At the core of what the Pope writes is the call for us to become a more missionary Church, a Church less interested in ourselves and our own interests and more interested in the world outside the Church.
The Joy of the Gospel
From the moment he walked out on to the balcony of St Peter’s after his election, Pope Francis has been different.
Since then he’s done many things that are different; some would say that he’s broken the mould in a very refreshing way. He seems to have an unusual knack of finding simple words, images and gestures that go to the core of things and touch the hearts of people – even people who have long ago lost interest in the Pope and the Church. That’s certainly true of what he’s written to the Church in the Apostolic Exhortation “The Joy of the Gospel”. There Pope Francis speaks with a direct, fresh and incisive voice that is new in papal documents.
“The Joy of the Gospel” was written in response to the Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelisation. At the end of the Synod, a Council is elected and appointed to oversee the preparation of a document based upon the fifty-something propositions agreed to by the Synod. Once the Council has finalised its draft, the document is sent to the Pope who can accept it, change it or even reject it. Usually the Pope accepts it pretty much as presented. But Pope Francis decided to make some major changes, introducing much of his own material. You can pick his voice without too much difficulty. You can also pick the parts of the draft that survived. They have a different tone; they’re more what you expect in a papal document. But the words of Pope Francis are at times startlingly unexpected. They’re deeply faithful to what the Church believes and teaches, but they focus on what really matters in a very unpredictable and refreshing way. The Pope writes simply but not tritely. He can be very challenging indeed; sometimes the words leap off the page and call for an examination of conscience. But they never come across as negative or threatening. The overall effect is very positive and encouraging.
At the core of what the Pope writes is the call for us to become a more missionary Church, a Church less interested in ourselves and our own interests and more interested in the world outside the Church, especially the poorest and most vulnerable who are so much part of that world. It’s a summons to what the Holy Father calls “a missionary conversion which cannot leave things as they are”. He goes on: “I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security”. There are risks of course in responding to the Pope’s call, but the risk is worth it because the prize is true joy – not just for the Church for but those with whom we share the Good News of Jesus.
I have said that I want “The Joy of the Gospel” to be the charter of the Archdiocese of Brisbane as we grapple with the question: What does it mean for us to become a more missionary Church at this time and in this place?
The Gospel of course is the Church’s charter in every time and place. But in “The Joy of the Gospel” Pope Francis has offered words and images which help us to hear the Gospel in fresh ways and can open up to us therefore new paths of Gospel energy. That may seem unlikely at a time like this when the Church here is under pressure. But real Gospel energy doesn’t wait for circumstances to be just right. It can break out any time, even when you least expect it – just as it has with Pope Francis.
Joy-filled Good News – audio reflections on The Joy of the Gospel by Fr John Chalmers: