The Catechetical Review - Communicating Christ for a New Evangelization

From the Shepherds: Bearing Fruit

Authored by Bishop Earl K. Fernandes in Issue #9.4 of Catechetical Review

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Shortly after his election as pope, His Holiness Pope Francis wrote the apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel), which is the programmatic document for his pontificate.[1] It follows the lines of thought of the Aparecida Document, which was written in response to the difficulties the Church in Latin America was having in transmitting the faith from one generation to another. Both documents call for the formation of missionary disciples. The Holy Father dreams of a missionary Church—a Church that “goes forth” to evangelize.[2]

In Evangelii Gaudium Pope Francis offers some characteristics of an evangelizing community. Paragraph 24 begins with these words: “The Church which ‘goes forth’ is a community of missionary disciples who take the first step, who are involved and supportive, who bear fruit and rejoice.”

First, we are a missionary Church that goes forth—not only to make new disciples but also to encounter those who have lapsed in the faith, to understand why they have stopped practicing, and to invite them to return. An evangelizing community is one that shows initiative. Pope Francis invites us to be “imitators of God” by having foresight. The Spanish term “primerear” captures this idea. We need to be proactive rather than reactive to the culture, developing an entrepreneurial spirit that is willing to take risks for the faith, going to the spiritual and existential peripheries.

A second characteristic of an evangelizing community is that it is engaged in the life of its members. The Holy Father sometimes uses the word “balconear,” which means “to stand by the window or balcony to see what is happening without engaging.” This word describes a person who sees and criticizes everything without ever personally getting involved in the mission. The pope proposes Jesus as the opposite of this sort of person. Jesus touched the lepers, looked on crowds with compassion and provided for them, and even washed his disciples’ feet. The Body of Christ, the Church, is called to do the same.

Third, an evangelizing community is one that bears fruit. Commenting on the parable of the weeds and the wheat, Pope Francis says that bearing fruit demands patience and discernment, but the end goal of evangelizing efforts is bearing fruit that will last—that will bring lasting joy. An evangelizing community is one that rejoices in the Lord and shares in a nuptial joy in the celebration of the Eucharist and the sacred liturgy. This fruitfulness can bring eternal joy.

But one must ask, “How do we bear fruit?” In his sermon for the eighth Sunday after Pentecost, St. Anthony of Padua uses the image of a tree, meditating on Jesus’ teaching that “every good tree bears good fruit, and a rotten tree bears bad fruit” (Mt 7:17). To bear fruit, St. Anthony says, we must have deep roots of humility; this demands a posture of humble receptivity to the Word of God, written and handed down.

The roots give rise to the “trunk of obedience,” especially obedience to the commandments to love God and neighbor. This obedience is not a blind obedience but an obedience rooted in love. Jesus himself says, “You are my friends if you do what I command you. . . . love one another” (Jn 15:14, 17).

From the “trunk of obedience” shoot forth the “branches of charity,” not only in word but also in deed. From the “branches of charity” blossom the “leaves of holy preaching,” whereby the Church says those things men need to hear, words that will truly help them. Finally, St. Anthony says that from the “leaves of holy preaching” come the “fruit of heavenly contemplation,” meditating on the sacred mysteries of our redemption and experiencing sacramental grace, especially in the sacred liturgy.[3] Members of the Church, therefore, can hand on the fruits of contemplation from one generation to the next, preserving the wisdom of God and the Church.

In summary, we are called to be a missionary Church, an evangelizing community, that goes forth with the joy of the Gospel, which “fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness. With Christ joy is born anew.”[4]

Most Reverend Earl K. Fernandes, STD, is Bishop of Columbus, Ohio.

Notes

[1] Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium (hereafter, EG).

[2] Cf. EG 20–24.

[3] St. Anthony of Padua, “Eighth Sunday after Pentecost,” in The Sermons of St. Anthony of Padua, vol. 2, trans. Paul Spilsbury (Padua: Centro Studi Antoniani, 1979), no. 7, available online at https://www.documentacatholicaomnia.eu/03d/1195-1231,_Antonius_Patavinus....

[4] EG 1.

This article originally appeared on page 15 of the printed edition.


This article is from The Catechetical Review (Online Edition ISSN 2379-6324) and may be copied for catechetical purposes only. It may not be reprinted in another published work without the permission of The Catechetical Review by contacting [email protected]

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