I’ve had a chance to read the pope’s apostolic exhortation Gaudium Evangelii, and I’ve also been following much of the media and blogoverse response. Much of that has focused on his statements about capitalism or his affirmation of traditional church teaching on the ordination of women, abortion, etc.
I had a conversation last night with a first-time volunteer at our First Monday meals for the homeless community. He’s an active and committed Catholic and he said to me in the course of our conversation, “What you’re doing here, that’s what the Pope is talking about.” Then I read about the unconfirmed and officially denied rumors that Pope Francis is going out at night dressed as a priest to be among the homeless of Rome. Whether or not the rumors are true, a church that is active in the community, active among the poorest, the outcast, the suffering, that is what Pope Francis is talking about, and it’s what Jesus talked about.
But that’s not all that Pope Francis is talking about. What so much of the media, secular and religious, seems to have overlooked is the title and overall theme of the document, “The Joy of the Gospel.” His discussion of the economy comes in the context of his discussion of what hinders evangelization. The document is about sharing the Gospel, but more deeply, it is about the joy of the gospel, the joy of life in Christ. Some of the most profound and challenging sections of the document come early on.
22. God’s word is unpredictable in its power. The Gospel speaks of a seed which, once sown, grows by itself, even as the farmer sleeps (Mk 4:26-29). The Church has to accept this unruly freedom of the word, which accomplishes what it wills in ways that surpass our calculations and ways of thinking.
 An evangelizing community gets involved by word and deed in people’s daily lives; it bridges distances, it is willing to abase itself if necessary, and it embraces human life, touching the suffering flesh of Christ in others. Evangelizers thus take on the “smell of the sheep” and the sheep are willing to hear their voice. An evangelizing community is also supportive, standing by people at every step of the way, no matter how difficult or lengthy this may prove to be.
27. I dream of a “missionary option”, that is, a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything, so that the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channeled for the evangelization of today’s world rather than for her self-preservation. The renewal of structures demanded by pastoral conversion can only be understood in this light: as part of an effort to make them more mission-oriented, to make ordinary pastoral activity on every level more inclusive and open, to inspire in pastoral workers a constant desire to go forth and in this way to elicit a positive response from all those whom Jesus summons to friendship with him.
This document is not only a challenge to Roman Catholics; it is also a challenge to all Christians, and especially to clergy. It is a challenge to us to examine our priorities, to remember and embrace the joy of the gospel, and to proclaim the gospel’s joy in a world full of suffering, and to people who are struggling to find meaning and hope. It is a challenge to all of us to keep our eyes focused on the gospel, on the joy of life in Christ, and on the importance of sharing that joy, and the redemptive love of God in Christ with the world around us.
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.”
Dreams can be powerful things, especially when articulated by leaders with the realistic capacity to translate them into action. That was the case 50 years ago with Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech, and it also seems to be the ambition of Pope Francis’ bold new apostolic exhortation, “The Joy of the Gospel.”
I think Pope Francis is encouraging us to view service to the poor differently. It is not, first and foremost, about securing our own salvation, a case of our moral status. It is about something deeper. It is about a genuine “culture of encounter” in which the faithful encounter the poor not only because we are commanded to, but with the awareness that the poor hold a privileged place in God’s love. We will meet Christ when we “go out” to meet the poor. The privileged place the poor are accorded in the Gospels, must translate into their receiving a privileged place in the heart and mind and work of the Church if we are to remain faithful to the Gospels, if we are to be continually be nourished by the Lord, if our Eucharist is to be a worship in truth, not isolation. That vision permeates the text.
From a free-market Catholic (Pascal-Emanuel Gobry):
We as economic thinkers and commentators must take seriously Pope Francis’ calls for a more humane, more equal, more inclusive economy. When hard money types hold to a moralizing vision of the economy whereby recessions are punishment for excesses and lead to a worldview that says to the poor “suck it up,” and “stay marginalized,” we should heed Pope Francis’ call for more equality and more inclusion. The answer of economic policy to unemployment must not just be “Move to North Dakota to get an oil shale job.” We should in fact be very mindful of promoting economic policies that target full employment and are inclusive.
And from Andrew Sullivan:
Read Gaudium Evangelii for yourself here: