Letters to Lay Marists

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Dear Family, Friends, and Fellow Marists,

Pope Francis has been such a joy for so many ever since his election, and now he has
given us a special gift of joy, his first Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium—The Joy of
the Gospel.  With his usual simplicity and humility, he addresses his words to our hearts, to
the hearts of believers and of unbelievers, to the well-off and to the poor, and challenging
us who live more comfortably to learn the secret of joy from the poor.

What a wonderful gift to receive at the beginning of this season of joy!  A gentle, fresh
breeze, so reminiscent of the one that began to flow into the Church when Pope John
opened the windows by convoking the Second Vatican Council, is awakening us and
refreshing us, and exciting us once again!  The tone of the  Exhortation is conversational,
and the message is indeed one of joy, the joy of living the Gospel, and the joy of sharing
the Gospel with others. [...]

I would like to share a few quotations from Evangelii Gaudium, some real gems, mainly for
the benefit of my friends who may not have access to the pope’s exhortation or who may
not be inclined to read the whole document.  (Paragraph numbers are indicated.)

Pope Francis begins with these words:
“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.  In this Exhortation I wish to encourage the
Christian faithful to embark upon a new chapter of evangelization marked by this joy, while
pointing out new paths for the Church’s journey in years to come.” (1)

On God’s readiness to forgive us:
“With a tenderness which never disappoints, but is always capable of restoring our joy,
Jesus makes it possible for us to lift up our heads and to start anew.” (3)

Joy endures:
“There are Christians whose lives seem like Lent without Easter.  I realize of course that joy
is not expressed the same way at all times in life, especially at moments of great difficulty.  
Joy adapts and changes, but it always endures, even as a flicker of light born of our
personal certainty that, when everything is said and done, we are infinitely loved.” (6)

Joy and the poor:
“I can say that the most beautiful and natural expressions of joy which I have seen in my life
were in poor people who had little to hold on to.  I also think of the real joy shown by others
who, even amid pressing professional obligations, were able to preserve, in detachment
and simplicity, a heart full of faith.  In their own way, all these instances of joy flow from the
infinite love of God, who has revealed himself to us in Jesus Christ.” (7)

Manifesting our Gospel joy:
“An evangelizer must never look like someone who has just come back from a funeral!” (10)

Regarding those baptized people who lack a meaningful relationship to the Church and no
longer experience the consolation born of faith:
“The Church, in her maternal concern, tries to help them experience a conversion which
will restore the joy of faith to their hearts and inspire a commitment to the Gospel.” (14)

On sharing the Gospel with those who do not know Jesus Christ or who have always
rejected him:
“Many of them are quietly seeking God, led by a yearning to see his face, even in countries
of ancient Christian tradition.  All of them have a right to receive the Gospel.  Christians
have the duty to proclaim the Gospel without excluding anyone.  Instead of seeming to
impose new obligations, they should appear as people who wish to share their joy, who
point to a horizon of beauty and who invite others to a delicious banquet.  It is not by
proselytizing that the Church grows, but ‘by attraction’.” (14)

On all disciples and the whole Church being missionary:
“The Gospel joy which enlivens the community of disciples is a missionary joy.”

No one is to be excluded:
“In fidelity to the example of the Master, it is vitally important for the Church today to go
forth and preach the Gospel to all:  to all places, on all occasions, without hesitation,
reluctance or fear.  The joy of the Gospel is for all people:  no one can be excluded.” (23)

Celebrating our missionary joy:
“Finally an evangelizing community is filled with joy; it knows how to rejoice always.  It
celebrates every small victory, every step forward in the work of evangelization.  
Evangelization with joy becomes beauty in the liturgy, as part of our daily concern to spread
goodness.  The Church evangelizes and is herself evangelized through the beauty of the
liturgy, which is both a celebration of the task of evangelization and the source of her
renewed self-giving.” (24)

I was also reminded this Advent of a line of a Christmas poem by Robert Southwell (1561-
1595).  He was a Jesuit priest who suffered martyrdom for trying to bring the sacraments to
Catholics in Elizabethan England.  The poem is called “This Little Babe”.  This is the last line:

“If thou wilt foil thy foes with joy, then flit not from this heavenly boy.”

I believe Pope Francis shares Southwell’s conviction that it is joy, the joy of knowing Christ
and living in him, that “foils our foe” and overcomes the power of evil.

Finally, a line from a hymn, “God Beyond All Names” by Bernadette Farrell, a contemporary
British Catholic composer:

“In our living and our dying we are bringing you to birth.”

Our living of the Gospel, our dying to ourselves, our hope, the joy we manifest in our lives,
“brings God to birth” once again, as it were, in our world today!

May you be possessed by the joy
that cannot be possessed
but only given away!

Wishing you every blessing at Christmas and throughout the New Year.

Rev. Edwin L. Keel, S.M.
Eight  5th Street, Apartment 311
Wheeling, WV 26003-2582
Home phone:  304-905-9359
Cell phone:  304-559-7732
E-mail:  maristelk@comcast.net

Christmas 2013

Evangelii Gaudium