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Summary: Both Christian and secular cultures will benefit by understanding the Joy of the Gospel, but the Church must approach different cultures with respect.

Thursday of the First Week in Lent

Joy of the Gospel

Today we hear from Jesus a restatement of the Golden Rule: “whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them; for this is the law and the prophets.” And this is Torah, this is the prophetic message. We want people to treat us with respect, but we must first treat them with respect. We want people to avoid cheating us, but we must consistently be fair with everyone else. We want people to love us, but we must first love them. In that we imitate Jesus Christ. When I was in sales management, I used to tell my salespeople that nobody would buy anything from them if they made the folks feel bad. Perhaps that is why the Holy Father seems willing to meet with just about anyone, even government leaders who tend to tyranny, or representatives of groups that don’t adhere to the Gospel message. We must treat others as the Father treats them, He who gives the sunshine to all, and the rain to all, regardless of their just deserts.

The Holy Father continues in his message, the Joy of the Gospel, by giving specific suggestions on bringing the Gospel joy to cultures around the world: ‘It is imperative to evangelize cultures in order to inculturate the Gospel. In countries of Catholic tradition, this means encouraging, fostering and reinforcing a richness which already exists. In countries of other religious traditions, or profoundly secularized countries, it will mean sparking new processes for evangelizing culture, even though these will demand long-term planning. We must keep in mind, however, that we are constantly being called to grow. Each culture and social group needs purification and growth. In the case of the popular cultures of Catholic peoples, we can see deficiencies which need to be healed by the Gospel: machismo, alcoholism, domestic violence, low Mass attendance, fatalistic or superstitious notions which lead to sorcery, and the like. Popular piety itself can be the starting point for healing and liberation from these deficiencies.

‘It is also true that at times greater emphasis is placed on the outward expressions and traditions of some groups, or on alleged private revelations which would replace all else, than on the impulse of Christian piety. There is a kind of Christianity made up of devotions reflecting an individual and sentimental faith life which does not in fact correspond to authentic “popular piety”. Some people promote these expressions while not being in the least concerned with the advancement of society or the formation of the laity, and in certain cases they do so in order to obtain economic benefits or some power over others. Nor can we overlook the fact that in recent decades there has been a breakdown in the way Catholics pass down the Christian faith to the young. It is undeniable that many people feel disillusioned and no longer identify with the Catholic tradition. Growing numbers of parents do not bring their children for baptism or teach them how to pray. There is also a certain exodus towards other faith communities. The causes of this breakdown include: a lack of opportunity for dialogue in families, the influence of the communications media, a relativistic subjectivism, unbridled consumerism which feeds the market, lack of pastoral care among the poor, the failure of our institutions to be welcoming, and our difficulty in restoring a mystical adherence to the faith in a pluralistic religious landscape.’

The Pope then turns to the particular problems facing us in the big cities. When I was growing up just west of New Braunfels, this was a small city. Now we are one of the large urban areas. Pope Francis writes: ‘The new Jerusalem, the holy city (cf. Rev 21:2-4), is the goal towards which all of humanity is moving. It is curious that God’s revelation tells us that the fullness of humanity and of history is realized in a city. We need to look at our cities with a contemplative gaze, a gaze of faith which sees God dwelling in their homes, in their streets and squares. God’s presence accompanies the sincere efforts of individuals and groups to find encouragement and meaning in their lives. He dwells among them, fostering solidarity, fraternity, and the desire for goodness, truth and justice. This presence must not be contrived but found, uncovered. God does not hide himself from those who seek him with a sincere heart, even though they do so tentatively, in a vague and haphazard manner.

‘In cities, as opposed to the countryside, the religious dimension of life is expressed by different lifestyles, daily rhythms linked to places and people. In their daily lives people must often struggle for survival and this struggle contains within it a profound understanding of life which often includes a deep religious sense. We must examine this more closely in order to enter into a dialogue like that of our Lord and the Samaritan woman at the well where she sought to quench her thirst (cf. Jn 4:1-15).’ And so for most of the next couple of weeks, we’ll listen to the Pope talk to us city-dwellers about the special challenges and opportunities we have to spread the joy of the Gospel.

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