Pope Francis: ‘I am aware that nowadays documents do not arouse the same interest as in the past and that they are quickly forgotten. Nevertheless…’
Pope Francis’ new Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelli Gaudium, is an invitation to live our missionary calling with great joy. The document, promulgated today and available in print with the CTS for pre-order, is a reminder that our ‘task of evangelisation’ is actually ‘authentic personal fulfilment.’ Our lives receive fulfilment when we offer life to others. Evangelisation is not about law and rules; it is about the joy of being gift.
In the introduction, Pope Francis lays out clearly what he will discuss:
‘a) The reform of the Church in her missionary outreach;
b) The temptations faced by pastoral workers;
c) The Church, understood as the entire People of God which evangelises;
d) The homily and its preparation;
e) The inclusion of the poor in society;
f) Peace and dialogue within society;
g) The spiritual motivations for mission.’
The Holy Father does not pretend to claim to provide ‘an exhaustive treatise’ on each of these documents. Rather, he wants to express how relevant these topics are to the Church and Her mission. He also states: ‘Nor do I believe that the papal magisterium should be expected to offer a definitive or complete word on every question which affects the Church and the world. It is not advisable for the Pope to take the place of local Bishops in the discernment of every issue which arises in their territory. In this sense, I am conscious of the need to promote a sound “decentralisation.”’
By this Pope Francis means that Evangelisation will look different in each community and it must adapt to changing circumstances and technologies, but he does not suggest that the Church’s teachings will change. He quotes from the encyclical Ut Unum Sint: ‘Pope John Paul II asked for help in finding “a way of exercising the primacy which, while is no way renouncing what is essential to its mission, is nonetheless open to a new situation”’.
He discusses the need to remember our audience who often lack the context of a Church teaching. He also reminds us that evangelisation is about expressing the most essential message: the love of Jesus.
‘If we attempt to put all things in a missionary key, this will also affect the way we communicate the message. In today’s world of instant communication and occasionally biased media coverage, the message we preach runs a greater risk of being distorted or reduced to some of its secondary aspects. In this way certain issues which are part of the church’s moral teaching are taken out of the context which gives them their meaning. The biggest problem is when the message we preach then seems identified with those secondary aspects which, important as they are, do not in and of themselves convey the heart of Christ’s message. We need to be realistic and no assume that our audience understands the full background to what we are saying, or is capable of relating to what we say to the very heart of the Gospel which gives it meaning, beauty and attractiveness.’
He calls upon us to take up a ‘pastoral ministry in a missionary style’ that will ‘actually reach everyone without exception or exclusion.’ To do this we focus ‘on the essential, on what is most beautiful, most grand, most appealing and at the same time most necessary.’ We must focus, in simplicity, on the love of Jesus. What this looks like in practice will vary, but the most essential point to the Church’s missionary calling is to offer the love of Jesus Christ. The Holy Father says,
‘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…Works of love directed to one’s neighbour are the most perfect external manifestation of the interior grace of the Spirit’.
He calls for the strengthening of local churches and pastoral outreach: ‘It is a community of communities, a sanctuary where the thirsty come to drink in the midst of their journey, and a centre of constant missionary outreach.’ He longs to see church doors always open ‘so that if someone, moved by the Spirit, comes there looking for God, he or she will not find a closed door.’ In this way the lost soul can be moved by the love of Jesus, present in the Eucharist.
Pope Francis also reminds us of our personal responsibility to be missionaries in our daily lives. ‘It has to do with bringing the Gospel to the people we meet, whether they be our neighbours or complete strangers.’
He encourages us to receive the joy offered by Christ, the joy that wells up within us and overflows to those around us. He says, ‘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…No one should think this invitation is not meant for him or her…The Lord does not disappoint those who take this risk; whenever we take a step towards Jesus, we come to realize that he is already there, waiting for us with open arms’.
Ultimately, Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation is a call to live in joy ‘especially at moments of great difficulty. Joy adapts and changes, but it always endures, even as a flicker of light born of our personal certainty that, when everything is said and done, we are infinitely loved.’
Promulgated today, Evangelii Gaudium, will be available in print through CTS very soon for £4.95