by Adam Janke, Program Director

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Pope Francis released the first apostolic exhortation of his pontificate on November 26, 2013. The previous encyclical released under his name, Lumen Fidei, was written primarily by Benedict XVI but modified by Francis. Evangelii Gaudium, the Joy of the Gospel, is the first major work by Pope Francis penned primarily by him and with his direct influence.

Overview of the content of Evangelii Gaudium

Evangelii Gaudium is Latin for “The Joy of the Gospel” and like most documents of the church draws its name from the opening words or lines of the document. The first line of the document is “The joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus.”

An apostolic exhortation is a papal document, which sometimes follows a Synod of Bishops (which is a group of bishops from around the world that meet to discuss a topic and make recommendations to the pope), that calls the Christian people to implement a particular aspect of Church teaching into their lives and into the world. Unlike an encyclical or an apostolic constitution, it is not intended to teach us something new, to give us a new doctrine or clarify a teaching of the Church. It is more an application of Church teaching for today in a way that is fruitful. Pope Francis is giving us a guide to bring the New Evangelization effectively into homes, parishes, and cultures all over the world.

Just because it is not an encyclical or dogmatic profession of faith does not mean that it is not important. It is more important than say, a private writing of the Holy Father, as Benedict XVI gave us in his trilogy on the life of Jesus Christ, and more important than a homily or Wednesday audience. We should not ignore his words and we should take the time to read the document. It should be taken very seriously.

What is Pope Francis’ main message in Evangelii Gaudium?

The Pope speaks on numerous themes, including evangelization, peace, the economy, homiletics, social justice, the family, faith and politics, the poor, ecumenism, interreligious dialogue, and the role of women and of the laity in the Church. He challenges each one of us to rise up to the demands of the Gospel.

Archbishop Rino Fisichella said that “If we were to sum up Pope Francis’s Evangelii Gaudium in a few words, we could say that it is an Apostolic Exhortation written around the theme of Christian joy in order that the Church may rediscover the original source of evangelization in the contemporary world.”

Bishop James Conley of Lincoln, Nebraska stated that the document: “Like the Gospel that Saint Francis preached, Evangelii Gaudium is demanding. Anyone who reads it honestly will be convicted. The Holy Father unmasks the false rigidity, the relativism, the consumerism, and the complacency that hampers the Christian life. Evangelii Gaudium identifies the temptations and pitfalls of Christians, with insight garnered from decades in leadership. Only a pastor, and a very good one, could have written such a thing.”

Evangelization is a joyful activity. We find a summary of Evangelii Gaudium in paragraph 27: “I dream of a “missionary option”, that is, a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything, so that the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channeled for the evangelization of today’s world rather than for her self-preservation”. He states that mere administration is no longer enough, but we must be a in a state of permanent mission.

He repeats that he prefers “a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church that is unhealthy from being confined and clinging to its own security … If something should rightly disturb us … it is the fact that many of our brothers and sisters are living without … the friendship of Jesus Christ.” (49)

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