Tuesday, November 26, 2013

"Evangelii Gaudium," "The Joy of the Gospel" - Post-Synodal Exhortation from Pope Francis

Pope Francis's post-synodal exhortation, "Evangelii Gaudium," was released today.  It's rather long, and I've read quickly through the whole thing once, but it deserves a more careful read than that.  There is a great deal worth thinking about.

My initial conclusions can be summed up pretty quickly:

     1. Pope Francis is calling us to conversion and mission, very strongly and urgently (#3, 5, etc).  In this sense he is, once again and like his namesake, both perfectly radical, and perfectly traditional.  I think this is very important to keep firmly in mind, because (a) his pastoral experience and referents are different than ours here in Iowa, and (b) sometimes he writes with less than perfect clarity, with round-about references to things that aren't obvious to all; and therefore if we're not focused on his meaning-with-the-Church, we might mistake it for something else.

     2. Pope Francis is stressing once again, just as his predecessors did, the personal quality of encounter with Christ, through the Gospel and the Church's ministry of the Gospel (#20, 27, etc).  Christ changes us, he insists.  Two of the aspects of that conversion, which he wants to stress here, are joy (even in the face of difficulties, as he says several times), and the desire for others' encounter with Christ also, which is "evangelization."  Hence the title.

     3. Pope Francis seems to have an excellent read on the modern world.  He expresses clearly the seductive but disheartening qualities of modern life (#52ff) - individualism (and its isolation), materialism (and its exploitation), secularism (and its persecution), freedom (and its stagnation), and so on.  He also sees all of these, not just in their guises outside the Church, which we oppose with the Gospel, but also their insidious corruption inside the Church, sapping the joy of believers.  This is a nuance too little talked about; I am pleased he's not afraid to point clearly to it.

     4. One could quibble with a few things he says, and a few things he doesn't say, even in a document as long as this.  For example, he points out the flaws and abuses to which capitalism is prone (e.g. #54), without (here) noting the (even greater) problems with statism/socialism (e.g. in #240, 241); his discussion of Islam is idealistic, and doesn't consider the absence of "magisterial" unity in that religion (#252, 253); except for two brief sections on popular piety (#122ff) and the homily (#135-159), he mostly waits till near the very end to point to the defining importance of the Church's liturgical life for both the initial and ongoing encounter with Christ, and the particular and necessary shape it gives our efforts at evangelizing.  These minor issues won't, in the end, take away from the significance and depth of the exhortation as a whole.

     5. His Marian conclusion is excellent (#284-288).  He calls Mary the "star of the new evangelization," and almost every sentence here has something powerful packed into it.

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