The Joy of the Gospel
When Pope Francis released his apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium – The Joy of the Gospel, November 2013, he presented his vision for missionary outreach and renewal from every aspect of the Church.
We are reminded daily of his Joy of the Gospel writings. He calls us all to try to live our faith outwardly with a focus on the joy of the Gospel and the courage to share it. In Laudato Si’ Francis says, ‘Let us sing as we go. May our struggles and our concern for this planet never take away the joy of our hope.’ (244)
Evangelii Gaudium’s introduction presents guidelines and themes for the whole Church, which are expanded in five chapters. Reflections are presented on these pages.
An introduction to Evangelii Gaudium
Msgr Gerard Burns
Evangelii Gaudium – the Joy of the Gospel is a document from the post-Vatican II tradition of teaching about the mission of Jesus Christ. It is from Christ’s sending out of the disciples to continue his mission that the Church grows.
The second Vatican Council (1962–65) set directions for the Church in the contemporary world. The Council faced many questions arising for the Church from the events of our times. How to face secularisation processes, particularly in Europe? What approach to take to new scientific developments? How to be an instrument of peace in an age of atomic weaponry? What was the Church’s approach to the gap between rich and poor nations? How to work with democratic systems that did not always support Church teachings?
While the Council couldn’t give detailed answers to all these questions, the bishops did make decisions on some important things. The Church’s self image would not just be that of the Body of Christ but of the pilgrim People of God; its internal organisation would be based on collegiality; it would exercise its mission, especially through lay people, based on the grace of Baptism.
The Church’s voice in the modern world was to be of joy (gaudium) and hope (spes) rather than fear and gloom (Gaudium et Spes was one of the Council’s major documents).
All these elements were to serve the mission for which the Church was born. Jesus Christ was sent to inaugurate the Kingdom or Reign of God; the Church was born to continue that work.
It was not that the Church was born and then a job was found for it. Rather, there was a mission that needed a group – the Church community – to carry it forward in joy and hope.
The popes since Vatican II have sought to advance that approach. Paul VI wrote Evangelii Nuntiandi (1974) reflecting on the Church existing to evangelise and inculturate its message in every time and place. That letter particularly listened to the Church in the developing world.
John Paul II travelled constantly seeking to be an evangelising presence in every corner of the world. He affirmed mission in Redemptoris Missio (1990) and in an encyclical on ecumenism asked advice from ecumenical partners on the reform of the papacy so it would not be an obstacle to common mission (Ut Unum Sint, n.95).
Benedict XVI looked to elucidate the relationship of faith and reason in the work of Mission and founded a council for New Evangelisation.
Pope Francis, the first pope from the ‘young Churches’ has written Evangelii Gaudium on the theme of mission from the peripheries. The letter is a response to the 2012 synod on evangelisation but also takes up ideas expressed by the bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean at their 2007 Aparecida conference.
Pope Francis combines Paul VI’s stress on inculturated evangelisation with the Council’s emphasis on joy – a joy that springs not from facile optimism but from an authentic encounter with Christ.
The Pope speaks of that joy and that encounter with Christ in the introductory section of the letter.
Msgr Gerard Burns is Vicar General Archdiocese of Wellington, and parish priest to both St Joseph’s Mt Victoria, and Te Parihi o te Ngakau Tapu parish personal to Māori.