The Joy of the Gospel
Some thoughts on Pope Francis’s Evangelii Gaudium
Like all Pope Francis’s documents, Evangelii Gaudium contains a number of extraordinary depth charges. If you skim through the text you could miss a series of explosive statements that demand from the reader and the Church nothing less than a complete change of heart.
Listen to this:
“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 channelled for the evangelisation of today’s world rather than for her self-preservation”. (Para No. 27)
“All the baptised, whatever their position in the church or their level of instruction in the faith, are agents of evangelisation…Every Christian is challenged, here and now, to be actively engaged in evangelisation…We are all missionary disciples…so what are we waiting for?” (Para 120)
IN Evangelii Gaudium we sense the flavour of the early writings of the Church – the tone is one of extreme urgency – there is no time to lose, we must act now – who knows whether we will be here tomorrow?
In effect, what the above statements are saying is that the Church (that is, all the baptised) has become too complacent, defensive, hypocritical. The role of the apostles was to go out and preach the joy of the Gospel. We have forgotten that this must be our primary role too.
The Church should be a mother with an open heart, but we have closed the doors!
“This is especially true of the sacrament which is itself “the door” – baptism. (And) the Eucharist…is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak. The Church is the house of the Father, where there is a place for everyone, with all their problems.” (Para 47)
How do we begin? By prayer!
“I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ… I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day…No-one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord”.
Reassuringly, Pope Francis sees the parish as a vital component of missionary activity; but it must be a parish renewed:
“(The Parish must be) in contact with the homes and the lives of its people, and must not become a useless structure out of touch with the people, or a self-absorbed cluster made up of a chosen few. In all its activities the parish (must) encourage and train its members to be evangelisers” (Para 28)
Francis is always at pains in his documents to stress the supreme importance of helping the poor. As a younger man, and as a bishop in Argentina, he had considerable reservations about liberation theology and its teaching on the need to change unjust economic structures – no longer!
“Each individual Christian and every community is called to be an instrument of God for the liberation and promotion of the poor and for enabling them to be fully a part of society… The Church, guided by the gospel of mercy and by love for mankind, hears the cry for justice and intends to respond to it with all its might…(Responding to Jesus) means working to eliminate the structural causes of poverty…) (Paras 187 and 188).
“…solidarity must be lived as the decision to restore to the poor what belongs to them. (Para 189)
“…we need to let ourselves be evangelised by the poor” (Para 198)
We must all be urgently concerned about the sufferings of the vulnerable, including migrants, the homeless, the addicted, refugees and indigenous peoples and be prepared to do something about it (see Para 209):
“How I wish that all of us would hear God’s cry: Where is your brother?” (Genesis 4:9) (Para 211)
Each one of us must be prepared to renounce at least some some of our privileges! (see Para 218)
Evangelii Gaudium is wide-ranging and profound and the above quotations are meant to give only a taste of this revolutionary document. To read it is to understand the Pope’s agenda, which is of course that of Jesus.
It is a call to immediate action:
“How I long to find the right words to stir up enthusiasm for a new chapter of evangelisation full of fervour, joy, generosity, courage, boundless love and attraction! Yet I realise that no words of encouragement will be enough unless the fire of the Holy Spirit burns in our hearts. (Para 261)