12th in a series

In this series highlighting some of the points of Pope Francis Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, I wish to stress that there is no substitute for reading the entire document.

As part of his reflections on enculturation Pope Francis speaks about the place of popular piety in the spreading of the faith.  “122… One can say that ‘a people continuously evangelizes itself’.[98] Herein lies the importance of popular piety, a true expression of the spontaneous missionary activity of the people of God. This is an ongoing and developing process, of which the Holy Spirit is the principal agent.[99]

He quotes from first from Pope Paul VI and then from Pope Benedict XVI.  “123… In the Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi, Pope Paul VI gave a decisive impulse in this area. There he stated that popular piety ‘manifests a thirst for God which only the poor and the simple can know’[100] and that ‘it makes people capable of generosity and sacrifice even to the point of heroism, when it is a question of bearing witness to belief’.[101] Closer to our own time, Benedict XVI, speaking about Latin America, pointed out that popular piety is ‘a precious treasure of the Catholic Church’, in which ‘we see the soul of the Latin American peoples’.[102]

Popular piety can easily be dismissed by people of faith who think they are too sophisticated for such practices.  Pope Francis disagrees: “125. To understand this reality we need to approach it with the gaze of the Good Shepherd, who seeks not to judge but to love. Only from the affective connaturality born of love can we appreciate the theological life present in the piety of Christian peoples, especially among their poor. I think of the steadfast faith of those mothers tending their sick children who, though perhaps barely familiar with the articles of the creed, cling to a rosary; or of all the hope poured into a candle lighted in a humble home with a prayer for help from Mary, or in the gaze of tender love directed to Christ crucified. No one who loves God’s holy people will view these actions as the expression of a purely human search for the divine. They are the manifestation of a theological life nourished by the working of the Holy Spirit who has been poured into our hearts (cf. Rom 5:5).”

Before he turns his attention to the homily, he speaks of the preaching that “127… takes place in the middle of a conversation, something along the lines of what a missionary does when visiting a home. Being a disciple means being constantly ready to bring the love of Jesus to others, and this can happen unexpectedly and in any place: on the street, in a city square, during work, on a journey.”

“128. In this preaching, which is always respectful and gentle, the first step is personal dialogue, when the other person speaks and shares his or her joys, hopes and concerns for loved ones, or so many other heartfelt needs. Only afterwards is it possible to bring up God’s word, perhaps by reading a Bible verse or relating a story, but always keeping in mind the fundamental message: the personal love of God who became man, who gave himself up for us, who is living and who offers us his salvation and his friendship. This message has to be shared humbly as a testimony on the part of one who is always willing to learn, in the awareness that the message is so rich and so deep that it always exceeds our grasp.”

I suspect priests and parishioners could have fruitful conversations about the challenges presented here as they apply to parish life.  It is my hope that these pages can be a catalyst for discussion groups in a parochial setting.  You can access the document at www.vatican.va and then click on Apostolic Exhortations.