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 Pope 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
‘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:
+ “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 humankind….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.