The more they stay the same. I’ve found myself doing more and more reading lately, really getting into various Papal documents, things like encyclicals and exhortations. One of these is fairly recent, “Evangelii Gaudium” or “The Joy of the Gospel” written by Pope Francis. I get my copies through Verbum.com but you can get them free from various websites.
When you read these documents they are usually full of footnotes to other
sources, whether other papal documents, writings of the church fathers or scripture. And me being me, I have to follow all of them, at least the ones I can, to learn as much as I can, turning a 30 minute read into 120. This week’s reading led me to an Apostolic Exhortation called “Evangelii Nuntiandi” or “Proclaiming the Gospel” written by Pope Paul VI in 1975. Paragraph 50 states:
In the course of twenty centuries of history, the generations of Christians have periodically faced various obstacles to this universal mission. On the one hand, on the part of the evangelizers themselves, there has been the temptation for various reasons to narrow down the field of their missionary activity. On the other hand, there has been the often humanly insurmountable resistance of the people being addressed by the evangelizer. Furthermore, we must note with sadness that the evangelizing work of the Church is strongly opposed, if not prevented, by certain public powers Even in our own day it happens that preachers of God’s Word are deprived of their rights, persecuted, threatened or eliminated solely for preaching Jesus Christ and His Gospel.
Even in 1975 Christians were being persecuted for proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ. If anything, this is worse now than ever. Later in paragraph 54, we read this:
This faith is nearly always today exposed to secularism, even to militant atheism. It is a faith exposed to trials and threats, and even more, a faith besieged and actively opposed. It runs the risk of perishing from suffocation or starvation if it is not fed and sustained each day. To evangelize must therefore very often be to give this necessary food and sustenance to the faith of believers, especially through a catechesis full of Gospel vitality and in a language suited to people and circumstances.
In paragraph 55 we read one more prediction:
On the one hand, one is forced to note in the very heart of this contemporary world the phenomenon which is becoming almost its most striking characteristic: secularism. … Here we are thinking of a true secularism: a concept of the world according to which the latter is self-explanatory, without any need for recourse to God, who thus becomes superfluous and an encumbrance. This sort of secularism, in order to recognize the power of man, therefore ends up by doing without God and even by denying Him. … New forms of atheism seem to flow from it: a man-centered atheism, no longer abstract and metaphysical but pragmatic, systematic and militant. Hand in hand with this atheistic secularism, we are daily faced, under the most diverse forms, with a consumer society, the pursuit of pleasure set up as the supreme value, a desire for power and domination, and discrimination of every kind: the inhuman tendencies of this “humanism.”
This last sentence corresponds nicely with one from Pope Francis’ “Joy of the Gospel”.
The great danger in today’s world, pervaded as it is by consumerism, is the desolation and anguish born of a complacent yet covetous heart, the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures, and a blunted conscience. Whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor. God’s voice is no longer heard, the quiet joy of his love is no longer felt, and the desire to do good fades. This is a very real danger for believers too. Many fall prey to it and end up resentful, angry and listless. That is no way to live a dignified and fulfilled life; it is not God’s will for us, nor is it the life in the Spirit which has its source in the heart of the risen Christ.
Francis. (2013). Evangelii Gaudium (p. 3). Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana.
Thirty-eight years ago Pope Paul VI saw what was happening and it has continued and gotten worse. We didn’t listen then, perhaps we should listen now?