Once Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (“The Joy of the Gospel”) was published Nov. 26, it didn’t even take a full day for the criticism to start heating up. Most of it centered on the paragraph concerning what the pope called “a globalization of indifference” that has resulted from “trickle-down theories” and the “free market” (No. 54). These comments were enough to send (mostly) conservative commentators into a defensive economic tailspin. One writer sent out a mass email titled: “The pope is a dope.” What a shame it would be if, in the wake of the publication of the Holy Father’s remarkable and robust document on evangelization, we get bogged down in a debate over the merits of capitalism. The exhortation simply is too rich to be relegated to nitpicky questions of translation and explosive morning-after headlines.
From almost the moment of his election, Pope Francis has made it clear that he wants a Church of and for the poor. This exhortation takes that call to a new level: The pope wants a Church filled with evangelizers to be of and for the poor. Poor in a material sense and poor in a spiritual sense.
In the weeks leading up to Christmas, groups often reach out to the needy, but the pope is calling us to be joyful missionaries to the poor year-round.
Some of his most challenging words are aimed at us: Those of us who minister to the people, who go to Mass on Sunday, who are “practicing Catholics.” In this document, the bishop of Rome is exhorting us to get out of our comfortable recliners of indifference, to become ignited with the light of the Gospel and to start actively witnessing to the joy and beauty of the Catholic faith. This document is the spark — a piece both energizing and empowering in its clear call for all Catholics “whatever their position in the Church or their level of instruction in the faith” to be “agents of evangelization.” Pope Francis even tells us to whom we should go first: “When we read the Gospel we find a clear indication: not so much our friends and wealthy neighbors, but above all the poor and the sick, those who are usually despised and overlooked …” he writes (No. 48).
Once we have taken care of our materially neediest brothers and sisters, our focus must be on those poor in faith.
“If something should rightly disturb us and trouble our consciences,” the pope writes, “it is the fact that so many of our brothers and sisters are living without the strength, light and consolation born of friendship with Jesus Christ, without a community of faith to support them, without meaning and a goal in life.”
In short, Pope Francis is calling us to have what Catholic social teaching calls a preferential option for the poor — of every kind. “The Joy of the Gospel” eloquently outlines the importance of focusing on the common good rather than on the desires of the individual, and the pope makes clear that social justice rightly extends from the unborn to those at the end of life, recognizing that every human being is loved by God and must be loved by us.
In the weeks leading up to Christmas, groups often reach out to the needy, but the pope is calling us to be joyful missionaries to the poor year-round. So important is this call to evangelization and renewal that we recommend parishes and small groups to read prayerfully and slowly this document.
“The Joy of the Gospel” is a challenge issued to all of us to encounter Jesus Christ and evangelize first ourselves and then the world in a spirit of joy while maintaining a preferential option for the poor.
Editorial Board: Greg Erlandson, publisher; Msgr. Owen F. Campion, associate publisher; Beth McNamara, editorial director; Gretchen R. Crowe, editor; Sarah Hayes, executive editor