The Joy of the Gospel, Aleteia Interview, November 26, 2013

Fr. Roger J. Landry
November 26, 2013
Email interview with Aleteia about Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium

What are the main ideas Pope Francis is teaching?

I’d say that there are three main points.

First, Pope Francis says that the fundamental reform the Church needs is from one of self-preservation of Church structures to a permanent state of mission. The Church doesn’t have a mission, but is a mission, namely the continuation of Jesus’ mission in union with him.

Second, Catholic faithful, religious and clergy don’t have a mission either, but we are a mission. To be a disciple at all is to be a missionary disciple. Sharing the faith is not an optional part of being Christian. Once we’ve really encountered Jesus Christ and the transforming power of his saving love, we want others to experience the same joy. We can’t love our neighbor unless we’re sharing with them the love of God.

Lastly, The evangelization to which Pope Francis is calling us has several elements. First, it’s meant to be “good news of great joy.” Evangelizers can’t look like those who have just returned from a funeral, he says. Second, it’s kerygmatic, focused primarily on the simple, clear, positive and heart-felt proclamation that Jesus loves us, gave his life to save us, and wants to live with us each day to strengthen and liberate us. Third, true evangelization aims at the transformation of society, especially in the care of the poor — whose poverty Jesus shared, to whom he proclaimed the Good News, and with whom he personally identifies — and in the praying and working for peace.

Is this what the Church needs to hear right now?

This is a wake-up call for all Catholics. Certainly in those areas of the Church in which many of the faithful have ceased practicing the faith, Pope Francis’ message is very timely. But even in areas of great growth, there is the danger of a sterile institutionalization, where the mission of the Church is looked at as a phase until the Church becomes fully established in parish plants, schools, hospitals, service centers and more. Pope Francis is saying that missionary outreach must permanently become the paradigm of everything the Church does, because the chief illness that plagues the Church is self-enclosed, self-absorbed, self-centered introversion. That means that institutions throughout the Church — from the papacy to chanceries to parishes to all other missions and apostolates — need to go through a thorough self-examination to ensure that they’re about mission instead of maintenance. For Pope Francis, this is the fundamental reform the Church needs, the principal way the Church needs to be brought “into shape” again.

How does this compare to everything else he’s said and done in his pontificate so far?

With the exception of the “meticulous” section on the homily in the new evangelization — the most developed how-to primer on preaching in any papal document in history — the rest of the apostolic exhortation was almost a compendium of scores of the strongest points Pope Francis has made in homilies, audiences, angelus meditations and interviews since he was elected eight months ago. The exhortation is almost a highlight reel of his papal teaching as well as an elevation of his hard work on the 2007 Aparecida document to the papal magisterium.

Because it is such a thorough compendium of his thought, I was a little surprised that two of the most powerful images he’s used up until now were not included at all: his description of the Church as a field hospital, binding the wounds of so many in the Church, which is obviously a part of the new evangelization; and his description of the Church’s evangelizing activity as the continuation of Jesus’ heart-warming method on the Road to Emmaus, which Pope Francis used when speaking to bishops during World Youth Day in Brazil. I believe that that is one of the most powerful images anyone has ever used to describe the method of the new evangelization and I was anticipating that he would expand upon it in the exhortation.