In Evangelii Gaudium, his November 2013 apostolic exhortation on the Joy of the Gospel, Pope Francis sets forth a very clear vision of Christian service: “The Gospel tells us constantly to run the risk of a face-to-face encounter with others, with their physical presence which challenges us, with their pain and their pleas, with their joy which infects us in our close and continuous interaction. True faith in the incarnate Son of God is inseparable from self-giving, from membership in the community, from service, from reconciliation with others.” The Holy Father concludes by saying, “The Son of God, by becoming flesh, summoned us to the revolution of tenderness” (88).
Two years ago, I was in Saint Peter’s Square in Rome along with other leaders of provinces and regions of my religious institute, the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament, from around the world. It was a brilliant spring day and we were there with tens of thousands of pilgrims for the Wednesday papal audience. Our group was close to the front of the reserved section. A sense of anticipation built as we awaited Francis’ arrival. And suddenly, there he was!
He stood in a simple open vehicle, hands clutching a white bar to steady himself as the driver negotiated his way through the assembled mass of humanity several times. What struck me most that day ― and still today as I look at the photo of the pope, his figure framed by the outstretched arms of a nun in gray habit ― was his warm smile: broad and natural. I think every one of us there that day felt a strong sense of personal encounter and connection with him despite the sheer numbers.
The encounter with Jesus Christ is a powerful, life-altering event. The Gospels are filled with instances where people came to the rabbi from Nazareth, driven by need, desperation, or curiosity, seeking a connection with God and with him. And they left changed by the experience.
Those who serve others in the name of Christ are never simply technicians, theorists, or even practitioners of the human arts of communication. “Face-to-face encounter” is crucial, as Pope Francis underscores, if people are to feel understood, loved, have their humanity affirmed at the deepest level, and encounter God.
Elsewhere, Pope Francis speaks of “eucharistic tenderness,” of the God who comes under signs of bread and wine to nourish, to renew, and to covenant himself to us with bonds of tenderness and love. Encounter, tenderness, compassion: these are the attributes of those who serve humanity as Christ in every age.
In This Issue
Dorothy Day was a woman of complexity: an ideologue who in her youth underwent a powerful conversion and embraced the Gospel as the true path to liberation; a devoted mother and a public figure; a traditional Catholic and an activist who challenged both Church and society. You’ll discover in Redemptorist Dennis Billy’s essay how central the Eucharist was to Dorothy’s faith and to her advocacy.
Begin there . . . and move on to other articles that witness as well to a Eucharist which can change lives and renew the world; and also Sister Dianne Bergant’s reflections on the Sunday and solemnity readings for the months of July and August.
Anthony Schueller, SSS