We have been using Paula Gooder’s excellent Lent study guide The Joy of the Gospel to help us read Pope Francis’ Evangelii Gaudium in the Clandons this Lent, and we have been really enjoying it. Evangelii Gaudium offers a way of understanding evanglisation which is motivated by the gospel itself, that is, motivated by love, freedom and joy, rather than guilt and fear. It has been really helpful for Christians like us, who find thoughts of evangelisation a little intimidating to think through the Pope’s insights.
I particular passage from the second chapter of Evangelii Gaudium struck me as I was reading on Sunday:
At a time when we most need a missionary dynamism which will bring salt and light to the world, many lay people fear that they may be asked to undertake some apostolic work and they seek to avoid any responsibility that may take away from their free time… Something similar is also happening with priests who are obsessed with protecting their free time… The problem is not always an excess of activity, but rather activity undertaken badly, without adequate motivation, without a spirituality which would permeate it and make it pleasurable. As a result, work becomes more tiring than necessary… This pastoral acedia can be caused by a number of things. Some fall into it because they throw themselves into unrealistic projects and are not satisfied simply to do what they reasonably can. Others, because they lack the patience to allow processes to mature; they want everything to fall from heaven. Others, because they are attached to a few projects or vain dreams of success. Others, because they have lost real contact with people and so depersonalize their work that they are more concerned with the road map than with the journey itself. Others fall into acedia because they are unable to wait; they want to dominate the rhythm of life. Today’s obsession with immediate results makes it hard for pastoral workers to tolerate anything that smacks of disagreement, possible failure, criticism, the cross.
Evangelii Gaudium 81–82
As I read this, I realised the church’s often exhausting way of life, frantic activity and and impatient lust for immediate measurable results places a sort of anti-gospel at the heart of our attempt to proclaim the gospel. We proclaim a message of God’s grace freely offered irrespective of our merit, yet our behaviour in sharing the gospel proclaims even louder that we do not really believe it, at least not in a way which has changed our lives.
So here is the question: how can the gospel shape the way we proclaim the gospel. I’m sure that a good place to start is to take risks and do whatever we can as well as we can, and then, as Pope Francis says, to allow it to mature. That’s my hope for our churches, that we become places where things are given time to ripen.