This is the first installment of a three part review and summary of Pope Francis’ latest Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium.
Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium(The Joy of the Gospel) is truly an inspiring manifesto for the missionary reform in the Church. Pope Francis wishes firstly to “to encourage the Christian faithful to embark upon a new chapter of evangelization” marked by joy of the Gospel and secondly to point out “new paths for the Church’s journey in years to come” in relation to this evangelical mission (EG 1). Pope Francis issues a challenge; “I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them” (EG 3). It is principally through our personal encounter with Christ that we gain the love and joy which is “the source and inspiration of all our efforts at evangelization” (EG 8).
Living a fulfilled life involves reaching out to others and seeking their good. By its very nature the Gospel causes us to experience delightful and comforting joy as we reach out to others. The recent Synod on The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith (EG 14) highlights three principal settings for evangelization. The first setting is the work of evangelization in ordinary pastoral ministry of the Church which seeks to help believers to grow spiritually. The second is the ministry to the baptized faithful whose lives do not reflect the demands of Baptism and who lack a meaningful relationship to the Church. Finally, evangelization has always been first and foremost about preaching the Gospel to those who do not know Jesus Christ (EG 15).
The proclamation of the Gospel should always flow from our joy. Pope Francis notes “it is not by proselytizing that the Church grows, but ‘by attraction’” (EG 15). Giving some practical guidelines the reform of the Church in her missionary outreach he notes that we must go forth “from our own comfort zone in order to reach all the ‘peripheries’ in need of the light of the Gospel” (EG 20).
Calling for a renewal of pastoral life, Pope Francis says pointedly that the status quo or ‘mere administration’ is no longer enough. The Church needs to examine itself and to seek to renew itself. He warns that “there are ecclesial structures which can hamper efforts at evangelization” (EG 26). Pope Francis calls for a pastoral conversion and renewal of the Church‘s structures in light of our mission.
Because of its flexibility, the local parish is precisely the place where this can most easily take place. He notes that this is true only if the parish is truly in contact with the wider community and not just ministering to a chosen few (EG 28). Other types of small communities, and movements, and apostolates can also bring a new evangelizing fervor to renew the Church. But, he notes, “it will prove beneficial for them not to lose contact with the rich reality of the local parish and to participate readily in the overall pastoral activity of the particular Church” (EG 29).
Each particular Church, under its bishop “is likewise called to missionary conversion” (EG 30). The particular Church is the “primary subject of evangelization” and “the concrete manifestation of the one Church in one specific place” (EG 30). Missions should especially be focused on those of greater need and on the “the outskirts of its own territory or towards new sociocultural settings.”
Pope Francis notes that “the papacy and the central structures of the universal Church also need to hear the call to pastoral conversion” because “excessive centralization, rather than proving helpful, complicates the Church’s life and her missionary outreach (EG 32). He warns that we must “abandon the complacent attitude that says: ‘We have always done it this way’” and challenges us to “invite everyone to be bold and creative in this task of rethinking the goals, structures, style and methods of evangelization” (EG 33).
We must seek to convey the heart of Christ’s message and not to confuse this with even important secondary aspects of the faith (EG 34). We also need to be “realistic and not assume that our audience understands the full background to what we are saying” (EG 34). He notes that, “Pastoral ministry in a missionary style is not obsessed with the disjointed transmission of a multitude of doctrines to be insistently imposed, instead the message has to concentrate on the essentials, on what is most beautiful, most grand, most appealing and at the same time most necessary” (EG 35). While it is true that “all revealed truths derive from the same divine source and are to be believed with the same faith, yet some of them are more important for giving direct expression to the heart of the Gospel” (EG 36). The ‘pastoral consequence’ of this is that in preaching the Gospel “a fitting sense of proportion” has to be maintained “in the frequency with which certain themes are brought up and in the emphasis given to them in preaching” (EG 38). Because of the organic unity of the faith we need to avoid portraying Christian morality as “a form of stoicism, or self-denial, or merely a practical philosophy or a catalogue of sins and faults” (EG 39). The Church’s doctrinal and moral teaching need to be presented in the context of the Gospel message which “invites us to respond to the God of love who saves us” (EG 39).
He notes the importance of culture observing that, “today’s vast and rapid cultural changes demand that we constantly seek ways of expressing unchanging truths in a language which brings out their abiding newness” (EG 41). Quoting the famous words of Blessed Pope John XXIII, he notes, “The deposit of the faith is one thing… the way it is expressed is another” (EG 41). He also points out that, “all religious teaching ultimately has to be reflected in the teacher’s way of life, which awakens the assent of the heart by its nearness, love and witness” (EG 42). Without abandoning the evangelical ideal, pastors and teachers need to accompany others with mercy and patience through the “eventual stages of personal growth as these progressively occur” (EG 44).
(c) Scott McKellar