Pope Francis Exhorts All to Evangelize

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EVANGELII GAUDIUM: THE JOY OF THE GOSPEL

Two weeks ago, His Holiness Pope Francis released the first apostolic exhortation of his pontificate to close out the Year of Faith. Now if you are like me the first time I heard that, you are probably wondering just what is an apostolic exhortation. An apostolic exhortation is a letter or document from the Holy Father to a specific community of people that urges them to take a specific sort of action. However, it does not define Church doctrine and is generally considered lower in authority than a more formal papal encyclical (such as Lumen Fidei released earlier this year), but not necessarily lesser in importance.

In this case, the apostolic exhortation, called Evangelii Gaudium (in English, “The Joy of the Gospel”) is addressed to all the Christian faithful, rather than a specific group, which means that we can all benefit from reading it. Although as fair warning, it is quite a long document with over 51,000 words! With that in mind, I’ll try my best to summarize it, although I do recommend taking the time to read it if you have the chance. It can be found here:

http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/francesco/apost_exhortations/documents/papa-francesco_esortazione-ap_20131124_evangelii-gaudium_en.html

ALL ARE CALLED TO EVANGELIZE JOYFULLY AND GENEROUSLY

Evangelii Gaudium is addressed to all the Christian faithful because we are all called to be evangelizers, to spread the Gospel message to others, despite the differing levels of theological formation each of us may possess. Evangelization is not just for those who devote their whole lives to Catholic apologetics or missionary work. We must trust in the Holy Spirit to act through us as we seek to evangelize others. However, at the same time, we are also called to delve deeper into our own faith formation to assist us in this mission.

Often we have the misguided belief that we must guard our free time very carefully, that we can only devote so much time to God each week and that the rest belongs to us. This can discourage us from attempting to begin such a daunting task as evangelization, which we believe may not yield results quickly or easily. However, we need to recognize that evangelization is not some task carried out dutifully, perhaps against our own wishes and desires, but rather that it is a joyful response to God’s immense love for us. Successful evangelization of others consists primarily of patience and disregards for the constraints of time. We may not see success after only a few discussions with another, but we do not know if we have planted a seed of faith that will continue to grow after our departure.

Our Holy Father also emphasizes the need to be joyful as we work to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ. He argues that we should not be “Christians whose lives seem like Lent without Easter” [EG 6]. The world needs to hear the Gospel message from those who appear as “joyful messengers of challenging proposals” [EG 168] and whose lives have been radically “transfigured by God’s presence” [EG 259]. Pope Francis recognizes that in all of our lives there are moments of grief when it is often difficult to be joyful. However, we must persevere, knowing that we are infinitely loved by God. “[L]owering our arms momentarily out of weariness is not the same as lowering them for good, overcome by chronic discontent and by a listlessness that parches the soul” [EG 277]. Man cannot live without hope, but Christ is the wellspring of our hope and He will not deprive us of it in our hour of need. To this end, the Holy Father recommends frequent prayer, Eucharistic Adoration, and reading of the Sacred Scriptures to prepare ourselves for the task of evangelization.

REACHING OUT TO THE SPIRITUALLY OR MATERIALLY POOR

The Holy Father also talks at length about whom we need to be evangelizing, and one of the easiest groups of people to evangelize are those we meet in our daily lives. For most, if not all, of us, those lives take place in and around the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Pope Francis talks about a spiritual desertification that has occurred in some societies as a result of attempts to build things without God. This is especially evident in a secular setting such as the UW. In spite of this, the challenge we face is not atheism or secular rationalism as such, the real challenge is the need to respond to people’s thirst for God adequately. True missionary zeal rests in the knowledge that there exists in every individual “an expectation, even if an unconscious one, of knowing the truth about God, about man, and about how we are to be set free from sin and death” [EG 265]. We must work to convince others that the solution is never found by fleeing from a committed relationship with God.

Additionally, Pope Francis desires that we approach the poor and despised with the Gospel message as they are very much in need of it’s saving grace. He especially encourages us not to fall into the thinking that our jobs are too important and so preclude us from taking time to help the least of our brothers. “Jesus wants us to touch human misery, to touch the suffering flesh of others” [EG 270]. Small acts of solidarity performed for those we encounter daily are just as important as working to eliminate the structural causes of poverty in society. All Christians must be concerned with building a better world; we cannot simply seek to build ourselves a nice shelter from human misfortune and ride out the storm, so to speak.

As has been the case with Pope Francis throughout his pontificate, with Evangelii Gaudium the Holy Father is continuing to challenge us to grow in our faith lives and bring the light of Christ to the world. We cannot let our love of Jesus Christ be relegated to just an hour for Mass on Sunday:  we must carry it with us always and we must do so with great joy, confident in the knowledge that Christ is victorious.

Written by Josh Sauppe, UW Graduate Student

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