The Words of Pope Francis….
A Summary of
January 6, 2014
A few days before Thanksgiving, I was given a copy of Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation, “Evangelii Gaudium”; 80 pages of small print, small margins, and little spacing. I took it with me to my sister’s house, where I was spending Thanksgiving weekend, and that Friday morning, found a quiet space to start reading. Now, I come from a family of self-proclaimed “Church nerds”, and I have also been known to read at family events (I am often ridiculed for the time I was 15 and read a novel during a family wedding reception), so the sight of me reading during a family weekend was no surprise to anyone. But my reaction was.
Usually, documents coming out of the Vatican are wonderful, but slightly difficult reading that take concentration and sometimes a dictionary to help get through. Evangelii Gaudium
, however, was the exact opposite. I found myself flying through the first few pages, getting excited at what was being shared, and stopping to reflect on what I had just read, and how true to my life it was! I got excited about my ministry all over again, and was thrilled with the mentions of evangelization, of a ministry of encounter, and the need for a new theology of women, among other topics. There is so much in this one document that it could take a whole semester of study to go through it all!
In subsequent weeks, you will hear more about some of the specific topics or quotes from this document, but here I would like to summarize some of the parts. I encourage everyone in ministry (actually, anyone who is Catholic!) to read the document; it can be downloaded or read at www.vatican.va
. Hopefully, this blog will help centralize some of the themes, so if you don’t have time to read the whole document, you can at least read the parts that would pertain most directly to you and where you are in your ministry and spiritual journey.
JOY and EVANGELIZATION (1-18): This was an amazing place to start, and a great hook! The first line says it all: The joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus.
How often, especially those of us in ministry, do we get so bogged down by the details of life, the negatives, the difficulties, and forget the joy of simply being a loved, forgiven, precious child of God? We live our lives, enacting this line from Lamentations: My soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is…
(Lam 3: 17). This is not the life for a Christian! One who has Christ in his/her heart has reason to be joyful, and it should be a joy that propels us forward to share it with everyone around us! The only way of living out the evangelization we are called to is to do it with joy, otherwise, who in their right mind would want to come to an encounter of Christ?
THE CHURCH’S MISSIONARY TRANSFORMATION (19-49): Evangelizers thus take on the “smell of the sheep” and the sheep are willing to hear their voice (24).
How can we expect to carry the Good News to people we neither know nor with whom we can idendify? We have to be willing to be involved in people’s lives: to live their reality, know their culture, speak their language. As a parish, we cannot continue to sit inside our offices and wait for people to come to us…instead we need to go out and meet people and see what the needs are before we even attempt to serve them. Just as Christ went out to visit people, spoke to the poor and outcast, and listened to their needs, so too must we. Our doors must remain open, both physically and spiritually, so that we are ready to invite, receive, but also to go out and see what is beyond them.
AMID THE CRISIS OF COMMUNAL COMMITMENT (50-109): We live in a society and culture that does not always agree with our Christian beliefs. This takes a toll on our families, as they are trying to teach the faith to children who are growing up in a very different world, making it difficult to live out the Gospel message in everyday life. Not only do families suffer, but so do many pastoral workers, as it is easy to lose hope and begin to feel pessimistic and defeated as in trying to share the Good News we are met with materialism, individualism, and injustice. However, we are called here not to give up hope; for as Pope Benedict XVI is quoted, And in the desert people of faith are needed who, by the example of their own lives, point out the way to the Promised Land and keep hope alive (
Homily at Mass for the Opening of the Year of Faith, Oct. 11, 2012).” As workers in the field, we are called to be that hope; Let us not allow ourselves to be robbed of missionary vigour! (103).
THE PROCLAMATION OF THE GOSPEL (110-175): Who has the primary work of proclaiming the Gospel message? Why we all do, of course! By virtue of our Baptism, we are called to be missionary disciples
, sharing the Word by our own lives, and being living witnesses of the Gospel. Being a disciple means being constantly ready to bring the love of Jesus to others, and this can happen unexpectedly and in any place: on the street, in a city square, during work, on a journey (127).
A second element important to this message is how the Word is preached from the pulpit. Much time is given to explore how the homily and the preacher both must be fully prepared and able to share the Good News with joy and a positive outlook. And the last element is catechesis; again, openness to the Gospel message has to be the major part of our catechesis. Knowing God’s love must be the essential first step for everyone, for all our teachings are based upon this unconditional love for God’s people.
THE SOCIAL DIMENSIONS OF EVANGELIZATION (176-258): An authentic faith-which is never comfortable or completely personal-always involves a deep desire to change the world, to transmit values, to leave this earth somehow better than we found it (183).
Again, looking at the culture of our society, we realize that our faith cannot be a relationship between “God and me”, but must include the ever-difficult element of those around us. Inclusion of the poor, working for peace, and ecumenical dialogue are all examined in this section, hopefully bringing us to the revelation that we must have an eye on the world-view, and not just our own tunnel vision. Unless we are willing to share our Good News with everyone, no matter what their status, ethnicity or financial state, we cannot truly call ourselves disciples of Christ. We must be willing to open our ears and our hearts and enter into true dialogue with those around us; then we can call ourselves true missionaries of the Gospel.
SPIRIT-FILLED EVANGELIZERS (259-288): This final chapter brings all previous sections to a basic conclusion: as evangelizers ourselves, we must all believe in what we say and do, and must have fervor for the Gospel message. We must make sure we are living that joy in our lives, and find it in the knowledge that we are seeking the good of others, in desiring their happiness
, for that is what makes us a missionary people. It is something that is ingrained in us; it isn’t an “extra” part of our life; it is who we are at all times. The document ends with Mary, our Mother, the star of the new evangelization. She is the model for us. In every part of her life, she recognized God’s presence and was a woman of prayer and service. The interplay of justice and tenderness, of contemplation and concern for others is what makes the ecclesial community look to Mary as a model of evangelization (288).
There is so much more to this Apostolic Exhortation that cannot be summarized, but rest assured, time reading it will definitely be time well spent. I encourage all to take some time to read at least a part of it, and most likely you will want to continue! Take it in little by little, and savor each word. You may just find your own spirit filled with the joy that is spoken of in the first chapter, that Joy of the Gospel that makes you want to run out and share with everyone and anyone who will listen!
Note: further reflections on individual parts will be forthcoming. Next week’s reflection will be on the Joy of the Gospel, Chapter One of Evangelii Gaudium. You can find the entire document here: