This week Pope Francis issued a bold new document — in Vatican parlance an “apostolic exhortation” — called "Evangelii Gaudium" or The Joy of the Gospel. In this new document, he sets out an exciting new vision of how to be a church. In all my years as a Catholic, I cannot remember a papal document that was so thought-provoking, surprising and invigorating. Frankly, reading it thrilled me, writes James Martin SJ.
To me, it seems that with each new homily, address, interview, general audience message and letter, Pope Francis is challenging himself—and us—with three questions, each of which flows naturally from the other: First, Why not look at things from a new perspective? Second, Why not be open to doing things in a new way? And third, Why not have a new vision for the church?
And what is Pope Francis’s vision for the church?
It is to be a joyful community of believers completely unafraid of the modern world, completely unafraid of change and completely unafraid of challenges. Not everyone will like this document. Some may find it frightening. For it poses a fierce challenge to the status quo--explicitly: “Pastoral ministry in a missionary key seeks to abandon the complacent attitude that says: ‘We have always done it this way,’” he writes in a section entitled “Ecclesial Renewal.”
The document’s overall message is that Catholics should be unafraid of new ways of proclaiming the Gospel and new ways of thinking about the church. In fact, such new ways are essential if we are to spread the Gospel at all. This may sound like boilerplate talk expected in a document on the “New Evangelization,” but it is not; for in the document Pope Francis identifies areas of petrification in the church, areas where he wants to see real change.
This is not to say that the "Evangelii Gaudium" seeks to overturn traditional church teachings. Instead it seeks to overturn the way that we have done things, and to be fearless in doing so. For example, while he reaffirms the church’s inability to ordain women as priests, he also invites the church to think about their place in the church in new ways, to imagine “the possible role of women in decision-making in different areas of the Church’s life.”
Over and over, Pope Francis takes aim against such longstanding roadblocks to growth as “complacency,” “excessive clericalism,” and even Catholics who act like “sourpusses.” (That’s the official English-language translation.) About that last roadblock, he says that there are Christians whose lives are like “Lent without Easter.”
Nor does Pope Francis have patience for people who are “tempted to find excuses and complain.” Essentially, he contrasts this dourness and pessimism with the joy of living a life centered in Christ and focused on the hope of the resurrection. It is a hope-filled, positive and energetic view of the church actively engaged with the world.
"Evangelii Gaudium" is very difficult to summarize, so wide-ranging is it.
FULL STORY A new vision for the church