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The Joy of the Gospel: The social dimension

By: Deacon Steve Olmstead

This is my fifth article on Pope Francis’ book, The Joy of the Gospel. I continue to encourage you to get a copy and read it or read the book in a group setting with some friends and/or your priest. This will give you more opportunity for discussion and will promote more people reading the book.

As I mentioned in my first article, Pope Francis begins the book by inviting all Christians to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus. The joy of the Gospel comes from a personal, growing, love relationship with Jesus. From this relationship and through our baptismal identities, Pope Francis calls each of us to be, “Missionary Disciples.”

The last two articles have focused on the homily of our lives and the importance of growing in our knowledge and love of God’s Word. “Personalizing the Word,” as Pope Francis calls it, is vital for our faith and witness. We are called to spend time reading and reflecting on the Scriptures. We are encouraged not only to grow in intellectual knowledge of God’s Word, but in letting God’s Word penetrate our very being through prayerful reading and reflection.

After establishing the centrality of a personal encounter with Jesus Christ, highlighting our calling as missionary disciples and forming the homily of our lives by God’s Holy Word, Pope Francis challenges us and awakens us to the social dimension of the gospel. (Chapter 4).

Pope Francis writes, “God’s Word teaches that our brothers and sisters are the prolongation of the incarnation for each of us: ‘As you did it to one of these, the least of my brethren, you did it to me.’”

When I first read these words, “the prolongation of the incarnation,” I was struck by their mystery and profound truth. God lives in us. God lives in our neighbors. As God came “in the flesh” in Jesus Christ, so too God, through His Spirit, lives in the flesh of our brothers and sisters, especially those in need. The “prolongation of the incarnation” is meant to remind us that God is present here and now in the lives and hearts of others. Furthermore, the “Prolongation of the incarnation” invites us to embrace God’s real presence in our own lives which enables us and calls us to be the hands and feet of Christ for the world.

The “Prolongation of the incarnation” challenges us to get involved in the lives of others and the social issues and challenges inherent in our culture. A personal relationship and encounter with Jesus is vital and essential, yet according to Pope Francis, authentic faith does not separate one’s personal relationship with Jesus and one’s call to engage in the life of others. “Accepting the first proclamation, which invites us to receive God’s love and to love him in return with the very love which is his gift, brings forth in our lives and actions a primary and fundamental response: to desire, seek and protect the good of the others.”

In order to embrace this fundamental response, we must see Christ in others and courageously “desire, seek and protect their good.”

To be honest, I am much more comfortable talking about a personal relationship with Jesus than I am about getting involved in the lives of others and truly making a concrete difference in the social issues and challenges they face.

Pope Francis challenges us with these words, “An authentic faith – which is never comfortable or completely personal – always involves a deep desire to change the world.”

I wonder if my faith is too comfortable? I will pray for you and I ask that you pray for me.

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