Pope Francis: Secularized World is "invitation to communicate the joy of the Gospel"
Pope Francis waves to the crowds at his general audience on Nov. 8, 2023. | Credit: Daniel Ibañez/CNA
By Matthew Santucci
Vatican City, 08 November, 2023 / 11:50 am (ACI Africa).
In his ongoing catechetical series on apostolic zeal, Pope Francis on Wednesday drew upon the example of Venerable Madeleine Delbrêl as a testament to conversion and service in a secularized world.
The pope’s Nov. 8 general audience opened up with the “similes of salt and light” passage from the Gospel of St. Matthew, in which Christ tells a crowd: “You are the salt of the earth. But if salt has lost its taste, how shall its flavor be restored? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trodden underfoot.”
“You are the light of the world,” Christ continues in the passage. “A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do we light a lamp and then put it under a bushel, but on a stand, so it gives light to everyone in the house.”
The pope drew upon the example of Delbrêl as a testament to this evangelical imperative. Delbrêl lived her life on the margins with the poor, exemplifying the imperative of announcing the Gospel in a world that is adrift from the Gospel message.
Born in 1904 in southwestern France, Delbrêl was a prolific writer, poet, essaysist, social worker, and mystic.
Growing up in a nonreligious household, Delbrêl passed her adolescence as an agnostic, but struck “by the witness of some friends,” she went on “in search of God, giving voice to a profound thirst that she felt within, and came to learn that the ‘emptiness that cried out her anguish in her’ was God who sought her,” the pope said.
She later moved with family to the peripheries of Paris. It was there, against the backdrop of the French worker’s movement and an entrenched Communist Party, where she encountered the poor and developed a social consciousness.
Amid the social turbulence following the end of the First World War and her father’s own frail health, she had an intense conversion in 1924 and her life assumed a new meaning.
She dedicated herself to a life of prayer. While she had wanted to enter the Carmelites, her father’s health precluded her from doing so. Instead, she dedicated herself to meeting “street people,” and her evangelizing mission thus was centered on the care of the urban poor and socially marginalized, especially in secularized spaces.
She wrote several books including “Marxist City,” “Land Of Mission,” “We, the Ordinary People of the Streets,” and “The Joy of Believing.” In 2018 Pope Francis signed a decree that Delbrêl had lived a life of heroic virtue.
The pope quoted Delbrêl in which she likened faith to riding a bicycle: “You have chosen us to stay in a strange balance, a balance that can be achieved and maintained only in movement, only in momentum. A bit like a bicycle, which does not stay upright unless its wheels turn. … We can stay upright only by going forward, moving, in a surge of charity.”
The pope noted that Debrêl is an example of evangelization as a reciprocal process where “by evangelizing one is evangelized.”
“Looking at this witness of the Gospel, we too learn that in every personal or social situation or circumstance of our life, the Lord is present and calls to us to inhabit our own time, to share our life with others, to mingle with the joys and sorrows of the world,” the pope said.
This is a powerful witness and moment of dialogue where in “secularized environments” the “contact with nonbelievers prompts the believer to a continual revision of his or her way of believing and rediscovering faith in its essentiality.”
In his greeting to French pilgrims the Holy Father repeated this notion, saying: “Faced with our secularized world, let us not complain, but see in it a call to test our faith and an invitation to communicate the joy of the Gospel.”
At the end of the general audience the pope once again implored the world to pray for peace and for an end of war, repeating his refrain that war is always a defeat.
“Let us think and pray for the people who suffer from war. Let us not forget the tormented Ukraine and think of the Palestinian and Israeli people: May the Lord lead us to a just peace,” the pope said. “We suffer a lot: Children suffer, the sick, the old suffer, and many young people die. War is always a defeat: Let’s not forget. It’s always a defeat.”