MOSAIC Spring 2014 - Page 14

The Joy of the Gospel In this negative context, “the other,” meaning human beings other than ourselves, is beyond our grasp. We are destined to live and die alone. Such a mentality about “the other” is one of the unfortunate underpinnings of a relativistic worldview. If I am ultimately an isolated individual with no real possibility of connection to others, then I become a self-contained, selfobsessed island, and the sole arbiter of good and evil in my life. Francis teaches us, however, to consistently view “the other” as a person with whom we are compelled by Jesus to share the joy of the gospel, a person who presents to us a unique opportunity for evangelization. “The other” represents all those with whom we come into contact. Each person, with his or her array of circumstances, qualities, and experiences, embodies a particular opportunity for growth in holiness, laid out before us, when we consider how we will approach, as missionaries, each particular situation. Francis’ explanations indicate that there is no opportunity for selectivity on our part. “Others” includes not just those who please us, not just those who share our views, and not just those who are clean, smell good, and are well-dressed. Francis here reflects Scripture, which is remarkable for its lack of qualifiers in terms of whom we should love. Nor does Scripture advise loving some more than others: “If you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors” (Jas 2:9). In fact, loving our brothers and sisters is a sign of our love for God: “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ but hates his brother, he is a liar; for whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen” (1 Jn 4:20). Francis makes this point when he writes, “Loving others is a spiritual force drawing us to union with God” (no. 271). A major theme in this exhortation relates to the pope’s specific emphasis upon acts of service as sources of joy. He is urging us to “lose ourselves” to the service of others. The intentional and fruitful accompaniment of others is one important expression of our missionary work. The “Art” of Accompaniment As part of his exhortation to us to evangelize everyone we encounter, Pope Francis spends considerable ink describing how to “accompany” others. Obviously he believes that effective Christian accompaniment is an essential skill for all evangelizers. We live in a culture, the pope points out, in which many feel they are drowning in anonymity. And yet, almost paradoxically, certain outlets in society, especially in television, print outlets, and social media, seem obsessed with revealing embarrassingly intimate or ridiculously minute details of people’s personal lives. The “art of accompaniment,” according to Francis, has nothing to do with an obsession with others’ lives but instead involves a steady willingness to act compassionately. He reminds us that the purpose of Christian accompaniment, regardless of whatever temporal needs we might respond to in the lives of others, is always meant to lead those we accompany into a closer relationship with God. Our accompaniment becomes a meaningless, empty exercise if it is not a constant “pilgrimage with Christ to the Father” (no. 170). A purely secular approach to accompaniment, while it may temporarily alleviate some suffering, can never fully address the spiritual starvation from which many suffer due to their separation from Jesus Christ and thus from God the Father. Just as any Christian discernment process emphasizes our need to listen to God, those who accompany others must also be good listeners. Listening that leads to spiritual growth is often drowned out by the deafening literal and figurative noise of the over-stimulation we often face. “Listening,” Francis explains, “is an openness of heart which makes possible that closeness without which genuine spiritual encounter cannot occur.” In addition to listening, accompaniment also requires correction of our brothers and sisters: “The Gospel tells us how to correct others and to help them grow . . . but without making judgments about their responsibility and culpability” (no. 172). “‘Others’ includes not just those who please us, not just those who share our views.” 12 MOSAIC Social Content of the Kerygma The kerygma, or the first and most basic message that offers us salvation in Jesus Christ, speaks to us first as individuals.