The Trinity and Loneliness – Br. Justin Hannegan, O.S.B.



We’ve all been lonely. It’s a terrible experience—and difficult to avoid. Family members move away, friendships fade, spouses fall out of love, parents die. But what about God? Is God ever lonely? The answer is, “no.” God was alone from all eternity before he created the world; but even then God was not lonely. Even when God was entirely alone, without his creation, he still experienced companionship. This is because God is a Trinity. God is three Persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, all united together into one Divine Being. And each of these Persons has a distinct relationship with each of the others. The Father is father of the Son, and the Son is son of the Father; the Father sends forth the Spirit, and the Spirit comes from the Father; the Spirit comes through the Son, and the Son exists in the Spirit. In other words, within the one God, there is a whole kaleidoscope of relationships. These relationships are not merely shared between the Persons–rather, they are the Persons. The Persons of the Trinity are what theologians call “subsistent relations.” They are individual things that are so tied to another that they are 100% relationship and nothing else. Sit and think about this. Contemplate it. Relationships are so important that the three Persons of God are themselves relationships.

But what are these relationships like? The relationships of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are the most loving relationships that could ever exist. They are so loving that we cannot even imagine what they are like. The relationships are also perfectly intimate. Human beings grow close by talking to each other, by spending time together, or by sharing a home. But the Persons of the Trinity are different. They don’t just live together in heaven talking and spending eternity in each other’s company under the same heavenly roof. That would be wonderful. But their intimacy is even closer than that. The Persons of the Trinityare so close, in fact, that they share the same being. We know from the Nicene Creed that the Son is “consubstantial with the Father.” This means that the Father and the Son share the same substance–or, roughly, that they are “one in being.” All the members of the Trinity–Father, Son, and Holy Spirit–are one in being with each other, and that being is God. For humans, we can try as hard as possible to grow close to one another, but we can never share the same being. We are always, to a certain extent, isolated or separated from one another. But not so with God. The Divine Persons are united in complete intimacy. They are all one God. In the words of an early Catholic creed, called the Athanasian Creed: “the Godhead of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit is all one.”

We can say for sure then that God is never lonely. This is something unique to the Christian understanding of God. All other monotheistic religions think of God as just one solitary person. Only the Christian God enjoys eternal communion amongst Persons. The preacher for the papal household, Raniero Cantalamessa, puts it this way:

Oh, how wonderful it is to have the Trinity as our God! When we discover theTrinity, we are no longer tempted to exchange Christian monotheism for any other monotheism. I would feel sorry for any God who had no one with whom to communicate and to share his joy with the profundity that is uniquely his. I think he would feel himself tremendously alone and unhappy.1

Truly, our God is great! But his greatness doesn’t stop with his own inner life. No. Part of God’s greatness is his generosity. God is so generous that he wants to share his inner life with us. He wants to draw all human beings up into his perfect Trinitarian communion. And how does he do this? First off, by baptism. Many Christians fail to see just how extraordinary the gift of baptism is. When the priest baptizes a baby, that baby is washed in the Holy Spirit, and the Spirit dwells in him. In Romans 8:14-17, we see that when the Spirit dwells in a human being that human being becomes an adopted son of God:

All who are guided by the Spirit of God are sons of God… you received the spirit of adoption, enabling us to cry out, ‘Abba, Father!’ The Spirit himself joins with our spirit to bear witness that we are children of God. And if we are children, then we are heirs, heirs of God and joint–heirs with Christ…

The Son receives the Father’s love in the form of the Holy Spirit, and this exchange of love is what characterizes His communion with the Father. When we receive the Father’s love in the form of the Holy Spirit at baptism, therefore, we take on Christ’s relationship to the Father. We become brothers to Jesus, and we stand next to him, sharing his intimacy with the other Persons of the Trinity: “By receiving the Holy Spirit, by communing in Christ, believers enterinto divine life.”2

Think about this great gift that each of you received at baptism. You are now standing next to Christ in the midst of that perfect communion of the three Persons of the Holy Trinity. This should inspire thanksgiving. And it should change the way that you pray, and the way that you understand your relationship with God. Try, when you pray, to think of yourself as standing next to Christ and receiving with Him the flow of the Spirit from the Father. Your prayer standing next to Christ becomes very intimate. You are not talking to God across a great chasm. The Trinity is not distant. If you are in the state of grace, then you are right in the midst of it!


So, we ought never to feel lonely. Even when our human relationships fail us, and when we find ourselves alone in the world, we are still adopted sons of God, receiving the perfect love of the Father, permeated with the Holy Spirit, and standing alongside the Son while he teaches us to love like he loves. We should thank God for this gift. But we should also think about all the people who have not yet been adopted by God through baptism. These people are destined for loneliness, and perhaps some even for eternal loneliness, if they go through life without the gift of Trinitarian baptism. Jesus entrusts us with a solemn mission. We who share in the life of the Trinity must go out into the world and draw everyone else into that life. In Matthew 28:19, just before he ascends into heaven Jesus says, “Go, therefore, make disciples of all nations; baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Jesus is counting on us to heal the loneliness of the world by inviting everyone to share in the divine life. We as a Church should not rest until all have been baptized–until all have been adopted as sons of God. So don’t be afraid to approach your neighbors, your family, your co–workers, and your friends. Tell them about the great gift of Christian baptism. And tell them that the Church–and God himself–wants to share that gift with them. They will never need to be lonely again.

Contalamessa, Raniero. Contemplating the Trinity. Translated by Marsha Daigle–Williamson. Ijamsville, Maryland: The Word Among Us Press, 2007.

Emery, Gilles. The Trinity. Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 2011.

The New Jerusalem Bible. Edited by Henry Wansbrough. New York: Doubleday, 1985.

1 Raniero Cantalamessa, Contemplating the Trinity, Ijamsville, Maryland: The Word Among Us Press, 2007), 49.

2 Gilles Emery, The Trinity (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 2011), 4.

Rainbow Of Life – Tresa Shiji Thodathussery csac


rainbow of life 

“I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of a covenant between me and the earth… Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life.” (Gen 9:13,15) 

rainbowA rainbow is a gracious pledge that God will not destroy the earth a second time with a worldwide flood.  Whenever it appears in the clouds, I am reminded of the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth, because it occurs when raindrops and sunshine cross paths. We can’t have a rainbow without a little rain!

Life is like a rainbow. It has its ups and downs, its brightness and darkness. To be happy and content in life we have to accept paths that may cross ours – pain, sorrow, difficulties and troubles. But when there is a rainbow deep in our hearts, our smile will still shine brightly.

Once a master at an ashram brought in a bunch of flowers. He called three of his disciples and asked, what do you think of these flowers? The first one replied: if I were an accountant, I could buy these flowers but I would want to see the price first. The master told him that he has not understood anything. To the second he asked the same question and he replied that he would buy the flowers and keep them in his room to sleep with their fragrance. The master said that he had not understand anything either. To the third he asked the same question. He took the flowers in his hands, admired them for five minutes and said “Thank God”. [this was a story told by Fr Vittorio Vinci, one of the priests of the Italian Province].

I would like to sing a song of continuous praise to God for His indescribable gift in providing me the opportunity to participate in this annual course on Pallottine spirituality. I am grateful for all the hard work, effort and openness of those organising it, keeping alive the spirituality and charism of St Vincent Pallotti.

Both riches and honour come from You, and You reign over all.

In Your hand is power and might; In Your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all (1 Chron 29, 12-13). 

I thank and praise Your glorious name for the great opportunity that You have provided for me –  

to see the real rainbow of my life deepened and nurtured in the true spirituality of  St Vincent Pallotti. 

Our life is a gift from God and what we do with our life is our gift to God. In this world each one has his own role to play and each one has to respond according to the call received. This spirituality course has really enriched me a lot and deepened my knowledge of the life of our Founder. Visiting places associated with him in the city of Rome has positively enhanced my personal transformation. Walking in his footsteps, experiencing the heritage he left us, and praying in front of his body evoked a feeling and an experience of the beauty of life that he lived and experienced.

‘Diversity creates dimension in the world’. ‘A world without colour appears to be dead’. I think these maxims are true because strength lies in difference, not in similarity. Likewise, because all those on the course, from many different backgrounds, contributed so much together we were able to plan new initiatives in living the gospel, creating a life with our own style of simplicity and humility to witness that God still lives among us and in us.

Travelling together and making pilgrimages together during the course, we developed a close relationship with God and with nature; it led to renewal and personal discovery. Above all the spiritual guidance of the resource persons was a powerful catalyst for change within each of us.

Let us always be positive in painting the rainbow of our own lives……….

Tresa Shiji Thodathussery csac – Rome – ITALY tresa


Asian bulletin #127

These Worn-Out Shoes – Laura Maria cssh


those worn out shoes of Pallotti!

shoesIf you ask me what most was striking for me during the annual course on Pallottine spirituality here in Rome I would say that it was the experience of walking in the footsteps of St Vincent Pallotti that touched me most.

Visiting his place of birth, the church in which he was baptised, the elementary school in which he studied, the seminary in which he did his formation, the church in which he celebrated his first Mass, the numerous places of his pastoral works, the simple room in which he lived, the kneeler on which he prayed for hours through the night, the bed on which he breathed his last and his final resting place in our church of SS. Salvatore in Onda…all these images remain vivid memories in my mind and heart!

I return to India with all these photographs both in my heart and in my computer! I will share them with our candidates in formation and my sisters. While they will see the photos regrettably they will not have the same experiences that I had. It is one thing to see an image but it is something else to experience something personally. I thank God for giving me this unique opportunity.

There is yet another place that will not be forgotten by me – the museum of St Vincent Pallotti at the Generalate in Rome. I have visited this place numerous times. All those articles used by St Vincent: the vestments, the huge Franciscan habit which he used to wear privately, the old umbrella, the worn out shoes, the rusty spoons and forks, the instruments that he used for self-punishment…the humble belongings of a saint! I was reminded of the words of the Lord: “Try to enter through the narrow door”! These articles teach me more about holiness of life and sainthood than many books! This is the way the saints have followed the Lord who made himself obedient until death!

Let those worn out shoes of Pallotti remind me of my vocation to be on the road always as a pilgrim, as a humble servant in search of God’s people. Let me walk and walk until the shoes are worn out and until it hurts. Let me not exchange those old shoes for better and more comfortable ones because there are too many fellow travellers who are walking bare-footed. I will never understand them if I do not get into their shoes.

So I go back not only with many notes on the spirituality of St Vincent Pallotti but, more importantly, the images imprinted in my mind and heart. These photos are real and not just fantasies. We can still trace the footprints of this Roman saint on Via Giulia. What is important for me now is to walk in his footsteps, following always his footprints.

Laura Maria cssh – Rome – ITALY laura m


Asian bulletin #127

Pope Francis Homily at Mass With Sexual Abuse Victims


Vatican City,  ( | 1419 hits

This morning at 7 a.m., in the Chapel of Casa Santa Marta in the Vatican, Pope Francis celebrated Holy Mass which was attended by some victims of sexual abuse by members of the clergy, as well as with some families and members of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors. During the Mass, the Holy Father gave the homily shown below:

image0-001The scene where Peter sees Jesus emerge after a terrible interrogation… Peter whose eyes meet the gaze of Jesus and weeps… This scene comes to my mind as I look at you, and think of so many men and women, boys and girls. I feel the gaze of Jesus and I ask for the grace to weep, the grace for the Church to weep and make reparation for her sons and daughters who betrayed their mission, who abused innocent persons. Today, I am very grateful to you for having travelled so far to come here.

For some time now I have felt in my heart deep pain and suffering. So much time hidden, camouflaged with a complicity that cannot be explained until someone realized that Jesus was looking and others the same… and they set about to sustain that gaze.

And those few who began to weep have touched our conscience for this crime and grave sin. This is what causes me distress and pain at the fact that some priests and bishops, by sexually abusing minors, violated their innocence and their own priestly vocation. It is something more than despicable actions. It is like a sacrilegious cult, because these boys and girls had been entrusted to the priestly charism in order to be brought to God. And those people sacrificed them to the idol of their own concupiscence. They profane the very image of God in whose likeness we were created. Childhood, as we all know, young hearts, so open and trusting, have their own way of understanding the mysteries of God’s love and are eager to grow in the faith. Today the heart of the Church looks into the eyes of Jesus in these boys and girls and wants to weep; she asks the grace to weep before the execrable acts of abuse which have left life long scars.

I know that these wounds are a source of deep and often unrelenting emotional and spiritual pain, and even despair. Many of those who have suffered in this way have also sought relief in the path of addiction. Others have experienced difficulties in significant relationships, with parents, spouses and children. Suffering in families has been especially grave, since the damage provoked by abuse affects these vital family relationships.

Some have even had to deal with the terrible tragedy of the death of a loved one by suicide. The deaths of these so beloved children of God weigh upon the heart and my conscience and that of the whole Church. To these families I express my heartfelt love and sorrow. Jesus, tortured and interrogated with passionate hatred, is taken to another place and he looks out. He looks out upon one of his own torturers, the one who denied him, and he makes him weep. Let us implore this grace together with that of making amends.

Sins of clerical sexual abuse against minors have a toxic effect on faith and hope in God. Some of you have held fast to faith, while for others the experience of betrayal and abandonment has led to a weakening of faith in God. Your presence here speaks of the miracle of hope, which prevails against the deepest darkness. Surely it is a sign of God’s mercy that today we have this opportunity to encounter one another, to adore God, to look in one another’s eyes and seek the grace of reconciliation.

Before God and his people I express my sorrow for the sins and grave crimes of clerical sexual abuse committed against you. And I humbly ask forgiveness.

I beg your forgiveness, too, for the sins of omission on the part of Church leaders who did not respond adequately to reports of abuse made by family members, as well as by abuse victims themselves. This led to even greater suffering on the part of those who were abused and it endangered other minors who were at risk.

On the other hand, the courage that you and others have shown by speaking up, by telling the truth, was a service of love, since for us it shed light on a terrible darkness in the life of the Church. There is no place in the Church’s ministry for those who commit these abuses, and I commit myself not to tolerate harm done to a minor by any individual, whether a cleric or not. All bishops must carry out their pastoral ministry with the utmost care in order to help foster the protection of minors, and they will be held accountable.

What Jesus says about those who cause scandal applies to all of us: the millstone and the sea (cf. Mt 18:6).

By the same token we will continue to exercise vigilance in priestly formation. I am counting on the members of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, all minors, whatever religion they belong to, they are little flowers which God looks lovingly upon.

I ask this support so as to help me ensure that we develop better policies and procedures in the universal Church for the protection of minors and for the training of church personnel in implementing those policies and procedures. We need to do everything in our power to ensure that these sins have no place in the Church.

Dear brothers and sisters, because we are all members of God’s family, we are called to live lives shaped by mercy. The Lord Jesus, our Savior, is the supreme example of this; though innocent, he took our sins upon himself on the cross. To be reconciled is the very essence of our shared identity as followers of Jesus Christ. By turning back to him, accompanied by our most holy Mother, who stood sorrowing at the foot of the cross, let us seek the grace of reconciliation with the entire people of God. The loving intercession of Our Lady of Tender Mercy is an unfailing source of help in the process of our healing.

You and all those who were abused by clergy are loved by God. I pray that the remnants of the darkness which touched you may be healed by the embrace of the Child Jesus and that the harm which was done to you will give way to renewed faith and joy.

I am grateful for this meeting. And please pray for me, so that the eyes of my heart will always clearly see the path of merciful love, and that God will grant me the courage to persevere on this path for the good of all children and young people. Jesus comes forth from an unjust trial, from a cruel interrogation and he looks in the eyes of Peter, and Peter weeps. We ask that he look at us and that we allow ourselves to be looked upon and to weep and that he give us the grace to be ashamed, so that, like Peter, forty days later, we can reply: “You know that I love you”; and hear him say: “go back and feed my sheep” – and I would add – “let no wolf enter the sheepfold”.

Making Freedom A Reality by John Nagle


bravo John: making ‘freedom’ a reality

The 2014 Volunteer of the Year [WA], John Nagle, jokes that he is not a good enough humanitarian to fulfil his role with Outcare, a service supporting men in their transition from prison into the community. “Without my faith I wouldn’t be able to do what I do”.

Speaking to The Record after receiving his award on 15 May John shared the journey of his own transition from his career in the hardware business to his 13 years as a volunteer with Outcare.

He recalls the moment his interest was sparked, several years before his retirement. “I was approached by a young man looking for work and noticed a few years gap in his résumé. He informed me that he had been in prison and it made me aware of the difficulties he was going through in his search for work.”

John was able to put the man in contact with a friend who was able to provide him with employment. Theencounter planted a seed which would bloom once John’s own working days would come to an end.

“I used to work 10-11 hours a day before my retirement and I was never much of a television watcher, and there was only so much gardening I could do”, John explained. “Besides my wife Joan was very encouraging – although her enthusiasm may have been driven by the thought of having me under her feet all day” he added with a laugh.

John has always been inspired by the example of eighteenth century saint and founder of the Pallottines, Vincent Pallotti, who spent his life reaching out to society’s outcastes including those in prisons and he is grateful for the opportunity to be able to put his faith into action. John’s compassion for those exiting prison grows each time he witnesses the difficulties many face as they make the step back into society. His experience has allowed him to see the devastating effects, both socially and economically, on individuals and their families. “We see the challenges not only for the men trying to re-enter the employment and housing markets, but also with their families who often have to deal with children, mortgages, schooling and everyday living without their partners,” he said.

John recall a comment made several years ago during a talk he gave to a church group when a member of the audience expressed admiration for the work being done with offenders, but was quick to emphasise that he would not want them living in his neighbourhood. It is attitudes such as these that John would like to see change.

The 77-year old’s experience has given him a deeper insight into the tragic cycle of recidivism and he believes that society needs to politically reassess its perception of offenders and adopt a preventative approach. “We are looking at the situation from the wrong end,” he insists. “We should be promoting early childhood education and getting alongside parents who are struggling, and not putting our money into building more prisons”.

John, an acolyte at Queen of Apostles parish in Riverton, has used contacts he made during his time involved with the WA Football League to assist men in their transition. During one of his first visits to a prison John discovered that there were a number of football teams playing one another. But their uniforms were falling apart. He was able to approach Outcare and they were able to provide sweaters, shorts and socks for all players.

John has also been able to observe the exceptional talent amongst the prison teams and has been able to link a number of young men into football clubs on their release. “All these men have something to offer and the role of receiving them back into society needs to be a communal one”, he said. “We need to restore the dignity and self respect they have lost and assist them in breaking the cycle they have found themselves in.”

When John’s 4 adult children learned of his decision to spend his retirement years moving in and out of prisons, they were initially reluctant. “My wife has always been very supportive because she is a volunteer herself”, he said, “but when I told the children what I was doing I think they were worried, not just about my safety, but my mental health”, he chuckled. All, however, were proudly in attendance when he received his award from the WA governor, Malcolm McCusker on May 15.  

interview thanks to Mark Reidy – The Recordbuletin2


John Nagle – Perth – AUSTRALIA

On The Joy Of The Gospel – Don Antonio Grappone



Don Antonio Grappone, Pontifical Council for the Laity 

Talk on Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii gaudium of Pope Francis

Union of Catholic Apostolate

Saturday, May 24, 2014 at 9:00 AM


I. Some keys to Interpretation

1. General Perspective

1. A risk to be avoided: As we all know, the world media focuses almost daily on what Pope Francis says and does, generally treating it sympathetically, even enthusiastically, particularly highlighting some aspects of his work. This unexpected situation has certain positive aspects, as in fact the great media success of the Pope has certainly done the people of God good: a considerable part of the faithful who were critical in the past or far from the Church is moving closer to practicing the sacraments and to reading Sacred Scripture, rediscovering the importance of faith in their lives; even the reform of the Church undertaken by the Holy Father is arousing great interest not only among Catholics.

Nevertheless, as the Pope himself reminds us, phenomena of this type are certainly not lacking in ambiguity. In this apparently favourable climate, we risk passively accepting the superficial and sensationalistic interpretation that the media give to the Magisterium of the Pope, thus losing its profundity. It therefore seems necessary to me to begin our reflection on Evangelii gaudium by offering some keys to interpretation which are not generally taken into consideration.

2. The place of Evangelii gaudium. Above all we need to highlight the importance of the document. This apostolic exhortation, according to an established practice, was supposed to be simply a re-elaborated version of the results of the  2012 Synod of Bishops on the new evangelisation; Pope Francis instead explicitly made it the programmatic document of his pontificate; in no. 1, in fact, we read: “In this Exhortation I wish to encourage the Christian faithful to embark upon a new chapter of evangelisation marked by this joy, while pointing out new paths for the Church’s journey in years to come.” Evangelii gaudium therefore represents a sort of “map” to understand the teachings of the Holy Father: the many surprising statements that we have heard him make in this first year of his ministry as universal Shepherd, not infrequently poorly interpreted, all find their response and adequate explanation in the apostolic exhortation. In addition, the document is not meant to be simply a doctrinal text but is intended to jolt the conscience of the reader: if we do not allow the text to personally question us, we will not succeed in understanding it. Therefore, in order to understand Pope Francis and his program, it is necessary to have read and meditated on Evangelii gaudium.

3. The method: The Pope is a true Jesuit, a “classic” Jesuit, “old school”, shaped by the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, a profile not now common even among the Jesuits themselves. This means that the fundamental principle which guides the government and Magisterium of Francis is spiritual discernment, along the lines learned in the school of St. Ignatius: a discernment that is applied above all to oneself, to one’s own interior life, in order to transfer it then to the complexities of life in general. From this perspective, we can better understand many aspects of this Pontificate: for example, the fact that issues need to remain open until they have been discerned sufficiently, which sometimes requires time and patience. It is a matter of waiting for God’s to be revealed, without immediately silencing the more uncomfortable challenges. Furthermore, this approach involves a willingness to listen to all, to learn from all, even from those who are mistaken (why are they mistaken?…), as the Pope clearly says in no. 236 of the apostolic exhortation: “Even people who can be considered dubious on account of their errors have something to offer which must not be overlooked.”

4. The form: The Pope is a Shepherd, was for many years first auxiliary bishop and then archbishop of Buenos Aires. He was accustomed to speaking to and teaching not a class of students nor even simply his religious confreres, but the people of God. To a superficial reading, Evangelii gaudium can appear to be an overly long and at times repetitive text, with many digressions that seem to take us far from the main issue. This is what I heard a famous Italian professor say, who advised people to read only the first part. But this is not so. We are certainly far from a “deductive” structure, of a scholastic kind, comprising premises and their consequences, like, for example, my presentation aims to be. But this does not mean that the text lacks logic and coherence. It simply follows another model of communication, another way of organising topics, typical of oral presentations: a cyclical form that methodically presents basic ideas in order to examine them from different points of view. It is truly a well-researched form, as we shall see shortly, and very effective for passing on teachings concerning such a complex issue as that which the Holy Father is addressing.

5. The Language: Naturally even the language reflects the Pope’s pastoral experience, which matured in Latin America. The Church in that continent has had to overcome many obstacles and face serious crises, but precisely thanks to this path it has developed an ecclesial awareness of the first order, which in the last Episcopal Latin American Conference was synthesised in the Aparecida Document, which saw the great contribution of the then Cardinal Bergoglio. The Latin American Church has gradually acquired a great capacity to communicate the Gospel to the people, freeing itself from the superficial and deceiving messages of the North American sects on the one hand and from the deceptive ideologies of a Marxist hue on the other, which had created many problems. The notion of “people”, so important in the document, is one of the most important contributions to the benefit of the universal Church. The direct and effective language of Evangelii gaudium reflects this wealth of experience.

6. The aims: Evangelii gaudium follows the stated objective of supporting reform in the Church. The words reform, conversion, renewal — recur an infinite number of times. The idea of reform in the Church is no novelty, but is, rather, intrinsic to the Church itself: ecclesia semper reformanda (the Church is always in need of renewal, of being reformed), but this idea became explicit above all in the Latin Church from the beginning of the eleventh century (it is much less clearly perceived in the Eastern Church), and therefore, exactly one thousand years ago. It is part of Tradition with a small “t”. This need has been felt in every generation, in order to remain faithful to Christ and his Gospel in the midst of the storms of history. In the course of ten centuries there have evidently been signs of serious deviations, schisms and heresies in the name of “reform”, yet the Catholic Church has never thought that it could avoid this. A famous book by Congar, an important figure at the Council, “True and false reform of the Church”, is interesting: it indicates four characteristics of true reforming action: 1. It must be guided by love; 2. It must remain in communion of the Church, which is safeguarded by the Magisterium; 3. It must be patient: haste leads to schism and heresy; 4. It needs to know how to look backwards, always returning to authentic Tradition, to the source, which is faithfulness to Jesus Christ.

Therefore, the Pope is moving according to an established tradition; he has chosen the name of the most famous of Catholic reformers, Francis of Assisi, and is the spiritual son of another great reformer, Ignatius of Loyola. Furthermore, the document is declaredly inspired by the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii nuntiandi of Paul VI, which gathers together and relaunches the missionary theology of the Second Vatican Council (n. 10). In no. 26 we find an explicit quotation from Vatican II on reform: “Every renewal of the Church essentially consists in an increase of fidelity to her own calling… Christ summons the Church as she goes her pilgrim way… to that continual reformation of which she always has need” (cf. Unitatis redintegratio, 6). In addition, the Holy Father knows that reform, to be authentic, must be in capite et in membris, in both head and members, it concerns, that is, all of God’s people, from the Pope to the last, most recently baptised, of the faithful. That is what Evangelii gaudium strongly proposes, beginning precisely with the reform of the papacy. The Pope, therefore, does not simply want to reform the Curia or the IOR, as the newspapers say. He wants to reform all, beginning with himself: “I too must think about a conversion of the papacy” (n. 32). None of us, therefore, ought to read this document thinking that it does not apply to him- or herself, but rather to others. It must be applied above all to oneself, or otherwise we have understood nothing. The Pope makes this clear right from the beginning: “I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day” (n. 3).

2. The Structure

1. We spoke before of the apparent difficulty of pinpointing a logical development in the text. In effect, if we look at the index, we may find ourselves a bit disoriented: the logical connection of the topics is not obvious. But the index does not by any means reflect the structure of Evangelii gaudium; in fact, I personally have some doubts that it was drafted by the Pope. Instead in no. 17, at the end of the introduction, we find the plan of the document, expressed in a very simple and clarifying way.

After an introduction, the Pope, indicates 7 topics:

a)     the reform of the Church in her missionary outreach;

b)    the temptations faced by pastoral workers;

c)      the Church, understood as the entire People of God which evangelises;

d)     the homily and its preparation;

e)     the inclusion of the poor in society;

f)      peace and dialogue within society;

g)     the spiritual motivations for mission.

2. The sevenfold structure is not a simple succession of themes; it is a traditional way of organising thought, especially when it is presented orally, favouring assimilation and memory. As all students of Sacred Scripture or of popular literature know, this structure involves intersecting relationships between the parts which help to clarify the contents and to connect them to one another. The following is a very famous sevenfold schema that could serve as an example:

 Our Father who art in heaven

1. Hallowed by Thy Name

2. Thy Kingdom come

3. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven

4. Give us this day our daily bread

5. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us

6. And lead us not into temptation

7. But deliver us from evil

Jesus’ prayer has an introduction and seven requests: a central one (bread, no. 4), which represents the focal point of the conversation, and six others organised in concentric links: no. 7 corresponds to no. 1, no. 6 to no. 2, no. 5 to no. 3).

3. As we shall see, the apostolic exhortation of Pope Francis follows the same logic:

Introduction (1-18)

a) The reform of the Church in her missionary outreach (19-75).

b) The temptations faced by pastoral workers (76-109).

c) The Church, understood as the People of God which evangelises (110-134). 

d) The homily and its preparation (135-175).

e) The inclusion of the poor in society (176-216).

f) Peace and dialogue within society (217-258).

g) The spiritual motivations for mission (259-288).

The basic relationships jump out: a) missionary outreach, corresponds to g) spiritual motivations for mission; b) the temptations, which are selfish individualism and self-absorption, correspond to f) openness to the problems of human society; c) the Church as the total people of God corresponds to e) the inclusion of all as a whole, and therefore, above all, of the poor, who are excluded by definition. At the centre we find d): the preparation of the homily … which could seem very strange, but we will see instead that it is not so!

4. It should also be noted that this model, formed by an introduction and seven points related to each another, not only characterises the general structure of Evangelii gaudium, but even some of the seven points that make it up, or some sections within these points. See as some more evident examples: “the temptations of pastoral workers”, or “the Church understood as the entire people of God which evangelises”; … but a more accurate analysis uncovers many other links: truly a text that seems to have been written on the go, which on closer examination proves to be very well structured.

II. Brief Explanation of Evangelii gaudium

As we were saying, Evangelii gaudium consists of seven points. Obviously I will have to proceed rapidly, attempting to highlight the principal themes.

1. Introduction: The introduction is very important because it presents the question. Pope Francis begins with a reassuring consideration: “The joy of the gospel 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 constantly born anew” (1). Joy is not an added element to Christian faith, but constitutes a fundamental, indispensable dimension, as the Old and New Testaments bear witness. A Christian without joy is an oxymoron, like saying “a rich person without money”, “a genius without intelligence”… It is evidently not a matter of a superficial joy, but of a profound experience capable of sustaining the disciples of the Lord even in the most difficult moments of their lives. Moreover, the strength to spread the Gospel comes directly from the joy of the people of God.

But at this point the Pope raises the problem from which Evangelii gaudium is born: why, if joy is the distinctive characteristic of our faith, are Christians so often lacking in it? Why do they have the style of Lent without Easter (6), even a funeral face (10)? The loss of joy comes from falling into the great risk of today’s world: an individualistic sadness (2). The Christian is sad precisely because of having given up evangelising. Whoever does not evangelise, whoever does not bear witness to Christ, closes themselves to Grace, and therefore to joy. Pope Francis wants to urge us towards the joy of faith by reawakening the desire to proclaim the Lord in every corner of the world, so that his light may penetrate every corner of our existence.

2. The reform of the Church in her missionary outreach (19-75)

The first section of the document is divided into two parts: the Church’s missionary

transformation (19-49) and the situation in which the world that is so in need of receiving the message finds itself (50-109). The first part emphasises the criterion for reform: in order to fulfil the mandate of Jesus the Church must become “a Church which goes forth”, moving “from a pastoral ministry of mere conservation to a decidedly missionary pastoral ministry” (15): “all of us are called to take part in this new missionary ‘going forth’” (20). A renewal of structures is also therefore necessary: “The renewal of structures demanded by pastoral conversion can only be understood in this light: as part of an effort to make them more mission-oriented, to make ordinary pastoral activity on every level more inclusive and open, to inspire in pastoral workers a constant desire to go forth and in this way to elicit a positive response from all those whom Jesus summons to friendship with himself” (27). Therefore, dioceses, parishes, associations, movements – and even the Union of Catholic Apostolate! – are challenged to open themselves to mission with greater enthusiasm. The risk, then, is a part of the mission and needs therefore be accepted without fear: “I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security” (49). The content of the proclamation must be the fundamental core of faith: “the beauty of the saving love of God made manifest in Jesus Christ who died and rose from the dead” (36), in order to avoid dissipating ourselves in a pastoral ministry that is “obsessed with the disjointed transmission of a multitude of doctrines to be insistently imposed” (35).

The second part of this section is a precise diagnosis of the ills of our globalised world, with which the Church is confronted. The Pope has no doubt: at the centre of the sufferings and sins that characterise our time is an economic system which is “unjust at its root” (59) based on the idolatry of money, on the illusion that the logic of profit ends up resolving all problems: the “deified market” (56). We are almost dealing with a “canonisation” of egoism, which gives rise to a world in which “the excluded are not the ‘exploited’ but the outcast, ‘the leftovers” (53): it is the “throw away culture”. This “individualismof our postmodern and globalised era” (67) undermines the family, the fundamental unit of society, at its foundation, as well as all other forms of human community.

3. The temptations faced by pastoral workers (76-109)

The second section of the pastoral exhortation is a true examination of conscience in the light of the Gospel. It is inspired by the first week of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, a profound meditation on one’s own sins, which is like the door to be gone through in order to discern God’s will in our lives. Unless we engage personally in this reflection, we cannot understand Evangelii gaudium! The Pope addresses each of his readers, at times very explicitly, in order that they might recognise their own sins and be converted. Listen to the example in no. 101: “Let us ask the Lord to help us understand the law of love. How good it is to have this law! […] We all have our likes and dislikes, and perhaps in this very moment we are angry with someone. At least let us say to the Lord: “Lord, I am angry with this person, with that person. I pray to you for him and for her”. To pray for a person with whom I am irritated is a beautiful step forward in love, and an act of evangelisation. Let us do it today! Let us now allow ourselves to be robbed of the idea of fraternal love!”

This section is also formed by an introduction and seven points. In particular, at the conclusion of this question we find an exhortation not to allow ourselves to be robbed of something important: Let us not allow ourselves to be robbed of missionary enthusiasm! (80) Let us not allow ourselves to be robbed of the joy of evangelization! (83) Let us not allow ourselves to be robbed of hope! (86) Let us not allow ourselves to be robbed of community! (92) Let us not allow ourselves to be robbed of the Gospel! (97) Let us not allow ourselves to be robbed of the ideal of fraternal love! (101) Let us not allow ourselves to be robbed of missionary vigour! (109). These affirmations remind us of the words of Jesus: “The thief comes only to steal, to kill and to destroy; I have come so that you might have life, and have it in abundance” (Jn 10:10).

In the introduction, the Pope expresses his great gratitude to the Church, without which there is no reform but only hostility (76): a resentful attitude against the Church does not produce reform, but only harm. It reminds us that we Christians are sinners like everyone else, and if we are not converted we become an active part of that mechanism of sin that is the egotistical world that we spoke about in the preceding point (77). In order to enter into a logic of evangelisation, we must have a “missionary spirituality”: every one of us therefore must be converted from certain selfish attitudes which the Pope describes: individualism, inferiority complexes with respect to the world, egotistical sloth which hides itself under the appearance of good, defeatist pessimism in the face of today’s difficulties, “spiritual worldliness”, a true plague in the Church: “This is a tremendous corruption disguised as a good. … God save us from a worldly Church with superficial spiritual and pastoral trappings!” (97). Then, the internal wars among Christians are a very grave scandal; listen to what the Holy Father says in no. 100: “It always pains me greatly to discover how some Christian communities, and even consecrated persons, can tolerate different forms of enmity, division, calumny, defamation, vendetta, jealousy and the desire to impose their own ideas at all costs, even to persecutions which appear as veritable witch hunts. Whom are we going to evangelise if this is the way we act?” Another danger is clericalism, as much that of the clergy as that of the laity, which tends to exclude from decision-making the indispensable experience of such a large part of the people of God – laity, women, youth and the elderly. What we need are new relationships generated by Christ, [in order to truly become] the people of God: no one evangelises alone.

4. The Church as the entire People of God that evangelises (110-134)

The third section of Evangelii gaudium corresponds somewhat to the second week of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, which serves to discern God’s will in the face of major decisions in life. The Pope, in fact, wishes to clarify that the proclamation of the Gospel is the proper and specific vocation of the People of God as such and not of a “professional” category; we are all pastoral workers by virtue of our Baptism. In this section, the “theology of the people” of Pope Francis plays a fundamental role. For the Holy Father, the people of God is not a passive group, a crowd, to be guided or liberated by the work of educated and enlightened people as, for example, the Marxists hold, but is an active subject to be listened to, especially in matters of faith, a reservoir of wisdom from which we can learn through a pastoral closeness. It is not, however, a matter of learning from them dogmatic truths that compete with the Magisterium: we do not learn who the Madonna is from the people – says Pope Bergoglio – but how to love the Madonna! Therefore, in order to evangelise, the contribution of the whole Church in its catholicity is necessary, through a “varied face” (116), to which “the evangelising power of popular piety” belongs fully in its own right (122). The author of such a variety of charisms is, for the Holy Father, the Holy Spirit, who is also the only guarantor of unity: “Diversity must always be reconciled by the help of the Holy Spirit; he alone can raise up diversity, plurality and multiplicity while at the same time bringing about unity. When we, for our part, aspire to diversity, we become self-enclosed, exclusive and divisive; similarly, whenever we attempt to create unity on the basis of our human calculations, we end up imposing a monolithic uniformity. This is not helpful for the Church’s mission” (131). Theologians, on their part, “must always remember that the Church and theology exist to evangelise, and not be content with a desk-bound theology” (133).

5. The homily and its preparation (135-175)

As we have seen in the introduction, this fourth section is right at the centre of Evangelii gaudium. Therefore the title should not mislead us. It is not simply a technical explanation aimed only at priests to improve homilies: the reflections contained therein constitute rather the very heart of the apostolic exhortation. In dealing with the preparation of the homily, the Pope, in fact, explains the basic content that the mission needs to communicate, that is to say, the kerygma, the first proclamation of salvation, the narration of the fact that our Lord Jesus Christ has taken our sins upon himself, freely giving his own life on the cross to free us from sin and from death, from the meaninglessness of existence and is risen from the dead in order to give us his victory, in the Church, through the Word of God and the sacraments. In the Exercises of St. Ignatius, this theme takes up the third and fourth weeks. For the Pope, preaching has a fundamental role, serving to awaken a thirst for God: “he preacher must know the heart of his community, in order to realize where its desire for God is alive and ardent” (137), in order to speak “words which set hearts on fire”, painstakingly avoiding a “purely moralistic or doctrinaire” preaching (142). The Holy Father says that “A preacher who does not prepare is not “spiritual”; he is dishonest and irresponsible with the gifts he has received” (145). The basic content of every sermon is indeed the kerygma: “In catechesis too, […] the fundamental role of the first announcement or kerygma […] needs to be the centre of all evangelizing activity and all efforts at Church renewal[…]; [it] leads us to believe in Jesus Christ who, by his death and resurrection, reveals and communicates to us the Father’s infinite mercy. On the lips of the catechist the first proclamation must ring out over and over: “Jesus Christ loves you; he gave his life to save you; and now he is living at your side every day to enlighten, strengthen and free you.” This first proclamation is called “first” – continues the Pope – not because it exists at the beginning and can then be forgotten or replaced by other more important things. It is first in a qualitative sense because it is the principal proclamation, the one which we must hear again and again in different ways, the one which we must announce one way or another throughout the process of catechesis, at every level and moment” (164). Without the salt of the kerygma, in fact, preaching and every teaching end up being without flavour, are reduced to an empty moralism, an appeal to the willpower of (“a voluntaristic appeal to”)  human effort which is destined to fail. Christianity becomes an unbearable burden or a sham.

The inclusion of the poor in society (176-216)

6. As we have seen in commenting on the structure of the Exhortation, the fifth section is tightly bound to the third, which underscored the necessity that all of the people of God, in its totality, go forth to evangelise. In order to fulfil this fundamental task, it is necessary to overcome all forms of marginalisation and to recreate a unified human fabric marked by solidarity, above all in Church. The people of God must therefore rediscover its inclusive vocation, completely against the current with respect to the dominant tendencies. There is, therefore, a “profound connection between evangelisation and human advancement” (178), which leads Christians to proactively influence social and economic affairs: “It is no longer possible to claim that religion should be restricted to the private sphere and that it exists only to prepare souls for heaven” (182): “An authentic faith – which is never comfortable or completely personal – always involves a deep desire to change the world” (183). Therefore, adds Pope Francis, “We should not be concerned simply about falling into doctrinal error, but about remaining faithful to this light-filled path of life and wisdom” (194); in fact, “For the Church, the option for the poor is primarily a theological category rather than a cultural, sociological, political or philosophical one. […] This is why I want a Church which is poor and for the poor. They have much to teach us” (198). It is evidently not a matter of limiting oneself to material help: “the worst discrimination which the poor suffer is the lack of spiritual care” (200). Among the “discarded” of our egotistical world, the Pope has not forgotten “unborn children, the most defenceless and innocent among us. Nowadays efforts are made to deny them their human dignity and to do with them whatever one pleases, taking their lives and passing laws preventing anyone from standing in the way of this” (213).

7. Peace and social dialogue (217-258)

The sixth part of Evangelii gaudium corresponds to the second, in which the Pope dealt with the temptations of pastoral workers: if egotistical sloth, a kind of turning in on oneself, is what paralyzes Christians, the therapy consists in spending ourselves for the common good and for the proclamation of the Gospel of peace. I would like to highlight in particular the four criteria of discernment for the evangelising commitment that the Holy Father sets out at this point. Remember that discernment is at the centre of Ignatian spirituality and is indispensable in order to avoid being deceived by temptations.

The first principle: “Time is greater than space” (222-225). In the language of the Pope, space is reality as it presents itself as a whole to our gaze; when an action such as evangelisation is undertaken, we must not get carried away by claiming to occupy all of the space, that is, to succeed in controlling everything, to have immediate success on all fronts. Time is more important than space, because authentic human action is effective when it initiates a process, not when it expects to obtain everything immediately. The one who evangelises is a patient sower because growth requires time: “The parable of the weeds among the wheat (cf. Mt 13:24-30) graphically illustrates an important aspect of evangelization: the enemy can intrude upon the kingdom and sow harm, but ultimately he is defeated by the goodness of the wheat” (225).

The second principle: “Unity prevails over conflict” (226-230): according to Pope Francis, conflict is inevitable in our human reality, therefore we need to know how to face it without ignoring it, but without letting it suck us in: “When conflict arises, some people simply look at it and go their way as if nothing happened; they wash their hands of it and get on with their lives. Others embrace it in such a way that they become its prisoners” (227). The Pope indicates a way out: “But there is also a third way, and it is the best way to deal with conflict. It is the willingness to face conflict head on, to resolve it and to make it a link in the chain of a new process” (227). For this it is necessary to have it very clear that unity is superior to conflict: it involves an evangelical principle which is based on a solid personal spirituality: “the locus of this reconciliation of differences is within ourselves, in our own lives, ever threatened as they are by fragmentation and breakdown. If hearts are shattered in thousands of pieces, it is not easy to create authentic peace in society” (229). Only through a process of reconciliation will diversity become a wealth that does not destroy, but instead values, unity.

The third principle: “Realities are more important than ideas” (231-233). For Pope Francis the idea, thinking developed by human beings, is “at the service of communication, understanding, and praxis”, and therefore when the ideas become disconnected from reality they fail to reach their objective and everything becomes empty and dangerous rhetoric. The principle is based on the fact of the incarnation of the Lord and “It helps us to see that the Church’s history is a history of salvation, to be mindful of those saints who inculturated the Gospel in the life of our peoples and to reap the fruits of the Church’s rich bimillennial tradition, without claiming to come up with a system of thought detached from this treasury, as if we wanted to reinvent the Gospel. At the same time, this principle impels us to put the word into practice, to perform works of justice and charity which make that word fruitful. Not to put the word into practice, not to make it reality, is to build on sand, to remain in the realm of pure ideas and to end up in a lifeless and unfruitful self-centredness and gnosticism” (233).

The fourth principle: “The whole is greater than the part” (234-237), “but it is also greater than the sum of its parts” (235), says the Pope. This principle leads us to “broaden our horizons and see the greater good which will benefit us all. But this has to be done without evasion or uprooting. We need to sink our roots deeper into the fertile soil and history of our native place, which is a gift of God. We can work on a small scale, in our own neighbourhood, but with a larger perspective” (235). Reality is complex and is not like a sphere where every point is equidistant from the centre, but is an irregular polyhedron which in order to be understood, must be considered in every one of its parts. Therefore the search to understand reality cannot begin from the centre, but from the peripheries. This too is an evangelical principle: “The Gospel has an intrinsic principle of totality: it will always remain good news until it has been proclaimed to all people, until it has healed and strengthened every aspect of humanity, until it has brought all men and women together at table in God’s kingdom. The whole is greater than the part” (237).

8. Spiritual reasons for a renewed missionary impulse (259-288)

The last section is clearly connected to the first: the Church in order to accomplish its missionary transformation needs a profound spirituality that sustains it, needs, that is, “evangelisers fearlessly open to the working of the Holy Spirit” (259), who “cultivate an interior space” (262), who pray!

This spirituality is first and foremost Christocentric. In fact, “The primary reasons for evangelising is the love of Jesus which we have received, the experience of salvation which urges us to ever greater love of him” (264). It is this experience which impels us to announce to the world the beauty of Christ’s love. Therefore, we need to keep it alive through prayer: “In union with Jesus, we seek what he seeks and we love what he loves” (267).

Then there is the ecclesial: the love of Christ teaches us “the spiritual savour of being a people” (268), a closeness to others, especially to those who are most difficult and wounded, who are “the Lord’s wounds” (270): “Clearly Jesus does not want us to be grandees who look down upon others, but men and women of the people” (271). The mission, to bring the love of God to our brothers and sisters, is the very reason for our earthly life: “I am a mission on this earth; that is the reason why I am here in this world” (273).

The Holy Spirit is the true protagonist of mission because he makes present in our lives the resurrection of Christ which frees us from the temptation of thinking that everything is futile, that nothing can change: the Spirit of the Risen One renews the universe, calling forth everywhere “seeds of that new world; even if they are cut back, they grow again, for the resurrection is already secretly woven into the fabric of this history, for Jesus did not rise in vain” (278).

But the mission has another protagonist: Mary, the Mother of evangelisation: “There is a Marian “style” to the Church’s work of evangelisation. Whenever we look to Mary, we come to believe once again in the revolutionary nature of love and tenderness” (288).

Mary, Virgin and Mother,

you who, moved by the Holy spirit,

welcomed the word of life

in the depths of your humble faith:

as you gave yourself completely to the Eternal One,

help us to say our own “yes”

to the urgent call, as pressing as ever,

to proclaim the good news of Jesus.

I DO NOT TOUCH YOU – Jessica Powers


Beautiful is this tree with its glossy leaves,

with Pentecost still playful in its branches.

I do not touch it with inquiring hand

nor break off fiery bloom to shout hosanna in my window,

nor wrench it up to root again, gay as pageant in my land.

Let it stand.


You whom I love I do not touch with even a dreamed


nor is this poem for you; I carry it past

your open door in a basket of secrecy.

I do not point you out as loved, nor speak about you or

  to you

save, out of your hearing, once, that lone imperative

of all true lovers:   be.


I leave you in the innocence of your being,

joyful and I possessing.

My claiming, out of time, will dearer be.

And innocence, that concentrate of peace,

spreads like the haze of a soft summer noon

and encircles me.

–Jessica Powers