In one of the most important documents of his pontificate so far, Pope Francis covered everything from how to evangelize to economic injustice. Our experts say the Church better getting working.
Pope Francis released his first Apostolic Exhortation today, Evangelii Gaudium – "The Joy of the Gospel". (Read 21 of the most important quotes here.) The document covers a wide range of topics, including economic injustice, new electronic media, the missionary nature the Church, the preeminence of Jesus in evangelization, how to give a good homily, and, of course, the importance of joy in evangelization.
We asked our Aleteia Experts to comment on the document, and here's what we got:
Paul Griffiths, Warren Professor of Catholic Theology at Duke University Divinity School
"The Pope's Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, released on the Feast of Christ the King (24 November), is of a piece with the tone and substance of his papacy so far. It is warm, enthusiastic, and welcoming; it focuses on the central truth of Christianity, which is the redemptive gift of love to the world; it is urgent in its plea that Catholics become better representatives of that gift; and it is clear in its advocacy of the position that the deepest problems facing the church and the world today are poverty, inequality, and suffering. I hope that the Catholic Church in the US will take what he has written to heart. His words are inspiring and heartwarming to me: they help me to recall the meaning of my baptism."
Eugene Gan, Professor of Interactive Media, Communications, and Fine Art at Franciscan University of Steubenville
"Our Holy Father is not naive about the world around him. To the contrary, he is very aware of the nuances of communicating with others today. Multiple times in Evangelii Gaudium, he speaks of the influence of the media, from concern about negative media influences on the sacredness of marriage (para. 62), to encouraging that pastoral workers avoid "a sort of inferiority complex which leads them to relativize or conceal their Christian identity and convictions" (para. 79), to how the liturgical homily is a "distinctive genre", not to be treated as "a form of entertainment like those presented by the media" (para. 138).
"He is well aware that the message we preach can easily be taken out of context by the mainstream media, and as a result, the meaning of our messages is reduced to "secondary aspects". As important as these secondary aspects may be, they may not "convey the heart of Christ's message". Listen to the Holy Father's counsel: "We need to be realistic and not assume that our audience understands the full background to what we are saying, or is capable of relating what we say to the very heart of the Gospel which gives it meaning, beauty and attractiveness" (para. 34). Even from just these remarks, clearly, Our Holy Father cannot be classified as either "conservative" or "liberal" as some groups try to do. He is Catholic. Period. And he knows that it takes effort, skill, study, and above all love to communicate the Good News."
Msgr. Charles M. Mangan, Director of the Office of the Marian Apostolate Diocese of Sioux Falls, the Vicar for Consecrated Life, and the Canonical Adviser to the Most Reverend Paul J. Swain, D.D., the Bishop of Sioux Falls
"The insight of Pope Francis into the presence of Our Lady (284) is valuable. Mary's prayer with the disciples in anticipation of the Descent of the Holy Spirit 'made possible the missionary outburst which took place at Pentecost.' Then, the Holy Father boldly declares that without the Mother of God, "we could never truly understand the spirit of the new evangelization.
Allan Wright, Academic Dean of Evangelization for the Diocese of Paterson, NJ
"Pope Francis' new Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium touches on many topics although the word evangelization shows up in one form or another 208 times and the word joy 108 times. Bloggers and social media networks such as Facebook and Twitter are full of brief quotes from this document touching upon economics, the priesthood, service, atheism and a vision of the Catholic Church where the poor take prominence. Pope Francis has been modeling this ‘exhortation’ since the first night of his pontificate when he humbly asked people to pray for him and the main idea that comes through is a theme of ‘encounter’ which he seems to weave into many of his Sunday homilies. “Let us recover and deepen our enthusiasm, that “delightful and comforting joy of evangelizing, even when it is in tears that we must sow.” (10).
"This is exactly what the Church needs to hear right now as she continues her journey to incarnate the ‘new evangelization’ through witness and because its necessary…through words. Pope Paul VI said that people are, ‘more impressed by witnesses than they are by teachers,’ and Pope Francis is doing both well. Witnessing to the power of the Gospel to transform ones life and being empowered by the Holy Spirit to encounter others in our own weakness to share the Good News of God’s love must come first before carefully articulated dogmas and ‘word-smithed’ documents.
"Pope Francis’ actions go viral! The kissing of the babies, the embrace of men and women with various diseases make their way to the front pages of both Catholic and non-Catholic websites and newspapers. This exhortation will ground those who are casual observers of the Pope in the scriptures which point to Jesus who came that we might have life and life to the fullest. His actions of encounter are given a written expression through this document and are an extension of his life both as Pope and previously as Cardinal. “Meanwhile, the Gospel tells us constantly to run the risk of a face-to-face encounter with others, with their physical presence which challenges us, with their pain and their pleas, with their joy which infects us in our close and continuous interaction. True faith in the incarnate Son of God is inseparable from self-giving, from membership in the community, from service, from reconciliation with others. The Son of God, by becoming flesh, summoned us to the revolution of tenderness.” (71)"
John Zmirak, author, most recently, of The Bad Catholic's Guide to the Catechism
"The pope's statements on economics will need to be balanced against previous solemn condemnations of socialism, and warnings against the danger of giving the government the power to confiscate private property and seize the means of production–and thereby crush civil society. We see what that produces, domestically in the form of the HHS mandate, and historically in countries from Revolutionary France to Communist Cuba and socialist Venezuela. Without a strong, free civil society grounded in secure private property, the Church is at the mercy of the State. Perhaps some churchmen dream of commandeering the State, and using it to enforce their own visions of social justice at gunpoint–as some tried to do in Nicaragua. It didn't work well when the Church used the State to enforce doctrinal orthodoxy, and it won't work well if churchmen try to abolish inequality–instead of simply fighting poverty, a very different thing.
"A new pope doesn't take the Deposit of Faith and shake it like an Etch-a-Sketch, writing on it a new revelation. We are not loyal Party members in 1930s Moscow, waiting for the latest shift in the Party line so we can overturn our previous convictions. There is vast room for Catholics of good will to argue over the prudential application of Catholic social teaching, to weigh this latest statement against, for instance, Centesimus Annus, or Pius XII and Leo XIII's firm condemnations of statist ideologies."
Holly Taylor Coolman, AssistantProfessor of Theology at Providence College
"Before moving into the specifics of this document, we might consider the title as a signal of what the pope has chosen to highlight above all else. Before it describes anything that we should say or do, this exhortation indicates that the sign of encounter with Christ and the first moment of its proclamation is joy. The gospel of Luke makes the same point when it describes the encounter of Jesus and the yet-to-be-born John the Baptist. John's response is to leap for joy, and in that very action, he also "tells" the good news to his mother. It is surely not accidental that the exhortation concludes with a prayer including the following: "Filled with Christ’s presence, you brought joy to John the Baptist, making him exult in the womb of his mother." The most primary call of this document an invitation to be filled with joy.
"This emphasis on joy is deeply consonant with a theme of Benedict XVI's teaching that is also classically Ignatian: the primacy of an encounter with Christ that results in personal transformation.
"The details of the exhortation are already being interpreted in predictable ways. Commentary is appearing from sources on the right or on the left that emphasizes the themes that those parties tend to champion. A careful reading of the document will show, however, that Pope Francis does not see these issues as divided in that way, but sees them rather as inextricably woven together in a seamless garment of ecclesial teaching."
Randall Smith,Scanlan Foundation Chair in Theology at the University of St. Thomas in Houston, Texas
"Readers should not fail to notice that this is the most recent of the Church’s 'social justice' documents. Indeed, the Pope nicely integrates the Church’s role to 'evangelize' — that is, to preach the Good News — together with the demands of social justice. One example: In the same document, the reader will find a critique of modern economies that disadvantage the poor along with — and this is really unprecedented — a description of how to prepare a good homily. Note the pairing of the two: 'evangelizing' through both words and deeds. Social justice outreach and effective preaching and liturgy are not two separate realms: they are inextricably linked."
Fr. Roger Landry, pastor of St. Bernadette Parish in Fall River, Massachusetts and national chaplain of Catholic Voices USA
"I'd say that there are three main points.
"First, Pope Francis says that the fundamental reform the Church needs is from one of self-preservation of Church structures to a permanent state of mission. The Church doesn't have a mission, but is a mission, namely the continuation of Jesus' mission in union with him.
"Second, Catholic faithful, religious and clergy don't have a mission either, but we are a mission. To be a disciple at all is to be a missionary disciple. Sharing the faith is not an optional part of being Christian. Once we've really encountered Jesus Christ and the transforming power of his saving love, we want others to experience the same joy. We can't love our neighbor unless we're sharing with them the love of God. Lastly, The evangelization to which Pope Francis is calling us has several elements. First, it's meant to be "good news of great joy." Evangelizers can't look like those who have just returned from a funeral, he says. Second, it's kerygmatic, focused primarily on the simple, clear, positive and heart-felt proclamation that Jesus loves us, gave his life to save us, and wants to live with us each day to strengthen and liberate us.
"Third, true evangelization aims at the transformation of society, especially in the care of the poor — whose poverty Jesus shared, to whom he proclaimed the Good News, and with whom he personally identifies — and in the praying and working for peace."
"This is a wake-up call for all Catholics. Certainly in those areas of the Church in which many of the faithful have ceased practicing the faith, Pope Francis' message is very timely. But even in areas of great growth, there is the danger of a sterile institutionalization, where the mission of the Church is looked at as a phase until the Church becomes fully established in parish plants, schools, hospitals, service centers and more. Pope Francis is saying that missionary outreach must permanently become the paradigm of everything the Church does, because the chief illness that plagues the Church is self-enclosed, self-absorbed, self-centered introversion. That means that institutions throughout the Church — from the papacy to chanceries to parishes to all other missions and apostolates — need to go through a thorough self-examination to ensure that they're about mission instead of maintenance. For Pope Francis, this is the fundamental reform the Church needs, the principal way the Church needs to be brought "into shape" again.
"With the exception of the "meticulous" section on the homily in the new evangelization — the most developed how-to primer on preaching in any papal document in history — the rest of the apostolic exhortation was almost a compendium of scores of the strongest points Pope Francis has made in homilies, audiences, angelus meditations and interviews since he was elected eight months ago. The exhortation is almost a highlight reel of his papal teaching as well as an elevation of his hard work on the 2007 Aparecida document to the papal magisterium.
"Because it is such a thorough compendium of his thought, I was a little surprised that two of the most powerful images he's used up until now were not included at all: his description of the Church as a field hospital, binding the wounds of so many in the Church, which is obviously a part of the new evangelization; and his description of the Church's evangelizing activity as the continuation of Jesus' heart-warming method on the Road to Emmaus, which Pope Francis used when speaking to bishops during World Youth Day in Brazil. I believe that that is one of the most powerful images anyone has ever used to describe the method of the new evangelization and I was anticipating that he would expand upon it in the exhortation."