This is the last post I’ve got for Evangelii Gaudium. When Pope Francis publishes his encyclical, I’ll work on that, and I can take a shot at any documents that come out in the next couple of years around the family. I will also post some non-Francis stuff, because I don’t have a better place to post it. Thanks for reading this – I hope it’s led you to read the actual document.
The last theme I saw woven though the apostolic exhortation I call “all things new.” There is a tendency, particularly by those who haven’t been tuned in to Catholic thought and who have bought into the gross stereotyping of Saint John Paul II and Benedict XVI, to think that everything Francis has said and done has been new and unique. And that’s not true.
There’s also a tendency among people who have read papal and Church teaching for decades to say that what Francis has said and done is really no different from what his predecessors have done and said. Well, that’s not really true either.
“Or as Saint Irenaeus writes: ‘By his coming, Christ brought with him all newness.’ With this newness he is always able to renew our lives and our communities, and even if the Christian message has known periods of darkness and ecclesial weakness, it will never grow old….Every form of authentic evangelization is always ‘new’.” (11)
What’s new is not really new. “God’s word is unpredictable in its power…The Church has to accept this unruly freedom of the word, which accomplishes what it wills in ways that surpasses our calculations and ways of thinking.” (22) It has always been so. And what does that mean in this time?
“The Joy of the Gospel is for all people: no one can be excluded.” (23)
“I dream of a ‘missionary option’v 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.” (27)
“I too must think about a conversion of the papacy. It is my duty, as the a Bishop of Rome, to be open to suggestions which can help make the exercise of my ministry more faithful to the meaning which Jesus Christ wished to give it and to present needs of evangelization.” (32)
“I invite everyone to be bold and creative in this task of rethinking the goals, structures, style and methods of evangelization in their respective communities.” (33)
In rethinking structures, Francis points out that the modern Church suffers from some of the compartmentalism of the era. “Even if many are now involved in the lay ministries, this involvement is not reflected in a greater penetration of Christian values in the social, political and economic sectors. It often remains tied to tasks within the Church, without a real commitment to applying the Gospel to the transformation of society. The formation of the laity and the evangelization of professional and intellectual life represent a significant pastoral challenge.” (102)
So what do we do with this? I think, and I guess I hope, that what Francis is pointing toward is a from-scratch examination of what we as Catholics are doing from the lens of whether it helps or hinders the spread of the gospel. At work, we’ve recently engaged a consulting firm to look at how we do things. They haven’t necessarily said we were doing the wrong things, or even that we were doing them wrong, but they have reframed how we do things by having us be more intentional about why we do them. I have no real way of knowing if that’s the kind of project Francis envisions, nor do I know if the results of such a process would be so benign. But it would be a good prayer, to go through a day, week, liturgical season, year, watching what we do as a Church and asking if that’s what we would do if we were totally focused on spreading the joy of the Gospel as effectively as possible. Or, even better, if we went through a day, week, liturgical season, year, not focusing first in what we do as Catholics but instead focusing on what those around us in need of the gospel are listening to instead of us, and what we could offer that was more attractive and more true.