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Pope Francis publishes his first letter: ‘The Joy of the Gospel’

SYNTHESIS OF THE APOSTOLIC EXHORTATION “THE JOY OF THE GOSPEL”Vatican City, 26 November 2013 (VIS) – “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”. The text, which the Holy Father consigned to a group of thirty-six faithful following the closing Mass of the Year of Faith last Sunday is the first official document of his pontificate, since the Encyclical “Lumen fidei” was written in collaboration with his predecessor, Benedict XVI. “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 continues. It is a heartfelt appeal to all baptized persons to bring Christ’s love to others, “permanently in a state of mission”, conquering “the great danger in today’s world”, that of an individualist “desolation and anguish”.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 our “dull categories”. There is a need for a “pastoral and missionary conversion, which cannot leave things as they presently are” and a “renewal” of ecclesiastical structures to enable them to become “more mission-oriented”. 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”. A “sound decentralization” is necessary. 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”.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”. 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”.The Pope indicates the “temptations which affect pastoral workers”: “individualism, a crisis of identity and a cooling of fervour”. 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”. He warns against “defeatism”, urging Christians to be signs of hope, bringing about a “revolution of tenderness”. It is necessary to seek refuge from the “spirituality of well-being … detached from responsibility for our brothers and sisters” and to vanquish the “spiritual worldliness” that consists of “seeking not the Lord’s glory but human glory and well-being”. 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” 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. This is “a tremendous corruption disguised as a good … God save us from a worldly Church with superficial spiritual and pastoral trappings!”.
He appeals to ecclesial communities not to fall prey to envy and jealousy: “How many wars take place within the people of God and in our different communities!”. “Whom are we going to evangelize if this is the way we act?”. He highlights the need to promote the growth of the responsibility of the laity, often kept “away from decision-making” by “an excessive clericalism”. He adds that there is a need for “still broader opportunities for a more incisive female presence in the Church”, in particular “in the various settings where important decisions are made”. “Demands that the legitimate rights of women be respected … cannot be lightly evaded”. The young should “exercise greater leadership”. With regard to the scarcity of vocations in many places, he emphasizes that “seminaries cannot accept candidates on the basis of any motivation whatsoever”.
With regard to the theme of inculturation, he remarks that “Christianity does not have simply one cultural expression” and that the face of the Church is “varied”. “We cannot demand that peoples of every continent, in expressing their Christian faith, imitate modes of expression which European nations developed at a particular moment of their history”. The Pope reiterates that “underlying popular piety … is an active evangelizing power” and encourages the research of theologians, reminding them however that “the Church and theology exist to evangelize” and urging them not to be “content with a desk-bound theology”.
He focuses “somewhat meticulously, on the homily”, since “many concerns have been expressed about this important ministry and we cannot simply ignore them”. The homily “should be brief and avoid taking on the semblance of a speech or a lecture”, should be a “heart-to-heart communication” and avoid “purely moralistic or doctrinaire” preaching. He highlights the importance of preparation: “a preacher who does not prepare is not ‘spiritual’; he is dishonest and irresponsible”. Preaching should always be positive in order always to “offer hope” and “does not leave us trapped in negativity”. The approach to the proclamation of the Gospel should have positive characteristics: “approachability, readiness for dialogue, patience, a warmth and welcome which is non-judgemental”.
In relation to the challenges of the contemporary world, the Pope denounces the current economic system as “unjust at its root”. “Such an economy kills” because the law of “the survival of the fittest” prevails. The current culture of the “disposable” has created “something new”: “the excluded are not the ‘exploited’ but the outcast, the ‘leftovers’”. “A new tyranny is thus born, invisible and often virtual”, of an “autonomy of the market” in which “financial speculation” and “widespread corruption” and “self-serving tax-evasion reign”. He also denounces “attacks on religious freedom” and the “new persecutions directed against Christians. … In many places the problem is more that of widespread indifference and relativism”. The family, the Pope continues, “is experiencing a profound cultural crisis”. Reiterating the indispensable contribution of marriage to society”, he underlines that “the individualism of our postmodern and globalized era favours a lifestyle which … distorts family bonds”.
He re-emphasizes “the profound connection between evangelization and human advancement” and the right of Pastors “to offer opinions on all that affects people’s lives”. “No one can demand that religion should be relegated to the inner sanctum of personal life, without a right to offer an opinion on events affecting society”. He quotes John Paul II, who said that the Church “cannot and must not remain on the sidelines in the fight for justice”. “For the Church, the option for the poor is primarily a theological category” rather than a sociological one. “This is why I want a Church that is poor and for the poor. They have much to teach us”. “As long as the problems of the poor are not radically resolved … no solution will be found for this world’s problems”. “Politics, although often denigrated”, he affirms, “remains a lofty vocation and one of the highest forms of charity”. I beg the Lord to grant us more politicians who are genuinely disturbed by … the lives of the poor!”. He adds an admonition: “Any Church community”, if it believes it can forget about the poor, runs the risk of “breaking down”.
The Pope urges care for the weakest members of society: “the homeless, the addicted, refugees, indigenous peoples, the elderly who are increasingly isolated and abandoned” and migrants, for whom the Pope exhorts “a generous openness”. He speaks about the victims of trafficking and new forms of slavery: “This infamous network of crime is now well established in our cities, and many people have blood on their hands as a result of their comfortable and silent complicity”. “Doubly poor are those women who endure situations of exclusion, mistreatment and violence”. “Among the vulnerable for whom the Church wishes to care with particular love and concern are unborn children, the most defenceless and innocent among us. Nowadays efforts are made to deny them their human dignity”. “The Church cannot be expected to change her position on this question … it is not ‘progressive’ to try to resolve problems by eliminating a human life”. The Pope makes an appeal for respect for all creation: we “are called to watch over and protect the fragile world in which we live”.
With regard to the theme of peace, the Pope affirms that “a prophetic voice must be raised” against attempts at false reconciliation to “silence or appease” the poor, while others “refuse to renounce their privileges”. For the construction of a society “in peace, justice and fraternity” he indicates four principles: “Time is greater than space” means working “slowly but surely, without being obsessed with immediate results”. “Unity prevails over conflict” means “a diversified and life-giving unity”. “Realities are more important than ideas means avoiding “reducing politics or faith to rhetoric”. “The whole is greater than the part” means bringing together “globalization and localization”.
“Evangelization also involves the path of dialogue”, the Pope continues, which opens the Church to collaboration with all political, social, religious and cultural spheres. Ecumenism is “an indispensable path to evangelization”. Mutual enrichment is important: “we can learn so much from one another!”, for example “in the dialogue with our Orthodox brothers and sisters, we Catholics have the opportunity to learn more about the meaning of Episcopal collegiality and their experience of synodality”; “dialogue and friendship with the children of Israel are part of the life of Jesus’ disciples”; “interreligious dialogue”, which must be conducted “clear and joyful in one’s own identity”, is “a necessary condition for peace in the world” and does not obscure evangelization; in our times, “our relationship with the followers of Islam has taken on great importance”: the Pope “humbly” entreats those countries of Islamic tradition to guarantee religious freedom to Christians, also “in light of the freedom which followers of Islam enjoy in Western countries!”. “Faced with disconcerting episodes of violent fundamentalism” he urges us to “avoid hateful generalisations, for authentic Islam and the proper reading of the Koran are opposed to every form of violence”. And against the attempt to private religions in some contexts, he affirms that “the respect due to the agnostic or non-believing minority should not be arbitrarily imposed in a way that silences the convictions of the believing majority or ignores the wealth of religious traditions”. He then repeats the importance of dialogue and alliance between believers and non-believers.
The final chapter is dedicated to “spirit-filled evangelizers”, who are those who are “fearlessly open to the working of the Holy Spirit” and who have “the courage to proclaim the newness of the Gospel with boldness (parrhesía) in every time and place, even when it meets with opposition”. These are “evangelizers who pray and work”, in the knowledge that “mission is at once a passion for Jesus and a passion for his people”: “Jesus wants us to touch human misery, to touch the suffering flesh of others”. He explains, “In our dealings with the world, we are told to give reasons for our hope, but not as an enemy who critiques and condemns”. “Only the person who feels happiness in seeking the good of others, in desiring their happiness, can be a missionary”; “if I can help at least one person to have a better life, that already justifies the offering of my life”. The Pope urges us not to be discouraged before failure or scarce results, since “fruitfulness is often invisible, elusive and unquantifiable”; we must know “only that our commitment is necessary”. The Exhortation concludes with a prayer to Mary, “Mother of Evangelization”. “There is a Marian “style” to the Church’s work of evangelization. Whenever we look to Mary, we come to believe once again in the revolutionary nature of love and tenderness”.
To read the full text of the Apostolic Exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium”, or to download it in PDF format, click on or copy the following link:

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  1. Shaun the Sheep says:

    The big salaries and pensions of Irish TDs and other ‘professional earners’ is a national disgrace while so many ordinary people suffer. And don’t mention big business (and not so big) and the exploitation of workers…

  2. Joe O'Leary says:

    Reading this just now, I am encouraged by the way he gives formal expression to many of his most telling remarks in his interviews and homilies. The idea of a missionary church that he proposes is that of the Aparecida document and of Cardinal Maradiaga’s speech in Maynooth at the conference preparatory to the Eucharist Congress. Francis explicitly recognizes that Vatican policy has frustrated the rich fruits that episcopal conferences could have produced.

  3. EG #100
    “It always pains me greatly to discover how some Christian communities, and even consecrated persons, can tolerate different forms of enmity, division, calumny, defamation, vendetta, jealousy and the desire to impose certain ideas at all costs, even to persecutions which appear as veritable witch hunts. Whom are we going to evangelize if this is the way we act?”
    This and the manner in which the CDF has dealt with some Irish clergy – and the strong theme of decentralization in this encyclical – suggest that if opportunities for dialogue continue to be denied in Ireland – at all levels in the church – our Irish episcopal magisterium has gone totally deaf.
    Let’s see if next week’s winter meeting of the Irish Bishops can prove that they too are in a mood to ‘lift up our heads and to start anew’. EG #3

  4. Bravo!….we will see what concrete changes happen within the church…structurally…to give flesh to Pope Francis words and intentions…

  5. The homily should be brief. I guess that recognises that it’s almost impossible to find any church speaker who knows how to be interesting or to hold the attention of a congregation for more than a few short minutes. Since speakers can rarely relate to their congregation the best that can be expected is to keep it mercifully short. More of the same stuff!

  6. Shaun the Sheep says:

    Episcopal Conferences have not been an entirely positive thing. Many bishops choose to hide behind the conference and dare not speak their own mind. Cardinal Ratzinger had this to say about conferences:

    ‘The decisive new emphasis on the role of the bishops is in reality restrained or actually risks being smothered by the insertion of bishops into episcopal conferences that are ever more organized, often with burdensome bureaucratic structures. We must not forget that the episcopal conferences have no theological basis, they do not belong to the structure of the Church, as willed by Christ, that cannot be eliminated; they have only a practical, concrete function.’ (The Ratzinger Report, 59-61)

    So often this is the case in Ireland. So much silence from the bishops. Nothing. Then perhaps some woolly statement from ‘the bishops conference’. Not good enough.

  7. Shaun the Sheep #6
    Surely Cardinal Ratzinger’s denunciation of Episcopal Conferences derived from his centralist vision of the church – that micromanaging spirit that was totally discredited by the Vatileaks scandal and has now been cast aside? Ratzinger’s centralism took no notice of the deadening effect of that upon all bishops, causing them to fear criticism from the centre to the point of total paralysis.
    Surely Evangelii Gaudium #49 is now a permit to all bishops to make mistakes rather than sit tight in the status quo?
    “49. Let us go forth, then, let us go forth to offer everyone the life of Jesus Christ. Here I repeat for the entire Church what I have often said to the priests and laity of Buenos Aires: I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security.”

  8. Shaun the Sheep says:

    If I may, I don’t agree with the ‘brief homily’ idea. I think it can be merciful at times, but it’s not the ideal. People come to Mass once a week, so they want to be nourished. Yes, nourished by the Blessed Sacrament but also by the Word of God, explained and elucidated for them by priests who are truly in love with God and who can inspire people to love God and trust Him. I feel short-changed if a sermon is less than 10 minutes. There’s nothing worse than getting out of bed on a Sunday morning to see that the priest didn’t think it was worth preparing a decent sermon, nor one that could even go beyond 5 minutes. Liturgical minimalism is an awful scourge. When people can sit through 90 minutes of GAA, surely they can give ear to 30 minutes at least of a sermon on how to live with and love God better? Priorities.

  9. Shaun the Sheep says:

    Sean, you misunderstand. Cardinal Ratzinger took issue with the fact that bishop’s conferences often neuter individual bishops. As a ‘man of the council’, he wanted bishops to take their proper place as successors of the Apostles, not simply regional managers for brand Vatican. So many people misunderstand Cardinal Ratzinger/BXVI and also the Vatican Council.

  10. #9 Shaun the Sheep
    If Cardinal Ratzinger / Pope Benedict XVI truly did not want bishops to be ‘regional managers for brand Vatican’ why did he and Cardinal Kasper dispute the relationship between the local and universal churches, with Kasper calling for greater freedom of action and decision by the local bishop? See e.g.:
    It was not the Irish Bishops’ Conference that neutered Irish bishops. It was the sort of thing that happened to Bishop Morris of Toowoomba in 2011 under Benedict’s watch, and the determination of the central apparatus to maximise the use of modern communications to encourage the growth of ‘Temple police’ throughout the Catholic world – to report directly to Rome on the slightest deviation from Roman norms. Ratzinger did nothing to discourage that process either.
    It is from what people do and don’t do that we determine their real policy. If Benedict was a decentraliser why is that not apparent either from his policy or his encyclicals, and why is Francis now having to promote that cause?

  11. Shaun the Sheep says:

    Sean, Cardinal Kaspar is wrong on at least one count. He is wrong because he pits truth against charity, when the Catholic way in truth in charity. Both. Not one or the other. There is no conflict, as BXVI would say, between truth and pastoral reality. The truth is the pastoral way.

    ”I reached my position not from abstract reasoning but from pastoral experience. As the bishop of a large diocese, I had observed how a gap was emerging and steadily increasing between norms promulgated in Rome for the universal church and the needs and practices of our local church. A large portion of our people, including priests, could not understand the reason behind the regulations coming from the center; they tended, therefore, to ignore them. This happened concerning ethical issues, sacramental discipline and ecumenical practices. The adamant refusal of Communion to all divorced and remarried persons and the highly restrictive rules for eucharistic hospitality are good examples.” – Kaspar

    That gap arose because the people had become seduced by worldliness, aided and abetted by a clerical leadership that was inept and lukewarm. In any case, neither side knew or lived the faith. So then is it any wonder they don’t want to live it? Unrepentant hearts lost in sin have no appetite for Christian virtuous living. The so-called regulations actually serve to support the reality of, for example, the Sacraments, particularly Holy Communion. The ethical issues and others do concern doctrine. Also as regards inter-communion – the Sacrament shows the unity of Catholics, yet those who are outside the Church cannot receive the Sign of Unity, a symbolism of a unity that does not exist. But that is a rabbit hole, we have no time for that here. Suffice to say the practice protects the Doctrine, and protects the good of souls.

    ”To grant such responsible freedom does not mean opening the door to cheap compromises. It does not permit a local bishop to make concessions in matters of faith. His duty is to bear witness to the truth, whether it is opportune or not; he must always respect the integrity of our tradition. Beyond the immutable articles of faith and morals, however, there is the broad field of ecclesiastical discipline, which is essentially changeable, even when the norms were created to support, closely or loosely, some doctrinal position. Our people are well aware of the flexibility of laws and regulations; they have experienced a great deal of it over the past decades. They lived through changes that no one anticipated or even thought possible.” – Kaspar

    Experience shows that when people are given easy (cheap) options, they take them. But narrow is the way that leads to salvation, and few take it. These so-called disciplines are very close to the Doctrine e.g. Holy Communion. To receive it in a state of mortal sin (say in the case of divorced and ‘remarried’) does grave harm to the soul concerned. It’s not in their pastoral interest. It’s not in their eternal interest. Which is their pastoral interest. He is right though – people are well-aware. They are well-aware of the Church’s immemorial condemnation of artificial means of birth control, yet they use it anyway. Is he so blond as not to see that his ‘pastoral solutions’ could only possibly lead to the further shipwreck of souls? I’m sorry, but Cardinall Kaspar does not convince me. I don’t think Pope Paul VI would agree either. Remember in Humanae Vitae he said:

    ‘Not much experience is needed to be fully aware of human weakness and to understand that human beings—and especially the young, who are so exposed to temptation—need incentives to keep the moral law, and it is an evil thing to make it easy for them to break that law.’ – Paul VI, HV #17

    One can only imagine what would happened if the Church changed (I don’t believe it can) the terms under which one may receive Holy Communion. It would lead to the multiplication of sacrilegious Holy Communions, it would dupe people into adultery, into thinking that it is ok – ”Sure I’m grand – I can receive Holy Communion and live with yer woman!” It’s preposterous. Such a move could only serve to damage Holy Matrimony and the loss of countless souls. I am not a fan of German Solutions to problems, no less in the Church. Enough said about that I think!!!

  12. Joe O'Leary says:

    The Vatican snipped away at the authority and status of episcopal conferences very assiduously since the Humanae Vitae crisis of 1968 (the “reception” of the encyclical by the conferences was not music to the Vatican’s ears). Ratzinger’s Theologische Prinzipienlehre of 1981 or 1982 gave the theological basis. The series of moves that followed is chronicled in an article by Massimo Faggioli, Prassi e norme relative alle conferenze episcopali tra concilio Vaticano II e post-concilio (1959-1998), in A.Melloni, S. Scatena (eds), Synod and Synodality. Münster 2005, pp. 265-96.

  13. it is truly encouraging to see how the holy Father Francis is promoting solidarity with the poor, marginalized etc. His invitation to the leaders of the church if listened and followed would be definitely satisfying. the bishops of the church must pay serious attention to become simple. becoming simple is the shortest way to holiness!

  14. #11 Shaun the Sheep
    Can you remind us of the length and depth of the direct pastoral experience of Cardinal Ratzinger / Pope Benedict XVI, in comparison to that of, say, Cardinal Kasper or Cardinal Bergoglio?
    And have you noticed that you have moved away from defending Cardinal Ratzinger as an opponent of the idea of bishops as ‘branch managers for brand Vatican’, to complaining about Cardinal Kasper – because he wasn’t content to be a ‘branch manager for brand Vatican’?
    As to ‘a clerical leadership that was inept and lukewarm’, have you forgotten that after 1968 bishops were appointed strictly for their assent to Humanae Vitae? It was their non-dialogical remit that made them totally unable to teach, in the sense of being persuasive. ‘Teachers’ who cannot engage directly with the hardest questions of their own people fail the most basic credibility test. That’s why those bishops soon mostly stopped even trying to defend Humanae Vitae. And that whole situation is a key reason for the current desolate state of the Irish Church.
    Lacking also in credibility, I fear, are folk who post – beneath a pseudonym – to the effect that divorced and remarried people must necessarily be in a state of mortal sin. Small chance of ‘Shaun the Sheep’ getting out among the really smelly ones then.
    As to ‘Holy Matrimony’ if the episcopal magisterium thinks it’s so holy why is matrimony a disqualification for ordination? The only bishop who could persuasively teach Humanae Vitae now would also be a married one. As things stand, when expounding on family issues Catholic bishops are about as convincing as a professor of architecture who could never point to a building he had lived in as well as designed.

  15. Joe O’Leary #12
    Any chance of you translating those sources on the Vatican’s move against episcopal conferences after 1968? I’m surprised by the implication that this process hasn’t yet been fully documented in English.

  16. Joe O'Leary says:

    Sean, the process may be fully documented in English, too, I don’t know. But Massimo Faggioli is an extraordinary historian of the contemporary church, and drew on the fabulous resources of the Bologna team and their library for his research. Unfortunately I don’t have the text of that article.

  17. Very progressive ideas and his own committed life is reflected in his ideas, thoughts and reflections. If only every one of us becomes open to the Spirit as he does.

  18. Lloyd Allan MacPherson says:

    Goodness, I don’t know if I can take any more papal rambling. I believe Pope Francis like every Pope before him can identify the greatest sins of society and trace back their points of inception and wage a war against it. Isn’t that what Jesus taught his disciples to do, wage war on sin? The issue is that most points of inception will likely end up within the confines of either an organized institution or governments which greatly influence societal development. This appears as an extremely complex life in the developed world. Fr. Jacob, @13, becoming simple is certainly the quickest way to holiness but to become simple is certainly anti-social these days.

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