November 29, 2013 – “The Joy of the Gospel”

I hope you had a good Thanksgiving and enjoyed time with family and friends.  I was actually pretty proud of myself as I remained pretty restrained when the mass quantities of food were presented (except for the turkey, but that’s a health food, right?).  It is hard to believe that we have zipped through Thanksgiving and right to the Season of Lent and the month of December.  When they say that time goes faster as you grow older, they mean it.  I hope you have a great upcoming Christmas season and are able to savor the blessings that this time of year brings.

I must again give kudos to Pope Francis.  Since he has been our Pope, my job as a blogger has sure been a lot easier.  Every week, sometimes every day, he does or says something that is worthy of repetition and discussion.  This past week was no exception.  A few days ago the document “Evangelii Gaudium” was released.  Evangelii Gaudium is Latin for “The Joy of the Gospel.”  This has been a much-awaited document because it is the first major writing that is mostly, if not entirely, from his point of view.   It is also his first apostolic exhortation, and it is devoted to the theme of the new evangelization.  It’s a papal document that, as the name suggests, exhorts people to implement a particular aspect of the Church’s life and teaching.  Its purpose is not to teach new doctrine, but to suggest how Church teachings and practices can be more effectively applied today.  Some apostolic exhortations are devoted to the pastoral challenges faced in particular parts of the world.  Others are devoted to particular themes, such as this one.  It is one of the more important papal documents—more important, for example, than a Wednesday audience or a homily.  However, because it is of a pastoral nature rather than a doctrinal or legal nature, it is ranked lower than an encyclical or an apostolic constitution.  but as with everything official that the pope writes, it is to be taken very seriously.

So what is this document all about?  You are certainly welcome to pull up the document and read it for yourself.  Here is a link to the PDF file which is free from the Vatican website:

http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/francesco/apost_exhortations/documents/papa-francesco_esortazione-ap_20131124_evangelii-gaudium_en.pdf

However, if you are not an avid reader, be warned that the document is 51,000 words long, which means that it is the length of a novel and takes at least 5 hours to read.  So, perhaps a summary of the document may be in order.  The exhortation is a compilation of many of the strongest points he has made in homilies, catecheses and interviews over the first eight months of his pontificate, but it also provides a detailed pastoral program for the reform of the Church he is seeking to bring about.  Missionary outreach, he says, must be “paradigmatic for all the Church’s activity.”  All Church institutions, from the papacy to parishes, must be reformed so that their structures are directed not toward maintenance, but toward a permanent state of  mission.       Francis also summons all of us as Catholics to a similar process of conversion, saying that those who are truly disciples will be missionary disciples, characterized by the joy of the faith. Evangelizers, he says, “must never look like someone who has just come back from a funeral” or “whose lives seem like Lent without Easter”, but, rather, must be those who “wish to share their joy, who point to a horizon of beauty and who invite others to a delicious banquet.”

In the first chapter, Francis describes the transformation that must happen in the Church so that sharing the happiness that flows from our encounter with Jesus in faith becomes part of everything the Church does. This renewal cannot be deferred, he said. “I dream of a ‘missionary option,’ that is, a missionary impulse, capable of transforming everything, so that the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channeled for the evangelization of today’s world.”

In the second chapter, Pope Francis focuses on the challenges to proclaiming the joy of the Gospel in today’s world. He mentions that consumerism, complacency, blunted consciences, excuse-making, relativism, secularist rationalism, violence, poverty, indifference, greed, narcotics, false autonomy and spiritual worldliness all weaken the impulse of missionary renewal in the Church.

In the third chapter, he focuses more specifically on the proclamation of the Gospel. After saying that it is the duty of all Christians to share the faith with joy — since Jesus entrusted this task not to an “exclusive and elite group” of professionals, but to all his followers — he then turns specifically to priests and deacons, and gives a very thorough lesson on the preparation of homilies.  Pope Francis says that homilies should be simple, brief, clear, positive and from the heart. They should be modeled on the way a mother speaks to her children, in a language they can understand.

In the fourth chapter, Pope Francis tackles the social dimension of evangelization. The Gospel is not supposed to remain private, but flourish in a true love of neighbor that transforms all of society. He focuses specifically on the demands of the Gospel with regard to the poor and with regard to peace.  Jesus himself became poor, preached the Good News to the poor and personally identified with the needy, Pope Francis reminds us. Throughout sacred Scripture, God’s care for the poor is striking. Pope Francis says we shouldn’t “relativize” or “weaken” the force of these texts, but accept them with “courage and zeal.”

In the last chapter, Pope Francis focuses on an authentic missionary spirituality, “full of fervor, joy, generosity, courage, boundless love and attraction!.”  This spirituality, modeled for us by the Blessed Virgin Mary and brought about by the Holy Spirit, flows from the life-changing encounter with Jesus and his saving love. Those who have had this encounter know the difference Jesus makes and want others to experience the joy of a similar transformation.  Pope Francis encourages everyone to recognize that, just like the Church, we don’t have a mission; each of us is a mission. It’s for that mission, he emphasizes, each of us is alive.

A short summary certainly does not do this document justice, but hopefully will help draw us to further study and implementation of Francis’ vision for today’s church.  I’m sure as the document is more closely studied, there will be more for us to discern and discuss.  Have a great first week of Advent.  Peace.

 

 

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