It is a plain fact that there prevails lack of missionary impulse in the Church today. Fully aware of this sad fact, some people nowadays console themselves saying that “things are not as easy as they used to be.” But EG rebuts such an opinion by saying: “yet we know that the Roman empire was not conducive to the Gospel message, the struggle for justice, or the defence of human dignity” (# 263).
Lest anyone should think that it happened just at the beginning of Christian history, the document explains the crisis in terms of a more fundamental/subjective factor. “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 subjective things are ever present under one guise or another. It argues that “they are due to our human limits rather than particular situations. So it concludes: “Let us not say, then, that things are harder today; they are simply different (# 263).
By saying this, the Pope is giving a clarion call to the people concerned to focus more on the human limits rather than cursing the situations outside us. In other words, we should concentrate more on overcoming our own subjective limitations that detract us from the track rather than blaming the particular situation outside. In connection with this suggestion, EG urges us to “learn from the saints who have gone before us, who confronted the difficulties of their own day in every period of history” and “to rediscover some of the reasons which can help us to imitate them today” (# 263).
To our great consolation, we Indian Christians are fortunate to have saints, who are of our own times who have paid attention to such a demand of the EG. The father of the nation proves to be a saint of this type par excellence. His experiences teach us to face difficulties in life and move with inner strength. Likewise, we Christians who are eager to propagate the joy of the Gospel with enthusiasm may be restrained by the hardships from outside. But we should overcome them by virtuous habits such as self-restraint, prayerful life etc. and thereby widen our circle of missionary impulse.
One important thing that we can draw from Gandhi is the importance he gave to prayer, which the EG gives much more emphatically. “Prayer has been the saving of my life. Without it I should have been a lunatic long ago…I have had my fair share of the bitterest public and private experiences. They threw me into temporary despair, but if I was able to get rid of it, it was because of prayer….And the more my faith in God increased, the more irresistible became the yearning for prayer. Life seemed to be dull and vacant without it” (Prayer 27).
Today there is a sizable section of priests and religious who seem to give not so much importance to prayer as it was given in former days. Not that they are opposed to it. But because they are so much involved in people’s struggles, they find it difficult to allot separate time for prayer. They are inclined to say that their involvement with people is itself encountering God. Almost as a reply to such an opinion, Gandhi declared the following words: “Once you accept the existence of God, the necessity for prayers is inescapable. Let us not make the astounding claim, that our whole life is a prayer, and therefore, we need not sit down at a particular hour to pray…and I assure you we shall then be free from every imaginable misery in life” (Prayer 29).
Along with prayer, Gandhi gave equal importance to self-mortification. To put it in his own words: “Mortification of the flesh has been held all the world over as a condition of spiritual progress. There is no prayer without fasting, rather fasting in its widest sense. A complete fast is a complete and literal denial of self. It is the truest prayer. In short, then the suggestion that Gandhi makes here is precisely the same as what EG urges us to focus on reducing our self-complacencies and our own concupiscence.
Finally, as regards the difficulties that confront us from outside, the following words come in close parallel to what EG is saying: “The impenetrable darkness that surrounds us is not a curse but a blessing. He has given us power to see only the step in front of us, and it should be enough if Heavenly light reveals that step to us. We can then sing with Newman, ‘one step enough for me’. And we may be sure from our past experience that the next step will always be in view. In other words, the impenetrable darkness is nothing so impenetrable as we imagine. But it seems impenetrable when, in our impatience, we want to look beyond that one step” (Truth 33).