After writing about economic concerns, Pope Francis continues to proclaim the joy of the Gospel by addressing issues that confront those who are actively engaged in the task of evangelization. He writes of the many different challenges that evangelizers must face in the culture of the 21st Century and in the respective societies where the Gospel is being preached.
In his preaching, we have all heard the Pope speak of the fact that the joy of the Gospel should be very evident in the lives of all ministers in the Church. By now we should be familiar with his homespun vocabulary. When he addresses the clergy, he warns them not to be "sourpusses," not to engage in gossip, not to count themselves as better than. As I was reading this section of the apostolic exhortation, I was constantly reminded of St. Paul's letters to Timothy, for the content and tenor of those letters certainly illustrates what often happens to ministers of the Gospel. In the case of Timothy, once Paul had moved on to his next task and had left Timothy to be the bishop of his community. As often happened in the life of St. Paul, he was followed almost immediately by various other evangelists who came preaching a different Gospel. We often refer to them as the Judaizers (those who held that one had to become a Jew before one could be baptized) and as syncretists (those who preached various heresies claiming that they already living in the light and did not need to heed the commandments).
As one might expect, the preaching of these Gnostics and elitists did pull some people away from the authentic Gospel which St. Paul preached. This led to Timothy's discouragement. Like many a newly ordained priest or deacon, he had set his sights on greatness. Before long the ordinary routine of Christian living had, in the words of Pope Francis "desertified" his zeal. What had been alive and green had become desiccated and dead.
Like every human being, those who engage in the missionary and evangelizing tasks of the Church need to experience success from time to time. St. Timothy was no different. St. Paul pointed to his imprisonment as a proof of success. He reasoned that inasmuch as he was being asked to suffer for the sake of the Gospel, literally walking in the footsteps that Jesus had left behind, that he was succeeding in God's eyes while the world might look upon him as a failure.
I believe that this lesson is a particularly important one for those who suffer with chronic pain and/or disability. Rather than looking upon such crosses as failures, we should, like St. Paul, revel in the fact that we have been chosen to suffer with Jesus. That realization should lead to lives that are characterized by joy as we proclaim that God's ways are not necessarily our ways.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator