The CYM Chaplain, Fr Mark Payton, has been presenting summary reflections of Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation ‘Evangelii Gaudium – the Joy of the Gospel’. This is a collection of the teachings given at the weekly Holy Hour on Wednesday nights.
Session 1 (Paragraphs 1-3)
In the presence of our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, our Lord’s real presence, and in the words of Pope Francis, our Lord’s vicar, I thought we could undertake a weekly journey of how the joy of the Gospel affects us and how we spread that joy to those we encounter in our daily lives.
Before looking at the Holy Father’s Apostolic Exhortation it would be helpful to define what an Apostolic Exhortation is. An Apostolic Exhortation is a form of papal writing which conveys an exhortation or a calling to the faithful for a greater conversion to Christ. So an Apostolic Exhortation is a call to holiness.
The Holy Father wrote this Exhortation to develop the theme of the proclamation of the Gospel in the contemporary world. This Exhortation is given to the Church as a guide for pastoral mission. This of course is at the heart of the Church because the Church’s main focus is to spread the joy of the Gospel to all people. The beauty of this Exhortation is the Holy Father’s simple and familiar language.
The Holy Father gives us the scope of his writing in the first three paragraphs. The first paragraph states,
Right at the start of this Exhortation we are challenged. Do we really experience the Gospel as a source of joy? The joy of the Gospel is that it leads us to salvation. By applying Gospel truths to our lives we are freed from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness. How much of that is present in the world today? Last Sunday’s Gospel spoke about being light and salt to the world. The truth is the closer we are united to Christ and live His Gospel the brighter our light will shine and the more joy we will experience. If we are lukewarm our light will be dull. The Pope goes on to point out what it means to have a dull light of faith.
This is not God’s will for us! Christ came so that we might be fully alive. I should point out I don’t think the pope is talking about being excessively happy. We face challenges and difficulties throughout life, but in the midst of these challenges we can rest in God’s love. That is a deep seated happiness that no trial can remove. (Talk about Mother Teresa’s 3 levels of happiness).
I finish this short reflection with Pope Francis’ own words which are appropriate for us as we begin this New Year.
Session 2 (Paragraphs 4-8)
In paragraphs 4-8 the Holy Father focuses on personal encounter with Christ. He writes about personal encounter in the Old Testament. Francis says the most thrilling O.T. text for him is from Zephaniah, “The Lord, your God is in your midst, a warrior who gives you the victory; he will rejoice over you with gladness, he will renew you in his love; he will exult over you with loud singing, as on the day of festival” (3:17). Have you every thought of God singing about you? What are the lyrics He would sing? The truth that God rejoices over us and sings about us is vital for the spiritual life. It is the foundation of faith. The joy of our faith is always a response to God’s joy for us. To give you an example, when a person smiles at a baby the baby naturally smiles back.
The Holy Father then focuses on joy of the Gospel. Francis lists many references to joy in the Gospel and asks ‘Why should we not also enter into this great stream of joy?’ I think often we can view Scripture as something of the past. The truth is it touches us today. Francis says there are Christians who live lives of Lent without Easter; Faith without encounter with Christ.
The Holy Father then focuses on our current culture. Francis says we are blessed with a technological age, having everything at our fingertips, but the danger is we can look for joy in multiplying occasions for pleasure. This places our happiness on external conditions rather than a deep radiating joy coming from a personal encounter of Christ in our souls, God singing about us, God smiling at us.
St Thomas Aquinas talks about four levels of happiness.
• Instant sense gratification: Easy to obtain joy but short lived!
• Sense of being successful: Sport, business, etc.
• Help others: acts of self-giving love makes us happy, humanitarian service.
• Encounter with the living God: The deepest level of joy.
The Holy Father calls us to the fourth level of joy, encounter with God. He repeats the words of Benedict XVI, saying these words are at the very heart of the Gospel.
Being a Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.
Pope Francis adds to Benedict’s statement,
Thanks solely to this encounter, or renewed encounter with God’s love, which blossoms into an enriching friendship, we are liberated from our narrowness and self-absorption. We become fully human when we become more than human, when we let God bring us beyond ourselves in order to attain the fullest truth of our being.
Session 3 (Paragraphs 9-18)
The Holy Father turns his attention to evangelization, spreading the joy of the Gospel to others. When we experience the joy of a personal relationship with Christ it is natural to want to spread it to others. In fact this is a sign that our faith is authentic and comes from God because it is in God’s nature to spread His truth and love to all people.
The Holy Father writes in paragraphs nine and ten, a dignified and fulfilled life is achieved by reaching out to others. As we reach out to others and spread the goodness of a personal relationship with Christ goodness grows in us. In the divine life the more we give it away the more it grows in our hearts. The Holy Father says the message of the gospel is that life and joy grows in us by giving it away. The opposite is true as well, when we fail to share our faith with others through fear or comfort it fails to mature. As we give life to others our own life matures.
This inner dynamic of spreading the Gospel and maturing in life is a call for all Christians. It isn’t the realm of a select few. It is the work of the whole Church. The Church exists to spread the Good News. The Holy Father says in paragraph fourteen, the new evangelization is a call to all and is carried out in three principle settings.
Firstly, evangelization is carried out in ordinary pastoral ministry. By this the Holy Father refers to those people who gather at their parishes each Sunday to be nourished by the Word of God and the Eucharist. Evangelization on this level seeks to help believers grow spiritually so they can perfect the joy of the Gospel in their own lives and become clearer images of Christ to the world. The challenge on this level is the possibility of taking the Word and Eucharist for granted by falling into routine. We are called to be attentive to what we say and do at the Eucharist. Failure to do so leads us to become lukewarm.
The second setting of evangelization is the baptised whose lives don’t reflect the demands of baptism. Baptism calls people to an active membership of the Church, the Body of Christ. The gift of baptism is a person is taken up in God’s plan of salvation. They are given the dignity to spreading the joy of the Gospel. The challenge on this level of evangelization is to call those who lack a meaningful relationship with the church into a deeper union with Christ and His Church.
The third setting of evangelization, and probably the most understood, is evangelization of those who haven’t heard the Good News of Christ. On this level of evangelization the Holy Father states it is not about imposing new obligations, it is about sharing the joy of the Gospel and pointing to the horizon of beauty.
In this third setting of evangelization the Holy Father points to an important aspect of evangelization, which is beauty. People are naturally attracted to beauty. Beauty has a radiant power that attracts us. There is the beauty of a deep truth about reality. The beauty of a life lived well. The beauty of creating works of art. God is the source of all these forms of beauty. As we open our lives to Him, His beauty flows through us to the world and we become a beacon of faith, hope, and love. The Church grows by attraction.