Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always to the end of the world. Jesus Christ
Evangelii Gaudium is a call to you and me and every other Catholic on this planet to step out of our petty personal piety and evangelize the world.
There is a considerable body of support for this call throughout Christian history. The first and most important — in truth, the only support anyone needs — comes from Jesus Christ Himself in what He said in the words I put above.
Protestants call it the Great Commission, and a number of their denominations are built on living it out. Jesus Christ told His followers to go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Just to put emphasis on it, He had, before His murder, cursed a withered fig tree for not bearing fruit. What did that fig tree do to Jesus, and what meaning does Our Lord’s action have for you and me? The tree was a symbol of all of us who do not bear the fruit of the Spirit in our lives. Jesus taught the same message over and over. Bear fruit, use the grace you are given to bring others to Me.
That, without the more negative allusions (I used the fig tree story, not the Pope.) is what Evangelii Gaudium is about. The Pope is calling us to do exactly what Jesus told us to do. He is calling us to bear fruit by converting the world around us. Evangelii Gaudium is a call, directly from Pope Francis to every Catholic everywhere, to shake the dust of self-absorption off our feet and take the message of the Good News of Christ to the world.
Pope Francis calls us first to remember our own salvation and to rejoice in it. Think about it for a moment. We are eternal beings who, because of the great sacrifice of Our Lord at Calvary, are given the opportunity to chose of our own free wills to spend our eternal life in the company of the God Who made us.
I experienced a touch of what that means at my own conversion experience when the Holy Spirit filled me with the divine love and rapturous joy of God. Heaven is for real, folks, and it is too wonderful to describe. We can spend eternity there in that joy and love. All we have to do is chose Christ.
But in this world that is stunted, deformed and perverted by the wiles of the evil one, heaven can seem a distant and irrelevant country. I have been fascinated for a long time by the fact that we are so much better at depicting hell in our art than we are at depicting heaven. Heaven, in the movies we make and the poetry we write, comes across more insipid than heavenly, whereas hell glows and glowers with its sadistic reality.
“The world is too much with us … getting and spending we lay waste our powers,” Wordsworth wrote. That is true of every single one of us, including me.
Pope Francis is calling us in clear language that a fourth grader can understand to remember that we are more than “getting and spending,” and that there is more to every person than the evils they do. Evangelii Gaudium is an exhortation for us to remember our salvation and rejoice in it.
The Holy Father is asking us to remember that first love when the Holy Spirit filled us with Divine Joy. Joy is exactly the right word for it. It was the word I used before I gave up trying to find words to describe what I experienced when Christ first hugged me to His heart.
Joy beyond our ability to describe or comprehend. Joy based on love that is also beyond our ability to describe or comprehend.
That is what Pope Francis is calling us to in this great document he has written. He is asking us to set aside the “getting and spending” that lays waste our powers and live in the joy of being eternal children of the eternal God Who loves us beyond our ability to either describe or comprehend.
He is asking us to live in the joy of Christ and the peace that passes all understanding and then to exercise the generosity which is a natural outgrowth of that kind of living in our dealings with the lost and unwanted people around us. I have failed in this call as much as anyone I know. I am a mass of resentments and angers, ironically, many of them over the way I have been treated by those tormented people who reject Christ.
Reading Evangelii Gaudium was an occasion of convicting conversion for me. I have allowed myself to forget the joy I knew when I first met Him in my too-earnest attempt to follow Him and be true to Him. I, like everyone else, need to go back to what Christ called “your first love,” which is that moment when He loved me from life to death.
Then, I need to do as the Holy Father is calling me to do and share that love with those I encounter. That is the root and the beginning of the New Evangelization. It is the core message of Evangelii Gaudium.
Pope Francis did not write about politics. He wrote about Jesus and our call to bring all the world to Him.
Here in Pope Francis’ words, is what Evangelii Gaudium is all about:
The Joy of the Gospel fills the the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness. 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 years to come.