My wife and I, as part of our Lenten disciplines this year, read Pope Francis’ first apostolic exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel. And it was wonderful, in all the right ways. Challenging. Encouraging. Directing. Empowering.
I was struck by the Pope’s use of “joy.” In the first paragraph, the word appears three times: “The joy of the gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. . . . With Christ joy is constantly born anew. In this Exhortation I wish to encourage the Christian faithful to embark upon a new chapter of evangelization marked by this joy, while pointing out new paths for the Church’s journey in yours to come” (9).
The connection of joy to evangelization is inspired. And it’s one of those assertions that after made, one responds with “of course, it is! How could I have missed that?” Various podcasts I’ve listened to lately have talked about beauty and how beauty must be the first thing that we show of the church and of Christian life (following von Balthasar). And surely joy is the most beautiful beauty we have to offer the world.
I’ve also been thinking about how joyful we should be during the liturgy. “The joy of the gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus.” Pope Francis talks especially about this when he tells Christians not to be “sourpusses” This seems most important, not only for showing outsiders the goodness of the gospel but also for showing the younger generations that the Christian life is a life worth living. Joy is a great threat (and alternative) to the cynicism of social media.
But to return to the point: joy and evangelization go hand-in-hand. One leads to the other in a necessarily healthy way. Not in a “winning souls” sort of way, but in a “Taste and see the goodness of the Lord” sort of way.
I found his yeses and nos section good; Bruce Morrill points out that this is a very Ignatian thing to do—testing the spirits from the Exercises.
No to an economy of justice.
No to the new idolatry of money.
No to oppressive financial systems.
No to the inequality which spawns violence.
No to selfishness and spiritual sloth.
No to pessimism.
No to spiritual worldliness (i.e., seeking one’s own glory).
No to warring among ourselves.
Yes to the challenge of missionary spirituality.
Yes to the new relationships brought by Christ.
He even warns us against clericalism and the expectation that the (by the) magisterium should have universal answers for all situations, deferring instead to local bishops. He also calls for an increased role for women in the church.
Throughout, he is mindful of the poor and calls all Christians to help them, getting to know the poor by name (as opposed to contributing money so that others can get to know them by name).
All in all, a great read. Moreover, a must read. May we have the courage to witness the goodness of the gospel in its radical, unexpected, and joyously loving way.