Sweet and sour in Pope's exhortation

Sharp perceptions

Evangelisation is often a turn-off in church conversation; people identify it with proselytism. That is a pity because evangelisation focuses on what lies outside, something churches need to do, writes Andrew Hamilton.

 - Eureka Street

In his first extended document Evangelii Gaudium Pope Francis offers a welcome fresh take on sharing the Gospel as good news. The document offers no revision of Catholic doctrine and moral teaching; its style and major themes have become familiar in recent months. But its conversational style embodies the kind of change that needs to take place if the Church is effectively to commend the Gospel to others.

The changes commended by the Pope have mainly to do with the Catholic imagination. They involve seeing the heart of the church to lie in the relationships with those outside it. But if those relationships are to be fruitful the governance and priorities of the Church must also change.

For Francis the life of Christians asks them to go out of their comfort zone to communicate God's compassion to those who are on the edges of society and church. To do this they must have experienced God's compassion in their own lives and to have found in it a source of such deep joy that they want to share it with others.

Sharing faith must be characterised by compassion and respect. Its task is not to win a war against the secular world and its philosophies but to win people. So it must include people in conversation and focus on what matters most deeply — the love and compassion of God — and not on the details of faith and moral teaching.

In the Pope's view the highest priority of Church governance is not to preserve faith but to communicate it. So it should be inspired less by the desire to control than by boldness. The Pope embodies this boldness in his rhetoric. Changes in the Church that were once not open for general discussion are now named bluntly as agenda items. Among them are the decentralisation of Church governance and so inevitable changes in the way the Pope is seen in the universal church.

Francis writes most passionately when he speaks of going out to the poor. They are the centre, although not the sum, of the Church's address. He cuts through tiresome debates about who the poor are: they are the people living in the favelas of Argentina and other cities, and others who share their indigence and precariousness.

Because his interest is in people's concrete lives and relationships, he asks why people are poor. He focuses on the evils of an economic order that holds people in poverty.

The interest of Evangelii Gaudium lies less in a single argument than in the variety and sharpness of its perceptions. It is less like a Penny Bunger than a string of Tom Thumbs. So a few personal reflections...

FULL STORY Sweet and sour in Pope's exhortation

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