Just last week Pope Francis issued an extraordinary document called “Gaudium Evangelii” meaning “The Joy of the Gospel”. In this day of Facebook and Twitter, a long document such as this might not be noticed. But Pope Francis has a way of getting us to sit up and to take notice … to take notice of Jesus.
Pope Francis has a gift for speaking and writing in a direct and appealing way. Whether hearing him or reading him, I get the idea he is speaking directly to me. Many other people feel the same way. He has a way of engaging the faith with my life and yours. He has a way of speaking of Christ and the heart of the Gospel with a beautiful and profound simplicity. This is the fruit of his prayerful reading of the Word of God, long pastoral experience, and the witness of his life.
As the Archdiocese of Baltimore looks ahead to its 225th anniversary, Gaudium Evangelii offers us a way to move forward. One commentator said this document was Pope Francis’ version of the “I Have a Dream” speech of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. If so, it is a dream – and more than a dream – that you and I should embrace. As we launch this important anniversary year, we will remember and embrace yet again our unique heritage as the nation’s oldest archdiocese. But even more important, we are called to embrace as never before the New Evangelization in our parishes, schools, charities, and homes.
Pope Francis is calling us to a robust and joyful Catholicism that is utterly committed to the New Evangelization. He reminds us of what makes evangelization, the work of spreading the Gospel, “new”. It isn’t our innovations, though they can be helpful tools. It’s the eternal newness of God – the newness of God’s mercies, the newness of His love, His divine creativity. Every time we return to the heart of the Gospel we meet Christ in whom resides the fullness of divine wisdom and path to genuine newness of life. Every time we encounter Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit, we receive those gifts we need for the work of bringing the Gospel to the unchurched, the barely churched, the indifferent, and the hostile.
What is Pope Francis calling us to? He is calling us to be not part-time Christians but full-time Christians. He is telling us that if we allow ourselves to re-encounter Christ through the reading of the Word of God, sharing in the Church’s life of prayer and worship, and serving the poor and needy, our lives will be transformed from the inside-out. Transformed by the grace of Christ, we will be better prepared to see our faith not as a series of difficult moral teachings but rather as a way of life. We will want to embrace the Gospel “in its entirety” as he said, including those parts of the Gospel that go against the tide.
In this wide-ranging document, Pope Francis touches on the disparity between rich and poor in so many parts of the world and challenges us to do something about it. He challenges us to bring the gospel to those who are living on the margins of our society, most especially the poor and vulnerable, and to do so in a direct and personal way. He calls priests and deacons to be better preachers, giving us practical guidance on how to prepare to give homilies that are filled with the joy of the Gospel and that engage life and faith. He talks about the value of vulnerable human life and the importance of religious freedom. Although Pope Francis tells us that he didn’t intend to cover everything in this document, he did indeed cover a lot of ground, so much so, that I would hope we’d see this document as a kind of Magna Carta for the work we will do together in the re-evangelization of the City of Baltimore and the nine counties that comprise this great and historic local church.
In the weeks ahead, I’ll invite you to take a more extensive tour of this document so that we can see how it applies to us. In the meantime, I’d encourage you to get your own copy and read it. What an excellent way to observe the Season of Advent.