with Him and to encourage us with the strength of his Spirit. The true newness is that which God himself mysteriously wants to produce, that which He inspires, that which He provokes, that which He directs and accompanies in a thousand ways. In the whole life of the Church it must always be made manifest that the initiative is from God, that "it is he who has loved us" first (1 Jn 4, 10) and that "it is God alone who gives the growth" (1 Cor 3:7). This conviction allows us to preserve joy in the midst of a task so demanding and challenging that it takes up our entire life. He requests of us everything, but at the same time he offers us everything.
13. Nor should we understand the newness of this mission as an uprooting, as a forgetfulness of the living history which welcomes us and drives us forward. Memory is a dimension of our faith that we may call “deuteronomic”, by analogy with the memory of Israel. Jesus leaves us the Eucharist as the daily memory of the Church, which introduces us always more into the Passover (cf Lk 22:19). Evangelizing joy always shines on the background of the grateful memory: it is a grace for which we need to ask. The Apostles never forgot the moment when Jesus touched their hearts: “It was about four in the afternoon” (Jn 1:39). Along with Jesus, the memory presents to us "a true crowd of witnesses” (Heb 12:1). Among them, stand some people who have played a special role so as to bring forth our believing joy: “Remember your leaders, those who announced to you the Word of God” (Heb 13:7). Sometimes it is about simple people near to us who have initiated us into the life of faith: “I am reminded of the sincerity of your faith, a faith that your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice had” (2 Tim 1:5). The believer is fundamentally a memoirist - someone with a "good memory”.
III. The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Faith
14. Listening to the Spirit, who helps us communally to recognise the signs of the times, the XIII Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops was held from 7-28 October 2012 on the theme The New Evangelization for the Transmission of Christian Faith. There we were reminded that the new evangelization calls upon everyone and is realised fundamentally in three areas. Firstly, we mentioned the ambit of ordinary pastoral care, “animated by the fire of the Spirit, so as to inflame the hearts of the faithful who regularly frequent the community and who meet on the Lord’s day to be nourished by his Word and by the Bread of eternal life”. Also included in this ambit are the faithful who preserve an intense and sincere Catholic faith, expressing it in different ways, although they do not participate frequently in worship. This pastoral care is focused on the growth of believers, in a way that they can respond always better and with all of their lives to the love of God.
Secondly, we recalled the ambit of “persons baptized who do not live the demands of Baptism”, who do not have a cordial membership to the Church and no longer experience the consolation of faith. The Church, as an ever attentive mother, strives that they may live a conversion which restores to them the joy of faith and the desire to engage with the Gospel.
Lastly, we remarked that evangelization is essentially connected with the proclamation of the Gospel to those who do not know Jesus Christ or who have always rejected him. Many of them seek God secretly, moved by nostalgia for his face, also in countries of ancient Christian tradition. Everyone has the right to receive the Gospel. Christians have the duty to announce it without excluding anyone, not as one imposing a new obligation, but rather as one sharing a joy, pointing to a beautiful horizon, offering a desirable banquet. The Church does not grow by proselytism but "by attraction". 
15. John Paul II invited us to recognize that there “must be no lessening of the impetus to preach the Gospel" to those who are far from Christ, "because this is the first task of the Church".  Missionary activity "represents, still today, the greatest challenge for the Church"  and "the missionary cause must remain foremost".  What would happen if we really took these words seriously? Simply we would recognise that the missionary activity is the paradigm of every work of the Church. Along this line, the Latin American bishops affirmed that "we can no longer remain quiet, passively waiting, inside our churches"  and that it is necessary to pass "from a pastoral care of simple conservation to a pastoral care that is decidedly missionary".  This task continues to be the source of the greatest joys for the Church: "There will be more joy in heaven for one single sinner who converts, than for the 99 just who have no need of conversion" (Lk 15, 7).
The Missionary Transformation of the Church
19. Evangelization obeys the missionary mandate of Jesus: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Mt 28:19-20). These verses present the moment when the Risen Lord sent his own/followers to preach the Gospel in every time and every place, so that faith in Him might spread to every corner of the earth.
I. A Church going out
20. In the Word of God there constantly appears this dynamism of "going out" which God wants to provoke in believers. Abraham accepted the call to leave for a new land (cf Gen 12, 1-3). Moses heard God's call: "Go, I am sending you" (Ex 3:10) and led the people out for the promised land (cf Ex 3:17). To Jeremiah, He said: “You will go to all to whom I send you” (Jer 1:7). Today, in this "go/ing out" of Jesus, are presented scenarios and ever new challenges for the evangelizing mission of the Church, and we are all called to this new missionary "going out". Every Christian and every community will discern what their pathway is that the Lord is asking /for, but we are all invited to accept this call: to leave our own comfort and have the courage to go to all the peripheries that need the light of the Gospel.
21. The joy of the Gospel which fills the life of the community of disciples is a missionary joy. It was experienced by the 72 disciples, who returned from their mission full of joy (cf. Lk 10:17). It was lived by Jesus, who exulted with joy in the Holy Spirit and praised the Father because his revelation reaches the poor and the littlest ones (cf Lk 10:21). It was felt by the first ones, full of admiration, who converted on hearing the preaching of the Apostles “each in his own language” (Acts 2:6) at Pentecost. This joy is a sign that the Gospel has been announced and is bearing fruit. But it always has the dynamic of exodus and of gift, of going out from oneself, of walking and of sowing always anew, always further. The Lord says: “Let us go on to the neighbouring villages, that I may preach there also, for that is why I have come out” (Mk 1:38). When the seed has been sown in one place, he does not linger there to explain further or perform more signs, but the Spirit leads him to leave for other villages.
22. The Word has in it a potential that we cannot predict. The Gospel speaks of a seed which, once sown, grows by itself even when the farmer sleeps (Mk 4:26-29). The Church must accept this elusive freedom of the Word, which is efficacious in its own way, and through many different forms, such that it often surpasses our predictions and shatters our schemes/plans.
23. The Church’s intimacy with Jesus is an itinerant intimacy, and communion "is configured essentially as missionary communion”. Faithful to the model of the Master, it is vital that today the Church goes out to announce the Gospel to everyone, everywhere, on every occasion, without delay, without revulsion and without fear. The joy of the Gospel is for all people, no one can be excluded. Thus the angel announced to the shepherds of Bethlehem: “Fear not, for behold, I announce to you a great joy, which will be for all the people (Lk 2:10). The Book of Revelation speaks of “an eternal gospel to proclaim to the inhabitants of the earth, to every nation, tribe, tongue and people (Rev 14:6).
To take the initiative, get involved, accompany, bear fruit and celebrate
24. The Church in "going out” is a community of missionary disciples who take the initiative, who get involved, who accompany, who bear fruit and celebrate. The evangelizing community experiences that the Lord has taken the initiative, has preceded it in his love (cf. 1 Jn 4:19), and therefore the community knows how to go ahead, take the initiative without fear, go out to encounter, seek those far away and reach the crossroads so as to invite the excluded. It lives an inexhaustible desire to offer mercy, the fruit of having experienced the infinite mercy of the Father and his diffusive strength. Let us dare a little more to take the initiative! As a consequence, the Church will know how to "get involved". Jesus washed the feet off his disciples. The Lord engages himself and engages his own, kneeling before them to wash their feet. But then he says to his disciples: "You will be happy if you do this" (Jn 13:17). The evangelizing community, by its work and its gestures, puts itself in the daily lives of others, it shortens distances, it lowers itself in humiliation if it is necessary, and it assumes human life, touching the suffering flesh of Christ in the people. Evangelizers thus have the "smell of sheep" and these sheep listen to their voice. Then, the evangelizing community is ready to "accompany". It accompanies humanity in all its processes, however hard and long they may be. It knows long waits and apostolic endurance. Evangelization has a lot of patience, and avoids abusing/not taking account of the limits. Faithful to the Lord's gift, it also knows "to bear fruit". The evangelizing community is always attentive to the fruits, because the Lord wants it to be fruitful. It takes care of the grain and does not lose its peace because of the weeds. The sower, when he sees weeds sprouting among the grain, does not react with complaints or alarm. He finds a way for the Word to be incarnated in a concrete situation and bear fruits of new life, although they may appear to be imperfect or incomplete. The disciple knows to offer his entire life and plays it all the way to martyrdom as a witness to Jesus Christ; his dream is not to have many enemies, but rather for the Word to be welcomed and manifest its liberating and renewing power. Finally, the joyful evangelizing community knows always to "celebrate". To celebrate and feast each little victory, each step forward in evangelization. Joyful evangelization becomes beautiful in the Liturgy in the midst of the daily demands of making the good progress. The Church evangelizes and is herself evangelized by the beauty of the Liturgy, which is also celebration of evangelizing activity and source of a renewed self-giving impulse.
II. Pastoral care in conversion
25. I am aware that documents today do not arouse the same interest as in the past and are quickly forgotten. However, I emphasize that what I want to express here has a programmatic significance and important consequences. I hope that all communities seek to provide the means necessary to advance on the pathway of a pastoral and missionary conversion, which cannot let things stay as they are. We are no longer served by “simple administration”. In all the regions of the earth let us be in a “permanent state of mission”.
26. Paul VI invited the call to renewal to be amplified, forcefully expressing that it was addressed not only to single individuals but to the entire Church. Let us recall this memorable text which has lost none of its challenging force: “The Church must deepen the consciousness she has of herself, must meditate on the mystery which is her own… From this enlightened and active consciousness arises a spontaneous desire to confront the ideal image of the Church - such as Christ saw her, wanted her and loved her as his holy and immaculate Spouse (Eph 5, 27), and the real face, which today the Church presents .. From this is born a generous longing and quasi-impatience for renewal, namely, to amend the defects which the conscience denounces and rejects, by examining herself in the light of the model which Christ left us of himself". 
The Second Vatican Council presented ecclesial conversion as the openness to a permanent reform of itself through fidelity to Jesus Christ: “Every renewal of the Church consists essentially in an increase of fidelity to her own vocation…Christ calls the pilgrim Church to this continual reform, of which she, as a human and earthly institution, always has need". 
There are ecclesial structures that can end up affecting an evangelizing dynamism; equally, good structures serve when there is a life that animates, sustains and judges them. Without new life and authentic evangelical spirit, without the "fidelity of the Church to her own vocation", any new structure is quickly corrupted.
An urgent ecclesial renewal
27. I dream of a missionary option capable of transforming everything, so that the customs, styles, schedules, language and whole ecclesial structure become an appropriate channel for the evangelization of the real world more than for self-preservation. The reform of structures, which pastoral conversion demands, can only be understood in this sense: to ensure that they all become more missionary, that ordinary pastoral care is in every instance more expansive and open, that places pastoral agents in a constant attitude of "going out" and that thus favours a positive response from all those to whom Jesus offers his friendship. As John Paul II said to the Bishops of Oceania, "All renewal in the Church must have mission as its objective so as not to fall prey to a type of ecclesial introversion". 
28. The parish is not an obsolete structure; precisely because it has a great plasticity, it can take many different forms which require the docility and missionary creativity of the pastor and the community. While certainly not being the only evangelizing institution, if it is able to reform and adapt itself continuously, it will continue to be “the Church herself that lives among the homes of her sons and daughters”. This supposes that it really is in contact with households and with the life of the people, and does not become a tedious structure separated from the people or a group of elect who look at themselves. The parish is the ecclesial presence in a territory, the place for listening to the Word, for growth in the Christian life, for dialogue, for proclamation, for generous charity, for adoration and celebration. Through all its activities, the parish encourages and forms its members to be agents of evangelization. It is the community of communities, the sanctuary where the thirsty go to drink so as to continue walking, and the centre of constant missionary outreach. But we must recognise that the call to review and renew parishes has not yet given enough fruits for them to be even closer to the people, to be areas of living communion and participation, and be completely oriented towards mission.
29. The other ecclesial institutions, grassroots communities and little communities, movements and other forms of association, are a richness for the Church which the Spirit raises up (so as) to evangelize all areas and sectors. Many times they bring a new evangelizing fervour and a new capacity for dialogue with the world which renews the Church. But it is very healthy for them not to lose contact with this rich reality of the local parish, and to integrate gladly in the organic pastoral care of the particular Church. Such integration will avoid them remaining alone with only a part of the Gospel and the Church, or becoming nomads without roots.
30. Each particular Church, portion of the Catholic Church under the guidance of its bishop, is also called to missionary conversion. It is the primary subject of evangelization, since sit is the concrete manifestation of the one Church in a place in the world, and in it “the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church of Christ is truly present and operative”. It is the Church incarnate in a determined space, provided with all the means of salvation given by Christ, but with a local face. Its joy in communicating Jesus Christ is expressed both in its concern to announce him in other areas which have greater need, and also in a constant going out to the peripheries of its own territory or to new socio-cultural settings. It strives to be always there where the light and life of the Risen Lord is most lacking. For this missionary impulse to be always more intense, generous and fruitful, I also urge each particular Church to enter into a decided process of discernment, purification and reform.
31. The bishop must always encourage missionary communion in his diocesan Church, following the ideal of the first Christian communities, in which the believers were of one heart and one soul (cf. Acts 4:32). Therefore, sometimes he will go ahead so as to show the pathway and sustain the hope of the people, other times he will simply be in the midst of everyone with his simple and merciful closeness, and in some circumstances he will have to walk behind the people, so as to help the stragglers and, above all, because the flock itself possesses the smell for finding new pathways. In his mission to encourage a dynamic, open and missionary communion, he will have to encourage and research the maturation of the mechanisms of participation proposed in the Code of Canon Law, and other forms of pastoral dialogue, with the desire to listen to everyone and not only to those who stroke his ears, that is are quick to compliment him. But the objective of these participatory processes will not principally be the ecclesial organization but rather the missionary dream of reaching everyone.
32. Since I am called to live what I ask of others, I must also think about a conversion of the papacy. It is for me, as Bishop of Rome, to be open to suggestions directed towards an exercise of my ministry that renders it more faithful to the meaning which Jesus Christ wished to give it and to the current needs of evangelization. Pope John Paul II asked to be helped to find “a way of exercising the primacy which, while in no way renouncing what is essential to its mission, is open to a new situation”. We have made little progress in this regard. Also the papacy and the central structures of the universal Church need to hear the call to a pastoral conversion. The Second Vatican Council expressed that, in a way analogous to the ancient patriarchal Churches, episcopal conferences can “contribute in many and fruitful ways to the concrete realization of the collegial spirit”. But this desire has not been fully realized, since a statute of episcopal conferences has not yet been sufficiently elaborated which conceives them as subjects of specific responsibilities, including also some authentic doctrinal authority, . Excessive centralization, rather than helping, complicates the life of the Church and her missionary dynamics.
33. Pastoral care in a missionary key demands abandoning the comfortable pastoral criterion that “it has always been done this way”. I invite everyone to be bold and creative in this task of rethinking the objectives, structures, style and evangelizing methods of their own communities. A nomination of the ends without an adequate communal search for the means of achieving them is doomed to end up being mere fantasy. I urge everyone to apply the guidelines in this document with generosity and courage, without prohibitions or fear. The important thing is not to walk alone, always to count on one's brothers and sisters, and especially on the guidance of the bishops, in a wise and realistic pastoral discernment.
III. From the Heart of the Gospel
34. If we mean to put everything in a missionary key, this will also apply to the way the message is communicated. In today’s world, with the speed of communications and the selection made by the media according to the interest of the contents, the message that we announce runs the risk more than ever of appearing mutilated and reduced to a few of its secondary aspects. Hence some of the matters that form part of the Church’s moral teaching remain outside the context which gives them meaning. The biggest problem occurs when the message that we are announcing appears then identified with these secondary aspects which, while being important, on their own do not manifest the heart of the message of Jesus Christ. Thus, we need to be realistic and not assume that our interlocutors know the complete background to what we are saying, or that they can connect our discourse to the essential nucleus of the Gospel which confers on it meaning, beauty and attractiveness.
35. Pastoral care in a missionary key is not obsessed with the disarticulated transmission of a multitude of doctrines sought to be imposed by force of insistence. When a pastoral objective and a missionary style is assumed which really reaches everyone without exception or exclusion, the announcement is concentrated on the essential, what is most beautiful, most great, most attractive and at the same time most necessary. The proposal is simplified, without by this losing its depth and truth, and becomes thus all the more convincing and radiant.
36. All revealed truths proceed from the same divine source and are believed with the same faith, but some of them are more important for expressing more directly the heart of the Gospel. In this fundamental nucleus what shines forth is the beauty of the salvific love of God manifested in Jesus Christ, dead and risen. In this regard, the Second Vatican Council explained that “in Catholic doctrine there exists an order or rather a ‘hierarchy’ in the truths, since they vary in their relation to the foundation of the Christian faith”. This applies as much for the dogmas of faith as for the whole of the teachings of the Church, including her moral teaching.
37. Saint Thomas Aquinas taught that in the Church’s moral message there is also a hierarchy, in the virtues and in the acts which proceed from it. Here what counts above all else is “faith which is made active through love” (Gal 5:6). Acts of love towards one’s neighbour are the most perfect outward manifestation of the interior grace of the Spirit: “The principal element of the new law is the grace of the Holy Spirit, manifested in faith which acts through love”. Thus he explains that, as to the outward act, mercy is the greatest of all the virtues: “In itself mercy is the greatest of the virtues, because it pertains to it to give to the others and, what is more, it gives succour to their deficiencies. Now this is assigned especially to that which is superior, which is why it is said that it is proper to God to show mercy, in which his omnipotence shines the greatest”.
38. It is important to take the pastoral consequences of the conciliar teaching, which includes an ancient conviction of the Church. First of all it must be said that in the announcement of the Gospel suitable proportions need to be kept. This is noted in the frequency with which certain themes are mentioned and on the accents put on them in preaching. For example, if a parish priest during a liturgical year speaks ten times about temperance and only two or three times about charity and justice, it produces a disproportion in which the virtues that are overshadowed are precisely those that should be more present in the preaching and catechesis. The same thing happens when more is spoken about law than about grace, more about the Church than about Jesus Christ, more about the Pope than about the Word of God.
39. Thus, as the organics between the virtues prevent any of them from being excluded from the Christian ideal, no truth is denied. It is not necessary to mutilate the integrity of the Gospel message. Moreover, each truth is understood better if it is put in relation to the harmonious totality of the Christian message, and in this context all (the) truths have their importance and illuminate each other. When the preaching is faithful to the Gospel, the centrality of some truths is manifested with clarity and it is clear that Christian moral preaching is not a Stoic ethic, is more than an asceticism, is not a mere practical philosophy nor a catalogue of sins and faults. The Gospel invites us, before all else, to respond to the loving God who saves us, recognising Him in others and going out of ourselves to seek the good of all. This invitation should not be overshadowed in any circumstance! All the virtues are at the service of this response of love. If this invitation does not shine with strength and attractiveness, the moral edifice of the Church runs the risk of becoming a house of cards, and this is our worst danger. Because then it would not properly be the Gospel that would be being announced, but some doctrinal or moral accents which proceed from certain ideological options. The message will run the risk of losing its freshness and will cease to have "the smell of the Gospel".
IV. A MISSION EMBODIED WITHIN HUMAN LIMITS
40. The Church is herself a missionary disciple; she needs to grow in her interpretation of the revealed word and in her understanding of truth. It is the task of exegetes and theologians to help “the judgment of the Church to mature”. The other sciences also help to accomplish this, each in its own way. With reference to the social sciences, for example, John Paul II said that the Church values their research, which helps her “to derive concrete indications helpful for her magisterial mission”. Within the Church countless issues are being studied and reflected upon with great freedom. Differing currents of thought in philosophy, theology and pastoral practice, if open to being reconciled by the Spirit in respect and love, can enable the Church to grow, since all of them help to express more clearly the immense riches of God’s word. For those who long for a monolithic body of doctrine guarded by all and leaving no room for nuance, this might appear as undesirable and leading to confusion. But in fact such variety serves to bring out and develop different facets of the inexhaustible riches of the Gospel.
41. At the same time, today’s vast and rapid cultural changes demand that we constantly seek ways of expressing unchanging truths in a language which brings out their abiding newness. “The deposit of the faith is one thing... the way it is expressed is another”. There are times when the faithful, in listening to completely orthodox language, take away something alien to the authentic Gospel of Jesus Christ, because that language is alien to their own way of speaking to and understanding one another. With the holy intent of communicating the truth about God and humanity, we sometimes give them a false god or a human ideal which is not really Christian. In this way, we hold fast to a formulation while failing to convey its substance. This is the greatest danger. Let us never forget that “the expression of truth can take different forms. The renewal of these forms of expression becomes necessary for the sake of transmitting to the people of today the Gospel message in its unchanging meaning”.
42. All of this has great relevance for the preaching of the Gospel, if we are really concerned to make its beauty more clearly recognized and accepted by all. Of course, we will never be able to make the Church’s teachings easily understood or readily appreciated by everyone. Faith always remains something of a cross; it retains a certain obscurity which does not detract from the firmness of its assent. Some things are understood and appreciated only from the standpoint of this assent, which is a sister to love, beyond the level of clear reasons and arguments. We need to remember that all religious teaching ultimately has to be reflected in the teacher’s way of life, which awakens the assent of the heart by its nearness, love and witness.
43. In her ongoing discernment, the Church can also come to see that certain customs not directly connected to the heart of the Gospel, even some which have deep historical roots, are no longer properly understood and appreciated. Some of these customs may be beautiful, but they no longer serve as means of communicating the Gospel. We should not be afraid to re-examine them. At the same time, the Church has rules or precepts which may have been quite effective in their time, but no longer have the same usefulness for directing and shaping people’s lives. Saint Thomas Aquinas pointed out that the precepts which Christ and the apostles gave to the people of God “are very few”. Citing Saint Augustine, he noted that the precepts subsequently enjoined by the Church should be insisted upon with moderation “so as not to burden the lives of the faithful” and make our religion a form of servitude, whereas “God’s mercy has willed that we should be free”. This warning, issued many centuries ago, is most timely today. It ought to be one of the criteria to be taken into account in considering a the reform of the Church and her preaching which would enable it to reach everyone.
44. Moreover, pastors and the lay faithful who accompany their brothers and sisters in faith or on a journey of openness to God must always remember what the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches quite clearly: “Imputability and responsibility for an action can be diminished or even nullified by ignorance, inadvertence, duress, fear, habit, inordinate attachments, and other psychological or social factors”. Consequently, without detracting from the evangelical ideal, they need to accompany with mercy and patience the eventual stages of personal growth as these progressively occur. I want to remind priests that the confessional must not be a torture chamber but rather an encounter with the Lord’s mercy which spurs us on to do our best. A small step, in the midst of great human limitations, can be more pleasing to God than a life which appears outwardly in order but moves through the day without confronting great difficulties. Everyone needs to be touched by the comfort and attraction of God’s saving love, which is mysteriously at work in each person, above and beyond their faults and failings.
45. We see then that the task of evangelization operates within the limits of language and of circumstances. It constantly seeks to communicate more effectively the truth of the Gospel in a specific context, without renouncing the truth, the goodness and the light which it can bring whenever perfection is not possible. A missionary heart is aware of these limits and makes itself “weak with the weak... everything for everyone” (1 Cor 9:22). It never closes itself off, never retreats into its own security, never opts for rigidity and defensiveness. It realizes that it has to grow in its own understanding of the Gospel and in discerning the paths of the Spirit, and so it always does what good it can, even if in the process, its shoes get soiled by the mud of the street.
V. A MOTHER WITH AN OPEN HEART
46. A Church which “goes forth” is a Church whose doors are open. Going out to others in order to reach the fringes of humanity does not mean rushing out aimlessly into the world. Often it is better simply to slow down, to put aside our eagerness in order to see and listen to others, to stop rushing from one thing to another and to remain with someone who has faltered along the way. At times we have to be like the father of the prodigal son, who always keeps his door open so that when the son returns, he can readily pass through it.
47. The Church is called to be the house of the Father, with doors always wide open. One concrete sign of such openness is that our church doors should always be open, so that if someone, moved by the Spirit, comes there looking for God, he or she will not find a closed door. There are other doors that should not be closed either. Everyone can share in some way in the life of the Church; everyone can be part of the community, nor should the doors of the sacraments be closed for simply any reason. This is especially true of the sacrament which is itself “the door”: baptism. The Eucharist, although it is the fullness of sacramental life, is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak. These convictions have pastoral consequences that we are called to consider with prudence and boldness. Frequently, we act as arbiters of grace rather than its facilitators. But the Church is not a tollhouse; it is the house of the Father, where there is a place for everyone, with all their problems.
48. If the whole Church takes up this missionary impulse, she has to go forth to everyone without exception. But to whom should she go first? When we read the Gospel we find a clear indication: not so much our friends and wealthy neighbours, but above all the poor and the sick, those who are usually despised and overlooked, “those who cannot repay you” (Lk 14:14). There can be no room for doubt or for explanations which weaken so clear a message. Today and always, “the poor are the privileged recipients of the Gospel”, and the fact that it is freely preached to them is a sign of the kingdom that Jesus came to establish. We have to state, without mincing words, that “there is an inseparable bond between our faith and the poor”. May we never abandon them.
49. Let us go forth, then, let us go forth to offer everyone the life of Jesus Christ. Here I repeat for the entire Church what I have often said to the priests and laity of Buenos Aires: I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security. I do not want a Church concerned with being at the centre and then ends by being caught up in a web of obsessions and procedures. If something should rightly disturb us and trouble our consciences, it is the fact that so many of our brothers and sisters are living without the strength, light and consolation born of friendship with Jesus Christ, without a community of faith to support them, without meaning and a goal in life. More than by fear of going astray, my hope is that we will be moved by the fear of remaining shut up within structures which give us a false sense of security, within rules which make us harsh judges, within habits which make us feel safe, while at our door peole are starving and Jesus does not tire of saying to us: “Give them something to eat” (Mk 6:37).
259. Spirit-filled evangelizers means evangelizers fearlessly open to the working of the Holy Spirit. At Pentecost, the Spirit made the apostles go forth from themselves and turned them into heralds of God’s wondrous deeds, capable of speaking to each person in his or her own language. The Holy Spirit also grants the courage to proclaim the newness of the Gospel with boldness (parrhesía) in every time and place, even when it meets with opposition. Let us call upon him today, firmly rooted in prayer, for without prayer all our activity risks being fruitless and our message empty. Jesus wants evangelizers who proclaim the good news not only with words, but above all by a life transfigured by God’s presence.
260. In this final chapter, I do not intend to offer a synthesis of Christian spirituality, or to explore great themes like prayer, Eucharistic adoration or the liturgical celebration of the faith. For all these we already have valuable texts of the magisterium and celebrated writings by great authors. I do not claim to replace or improve upon these treasures. I simply wish to offer some thoughts about the spirit of the new evangelization.
261. Whenever we say that something is “spirited”, it usually refers to some interior impulse which encourages, motivates, nourishes and gives meaning to our individual and communal activity. Spirit-filled evangelization is not the same as a set of tasks dutifully carried out despite one’s own personal inclinations and wishes. How I long to find the right words to stir up enthusiasm for a new chapter of evangelization full of fervour, joy, generosity, courage, boundless love and attraction! Yet I realize that no words of encouragement will be enough unless the fire of the Holy Spirit burns in our hearts. A spirit-filled evangelization is one guided by the Holy Spirit, for he is the soul of the Church called to proclaim the Gospel. Before offering some spiritual motivations and suggestions, I once more invoke the Holy Spirit. I implore him to come and renew the Church, to stir and impel her to go forth boldly to evangelize all peoples.
I. REASONS FOR A RENEWED MISSIONARY IMPULSE
262. Spirit-filled evangelizers are evangelizers who pray and work. Mystical notions without a solid social and missionary outreach are of no help to evangelization, nor are dissertations or social or pastoral practices which lack a spirituality which can change hearts. These unilateral and incomplete proposals only reach a few groups and prove incapable of radiating beyond them because they curtail the Gospel. What is needed is the ability to cultivate an interior space which can give a Christian meaning to commitment and activity. Without prolonged moments of adoration, of prayerful encounter with the word, of sincere conversation with the Lord, our work easily becomes meaningless; we lose energy as a result of weariness and difficulties, and our fervour dies out. The Church urgently needs the deep breath of prayer, and to my great joy groups devoted to prayer and intercession, the prayerful reading of God’s word and the perpetual adoration of the Eucharist are growing at every level of ecclesial life. Even so, “we must reject the temptation to offer a privatized and individualistic spirituality which ill accords with the demands of charity, to say nothing of the implications of the incarnation”. There is always the risk that some moments of prayer can become an excuse for not offering one’s life in mission; a privatized lifestyle can lead Christians to take refuge in some false forms of spirituality.
263. We do well to keep in mind the early Christians and our many brothers and sisters throughout history who were filled with joy, unflagging courage and zeal in proclaiming the Gospel. Some people nowadays console themselves by saying that things are not as easy as they used to be, yet we know that the Roman empire was not conducive to the Gospel message, the struggle for justice, or the defence of human dignity. Every period of history is marked by the presence of human weakness, self-absorption, complacency and selfishness, to say nothing of the concupiscence which preys upon us all. These things are ever present under one guise or another; they are due to our human limits rather than particular situations. Let us not say, then, that things are harder today; they are simply different. But let us learn also from the saints who have gone before us, who confronted the difficulties of their own day. So I propose that we pause to rediscover some of the reasons which can help us to imitate them today.
Personal encounter with the saving love of Jesus
264. The primary reason for evangelizing is the love of Jesus which we have received, the experience of salvation which urges us to ever greater love of him. What kind of love would not feel the need to speak of the beloved, to point him out, to make him known? If we do not feel an intense desire to share this love, we need to pray insistently that he will once more touch our hearts. We need to implore his grace daily, asking him to open our cold hearts and shake up our lukewarm and superficial existence. Standing before him with open hearts, letting him look at us, we see that gaze of love which Nathaniel glimpsed on the day when Jesus said to him: “I saw you under the fig tree” (Jn 1:48). How good it is to stand before a crucifix, or on our knees before the Blessed Sacrament, and simply to be in his presence! How much good it does us when he once more touches our lives and impels us to share his new life! What then happens is that “we speak of what we have seen and heard” (1 Jn 1:3). The best incentive for sharing the Gospel comes from contemplating it with love, lingering over its pages and reading it with the heart. If we approach it in this way, its beauty will amaze and constantly excite us. But if this is to come about, we need to recover a contemplative spirit which can help us to realize ever anew that we have been entrusted with a treasure which makes us more human and helps us to lead a new life. There is nothing more precious which we can give to others.
265. Jesus’ whole life, his way of dealing with the poor, his actions, his integrity, his simple daily acts of generosity, and finally his complete self-giving, is precious and reveals the mystery of his divine life. Whenever we encounter this anew, we become convinced that it is exactly what others need, even though they may not recognize it: “What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you” (Acts 17:23). Sometimes we lose our enthusiasm for mission because we forget that the Gospel responds to our deepest needs, since we were created for what the Gospel offers us: friendship with Jesus and love of our brothers and sisters. If we succeed in expressing adequately and with beauty the essential content of the Gospel, surely this message will speak to the deepest yearnings of people’s hearts: “The missionary is convinced that, through the working of the Spirit, there already exists in individuals and peoples an expectation, even if an unconscious one, of knowing the truth about God, about man, and about how we are to be set free from sin and death. The missionary’s enthusiasm in proclaiming Christ comes from the conviction that he is responding to that expectation”. Enthusiasm for evangelization is based on this conviction. We have a treasure of life and love which cannot deceive, and a message which cannot mislead or disappoint. It penetrates to the depths of our hearts, sustaining and ennobling us. It is a truth which is never out of date because it reaches that part of us which nothing else can reach. Our infinite sadness can only be cured by an infinite love.
266. But this conviction has to be sustained by our own constantly renewed experience of savouring Christ’s friendship and his message. It is impossible to persevere in a fervent evangelization unless we are convinced from personal experience that it is not the same thing to have known Jesus as not to have known him, not the same thing to walk with him as to walk blindly, not the same thing to hear his word as not to know it, and not the same thing to contemplate him, to worship him, to find our peace in him, as not to. It is not the same thing to try to build the world with his Gospel as to try to do so by our own lights. We know well that with Jesus life becomes richer and that with him it is easier to find meaning in everything. This is why we evangelize. A true missionary, who never ceases to be a disciple, knows that Jesus walks with him, speaks to him, breathes with him, works with him. He senses Jesus alive with him in the midst of the missionary enterprise. Unless we see him present at the heart of our missionary commitment, our enthusiasm soon wanes and we are no longer sure of what it is that we are handing on; we lack vigour and passion. A person who is not convinced, enthusiastic, certain and in love, will convince nobody.
267. In union with Jesus, we seek what he seeks and we love what he loves. In the end, what we are seeking is the glory of the Father; we live and act “for the praise of his glorious grace” (Eph 1:6). If we wish to commit ourselves fully and perseveringly, we need to leave behind every other motivation. This is our definitive, deepest and greatest motivation, the ultimate reason and meaning behind all we do: the glory of the Father which Jesus sought at every moment of his life. As the Son, he rejoices eternally to be “close to the Father’s heart” (Jn 1:18). If we are missionaries, it is primarily because Jesus told us that “by this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit” (Jn 15:8). Beyond all our own preferences and interests, our knowledge and motivations, we evangelize for the greater glory of the Father who loves us.
The spiritual savour of being a people
268. The word of God also invites us to recognise that we are a people: “Once you were no people but now you are God’s people” (1 Pet 2:10). To be evangelizers of souls, we need to develop a spiritual taste for being close to people’s lives and to discover that this is itself a source of greater joy. Mission is at once a passion for Jesus and a passion for his people. When we stand before Jesus crucified, we see the depth of his love which exalts and sustains us, but at the same time, unless we are blind, we begin to realize that Jesus’ gaze, burning with love, expands to embrace all his people. We realize once more that he wants to make use of us to draw closer to his beloved people. He takes us from the midst of his people and he sends us to his people; without this sense of belonging we cannot understand our deepest identity.
269. Jesus himself is the model of this method of evangelization which brings us to the very heart of his people. How good it is for us to contemplate the closeness which he shows to everyone! If he speaks to someone, he looks into their eyes with deep love and concern: “Jesus, looking upon him, loved him” (Mk 10:21). We see how accessible he is, as he draws near the blind man (cf. Mk 10:46-52) and eats and drinks with sinners (cf. Mk 2:16) without worrying about being thought a glutton and a drunkard himself (cf. Mt 11:19). We see his sensitivity in allowing a sinful woman to anoint his feet (cf. Lk 7:36-50) and in receiving Nicodemus by night (cf. Jn 3:1-15). Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross is nothing else than the culmination of the way he lived his entire life. Moved by his example, 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 with others, we are committed to building a new world. But we do so not from a sense of obligation, not as a burdensome duty, but as the result of a personal decision which brings us joy and gives meaning to our lives.
270. Sometimes we are tempted to be that kind of Christian who keeps the Lord’s wounds at arm’s length. Yet Jesus wants us to touch human misery, to touch the suffering flesh of others. He hopes that we will stop looking for those personal or communal niches which shelter us from the maelstrom of human misfortune and instead enter into the reality of other people’s lives and know the power of tenderness. Whenever we do so, our lives become wonderfully complicated and we experience intensely what it is to be a people, to be part of a people.
271. It is true that in our dealings with the world, we are told to give reasons for our hope, but not as an enemy who critiques and condemns. We are told quite clearly: “do so with gentleness and reverence” (1 Pet 3:15) and “if possible, so far as it depends upon you, live peaceably with all” (Rom 12:18). We are also told to overcome “evil with good” (Rom 12:21) and to “work for the good of all” (Gal 6:10). Far from trying to appear better than others, we should “in humility count others better” than ourselves (Phil 2:3). The Lord’s apostles themselves enjoyed “favour with all the people” (Acts 2:47; 4:21, 33; 5:13). Clearly Jesus does not want us to be grandees who look down upon others, but men and women of the people. This is not an idea of the Pope, or one pastoral option among others; they are injunctions contained in the word of God which are so clear, direct and convincing that they need no interpretations which might diminish their power to challenge us. Let us live them sine glossa, without commentaries. By so doing we will know the missionary joy of sharing life with God’s faithful people as we strive to light a fire in the heart of the world.
272. Loving others is a spiritual force drawing us to union with God; indeed, one who does not love others “walks in the darkness” (1 Jn 2:11), “remains in death” (1 Jn 3:14) and “does not know God” (1 Jn 4:8). Benedict XVI has said that “closing our eyes to our neighbour also blinds us to God”, and that love is, in the end, the only light which “can always illuminate a world grown dim and give us the courage needed to keep living and working”. When we live out a spirituality of drawing nearer to others and seeking their welfare, our hearts are opened wide to the Lord’s greatest and most beautiful gifts. Whenever we encounter another person in love, we learn something new about God. Whenever our eyes are opened to acknowledge the other, we grow in the light of faith and knowledge of God. If we want to advance in the spiritual life, then, we must constantly be missionaries. The work of evangelization enriches the mind and the heart; it opens up spiritual horizons; it makes us more and more sensitive to the workings of the Holy Spirit, and it takes us beyond our limited spiritual constructs. A committed missionary knows the joy of being a spring which spills over and refreshes others. Only the person who feels happiness in seeking the good of others, in desiring their happiness, can be a missionary. This openness of the heart is a source of joy, since “it is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). We do not live better when we flee, hide, refuse to share, stop giving and lock ourselves up in own comforts. Such a life is nothing less than slow suicide.
273. My mission of being in the heart of the people is not just a part of my life or a badge I can take off; it is not an “extra” or just another moment in life. Instead, it is something I cannot uproot from my being without destroying my very self. I am a mission on this earth; that is the reason why I am here in this world. We have to regard ourselves as sealed, even branded, by this mission of bringing light, blessing, enlivening, raising up, healing and freeing. All around us we begin to see nurses with soul, teachers with soul, politicians with soul, people who have chosen deep down to be with others and for others. But once we separate our work from our private lives, everything turns grey and we will always be seeking recognition or asserting our needs. We stop being a people.
274. If we are to share our lives with others and generously give of ourselves, we also have to realize that every person is worthy of our giving. Not for their physical appearance, their abilities, their language, their way of thinking, or for any satisfaction that we might receive, but rather because they are God’s handiwork, his creation. God created that person in his image, and he or she reflects something of God’s glory. Every human being is the object of God’s infinite tenderness, and he himself is present in their lives. Jesus offered his precious blood on the cross for that person. Appearances notwithstanding, every person is immensely holy and deserves our love. Consequently, if I can help at least one person to have a better life, that already justifies the offering of my life. It is a wonderful thing to be God’s faithful people. We achieve fulfilment when we break down walls and our heart is filled with faces and names!
The mysterious working of the risen Christ and his Spirit
275. In the second chapter, we reflected on that lack of deep spirituality which turns into pessimism, fatalism, and mistrust. Some people do not commit themselves to mission because they think that nothing will change and that it is useless to make the effort. They think: “Why should I deny myself my comforts and pleasures if I won’t see any significant result?” This attitude makes it impossible to be a missionary. It is only a malicious excuse for remaining caught up in comfort, laziness, vague dissatisfaction and empty selfishness. It is a self-destructive attitude, for “man cannot live without hope: life would become meaningless and unbearable”. If we think that things are not going to change, we need to recall that Jesus Christ has triumphed over sin and death and is now almighty. Jesus Christ truly lives. Put another way, “if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain” (1 Cor 15:14). The Gospel tells us that when the first disciples went forth to preach, “the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message” (Mk 16:20). The same thing happens today. We are invited to discover this, to experience it. Christ, risen and glorified, is the wellspring of our hope, and he will not deprive us of the help we need to carry out the mission which he has entrusted to us.
276. Christ’s resurrection is not an event of the past; it contains a vital power which has permeated this world. Where all seems to be dead, signs of the resurrection suddenly spring up. It is an irresistible force. Often it seems that God does not exist: all around us we see persistent injustice, evil, indifference and cruelty. But it is also true that in the midst of darkness something new always springs to life and sooner or later produces fruit. On razed land life breaks through, stubbornly yet invincibly. However dark things are, goodness always re-emerges and spreads. Each day in our world beauty is born anew, it rises transformed through the storms of history. Values always tend to reappear under new guises, and human beings have arisen time after time from situations that seemed doomed. Such is the power of the resurrection, and all who evangelize are instruments of that power.
277. At the same time, new difficulties are constantly surfacing: experiences of failure and the human weaknesses which bring so much pain. We all know from experience that sometimes a task does not bring the satisfaction we seek, results are few and changes are slow, and we are tempted to grow weary. Yet lowering our arms momentarily out of weariness is not the same as lowering them for good, overcome by chronic discontent and by a listlessness that parches the soul. It also happens that our hearts can tire of the struggle because in the end we are caught up in ourselves, in a careerism which thirsts for recognition, applause, rewards and status. In this case we do not lower our arms, but we no longer grasp what we seek, the resurrection is not there. In cases like these, the Gospel, the most beautiful message that this world can offer, is buried under a pile of excuses.
278. Faith also means believing in God, believing that he truly loves us, that he is alive, that he is mysteriously capable of intervening, that he does not abandon us and that he brings good out of evil by his power and his infinite creativity. It means believing that he marches triumphantly in history with those who “are called and chosen and faithful” (Rev 17:14). Let us believe the Gospel when it tells us that the kingdom of God is already present in this world and is growing, here and there, and in different ways: like the small seed which grows into a great tree (cf. Mt 13:31-32), like the measure of leaven that makes the dough rise (cf. Mt 13:33) and like the good seed that grows amid the weeds (cf. Mt 13, 24-30) and can always pleasantly surprise us. The kingdom is here, it returns, it struggles to flourish anew. Christ’s resurrection everywhere calls forth seeds of that new world; even if they are cut back, they grow again, for the resurrection is already secretly woven into the fabric of this history, for Jesus did not rise in vain. May we never remain on the sidelines of this march of living hope!
279. Because we do not always see these seeds growing, we need an interior certainty, a conviction that God is able to act in every situation, even amid apparent setbacks: “we have this treasure in earthen vessels” (2 Cor 4:7). This certainty is often called “a sense of mystery”. It involves knowing with certitude that all those who entrust themselves to God in love will bear good fruit (cf. Jn 15:5). This fruitfulness is often invisible, elusive and unquantifiable. We can know quite well that our lives will be fruitful, without claiming to know how, or where, or when. We may be sure that none of our acts of love will be lost, nor any of our acts of sincere concern for others. No single act of love for God will be lost, no generous effort is meaningless, no painful endurance is wasted. All of these encircle our world like a vital force. Sometimes it seems that our work is fruitless, but mission is not like a business transaction or investment, or even a humanitarian activity. It is not a show where we count how many people come as a result of our publicity; it is something much deeper, which escapes all measurement. It may be that the Lord uses our sacrifices to shower blessings in another part of the world which we will never visit. The Holy Spirit works as he wills, when he wills and where he wills; we entrust ourselves without pretending to see striking results. We know only that our commitment is necessary. Let us learn to rest in the tenderness of the arms of the Father amid our creative and generous commitment. Let us keep marching forward; let us give him everything, allowing him to make our efforts bear fruit in his good time.
280. Keeping our missionary fervour alive calls for firm trust in the Holy Spirit, for it is he who “helps us in our weakness” (Rom 8:26). But this generous trust has to be nourished, and so we need to invoke the Spirit constantly. He can heal whatever causes us to flag in the missionary endeavour. It is true that this trust in the unseen can cause us to feel disoriented: it is like being plunged into the deep and not knowing what we will find. I myself have frequently experienced this. Yet there is no greater freedom than that of allowing oneself to be guided by the Holy Spirit, renouncing the attempt to plan and control everything to the last detail, and instead letting him enlighten, guide and direct us, leading us wherever he wills. The Holy Spirit knows well what is needed in every time and place. This is what it means to be mysteriously fruitful!
The missionary power of intercessory prayer
281. One form of prayer moves us particularly to take up the task of evangelization and to seek the good of others: it is the prayer of intercession. Let us peer for a moment into the heart of Saint Paul, to see what his prayer was like. It was full of people: “…I constantly pray with you in every one of my prayers for all of you… because I hold you in my heart” (Phil 1:4, 7). Here we see that intercessory prayer does not divert us from true contemplation, since authentic contemplation always has a place for others.
282. This attitude becomes a prayer of gratitude to God for others. “First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you” (Rom 1:8). It is constant thankfulness: “I give thanks to God always for you because of the grace of God which was given you in Christ Jesus” (1 Cor 1:4); “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you” (Phil 1:3). Far from being suspicious, negative and despairing, it is a spiritual gaze born of deep faith which acknowledges what God is doing in the lives of others. At the same time, it is the gratitude which flows from a heart attentive to others. When evangelizers rise from prayer, their hearts are more open; freed of self-absorption, they are desirous of doing good and sharing their lives with others.
283. The great men and women of God were great intercessors. Intercession is like “a leaven in the heart of the Trinity”. It is a way of penetrating the Father’s heart and discovering new dimensions which can shed light on concrete situations and change them. We can say that God’s heart is touched by our intercession, yet in reality he is always there first. What our intercession achieves is that his power, his love and his faithfulness are shown ever more clearly in the midst of the people.
II. MARY, MOTHER OF EVANGELIZATION
284. With the Holy Spirit, Mary is always present in the midst of the people. She joined the disciples in praying for the coming of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:14) and thus made possible the missionary outburst which took place at Pentecost. She is the Mother of the Church which evangelizes, and without her we could never truly understand the spirit of the new evangelization.
Jesus’ gift to his people
285. On the cross, when Jesus endured in his own flesh the dramatic encounter of the sin of the world and God’s mercy, he could feel at his feet the consoling presence of his mother and his friend. At that crucial moment, before fully accomplishing the work which his Father had entrusted to him, Jesus said to Mary: “Woman, here is your son”. Then he said to his beloved friend: “Here is your mother” (Jn 19:26-27). These words of the dying Jesus are not chiefly the expression of his devotion and concern for his mother; rather, they are a revelatory formula which manifests the mystery of a special saving mission. Jesus left us his mother to be our mother. Only after doing so did Jesus know that “all was now finished” (Jn 19:28). At the foot of the cross, at the supreme hour of the new creation, Christ led us to Mary. He brought us to her because he did not want us to journey without a mother, and our people read in this maternal image all the mysteries of the Gospel. The Lord did not want to leave the Church without this icon of womanhood. Mary, who brought him into the world with great faith, also accompanies “the rest of her offspring, those who keep the commandments of God and bear testimony to Jesus” (Rev 12:17). The close connection between Mary, the Church and each member of the faithful, based on the fact that each in his or her own way brings forth Christ, has been beautifully expressed by Blessed Isaac of Stella: “In the inspired Scriptures, what is said in a universal sense of the virgin mother, the Church, is understood in an individual sense of the Virgin Mary... In a way, every Christian is also believed to be a bride of God’s word, a mother of Christ, his daughter and sister, at once virginal and fruitful... Christ dwelt for nine months in the tabernacle of Mary’s womb. He dwells until the end of the ages in the tabernacle of the Church’s faith. He will dwell forever in the knowledge and love of each faithful soul”.
286. Mary was able to turn a stable into a home for Jesus, with poor swaddling clothes and an abundance of love. She is the handmaid of the Father who sings his praises. She is the friend who is ever concerned that wine not be lacking in our lives. She is the woman whose heart was pierced by a sword and who understands all our pain. As mother of all, she is a sign of hope for peoples suffering the birth pangs of justice. She is the missionary who draws near to us and accompanies us throughout life, opening our hearts to faith by her maternal love. As a true mother, she walks at our side, she shares our struggles and she constantly surrounds us with God’s love. Through her many titles, often linked to her shrines, Mary shares the history of each people which has received the Gospel and she becomes a part of their historic identity. Many Christian parents ask that their children be baptized in a Marian shrine, as a sign of their faith in her motherhood which brings forth new children for God. There, in these many shrines, we can see how Mary brings together her children who with great effort come as pilgrims to see her and to be seen by her. Here they find strength from God to bear the weariness and the suffering in their lives. As she did with Juan Diego, Mary offers them maternal comfort and love, and whispers in their ear: “Let your heart not be troubled… Am I not here, who am your Mother?”
Star of the new evangelization
287. We ask the Mother of the living Gospel to intercede that this invitation to a new phase of evangelization will be accepted by the entire ecclesial community. Mary is the woman of faith, who lives and advances in faith, and “her exceptional pilgrimage of faith represents a constant point of reference for the Church”. Mary let herself be guided by the Holy Spirit on a journey of faith towards a destiny of service and fruitfulness. Today we look to her and ask her to help us proclaim the message of salvation to all and to enable new disciples to become evangelizers in turn. Along this journey of evangelization we will have our moments of aridity, darkness and even fatigue. Mary herself experienced these things during the years of Jesus’ childhood in Nazareth: “This is the beginning of the Gospel, the joyful good news. However, it is not difficult to see in that beginning a particular heaviness of heart, linked with a sort of night of faith – to use the words of Saint John of the Cross – a kind of ‘veil’ through which one has to draw near to the Invisible One and to live in intimacy with the mystery. And this is the way that Mary, for many years, lived in intimacy with the mystery of her Son, and went forward in her pilgrimage of faith”.
288. There is a Marian “style” to the Church’s work of evangelization. Whenever we look to Mary, we come to believe once again in the revolutionary nature of love and tenderness. In her we see that humility and tenderness are not virtues of the weak but of the strong who need not treat others poorly in order to feel important themselves. Contemplating Mary, we realize that she who praised God for “bringing down the mighty from their thrones” and “sending the rich away empty” (Lk 1:52-53) is also the one who brings a homely warmth to our pursuit of justice. She is also the one who carefully keeps “all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Lk 2:19). Mary is able to recognize the traces of God’s Spirit in events great and small. She constantly contemplates the mystery of God in our world, in human history and in our daily lives. She is the woman of prayer and work in Nazareth, and she is also Our Lady of Help, who sets out from her town “with haste” (Lk 1:39) to be of service to others. This interplay of justice and tenderness, of contemplation and concern for others, is what makes the ecclesial community look to Mary as a model of evangelization. We implore her maternal intercession that the Church may become a home for many peoples, a mother for all peoples, and that the way may be opened to the birth of a new world. It is the Risen Christ who tells us, with a power that fills us with confidence and unshakeable hope: “Behold, I make all things new” (Rev 21:5). With Mary we advance confidently towards the fulfilment of this promise, and to her we pray:
Mary, Virgin and Mother,
you who, moved by the Holy Spirit,
welcomed the word of life
in the depths of your humble faith:
as you gave yourself completely to the Eternal One,
help us to say our own “yes”
to the urgent call, as pressing as ever,
to proclaim the good news of Jesus.
Filled with Christ’s presence,
you brought joy to John the Baptist,
making him exult in the womb of his mother.
Brimming over with joy,
you sang of the great things done by God.
Standing at the foot of the cross
with unyielding faith,
you received the joyful comfort of the resurrection,
and joined the disciples in awaiting the Spirit
so that the evangelizing Church might be born.
Obtain for us now a new ardour born of the resurrection,
that we may bring to all the Gospel of life
which triumphs over death.
Give us a holy courage to seek new paths,
that the gift of unfading beauty
may reach every man and woman.
Virgin of listening and contemplation,
Mother of love, Bride of the eternal wedding feast,
pray for the Church, whose pure icon you are,
that she may never be closed in on herself
or lose her passion for establishing God’s kingdom.
Star of the new evangelisation,
help us to bear radiant witness to communion,
service, ardent and generous faith,
justice and love of the poor,
that the joy of the Gospel
may reach to the ends of the earth,
illuminating even the fringes of our world.
Mother of the living Gospel,
wellspring of happiness for God’s little ones,
pray for us.
Given in Rome, at Saint Peter’s, on 24 November, the solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, and the conclusion of the Year of Faith, in the year 2013, the first of my Pontificate.