And if we are hearing Francis, it would seem that this message is especially directed to priests and bishops, far too many who minister in the Church as joyless managers who fail to communicate Jesus Christ. I cannot help but think especially of careerist clerics turned bureaucrats who sustain a Kafkaesque labyrinth of inefficiency, priests who consider themselves members of a privileged caste, living in pursuit of power and perks, absorbed in their self-referential ecclesial existence.
But again – this is a problem in all sectors of the Church, not merely amongst the clergy. The self-referentiality and spiritual narcissism, the focusing on institutional self, the clinging to tried and failing methods, the focusing on means, instruments and institutions, on turf, control, and self-importance: these enemies of evangelization have plagued laity, apostolic movements, religious communities and clergy for centuries.
Of course, self-absorption is not a uniquely Catholic problem. To be sure, it constitutes a fundamental temptation of the human spirit. Observes Francis:
Every period of history is marked by the presence of human weakness, self-absorption, complacency and selfishness, to say nothing of the concupiscence which preys upon us all. These things are ever present under one guise or another; they are due to our human limits rather than particular situations (EG, 263).
What then does Evangelii Gaudium prescribe as a first step beyond this Catholic – and especially clerical – self-absorption? Nothing less, and nothing more than a renewed personal experience – encounter – with “the beauty of the saving love of God made manifest in Jesus Christ” (EG, 36).
In moving terms, Francis explains the profoundly renewing impact such an encounter (or re-encounter) can have:
Thanks solely to this encounter – or renewed encounter – with God’s love, which blossoms into an enriching friendship, we are liberated from our narrowness and self-absorption. We become fully human when we become more than human, when we let God bring us beyond ourselves in order to attain the fullest truth of our being. Here we find the source and inspiration of all our efforts at evangelization. For if we have received the love which restores meaning to our lives, how can we fail to share that love with others? (EG, 8).
Enemy of "theological narcissim," Francis, in Evangelii Gaudium, has thrown down the gauntlet before a self-absorbed Church, calling her to reencounter Christ and in so doing to recover a more authentic visage of herself. Indeed, as George Weigel has aptly put it, the exhortation “should be read and appreciated for what it manifestly is: a clarion call for a decisive shift in the Catholic Church's self-understanding, in full continuity with the teaching of the Second Vatican Council, Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI.” The ‘shift’ Weigel has in mind—and I believe he absolutely right—is “the great historical transition from institutional-maintenance Catholicism to the Church of the New Evangelization.”