Yesterday, Pope Francis issued his first major document that is entirely his own. Titled Evangelii Gaudium, or The Joy of the Gospel, it is an Apostolic Exhortation that presents a summary of last fall’s Synod on the New Evangelization, as well as the Holy Father’s own perspective and vision on this topic. It’s long – about 50,000 words or about 90 pages, not including notes – but well worth the read. So sometime, in the coming days or weeks, carve out some good reading time and go here to read the document in its entirety.
Evangelii Gaudium is really a summary of the vision Pope Francis has for the Church – a vision that he has been sharing in bits and pieces since his election in March. There’s a lot about care and concern for the poor, as well as a heavy emphasis on God’s mercy. There are reflections on collegiality and the need to reform the structure of the Roman Curia. The Holy Father repeats a number of phrases he has used before – like saying that Mary is more important than the apostles/bishops as he urges the development of a genuine theological understanding of woman. There is a strong condemnation of money, consumerism, individualism, and idolatry. And there’s even a great section on the homily – both a recognition that current homilies are often poorly written and delivered, and a great plan for how to prepare effective homilies. There are also some statements that make it clear that Pope Francis is firm on Catholic teaching – such as a recognition that the male priesthood is not up for discussion and a strongly worded condemnation of abortion and the societal pressures to change the Church’s beliefs. Along the way, he quotes heavily from his predecessors – especially John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul II, and Benedict XVI – plus the documents of the Second Vatican Council, Saints from Augustine to Thomas Aquinas to Therese of Lisieux, and documents from bishops’ conferences around the world, including the highly influential Aparecida Document of the Bishops of Latin America.
The last thing I would call this document is new or revolutionary – if you’ve been paying attention at all to what Pope Francis has been saying for eight months now, this document is really just a summary of his vision for the Church in book form. And yet the headlines in the secular media are saying things like: “Pope Francis: No More Business As Usual;” “Pope Francis Calls for Big Changes in the Church;” “Pope Francis’ Stunning Evangelii Gaudium.” Or, the other major trend in news headlines focuses on the economic aspects of the document: “Pope Francis: Capitalism is a New Tyranny;” “Pope Francis Denounces Trickle Down Economics;” “Pope Francis: Wall Street, Idolatry of Money will Lead Us to Hell.”
The more accurate headline is one like, “Pope Francis Lays Out a Blueprint for his Papacy.” Here, in one place, in systematic form centered on the New Evangelization, are the goals and strategy Pope Francis is giving to the Church: focus on encounter with Jesus Christ; serve the poor; beware of new idolatries of money and technology; trust in God’s mercy; prepare and expect good homilies; examine the structures of the Church to be the most effective; spread the good news; dialogue rather than diatribe; be joyful in all things; look to Mary as an example.
Read it. Read it all. Read it again. Then discuss it with others who have read it. And be prepared to change – to be converted – to live the Kingdom of God and spread the Good News.