TAMBUNAN – The Apostolic Nuncio to Malaysia, Archbishop Joseph Marino spoke about the characteristics of the Church based on the three important documents by Pope Francis: the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, his reflections on the Holy Year of Mercy, and the Encyclical Laudato Si’. The talk was attended by Bishop Cornelius Piong, the priests of Keningau Diocese, members of the Holy Trinity Community and Carmelite religious brothers and sisters, July 15, at the Pertapaan Karmel, Kaingaran in Tambunan. The Nuncio stayed for a night to witness the final and first professions of 2 religious sisters (P.Karm) and a brother (CSE), July 16, also in Pertapaan Karmel,Kaingaran.
Pope Francis said this is the time to awake, the time to reawaken in ourselves to see what is truly essential; and this is what essential: to be an instrument of God in today’s world. In Pope Francis’ pontificate, now in his 3rd year, there are three important documents that really require our attention. First is the Evangelii Gaudium, second are his reflections on the Holy Year of Mercy and third is the Encyclical Laudato Si’.
When the church does not come out of herself to evangelize, she becomes self-referential and then gets sick. In the Book of Revelation, Jesus says He’s at the door knocking. Obviously, the text refers to his knocking from the outside in order to enter…now listen to what the Pope said: “But I think that Jesus is knocking from the inside, trying to get out. This is a self-referential church that keeps Jesus within herself and does not let him out.”
What does this mean? First, with the church keeping Jesus in, she believes she has all the answers. She ceases to be an instrument of light and here’s a way to a very serious evil, spiritual worldliness. Second, there are two images of church: a Church which evangelizes and comes out of herself and a worldly Church, living within herself, of herself , for herself.
What must the Church do for the salvation of souls?
Pope Francis says in No 49 of Evangelii Gaudium: I prefer a Church which is bruised… Clearly Pope Francis is teaching us that he wants a Church that is missionary, is going out. But are you listening? In fact, before Jesus was taken into Heaven, we did not hear Jesus say to his apostles to stay in their rooms, to be content in the celebration of the sacraments, to preserve the communion of the Church; but he said ‘Go into the world and make disciples of all nations …’
In being a missionary church, the Holy Father says it does not talk about the number of converts or statistics but the number of hearts that we touch. In this way the Holy Father asked us to go and extend our hands to all, by bringing gentleness, peace, mercy and reconciliation in being a Christian.
Before I was a Nuncio to Malaysia, I was the Nuncio to Bangladesh. 90% of Bangladeshi is Muslim; there are 350,000 Catholics out of 160 million people. One day, during Ramadan eve, I was in the presidential palace for the eve of the celebration and I was asked by a prominent figure to open schools in every village in Bangladesh, and I asked why? He said, “Because wherever you go, something good happens”. I told the bishops about it, not about opening schools but to let them know that whatever they are doing, they are touching lives. And I think this is evangelization.
The other new thing about Evangelii Gaudium is that I hear the Holy Father saying “I don’t need a reflection about this, I need action.”
What then are the characteristics of an evangelizing church? First character comes from No. 23 in Evangelii Gaudium – The Church that goes forth is a joyful Church. The church must preach the Gospel to all. “The joy of the Gospel is for all people; no one can be excluded.” We take the first step, without fear, without being invited, without hesitation. “Missionary joy” comes from “the joy of the Gospel”.
Second character is mercy. The church must be composed of those people who have received salvation. Therefore they “should have endless desire to show mercy”. It’s not just about forgiving sins, but “to get involved in word and deed in people’s daily lives”, walking with them in their daily lives, often marked by struggles and pain. It means at times to get on our knees and wash the feet of our brothers n sisters, to be supportive especially the weak. We must point people to the right direction but never do it in a judgmental way. We must do it in an encouraging way, not in a condemning way.
There are two theological points of the Holy Year of Mercy: first; the Holy Father wants us to rediscover, appreciate and find the joy that God has given us through his mercy. We don’t earn mercy, it is a Divine gift. So rediscover that joy. Then based on that fact, secondly; we must be witnesses of mercy. If God has shown us mercy, then how can we not give ourselves over to be witnesses of mercy? It’s a contradiction. “We are called to show mercy because mercy has first been shown to us.” And “Just as he is merciful, so we are called to be merciful to each other.”
Pope Francis affirms that “mercy is the very foundation of the church’s life”. It is “time for the church to take up the joyful call to mercy once more. It is time to return to the basics and to bear the weaknesses and struggles of our brothers and sisters.”.
Third characteristic of the church is beauty. The beauty of Christ compels us to do what the Lord has taught, and leads to an enthusiastic desire to be like Jesus. You “must be bold enough to discover new signs, new symbols to communicate the word and different forms of beauty which are valued in different cultural settings”. He wants us to make the message “attractive” once again, and by using that word the Holy Father is not talking about making the message superficial or shallow. He’s talking about allowing the message to penetrate into our hearts by being attractive, to be felt and embraced. We present the message with the beautiful content of the Gospel to reach the deepest yearning of the human heart. It is not by proselytizing that the church grows but by attraction.
Fourth characteristic is a church whose doors are always open. The doors of the sacraments cannot be closed. Open doors means to go to everyone especially the poor “for there is an inseparable bond between our faith and the poor”. The concept of an open door policy is connected to another expression: “we must be a Church that lives….we cannot live in isolation”.
A priest asked the Nuncio about how to balance between mercy and forgiveness.
In the Evangelii Gaudium, being merciful does not mean compromising what we believe, but we point people in the right direction with gentleness. – LE