Another Face of Joy

Another Face of Joy

I recently read Pope Francis’ “Evangelii Gaudium,” his first Apostolic Letter. The letter may be viewed at http://www.vatican.va/phome_en.htm.

As a former Roman Catholic and Nondenominational Evangelical Christian I am overjoyed at Pope Francis’ ethics and in particular, this recent letter.  My hope is that Pope Francis will reknew (I know, deliberately wrong spelling) the Catholic Church. I even feel called to come back to the Catholic Church, at least part time, to see how all of this is unfolding among individual Catholic communities. It is all because of Pope Francis that I feel called to do this.

My view of the Gospel is that the Gospel is the good news of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ which results in Peace and Salvation for all who believe. Pope Francis in some cases refers to the Gospel in relationship to the Crucified and Risen Christ. I agree to this definition also. I quote a section of his letter below:

“The joy of the Gospel is for all people: no one can be excluded. That is what the angel proclaimed to the shepherds in Bethlehem: “Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people (Lk 2:10). The Book of Revelation speaks of “an eternal Gospel to pro¬claim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tongue and tribe and people (Rev 14:6).”i

I too, hear the Universal call of the Gospel as Pope Francis states, as a Gospel of joy for all, and none is excluded, but all are included in the message of the Gospel. I am excited that the leader of the world’s largest Christian system, of over a billion individuals would speak in these inclusive terms and physically and mentally demonstrate his compassion for all mankind, even those who are not of his particular fold, and also those of other religious systems and non religious people.

I will write a type of review of Pope Francis’ Exhortation following, along with my own free form comments.

Humans everywhere, of all beliefs are always looking for Joy. For Christians, Joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit which is believed to be an internal gift, not something we merit of your own goodness. To put another face of joy into humanity is always good. The face Pope Francis is highlighting is the face of joy we can experience, as a result of following God’s will for us, that of going into the world, and sharing the Gospel, or Good News.
Pope Francis seems to put early emphasis on works of mercy that result from our joyfully sharing the Gospel. To me, these works are very good when they arise from the inner motivation of the gift of Grace freely given to us by the Holy Spirit and proceeding from the Father and the Son, who live in us all and we in him, One God.
I read Pope Francis as deploring violence in the cities of God, and later in his letter actually speaking of the Gospel of Peace.

“The Church proclaims “the Gospel of peace” (Eph 6:15) and she wishes to cooperate with all national and international authorities in safeguarding this immense universal good. By preaching Jesus Christ, who is himself peace (cf. Eph 2:14), the new evangelization calls on every baptized person to be a peacemaker and a credible witness to a reconciled life.”ii

It is very Good News to me to hear a leader of Christianity speaking out for the Gospel of Peace. I have long felt a calling to proclaim this Gospel of Peace, and regularly do so, but I have been rebuffed by Evangelical Christianity at nearly every point. I keep sharing, however, and also write about the Gospel of Peace on my blog site, http://www.jcooperforpeace.org. As a Body of Believers who deplores violence to the unborn, the Catholic Church, it is music to my ears to hear of the Gospel of Peace from the Christian leader of that system.
To me, it is a perfect time, today, for Pope Francis to set a vision of the Gospel of Peace, the Gospel of Salvation, and the Gospel of the Kingdom, one Gospel, as a Gospel that is to bring Peace to the world, as much as possible now, and certainly when Jesus returns, and always when Jesus comes to us now in this life. I cite in this regard:

Luke 2:8-15

8 That night some shepherds were in the fields outside the village, guarding their flocks of sheep. 9 Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terribly frightened, 10 but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news of great joy for everyone! 11 The Savior — yes, the Messiah, the Lord — has been born tonight in Bethlehem, the city of David! 12 And this is how you will recognize him: You will find a baby lying in a manger, wrapped snugly in strips of cloth!”

13 Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others — the armies of heaven — praising God:

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and peace on earth to all whom God favors.”
NLT

Above we see the Good News of Joy for all mankind concerning the Peace God wishes for all whom he favors, which to me would be inclusive of all mankind, since Jesus came to suffer and die for all mankind’s sins. Whether all mankind will hear and understand this Good News and believe is another matter for discussion, but personally, I hope so, once they see the crucified and risen Christ, and it is a Joy to me to assist in sharing this Gospel.

In the setting of this vision of Peace and proclaiming the inclusiveness of the Gospel, I hope Pope Francis will provide even more confessions of Guilt of the Roman Catholic Church regarding the terrible sins of the Church, (It is not just the Catholic Church,) regarding the post Constantinian destruction of Sanctified human adult life in the Inquisition, the killings of Moslems, and Christians, and the lack of nonviolent actions concerning the killings of Jews and others in World War II, in Nazi Germany. The Church’s support of the Just War Theory, (although it is not a Doctrine of the Church,) needs to be disregarded in relationship to the Gospel, and other confessions as may be needed. Hopefully, Pope Francis will lead the Roman Catholic Church back to Early Roots Christianity. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_early_Christianity It is a Joy that the Gospel proclaims the forgiveness of all sins, both our own individual sins, and those of corporate religious and national and political bodies. Some believe even the fallen Powers may be redeemed if they accept the Gospel. The author, Walter Wink, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walter_Wink has written books concerning the possible redemption of the Powers which lie behind human systems.

As a Church that values human life, and life of every kind, I feel this is a perfect opportunity for the Roman Catholic Church, under the leadership of Pope Francis, to divest itself of all conjoining relationships with political Powers and return to its Early Roots. Likewise, all Christian churches should divest themselves of political alliances and concentrate on preaching the Gospel. Te Politics of the Kingdom of God is what the Church, (and all religious systems,) need to focus upon. In joyfully sharing the Gospel, no Catholic should ever want to take a human life in warfare. In response to the Gospel, the time to stop killing for all who believe and share the Gospel, is now. The visible and tangible expressions of Pope Francis and every Christian Believer’s love for one another, and our enemies, Catholic and non-Catholics is the way the seeds of the Gospel are joyously shared… It is these Joyful expressions of love by which others know the Gospel has been preached.

Speaking of Joy, I concur with Pope Francis’ vision of the Image of God being in all mankind, not just in Catholics, and not just in Christians or adherents to one’s own individual religious system. The Quakers, whom I am particularly fond of, believed that there is a spark of God in every man and that the proof of this is that if there is anything a person does, that he feels sorry for, it is proof of the indwelling spark of the Spirit. I quote Pope Francis:

“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 per¬son 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!”iii

Challenging Catholics to take joy in Evangelicalism by Love and the Gospel of Peace, in place of the sword, is a very good challenge for all, in these days where the Myth of Redemptive Violence is still being believed even after millennia of proof that this method of “making peace” has never and will never ultimately work.

I also appreciate Pope Francis’ many references to the Grace of God. One instance is cited below:
“Non-Christians, by God’s gracious initiative, when they are faithful to their own consciences, can live “justified by the grace of God”,199 and thus be “associated to the paschal mystery of Jesus Christ”.200 But due to the sacsacramental dimension of sanctifying grace, God’s working in them tends to produce signs and rites, sacred expressions which in turn bring others to a communitarian experience of journeying to¬wards God.201″iv

To me, Pope Francis comes very close to the Biblical text at the heart of Protestant Evangelicals’ beliefs,

Eph 2:6-10
6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
NIV

I understand that our works are a response to Grace, not the cause of our Salvation, and I believe Pope Francis is quite Universally minded in his understanding of Grace, although he gives adequate expressions to the necessity of accompanying works. Perhaps St. Francis is thinking of the early Church Father, Origen, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Origen. At any rate, Pope Francis seems to me very progressive in his thinking processes compared to recent Popes. He states:

“We know that “evangelization would not be complete if it did not take account of the unceasing interplay of the Gospel and of man’s concrete life, both personal and social”.146 This is the principle of universality intrinsic to the Gospel, for the Father desires the salvation of every man and woman, and his saving plan consists in “gathering up all things in Christ, things in heaven and things on earth” (Eph 1:10).”v

I agree here that Salvation is for every man. I cannot say that every man will be saved, and I do not say that Pope Francis is saying that here. I would like to believe that every man will be saved, and I hope once Jesus draws all men to himself, that the beauty and love of the Crucified and Risen Christ, as Pope Francis also explains the Gospel will result in many hearts turning to God. To me, the Joy of Evangelization rests in the saving Grace of God, and efforts of Evangelization are never over until Jesus has executed his “time” to draw all men to himself…

One of the concerns Pope Francis expresses in his Apostolic Letter is the relationship of the economy to Joyfully Evangelizing the world. To me, the Gospel of the Kingdom of God which is beyond political systems, should change political systems so that our economies look more and more like Jesus would have them look. To this end Pope Francis states:

“We can no longer trust in the unseen forces and the invisible hand of the market. Growth in justice requires more than economic growth, while presupposing such growth: it requires decisions, programmes, mechanisms and processes specifically geared to a better distribution of income, the creation of sources of employment and an integral promotion of the poor which goes beyond a simple welfare mentality. I am far from proposing an irresponsible populism, but the economy can no longer turn to remedies that are a new poison, such as attempting to increase profits by reducing the work force and thereby adding to the ranks of the excluded.
205.
I ask God to give us more politicians capable of sincere and effective dialogue aimed at healing the deepest roots – and not simply the appearances – of the evils in our world!”vi

I am reminded of the Mennonite teacher, John Howard Yoder, and his book, “The Politics of Jesus.” In a nutshell, according to my recollection from reading the book, the ethics of Jesus and the Kingdom of God in Early Roots Christianity radically changed the political systems of the world, including the Roman Empire. The radical changes so endangered the Empire, with all these Christians loving one another, which in itself is sharing the Gospel, and refusing to join the Powers’ ethics of Redemptive Violence, that the Powers offered the Church the sword, and the Church accepted, and began to use the sword to supposedly advance the Gospel, in many cases disregarding unconditional, self sacrificial love for all men. Apparently the Church of that time, the Roman Catholic Church, neglected to consider that Jesus had already refused the same ploy from Satan, when Satan offered Jesus rulership over the earth. Jesus refused. The Church accepted. Then, the Church began to use the sword to advance the Gospel, since it had been given the sword, and began to make up its own rules of “just” war, etc…

Therefore, when Pope Francis speaks of no longer trusting the unseen and invisible hand of the market, I can imagine that the Powers are really disturbed… Talk like that is Jesus talk like when Jesus began to proclaim the Gospel, the Kingdom of God, the release of prisoners, and the year of Jubilee… The Powers kill humans for speaking like that… They killed God, Jesus too, but Jesus rose again and has overcome these Powers. Pope Francis has already rattled the heads of both invisible Powers and human economic powers. They have squealed like stuck pigs… I pray for the protection of Pope Francis and that the Highest of all Powers, Allah, God, will protect him until his mission is done, which may be the radical changing of the Roman Catholic Church, including the economic wrongs involved with the Vatican economy.

Although my comments regarding Evangelii Gaudium have thus far been overwhelmingly positive, even though I was raised Catholic, I view Pope Francis’ ending of his letter and the inclusion of the Mother Mary as a “tack on” thought to Catholicize his letter…He states:
“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.”vii
I cannot personally agree with this statement. To believe it would certainly stretch my envelope and my understanding of Theology all out of shape. That’s OK though, I am imagine my beliefs in Peace and Nonviolence also stretch Pope Francis’ envelope too, and certainly stretch the envelope of the historic Roman Catholic Church as a whole, with exceptions such as Thomas Merton, Dorothy Day, and other Catholic Pacifists excluded.

On the other hand, Pope Francis is stretching a lot of peoples’ envelopes all out of shape… Young people seem to love him, Moslems seem to love him, Atheists even seem to love him… I love him too and felt an immediate conjoining of Spirits as soon as I realized who he was and is. I pray for the continued advancement of the Gospel, and the reformation of the Roman Catholic Church under the leadership of Pope Francis.

Grace & Peace,

John Cooper
http://www.jcooperforpeace.org/

i “Evangelii Gaudium,” Pope Francis, 2013 – Sect. 23
ii Ibid., 239
iii Ibid., 274
iv Ibid., 254
v Ibid., 181
vi Ibid., 204

vii Ibid., 284

About jcooperforpeace
Peacemaker in Fellowship Engaged in Active Nonviolence and Social Justice

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