Do Catholics need to raise our gaze?
Wednesday March 15,



By John Zucchi

Have you ever sat through a boring homily and walked out  of Church with a frown on your face, or,  if you’re a priest, discussed your ideas about modern society in a homily and wondered why everyone’s sleeping or irritated? Or have you worked with great generosity on a parish committee only to feel disappointed because you felt underappreciated, or tried to get others to help you set up a soup kitchen only to see the whole plan fall through, leaving you frustrated as a result?  Have you ever gone to some Church event or participated in a parish project with a negative attitude, thinking “this isn’t going to change anything!”?  Then the Pope has a message for you.  Raise your gaze!  See the bigger picture!   

What, say you?  Another dash of charity?  Greater generosity?  More toil?  

No, says the Pope.  We need to have a better sense of why we do everything in order that it introduce a newness in our lives.  “The Primary reason for evangelizing is the love of Jesus 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?”

I found the whole exercise of reading the Pope’s first exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, disconcerting to say the least.   So much so that I find it trite to summarize this text. I’d be reducing it by virtue of even trying to that. Don’t believe anyone who summarizes it for you as a first reaction!  The text is unsettling and if your first inclination is to explain it, or to point to which references the Holy Father uses or what political or economic system he is excoriating or defending, or to see if the Pope has taken an orthodox position on life matters, then you know what?  You haven’t allowed yourself to be unsettled by this text.  Better still, upset.  The Pope’s message turns our world upside down.

No one can claim to be unaffected by Francis’s message.   How often have we talked about poverty and not gone out to listen to a beggar?  How often have we said we have no time for the lonely because we are doing other important things for the Church?  How often have we taken the moral high ground in a debate with a non-believer without considering our interlocutor’s humanity?  Or spent endless hours perfecting some inane pastoral plan not realizing that we are simply hemming ourselves in a tiny universe that touches no one?  The Pope does not accuse us in a moralistic way.  Rather he asks us these questions in the same way he asks himself, as a fellow traveller.  

But he doesn’t leave us there beating our breast.  He reminds us that we have to trust in the Spirit. It is He who heals rifts, creates diversity through his charisms and brings unity to this diversity.

So what must we do?  “We constantly have to broaden our horizons and see the greater good which will benefit us all.”  In other words we need a sense of the whole.  Our little universe is not the whole shebang.  Rather our pet project, our conversation with a lonely person on her deathbed, lending our ear and giving alms to a beggar – all of these things we do have a value and dignity inasmuch as their point of reference is Christ, our Lover. “Every point is equidistant from the centre, and there are no differences between them,” writes Francis.

How then can we live that relationship with the Centre?  By participating in the life of the Church, not a virtual institution, but a “fleshy” Church that upholds beauty, lives a carnal presence that includes “genuine forms of popular religiosity.”  A Church that wishes to reach out to the farthest recesses of the world and proclaim to all the salvific message of Christ made Man.  Nothing less than that.

Evangelii Gaudium  is a must read if we wish to be helped to keep our gaze on that affective Centre, to live the missionary thrust in a true way that leaves us uncomfortable but more joyful than we can possibly imagine.


John Zucchi is a professor of history at McGill and the Responsible in Canada for the lay Catholic movement Communion and Liberation. His history of the Canadian Pontifical College will be published in February.

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