Pope Francis has just released a new document titled Evangelii Gaudium.
It is his first apostolic exhortation, and it is devoted to the theme of the new evangelization.
Here are 9 things to know and share . . .
1) What does “Evangelii Gaudium” mean?
It’s Latin for “The Joy of the Gospel.”
2) What is an apostolic exhortation?
It’s a papal document that, as the name suggests, exhorts people to implement a particular aspect of the Church’s life and teaching.
Its purpose is not to teach new doctrine, but to suggest how Church teachings and practices can be profitably applied today.
Some apostolic exhortations are devoted to the pastoral challenges faced in particular parts of the world (Europe, Africa, Asia, the Americas). Others are devoted to particular themes.
Previous apostolic exhortations include:
- Paul VI’s Evangelii Nuntiandi (on evangelization today)
- John Paul II’s Christifideles Laici (on the role of the laity)
- John Paul II’s Redemptoris Custos (on St. Joseph)
- Benedict XVI’s Sacramentum Caritatis (on the Eucharist)
- Benedict XVI’s Verbum Domini (on the Word of God)
3) How much authority does an apostolic exhortation have?
It is one of the more important papal documents—more important, for example, than a Wednesday audience or a homily.
As it is of a pastoral nature rather than a doctrinal or legal nature, though, it is ranked lower than an encyclical or an apostolic constitution.
As with everything official that the pope writes, it is to be taken very seriously.
4) What leads a pope to write an apostolic exhortation?
Frequently, apostolic exhortations are written after a meeting of the Synod of Bishops.
The Synod of Bishops is a group that gathers selected bishops from across the world to discuss a particular subject.
At the synod, the bishops write a document making recommendations for the pope. It is then given to him for his reflection, and he may then write an apostolic exhortation based on the bishops’ recommendations.
Exhortations that come about in this way are called “post-synodal” apostolic exhortations because they are written after (“post-”) a meeting of the synod.
There does not have to be such an exhortation. Sometimes they hold a meeting of the synod of bishops, but no apostolic exhortation is released.
Also, not all apostolic exhortations are written after a synod, though. Sometimes the pope may decide to write one on his own, without a synod being held on the subject. This was the case with John Paul II’s Redemptoris Custos.
5) Why did Pope Francis write Evangelii Gaudium?
It was written in response to the most recent meeting of the Synod of Bishops, which took place in October, 2012.
It was devoted to the subject of the new evangelization, so that is the subject of Evangelii Gaudium.
This synod took place before Pope Francis was elected in March 2013.
It sometimes happens that a synod is held and the pope who presided over it leaves office before the exhortation is released. His successor may then choose to go forward with the project.
For example, the 2005 synod on the Eucharist was held under John Paul II, but he had passed on before an exhortation was released. Benedict XVI then took the document that the bishops had prepared and had an exhortation written.
(Usually, the pope does not draft the document himself, but it is drafted based on his decisions, and he has final approval over what it says.)
Pope Francis’s decision in this case is similar to his decision to release the encyclical Lumen Fidei, which was primarily drafted by Pope Benedict, but which he completed.
Unlike that case, though, Pope Francis contributed much, much more to this document.
With Lumen Fidei, he did not add very much to what Pope Benedict had written. Evangelii Gaudium, by contrast, is much more a “Francis document.” It regularly emphasizes the distinctive thought and themes of the new pope.
6) What is Pope Francis’ main message in Evangelii Gaudium?
As suggested by the name, the principal theme involves the need for a joyful proclamation of the Gospel to the entire world.
Archbishop Rino Fisichella, who presented the document at a Vatican press conference, summarized its main message this way:
If we were to sum up Pope Francis’s Evangelii Gaudium in a few words, we could say that it is an Apostolic Exhortation written around the theme of Christian joy in order that the Church may rediscover the original source of evangelization in the contemporary world.
Pope Francis offers this document to the Church as a map and guide to her pastoral mission in the near future.
It is an invitation to recover a prophetic and positive vision of reality without ignoring the current challenges.
Pope Francis instills courage and urges us to look ahead despite the present crisis, making the cross and the resurrection of Christ once again our “the victory banner” (source).
7) What particularly noteworthy things does the pope have to say in the document?
There is a mountain of them.
The document is 51,000 words long, which means that it is the length of a novel and takes at least 5 hours to read.
There are numerous important things that the pope says, some of which I will endeavor to unpack in future blog posts.
However, Archbishop Fisichella offers a summary of seven main themes that it covers:
The following seven points, gathered together in the five chapters of the Exhortation, constitute the fundamental pillars of Pope Francis’ vision of the new evangelization:
1. the reform of the Church in a missionary key,
2. the temptations of pastoral agents,
3. the Church understood as the totality of the People of God which evangelizes,
4. the homily and its preparation,
5. the social inclusion of the poor,
6. peace and social dialogue,
7. and the spiritual motivations for the Church’s missionary action.
The cement which binds these themes together is concentrated in the merciful love of God which goes forth to meet every person in order to manifest the heart of his revelation: The life of every person acquires meaning in the encounter with Jesus Christ and in the joy of sharing this experience of love with others.
8) Can you give a specific example of something notable he says?
Sure. It’s hard to pick just one!
Pro-lifers will be heartened to read what he has to say concerning unborn children and abortion:
213. Among the vulnerable for whom the Church wishes to care with particular love and concern are unborn children, the most defenseless and innocent among us.
Nowadays efforts are made to deny them their human dignity and to do with them whatever one pleases, taking their lives and passing laws preventing anyone from standing in the way of this.
Frequently, as a way of ridiculing the Church’s effort to defend their lives, attempts are made to present her position as ideological, obscurantist and conservative.
Yet this defense of unborn life is closely linked to the defense of each and every other human right.
It involves the conviction that a human being is always sacred and inviolable, in any situation and at every stage of development.
Human beings are ends in themselves and never a means of resolving other problems.
Once this conviction disappears, so do solid and lasting foundations for the defense of human rights, which would always be subject to the passing whims of the powers that be.
Reason alone is sufficient to recognize the inviolable value of each single human life, but if we also look at the issue from the standpoint of faith, “every violation of the personal dignity of the human being cries out in vengeance to God and is an offence against the creator of the individual”.
214. Precisely because this involves the internal consistency of our message about the value of the human person, the Church cannot be expected to change her position on this question.
I want to be completely honest in this regard.
This is not something subject to alleged reforms or “modernizations”.
It is not “progressive” to try to resolve problems by eliminating a human life.
On the other hand, it is also true that we have done little to adequately accompany women in very difficult situations, where abortion appears as a quick solution to their profound anguish, especially when the life developing within them is the result of rape or a situation of extreme poverty.
Who can remain unmoved before such painful situations?
9) Is there an extra significance to the document?
It will take time to fully process the significance of the document, but one this is immediately clear: This document is not something that Pope Francis delegated to others and allowed to be written on auto-pilot. It contains far too much of his own thought and themes for that.
This means that Pope Francis was closely involved in the writing of this document, and that shows that he cares—powerfully—about the theme of evangelization.
This demolishes the wrongheaded claims that Pope Francis doesn’t take the task of evangelization seriously.
On the contrary, it’s one of the highest priorities of his pontificate.
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