Pope Francis' Encyclical on Joy

Pope Francis’ first encyclical was published in 2013. It was entitled The Joy of the Gospel or Evangelii Guadium in Latin. I’d like to share a few thoughts with you from this papal letter.

What struck me first was the topic the Holy Father chose to write about. Not faith, not love. But joy. In his letter, the joy purple flowerPope invites all Christians “to a renewed encounter with Jesus Christ.” Whenever “we take a step towards Jesus, we come to realize he is already there, waiting for us with open arms.” (3) Our joy, then, is rooted in the person of Jesus. It is not the result of “an ethical choice or a lofty idea.” (7)

As Christians, we must not look like people “who have just come back from a funeral!” (10) We must not be “sour-pusses.” (85) Even when we experience great distress, our joy is not taken away from us, because we know “we are infinitely loved” (6) by God.

The Encyclical is challenging. Again and again the Holy Father reminds us that we must be attentive to “the poor and the sick,” and to those “usually despised and overlooked.” He says, “We have to state, without mincing words, that

"We must never abandon the poor."

“We must never abandon the poor.”

‘there is an inseparable bond between our faith and the poor.’ May we never abandon them.” (48) As for the Church, the Holy Father says, “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.” (49)

In chapter two he talks about economic justice in the the world. In doing so, he ruffled some feathers. He praises the steps being taken to improve people’s welfare such as “health care, education, and communications.” (52) At the same time, he says, we must remember “that the majority of our contemporaries are barely living from day to day.” (52) In our world today, he writes, we essentially have “an economy of exclusion and inequality.” He asks, “How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?” (53) He speaks out against “trickle-down theories” of economics, saying such theories have “never been confirmed by facts.” (54) He laments the fact that “the earnings of a minority are growing exponentially,” and so is the gap separating the vast majority of people from the prosperous few. (56)

Here are a few other remarks that stood out for me:

Priest hearing confession.

Priest hearing confession.

+ “I want to remind priests that the confessional must not be a torture chamber but rather an encounter with the Lord’s mercy which spurs us on to do our best.” (44)

+ “The Eucharist…is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.  These convictions have pastoral consequences that we are called to consider with prudence and boldness. Frequently we act as arbiters of grace rather than facilitators.” (47)

+ “True faith in the incarnate Son of God is inseparable from self-giving, from membership in the community, from service, from reconciliation with others. The Son of God, by becoming flesh, summoned us to the revolution of tenderness.” (88)

+ “We need to create still broader opportunities for an incisive female presence in the Church.” (103)

+”With due respect for the autonomy and culture of every nation, we must never forget that the planet belongs to all jof of lord ishumankind….the mere fact that some people are born in places with fewer resources or less development does not justify the fact that they are living with less dignity. It must be reiterated that ‘the more fortunate should renounce some of their rights so as to place their goods more generously at the service of others.'” (190)

+ “Politics, though often denigrated, remains a lofty vocation and one of the highest forms of charity, inasmuch as it seeks the common good.” (205)

The Holy Father addresses many other issues in this letter: renewal in evangelization, interreligious dialogue, human trafficking, immigration, preaching, world peace, etc. I’ve touched on only a few of his ideas. You might want to read the whole encyclical. I think the letter is both encouraging and challenging no matter where you might be standing on the continuum of Christian faith.

Is there anything the Holy Father says here that encourages or challenges you?

The song today is Beethoven’s famous “Ode to Joy.” This version is sung in English (with lyrics) by the choir and congregation of the United Methodist Church in Valdosta, Georgia, USA. Beethoven’s magnificent piece seems most appropriate for this reflection on joy.






  1. Kathleen Magiera on May 11, 2015 at 5:32 am

    Sr. Melannie,

    What a beautiful reminder from Pope Francis that “we are inifinitly loved” by God. I sometimes pass over that reminder instead of absorbing the whole blessing in my busyness.


  2. Julie Grote on May 11, 2015 at 10:00 am

    Did Pope Francis really speak of an “incisive female presence” or was it an”inclusive female presence”? That has me wondering about his meaning.

    • Melannie Svoboda SND on May 11, 2015 at 11:33 am

      Dear Julie, I checked the encyclical again and it does say “incisive.” I checked some of his other talks online, and he also says “inclusive.” So I guess he means both. Thanks for calling the word to our attention. It would be interesting to see what he means by both words… Sr. Melannie

      • Julie Grote on May 11, 2015 at 1:54 pm

        I like some of Webster’s meaning in this case:” implies a power to impress the mind by directness and decisiveness” Also “clear-cut suggests the absence of any blurring, ambiguity, or uncertainty of statement or analysis” Thanks for all of your excellent teachings. Blessings and prayer

  3. Jean on May 11, 2015 at 10:40 am

    It seems like he is chastising the hierarchy of the Church and its judgemental attitude. He is like a breath of fresh air blowing out cobwebs. I like that we are all individually challenged to look at ourselves and our interactions, or lack of interactions, with others less fortunate, and not judge their circumstances but help them.

  4. Mary Schneider on May 11, 2015 at 11:22 am

    I love Pope Francis’ desire to see JOY in all things. Being a joyful person is vital to our spiritual growth and health. I hope I can help those in greatest need find peace and joy in God.

  5. Dorothy on May 11, 2015 at 12:49 pm

    Pope Francis has a way of getting us on our knees; helping us to find Joy in looking to Jesus for all the Love He has given us through Easter & the Resurrection. Praise be to the Holy Trinity, Father, Son & Holy Spirit. May the Lord Bless Pope Francis & his example.

  6. David Cavilla on May 12, 2015 at 1:49 pm

    I can’t help but wonder what the Holy Father has in mind when he cites the need to create broader opportunities for “an incisive female presence in the Church”, especially given his apparent refusal to entertain further discussion on female clergy?

  7. Karen on May 13, 2015 at 12:35 pm

    “The Eucharist…is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak. These convictions have pastoral consequences that we are called to consider with prudence and boldness. Frequently we act as arbiters of grace rather than facilitators.” – Well said Pope Francis!
    It reminded me of something my Dad always used to say … “the Church should be a rest home for Sinners and not a country club for Saints”.

  8. Kathy Wagner on June 21, 2015 at 12:36 pm

    Dear Sr. Melanie,
    When I was an aspirant in high school the Sisters of St. Francis, Oldenburg IN always taught us the JOY stood for if Nothing (O) stands between Jesus(J) and You (Y), then you have Perfect JOY. It has stuck after all these years.


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