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“The Joy Of The Gospel” – A Synthesis

ROME(VATICAN RADIO).- Nov 26 – The Joy of the Gospel is the title Pope Francis has chosen for this first major document of his pontificate, putting down in print the joyous spirit of encounter with Christ that characterizes every public appearance he has made so far. The man who has constantly kept the media’s attention with his desire to embrace and share his faith with everyone he meets, now urges us to do exactly the same. To “recover the original freshness of the Gospel”, as he puts it, through a thorough renewal of the Church’s structures and vision. Including what he calls “a conversion of the papacy” to make it better able to serve the mission of evangelization in the modern world. The Church, he says, should not be afraid to re-examine “customs not directly connected to the heart of the Gospel” even if they may have deep historical roots.

In strikingly direct and personal language, the Pope appeals to all Christians to bring about a “revolution of tenderness” by opening their hearts each day to God’s unfailing love and forgiveness. The great danger in today’s consumer society, he says, is “the desolation and anguish” that comes from a “covetous heart, the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures, and a blunted conscience.” Whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests , he warns, “there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor.”As we open our hearts, the Pope goes on, so the doors of our churches must always be open and the sacraments available to all. The Eucharist, he says pointedly, “is not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak” And he repeats his ideal of a Church that is “bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets” rather than a Church that is caught up in a slavish preoccupation with liturgy and doctrine, procedure and prestige. “God save us,” he exclaims, “from a worldly Church with superficial spiritual and pastoral trappings!” Urging a greater role for the laity, the Pope warns of “excessive clericalism” and calls for “a more incisive female presence in the Church”, especially “where important decisions are made.”

Looking beyond the Church, Pope Francis denounces the current economic system as “unjust at its root”, based on a tyranny of the marketplace, in which financial speculation, widespread corruption and tax evasion reign supreme. He also denounces attacks on religious freedom and new persecutions directed against Christians. Noting that secularization has eroded ethical values, producing a sense of disorientation and superficiality, the Pope highlights the importance of marriage and stable family relationships. Returning to his vision of a Church that is poor and for the poor, the Pope urges us to pay particular attention to those on the margins of society, including the homeless, the addicted, refugees, indigenous peoples, the elderly, migrants, victims of trafficking and unborn children. While it is not “progressive” to try to resolve problems by eliminating a human life, he says, it’s also true that “we have done little to adequately accompany women in very difficult situations, where abortion appears as a quick solution to their profound anguish.”

Finally the new papal document also focuses on the themes of promoting peace, justice and fraternity, through patient and respectful dialogue with all people of all faiths and none. Better relations with other Christians, with Jews and with Muslims are all seen as indispensable ways of promoting peace and combating fundamentalism. While urging Christians to “avoid hateful generalisations” about Islam, the Pope also calls “humbly” on Islamic countries to guarantee full religious freedom to Christians”

The full text of the new Apostolic Exhortation can be found on the Vatican website, while the main points are outlined in the synopsis below:

“The joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus.” Thus begins the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, by which Pope Francis develops the theme of the proclamation of the Gospel in the contemporary world, drawn from, among other sources, the contribution of the work of the Synod held in the Vatican, from 7 to 28 October 2012, on the theme “The new evangelization for the transmission of the faith”. “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” (1). It is a heartfelt appeal to all baptized persons to bring Christ’s love to others, “permanently in a state of mission” (25), conquering “the great danger in today’s world”, that of an individualist “desolation and anguish” (2).

The Pope invites the reader to “recover the original freshness of the Gospel”, finding “new avenues” and “new paths of creativity”, without enclosing Jesus in “dull categories” (11). There is a need for a “pastoral and missionary conversion, which cannot leave things as they presently are” (25) and a “renewal” of ecclesiastical structures to enable them to become “more mission-oriented” (27). The Pontiff also considers “a conversion of the papacy” to help make this ministry “more faithful to the meaning which Jesus Christ wished to give it and to the present needs of evangelization”. The hope that the Episcopal Conferences might contribute to “the concrete realization of the collegial spirit”, he states, “has not been fully realized” (32). A “sound decentralization” is necessary (16). In this renewal, the Church should not be afraid to re-examine “certain customs not directly connected to the heart of the Gospel, even some of which have deep historical roots” (43).

A sign of God’s openness is “that our church doors should always be open” so that those who seek God “will not find a closed door”; “nor should the doors of the sacraments be closed for simply any reason”. The Eucharist “is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak”. These convictions have pastoral consequences that we are called to consider with prudence and boldness” (47). 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 ? concerned with being at the centre and then ends by being caught up in a web of obsessions and procedures. 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).

The Pope indicates the “temptations which affect pastoral workers” (77): “individualism, a crisis of identity and a cooling of fervour” (78). The greatest threat of all is “the grey pragmatism of the daily life of the Church, in which all appears to proceed normally, which in reality faith is wearing down” (83). He warns against “defeatism” (84), urging Christians to be signs of hope (86), bringing about a “revolution of tenderness” (88). It is necessary to seek refuge from the “spirituality of well-being ? detached from responsibility for our brothers and sisters” (90) and to vanquish the “spiritual worldliness” that consists of “seeking not the Lord’s glory but human glory and well-being” (93). The Pope speaks of the many who “feel superior to others” because “they remain intransigently faithful to a particular Catholic style from the past” whereby “instead of evangelizing, one analyses and classifies others” (94). And those who have “an ostentatious preoccupation for the liturgy, for doctrine and for the Church’s prestige, but without any concern that the Gospel have a real impact” on the needs of the people (95). This is “a tremendous corruption disguised as a good ? God save us from a worldly Church with superficial spiritual and pastoral trappings!” (97).

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