This year’s celebration of Christ the King not only brought with it the end of our liturgical year, but also the end of the “Year of Faith,” which invited all of us to a renewed relationship with Christ and His Church. The Year of Faith coincided with the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) and the 20th anniversary of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and during the Year of Faith, Church leaders from around the world gathered to discuss in practical terms the “new evangelization.”
But that’s not nearly all. On the feast of Christ the King, Pope Francis issued a 223-page apostolic exhortation entitled Evangelii Gaudium (“Joy of the Gospel” or “EG”), on the proclamation of the Gospel in today’s world. Therein the Holy Father not only synthesizes the discussions regarding the new evangelization, but even more gives his own personal stamp to the Church’s mandate to evangelize in the here and now.
This document is fairly long, so I will try to break it down into smaller parts. Today, I’ll just look at the Introduction, in which the Pope sets the tone for the entire document. Four things struck me about the Introduction at first glance:
(1) He gets your attention. The Pope has a unique way of challenging all of us, and in particular by way of “afflicting the comfortable” (as opposed to “comforting the afflicted”). For example, take this passage from paragraph 2:
“The great danger in today’s world, pervaded as it is by consumerism, is the desolation and anguish born of a complacent yet covetous heart, the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures, and a blunted conscience. Whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor. God’s voice is no longer heard, the quiet joy of his love is no longer felt, and the desire to do good fades. This is a very real danger for believers too. Many fall prey to it, and end up resentful, angry, and listless. That is no way to live a dignified and fulfilled life; it is not God’s will for us, nor is it the life in the Spirit which has its source in the heart of the risen Christ.”
He addresses evangelization not as a task or technique for those of us who already think they have their act together, but rather as the fruit of a renewed encounter with Jesus Christ.
(2) It’s all about joy. The words “joy” or “rejoice” appear at least 50 times just in the Introduction. I think the Holy Father is trying to make a point here! And the point is this, quoting Pope Paul VI:
“May the world of our time, which is searching, sometimes with anguish, sometimes with hope, be enabled to receive the good news not from evangelizers who are dejected, discouraged, impatient or anxious, but from ministers of the Gospel whose lives glow with fervor, who have first received the joy of Christ” (EG 10).
(3) The Pope is quotable! Here are just a few nuggets:
- “There are Christians whose lives seem like Lent without Easter” (EG 6).
- “Sometimes we are tempted to find excuses and complain, acting as if we could only be happy if a thousand conditions were met” (EG 7).
- “An evangelizer must never look like someone who has just come back from a funeral!” (EG 10).
- “Every form of authentic evangelization is always ‘new’” (EG 11).
- “The believer is essentially “one who remembers’” (EG 13).
- “It is not by proselytizing that the Church grows, but ‘by attraction’” (EG 15).
(4) It’s modest, yet far-reaching. I say that the Pope’s approach is “modest” in the sense that he acutely recognizes that evangelization happens “on the ground,” and that each geographic region presents its own pastoral challenges for individual bishops. Even more than that, Pope Francis does “not 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” and is conscious of the need to promote what he calls a “sound decentralization” of Church authority (EG 16).
Notwithstanding this noble recognition of the prerogatives of individual bishops, he does take it upon himself to give an extensive teaching on evangelization (did I mention that the document is 223 pages?). As we proceed in the document, we are going to unpack the Holy Father’s views on these subjects, identified in EG 17:
(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 evangelizes;
(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.
I think as we read the document the Holy Father desires that these words of St. Paul remain ever present to us:
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say: Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4).