On the Publication of the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium
The Joy of the Gospel is not only the name of the first Apostolic Exhortation published by our Holy Father, Pope Francis, but it also describes what seems to radiate from him and is reflected in his words.
Pope Francis begins with reminding us that, “The Joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus” (1). The New Evangelization – the whole action of the Church in evangelizing – is all about helping people encounter Jesus so that they can experience the joy of living as a follower of Christ, as one who has been embraced by the love of God and who lives in the gift of the Holy Spirit.
This Apostolic Exhortation does not see the world through rose colored glasses. The Pope tells us, “I realize of course that joy is not expressed the same way at all times in life, especially at moments of great difficulty” (6).
For the person who has encountered Jesus Christ, who has experienced the Risen Lord and who tries to live everyday conscious of that presence, there is a serenity, a profound sense of joy, even if life brings with it enormous challenges and difficulties. Thus the Pope goes on to tell us, “In every activity of evangelization, the primacy always belongs to God, who has called us to cooperate with him and who leads us on by the power of the Spirit…The life of the Church should always reveal clearly that God takes the initiative, that ‘he has loved us first’ (1 Jn 4:19) and that he alone ‘gives the growth’ (1 Cor 3:7)” (12).
In his first encyclical issued earlier this year, Lumen Fidei (The Light of Faith), Pope Francis gave us splendid spiritual guidance, helping us to understand how an encounter with the love of the living God transforms our lives, giving us hope and joy as we make our way through our journey of life. Our Holy Father continues to show himself to be a sublime teacher with the publication of Evangelii Gaudium, which was formally issued to conclude the Year of Faith on Sunday, the Solemnity of Christ the King, and has been made publicly available today.
The exhortation, in a sense, is both the conclusion of last year’s Synod on the New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith, and the opening of a new chapter as we look to the future. Our Holy Father tells us that he was “happy to take up the request of the Fathers of the Synod to write this Exhortation. In so doing, I am reaping the rich fruits of the Synod’s labors” (16). But what the Holy Father brings to the work of the synod and its conclusions is a fresh emphasis or focus. In Chapter Three, “The Proclamation of the Gospel,” the Pope highlights that it is the task of the entire people of God to proclaim the Gospel. Here he spends considerable time on the role of the homily and the efforts that must precede an effective and fruitful homily. In this context he tells us that a part of our efforts at evangelization include a deeper understanding of the kerygma – the central announcement of our salvation in Jesus through his death and Resurrection.
Chapter Four of the Exhortation calls our attention to the social dimension of Evangelization and touches on topics such as the poor in society, the common good and peace in society, and the role of dialogue in building up a world of peace.
The lives of the first disciples who encountered the Risen Christ were never the same afterward. The same is true for us today. As agents of the New Evangelization, we are called to renew and deepen our faith, grow in confidence in its truth, and joyfully share it with others. Renewed by the Eucharist, by daily prayer and the sacrament of penance, we can proclaim the Good News that Jesus Christ is risen and he is with us. With our hearts transformed by Christ, we can change the hearts of others and so transform the world.
Pope Francis calls us to reflect that the challenge of Jesus – that we be caring, compassionate, loving people working to establish a realm of truth, peace and justice – requires of us great interior strength. It is for that reason that we are called to pray and to invoke God’s grace on all that we do.
May this Apostolic Exhortation be a source of nurture for us as we reflect on the challenges the Church faces today and the tasks that each of us are called to embrace as we try to share the joy of the Gospel.