With Christmas upon us, the Pope’s recently released Apostolic Exhortation provides points of reflection for the season by challenging Christians to live as disciples, and to carry the Gospel to those in the fringes of society.
Evangelii Gaudium, released last month at the close of the Year of Faith, is the first Apostolic Exhortation of Pope Francis, who is also preparing to celebrate his first Christmas since his election to the papacy.
“The key words in all of this Christmas period, and in this wonderful Apostolic Exhortation, are hope and tenderness,” said Monsignor Anthony Figueiredo, highlighting the Gospel scene in which Mary visits her cousin Elizabeth. In an interview with ZENIT, Msgr. Figueiredo, director of the Institute for continuing Theological Education and adjunct spiritual advisor at Rome’s Pontifical North American College, highlighted three key points of the Pope’s document.
The first, he said, is “the announcement of the Word.” Pope Francis, uses the word “kerygma,” which, in the original Greek, “means a trumpet blast, [waking] us up from our slumber with the announcement: God loves you, and me. He has coming to save you and me.”
“No one – Pope Francis says – is excluded from this message. He pinpoints different groups in society: the addicted, the poor, the marginalized, the migrants, those suffering spiritually.”
Following the announcement of the Word, Msgr. Figueiredo explained, is the personal encounter with Christ. This encounter, he said, “is Christmas coming to us: we want to meet Christ anew, because I’m new this year. I’m ever new this year. It’s not just another Christmas. I’m one year closer to meeting Jesus in the Second Coming.”
Christians, who have encountered Jesus, are then called to be disciples. “But what kind of disciple? Pope Francis says: a disciple of joy. A spirit-filled evangelizer. One who wants to go out into the streets, announce that good news.”
“This is what [Pope Francis] calls the missionary option.”
This discipleship, Msgr. Figueiredo, said, is exemplified “in the Virgin Mary, in the Visitation. She herself receives that announcement, that Good News. She makes it her own in her heart, and then she carries that good news across the hill country to one who is in need: her cousin Elizabeth.”
“The heart of the Apostolic Exhortation is really about evangelization,” he said.
Poverty and the Papacy
As the Church prepares to celebrate Christmas with a newly elected Pope, Msgr. Figueiredo says the poverty conveyed by both Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and Pope Francis offer points of reflection for the season.
“Here in Rome,” he said, “we’re used to the grandeur: the grandeur of the liturgies of Christmas, the grandeur of Saint Peter’s basilica, the wonderful Christmas Eve Mass watched over the whole world, the beautiful tree in Saint Peter’s Square, the crèche scenes throughout the city. But this year is going to be very special, because those coming to Rome are going to see the grandeur of two popes who in fact live what Jesus did – who made himself small for our sake.”
This is exemplified first, he said, by Benedict XVI who renounced “the grandeur of the papacy to live a contemplative life, praying for us, the entire Church, to draw us into that life of Jesus.”
“We see also see in the smallness, the humility of Pope Francis who has a special concern for the poor, the marginalized, those who are on the fringes of society, both socially and in their lives existentially.”
“The heart of the Christian message for me,” he said, “is summed up by the fathers of the Church: God became man so that we might become gods. Why? Because we needed a savior: a savior from our sins, from our pride, our envy, our lack of forgiveness – ultimately, our inability to love.”
“Christmas this year is going to draw us even more into that essential mystery.”