6 things Pope Francis wants you to know
Pope Francis does not hide his own joy, and he encourages Christians to renew their encounter with Jesus, our source of joy.
Pope Francis issued his first apostolic exhortation in 2013, a book-length message called Evangelii Gaudium, which translates into English as “The Joy of the Gospel.” It begins “The joy of the gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus” and expounds in simple, accessible language on how to realize that joy here and now.
From the moment he was elected, Pope Francis has in word and deed stressed themes of mercy, joy, service, simplicity, and closeness with Christ. Evangelii Gaudium emphasizes many of those same themes as it seeks to encourage the faithful to share the Good News. Following are six key messages, although there are many more. To explore it more deeply, Evangelii Gaudium is available in print and e-book and can be downloaded for free at vatican.va.
Since it’s in the title and first sentence, living joyfully is obviously a major theme of the message. Pope Francis does not hide his own joy, and he encourages Christians to renew their encounter with Jesus, our source of joy. At the same time, the pope reminds us that joy does not mean a life free of distress, but rather a life rooted in the hope of the Resurrection.
With Christ joy is constantly born anew (Evangelii Gaudium, sec. 1).
The gospel joy which enlivens the community of disciples is a missionary joy (Evangelii, sec. 21).
Finally an evangelizing community is filled with joy; it knows how to rejoice always. It celebrates every small victory, every step forward in the work of evangelization (sec. 24).
Challenges exist to be overcome! Let us be realists, but without losing our joy, our boldness and our hope-filled commitment. Let us not allow ourselves to be robbed of missionary vigour! (sec. 109).
Be rooted in prayer
The Holy Father repeats many times that evangelization is a natural outgrowth of a person’s genuine close relationship with God. The ongoing transformation and growth into becoming a Christ-centered person takes place in prayer, which sustains and motivates us.
Christ’s message must truly penetrate and possess the preacher, not just intellectually but in his entire being (sec. 151).
Without prolonged moments of adoration, of prayerful encounter with the word, of sincere conversation with the Lord, our work easily becomes meaningless; we lose energy as a result of weariness and difficulties, and our fervor dies out. The church urgently needs the deep breath of prayer, and to my great joy groups devoted to prayer and intercession, the prayerful reading of God’s word and the perpetual adoration of the Eucharist are growing at every level of ecclesial life (sec. 262).
The primary reason for evangelizing is the love of Jesus which we have received, the experience of salvation which urges us to ever greater love of him. What kind of love would not feel the need to speak of the beloved, to point him out, to make him known? The best incentive for sharing the gospel comes from contemplating it with love, lingering over its pages and reading it with the heart. If we approach it in this way, its beauty will amaze and constantly excite us. But if this is to come about, we need to recover a contemplative spirit which can help us to realize ever anew that we have been entrusted with a treasure which makes us more human and helps us to lead a new life (sec. 264).
Be a listener
The pope encourages us to listen to God and to those to whom we offer the Christian message. Reading, study, and contemplation of scripture are important ways to listen to God. Listening to other people is the starting place for sharing the gospel with them.
There is one particular way of listening to what the Lord wishes to tell us in his word and of letting ourselves be transformed by the Spirit. It is what we call lectio divina. It consists of reading God’s word in a moment of prayer and allowing it to enlighten and renew us (sec. 152).
In the presence of God, during a recollected reading of the text, it is good to ask, for example: “Lord, what does this text say to me?” (sec. 153).
He simply asks that we sincerely look at our life and present ourselves honestly before him, and that we be willing to continue to grow, asking from him what we ourselves cannot as yet achieve (sec. 153).
We need to practice the art of listening, which is more than simply hearing. Listening, in communication, is an openness of heart which makes possible that closeness without which genuine spiritual encounter cannot occur. Listening helps us to find the right gesture and word which shows that we are more than simply bystanders. Only through such respectful and compassionate listening can we enter on the paths of true growth and awaken a yearning for the Christian ideal: the desire to respond fully to God’s love and to bring to fruition what he has sown in our lives (sec. 171).
Move outward, beyond yourself
True faith, Pope Francis says, pushes us into the world to seek the common good and reach out to those on the margins of society. A complacent, inward-focused person or parish is not being true to Jesus’ call. Evangelization, Pope Francis tells us, is not simply concerned with an individual’s inner convictions, but rather is concerned with the whole of society.
Consequently, no one can demand that religion should be relegated to the inner sanctum of personal life, without influence on societal and national life, without concern for the soundness of civil institutions, without a right to offer an opinion on events affecting society. Who would claim to lock up in a church and silence the message of Saint Francis of Assisi or Blessed Teresa of Calcutta? They themselves would have found this unacceptable. An authentic faith—which is never comfortable or completely personal—always involves a deep desire to change the world, to transmit values, to leave this earth somehow better that we found it. We love this magnificent planet on which God has put us, and we love the human family which dwells here, with all its tragedies and struggles, its hopes and aspirations, its strengths and weaknesses (sec. 183).
Be attentive to the poor and vulnerable
Being a disciple of Jesus means focusing on the people Jesus did: the poor and vulnerable. The Holy Father devotes a whole section of his exhortation to what he titles “The inclusion of the poor in society.” Since his papacy began, Francis has emphasized that an essential part of Christian discipleship is devoting attention to those who are weakest and most outcast. Christians are called to work for justice, human rights, and authentic human development for the poor.
Our faith in Christ, who became poor, and was always close to the poor and the outcast, is the basis of our concern for the integral development of society’s most neglected members (sec. 186).
Solidarity must be lived as the decision to restore to the poor what belongs to them (sec. 189).
In all places and circumstances, Christians, with the help of their pastors, are called to hear the cry of the poor (sec. 191).
Remember Mary’s by your side
Pope Francis ends his apostolic exhortation with a reminder that Mary is the “Mother of Evangelization.” She is our supportive companion in praying, striving to be faithful disciples, and proclaiming the Good News.
Jesus left us his mother to be our mother. Only after doing so did Jesus know that “all was now finished” (Jn 19:28). At the foot of the cross, at the supreme hour of the new creation, Christ led us to Mary. He brought us to her because he did not want us to journey without a mother, and our people read in this maternal image all the mysteries of the gospel. The Lord did not want to leave the church without this icon of womanhood. Mary, who brought him into the world with great faith, also accompanies “the rest of her offspring, those who keep the commandments of God and bear testimony to Jesus” (Rev 12:17) (sec. 285).
Pope Francis’s final words in Evangelii Gaudium are a prayer to Mary:
Mother of the living gospel,
wellspring of happiness for God’s little ones, pray for us.
Related article: vocationnetwork.org, The papacy: Five reasons young adults love the pope, Vision 2015.
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