Evangelii Gaudium contains the Pope’s marching orders to the members of the Church, issued with an astonishing pastoral specificity. It’s a 50,000-word strategic plan for delivering on Christ’s Great Commission: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations … teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you." (Matthew 28:19-20)
No one should be scandalized by military analogies. Remember, the Pope took the name of St. Francis, and he is a Jesuit, an order founded by St. Ignatius of Loyola.
What did St. Francis and St. Ignatius have in common? They were both soldiers before their conversions, and they founded the two most aggressive evangelizing orders in the history of the Church.
Likewise, Jorge Bergoglio’s leadership skills and pastoral genius have been evident throughout his life. As Archbishop of Buenos Aires, he extended the Church’s influence into the slums of that city, sending out priests to live among the people, and launching a numerous apostolic projects. His “management by walking around”—traveling throughout the city by foot and public transit—kept him close to his flock. By the time he left the archdiocese, it’s said that fifty percent of the residents had met him. During the conclave, Bergoglio’s incisive critique of the Church and its pastoral difficulties won the cardinals over. Within just a few weeks of his election, he had begun to reverse the world’s negative perception of the Church, and begun a reform of corrupt and inefficient Church structures.
With Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis puts the fruits of his pastoral experience at the service of the Church and the world. He sets the tone with a brilliantly succinct opening statement:
“The joy of the gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness. With Christ joy is constantly born anew.”
Then he ends by setting forth his purpose:
“In this Exhortation I wish to encourage the Christian faithful to embark upon a new chapter of evangelization marked by this joy, while pointing out new paths for the Church’s journey in years to come.”
He then proceeds, in the second paragraph, to diagnose the world’s joyless condition—and the remedy:
“The great danger in today’s world, pervaded as it is by consumerism, is the desolation and anguish 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.”
And he extends an invitation to believers to renew their faith in Christ, rooted in the joy that comes from God’s love and forgiveness…
“I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day. No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her, since “no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord”. The Lord does not disappoint those who take this risk; whenever we take a step towards Jesus, we come to realize 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. I need you. Save me once again, Lord, take me once more into your redeeming embrace”. How good it feels to come back to him whenever we are lost! Let me say this once more: God never tires of forgiving us; we are the ones who tire of seeking his mercy. Christ, who told us to forgive one another “seventy times seven” ( Mt 18:22) has given us his example: he has forgiven us seventy times seven. Time and time again he bears us on his shoulders. No one can strip us of the dignity bestowed upon us by this boundless and unfailing love. With a tenderness which never disappoints, but is always capable of restoring our joy, he makes it possible for us to lift up our heads and to start anew. Let us not flee from the resurrection of Jesus, let us never give up, come what will. May nothing inspire more than his life, which impels us onwards!”
… and receive the strength necessary to evangelize the world:
“We become fully human when we become more than human, when we let God bring us beyond ourselves in order to attain the fullest truth of our being. Here we find the source and inspiration of all our efforts at evangelization. For if we have received the love which restores meaning to our lives, how can we fail to share that love with others?”
Throughout the exhortation, he gives advice and correction on various pastoral challenges.