Comment of apostolic exhortation of Pope Francis
THE JOY OF THE GOSPEL
1. “ The joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. ” The Holy Father is all the more convincing because his radiant joy has shone on us ever since his accession to the pontifical throne.
What is the cause of this joy ? Straightaway it is so clearly indicated that there can be no fear of illusion : it is characteristic of “ those who are set free ” by Jesus. Freed from what ? “ From sin, ” the only cause of “ sadness. ”
“ With Christ joy is constantly born anew. ”
The Holy Father applies himself to reviving it in the souls of the “ Christian faithful ” whom he addresses according to their hierarchical order : the bishops, the clergy, consecrated persons and the lay faithful, in order “ to embark them upon a new chapter of evangelisation marked by this joy, while pointing out new paths for the Church’s journey in years to come. ”
This programme offers so many connections with the 150 Points of the Phalange that the paragraphs of his exhortation numbered from 1 to 288 can be grouped into a catalogue that we might call : The 150 Points of Pope Francis. His first four points form the introduction.
POINT NO. 1 : THE SOURCE OF JOY.
2. What is the source of the “ desolation and anguish ” that prevail in “ today’s world ” ? It is 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. ”
3. Here is his remedy : “ I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ. ”Ah, well !
Father, how can they make an appointment with Him ?
It is very simple : it suffices for them “ to be open to letting Him encounter them. ” In fact, He is the One Who takes the initiative and not ‘ religious conscience ’. This affirmation alone overthrows the Modernist heresy of immanentist apologetics, which was condemned by St. Pius X in 1907 but has swept through the entire Church thanks to the Second Vatican Council.
“ Whenever we take a step towards Jesus, we come to realise that He is already there, waiting for us with open arms. Now is the time to say to Jesus : ‘ Lord, I have let myself be deceived ; in a thousand ways I have shunned Your love, yet here I am once more, to renew my covenant with You. ’ ”
4. This covenant is historical. It dates back to Abraham from whom a “ nation ” was born. The Prophets inspired “ joy ” by announcing the Messiah to it. Their successor, Pope Francis does likewise by exultantly repeating “ the most exciting invitation. ”
“ I find it thrilling to reread this text : ‘ The Lord, your God is in your midst, a victorious Warrior ! He will exult with joy over you, He will renew you in His love ; He will dance with shouts of joy for you as on a day of festival. ’ (Zp 3 :17) ”
It is concrete : “ This is the joy that we experience daily, amid the little things of life, as a response to the loving invitation of God our Father : ‘ My son, treat yourself well, according to your means (…). Do not deprive yourself of the day’s enjoyment ’ (Si 14 :11-14). What tender paternal love echoes in these words ! ”
5. As for the New Testament, “ radiant with the glory of Christ’s cross, ” it is a “ great stream of joy, ” from the invitation to joy brought by the “ angel’s greeting to Mary (Lk 1 :28) ” to the joy of Paul’s and Silas’ converted jailer who, along with “ his entire household, rejoiced that he had become a believer in God (Ac 16 :34). ”
POINT NO. 2 : THE NEW EVANGELISATION.
6. “ There are Christians whose lives seem like Lent without Easter. ” This is true and that is the way it has been for the last fifty years, Most Holy Father !
Well, he answers us that even “ great suffering ” must not prevent “ the joy of faith from slowly reviving as a quiet yet firm trust, even amid the greatest distress. ” We have to acknowledge the fact that the Pope himself preached by example ! Where does this alacrity come from ? It does not come from living a life of ease.
7. Moreover, “ I can say that the most beautiful and natural expressions of joy which I have seen in my life were in poor people. ”
8. So, what is the secret ? It is every “ encounter – or renewed encounter – with God’s love, which blossoms into an enriching friendship, ” particularly with the poor who are “ the flesh of Christ. ”
“ For if we have received the love that restores meaning to our lives, how can we fail to share that love with others ? ”
9. That is why “ several sayings of Saint Paul will not surprise us : ‘ The love of Christ urges us on ’ (2 Co 5 :14) ; ‘ Woe to me if I do not proclaim the Gospel ! ’ (1 Co 9 :16) ”
10. A quotation from the ‘ Aparecida Document, ’ the fruit of the Fifth General Conference of the Latin American and Caribbean Bishops, held in 2007, of which Cardinal Bergoglio was the kingpin, expresses here the heart and the soul of the apostolate of this cardinal become Pope : “ That life is attained and matures in the measure that it is offered up in order to give life to others. This is certainly what mission means. ”
Here is the practical conclusion :“ Consequently, an evangeliser must never look like someone who has just come back from a funeral ! ”
11. The Pope wants to remedy this situation through the “ renewal of preaching ”of a“ new joy in the faith and fruitfulness in the work of evangelisation ”to all “ believers, as well as the lukewarm and the non-practising. ” It is not a question, therefore, of inventing a new Gospel : “ The heart of its message will always be the same : the God Who revealed His immense love in the crucified and risen Christ. God constantly renews His faithful ones, whatever their age : ‘ They renew their strength, they put out wings like eagles. They run and do not grow weary, they walk and never tire ’ (Is 40 :31). ”
This is indeed what we can contemplate in the tireless seventy-six-year old Pontiff whom God has given to us and who is “ forever young and a constant source of newness, ” as he says about Jesus.
Thus it is that “ Jesus can also break through the dull categories with which we would enclose Him. ” How are we not to think of the Second Vatican Council’s sixteen texts, the authority and length of which vary greatly ! In any case, Pope Francis has been for nine months the living proof of what he affirms here :
“ Whenever we make the effort to return to the source and to recover the original freshness of the Gospel, new avenues arise, new paths of creativity open up, with different forms of expression, more eloquent signs and words with new meaning for today’s world. Every form of authentic evangelisation is always ‘ new ’. ”
For example : one year ago, there was only talk of Vatican II… since March 13, all has been new !
POINT NO. 3 : A “ DEUTERONOMIC ” NEWNESS.
12. The living source of this perpetual youthfulness is in God alone : “ 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 Co 3 :7). ”
13. Thus, we should not see “ newness ” as entailing “ a kind of forgetfulness of the living history that surrounds us and carries us forward. Memory is a dimension of our faith that we might call ‘ Deuteronomic ’, not unlike the memory of Israel itself. ”
The following lines shine forth with the newness that this Pontiff with a profound heart brings to us. He speaks about the law of Christ as the Book of Deuteronomy spoke about the law of God :
“ Jesus leaves us the Eucharist as the Church’s daily remembrance of, and deeper sharing in, the event of His Passover (cf. Lk 22 :19). The joy of evangelising always arises from grateful remembrance : it is a grace that we constantly need to implore. The Apostles never forgot the moment when Jesus touched their hearts : ‘ It was about four o’clock in the afternoon ’ (Jn 1 :39). Together with Jesus, this remembrance makes present to us ‘ a great cloud of witnesses ’ (Heb 12 :1), some of whom, as believers, we recall with great joy : ‘ Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God ’ (Heb 13 :7). Some of them were ordinary people who were close to us and introduced us to the life of faith : ‘ I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice ’ (2 Tm 1 :5). The believer is essentially ‘ one who remembers ’. ”
POINT NO. 4 : THE MISSIONNARY VOCATION OF THE CHURCH.
14. This “ exhortation ”, which flows from the heart of the Sovereign Pontiff, surpasses in any case the First General Congregation’s propositions of the XIII Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, gathered in Rome from October 7 to 28, 2012, on the theme of “ The new evangelisation for the transmission of the faith. ” Two hundred bishops and three weeks of debate are summarised here in this paragraph :
“ All have a right to receive the Gospel. Christians have the duty to proclaim the Gospel without excluding anyone. Instead of seeming to impose new obligations, they should appear as people who wish to share their joy, who point to a horizon of beauty and who invite others to a delicious banquet. ”
This is the example that Pope Francis sets for us.
15. A few quotations from John Paul II leaves one to believe that, in doing so, he is in agreement with this Pope :
“ Today missionary activity ‘ still (sic !) represents the greatest challenge for the Church. ’ ” John Paul II, however, does not seem to have taken up ‘ the challenge ’ since Pope Francis asks the question :“ What would happen if we were to take these words seriously ? ” Thus, until now they have not been taken seriously ?
Apparently not. This is what is going to change.
16. The Holy Father, however, does not believe “ that the papal Magisterium should be expected to offer a definitive or complete word on every question that 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 that arises in their territory. In this sense, I am conscious of the need to promote a sound ‘ decentralisation ’. ”
17. Here are some indications aimed at “ encouraging and guiding the whole Church in a new phase of evangelisation, one marked by enthusiasm and vitality. ” Here they are in five chapters, the first of which is entitled : ‘ The Church’s missionary transformation. ’
By analogy with the ‘ 150 Points of the Catholic, Royal, Communitarian Phalange of the Immaculate, ’ I propose to reorganise the Holy Father’s five chapters under three titles. Today, we will deal with the first two : the missionary, communitarian, Marian transformation of the Church.
18. The Holy Father’s aim is not to be exhaustive but practical.