Looking Back at Pope Francis’ Evangelii Gaudium

On the occasion of World Mission Sunday, which Pope Pius XI instituted in 1926, I would like to revisit one of Pope Francis’ most important apostolic exhortations: Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel.)

In 2013, on the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, Pope Francis released the first apostolic exhortation of his pontificate, the Joy of the Gospel. In this magisterial document, Pope Francis encourages “the Christian faithful to embark upon a new chapter of evangelization” marked by Christ’s joy. (Evangelii Gaudium, par. 1) The Pope invites all Christians, everywhere, “to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them.” (Ibid., 3) The Pope starts by pointing out that evangelization is the task of the Church. By evangelizing, the Church obeys Jesus’ mandate to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” (Mt 28:19-20). The Church is missionary by her very nature. The mission of proclaiming the Good News of the Gospel has a universal destination. Its mandate of charity “encompasses all dimensions of existence, all individuals, all areas of community life, and all peoples.” (Ibid., 181)

Evangelization, which is first and foremost the work of the Holy Spirit, involves not only the ordained ministers of the Church, but also all the baptized people. By virtue of their baptism, the baptized people are called to become missionary disciples. The Pope says that “all the baptized…are agents of evangelization, and it would be insufficient to envisage a plan of evangelization to be carried out by professionals while the rest of the faithful would simply be passive recipients.” (Ibid., 120)

In our work of evangelization, we must take into consideration cultures. Cultures play a big role in evangelization. Pope Francis asserts that “the People of God is incarnate in the peoples of the earth, each of which has its own culture… culture embraces the totality of a people’s life… Grace supposes culture, and God’s gift becomes flesh in the culture of those who receive it.” (Ibid., 115) The Pope adds that “proclaiming the Gospel message to different cultures also involves proclaiming it to professional, scientific and academic circles.” (Ibid., 132) This proclamation, continues the Pope, involves “an encounter between faith, reason and the sciences with a view to developing new approaches and arguments on the issue of credibility, a creative apologetics which would encourage greater openness to the Gospel on the part of all.” (Ibid.)

The mandate of evangelization demands that pastoral workers, and indeed all the baptized, continue to be formed and grow in their faith through a solid prayer and sacramental life, catechesis, theological reflections, spiritual accompaniment, study of sacred Scripture, faithful citizenship, preferential option for the poor, etc. The Pope also notes in his apostolic exhortation that since “the task of evangelization operates within the limits of language and of circumstances,” the task of evangelization therefore must strive “to communicate more effectively the truth of the Gospel in a specific context, without renouncing the truth, the goodness and the light which it can bring whenever perfection is not possible.” (Ibid., 45) The Church must constantly seek new ways of expressing unchanging truths in a language accessible to all. The Pope concludes his apostolic exhortation with a firm call to live our Christian lives as missionary disciples. Each one of us is a mission on this earth, says the Pope, something we cannot uproot from our being without destroying our very self. (Ibid., 273) Any true evangelization must include the “explicit proclamation of Jesus as Lord.” (Ibid., 110) Our definitive, deepest and greatest motivation for evangelizing is “the glory of the Father which Jesus sought at every moment of his life.” (Ibid., 267) We must constantly invoke the Holy Spirit and ask for the intercession of Mary, “the missionary who draws near to us and accompanies us throughout life, opening our hearts to faith by her maternal love.” (Ibid., 286)

Blessed World Mission Sunday,

Fr. Robain