A Summary of Evangelii Gaudium (Joy of the Gospel): Pope Francis' First Apostolic Exhortation
Summary of Evangelii Gaudium (Joy of the Gospel)
Evangelii Gaudium is a fantastic document that will have a deep impact on our Church for several generations. It is also a LONG document. In his own words, “I have dealt extensively with these topics with a detail which some may find excessive” (#18). Pope Francis covers a tremendous amount of ground and the task of trying to summarize such a lengthy document to various people who only have some much time to read this blog post presents quite the challenge.
In order to try to meet this challenge, I’ve separated the blog post into different sections below:
- If you have 60 seconds to know what the document says, read the General Summary.
- If you have 5 minutes, read the General Summary, Table of Contents and Major Themes section below it.
- And, if you want to learn more about the document, check out the list of quotes as well and the “you talkin’ to me” section (section and quotes addressed to particular groups of people).
As always, the best option is to read the document yourself and then use this as a guide for reflection and study later. I know this isn’t always possible or realistic, especially the day of the release.
Note: I will accompany quotes with a number (e.g. #134). These number signify paragraph numbers on the document, not page numbers.
General Summary (in 60 seconds)
Pope Francis opens the document like this:
“The Joy of the Gospel fills 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” (#1) (italics mine).
What is this new chapter? My best guess would be the quote below which I believe sums up the document well:
“I dream of a 'missionary option', that is, a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything, so that the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channeled for the evangelization of today’s world rather than for her self-preservation” (#27).
This is a huge statement. As a Church, we have been in self-preservation mode. We have hid ourselves in bunkers and hoped to survive. Pope Francis is calling for our Church to thrive by choosing the missionary option in everything that we do.
How do we do this? That’s what the rest of the document is all about.
Table of Contents and Major Themes
The Table of Contents
This is one of the best ways to get an overview of the document. There is an introduction and five unique chapters. The Table of Contents was pulled straight from the back of the document. Check them out below:
A JOY EVER NEW, A JOY WHICH IS SHARED
II. THE DELIGHTFUL AND COMFORTING JOY OF EVANGELIZING
III. THE NEW EVANGELIZATION FOR THE TRANSMISSION OF THE FAITH
CHAPTER ONE – THE CHURCH’S MISSIONARY TRANSFORMATION
1. A CHURCH WHICH GOES FORTH
II. PASTORAL ACTIVITY AND CONVERSION
III. FROM THE HEART OF THE GOSPEL
IV. A MISSION EMBODIED WITHIN HUMAN LIMITS
V. A MOTHER WITH AN OPEN HEART
CHAPTER TWO – AMID THE CRISIS OF COMMUNAL COMMITMENT
I. SOME CHALLENGES OF TODAY’S WORLD
II. TEMPTATIONS FACED BY PASTORAL WORKERS
CHAPTER THREE – THE PROCLAMATION OF THE GOSPEL
I. THE ENTIRE PEOPLE OF GOD PROCLAIMS THE GOSPEL
II. THE HOMILY
III. PREPARING TO PREACH
IV. EVANGELIZATION AND THE DEEPER UNDERSTANDING OF THE KERYGMA
CHAPTER FOUR – THE SOCIAL DIMENSION OF EVANGELIZATION
I. COMMUNAL AND SOCIETAL REPERCUSSIONS OF THE KERYGMA
II. THE INCLUSION OF THE POOR IN SOCIETY
III. THE COMMON GOOD AND PEACE IN SOCIETY
IV. SOCIAL DIALOGUE AS A CONTRIBUTION TO PEACE
CHAPTER FIVE—SPIRIT-FILLED EVANGELIZERS
I. REASONS FOR A RENEWED MISSIONARY IMPULSE
II. MARY, MOTHER OF EVANGELIZATION
Major Themes in Evangelii Gaudium
Like I said, this is a very long document with several major themes and highlights. Below are what I think are the most significant and some of my favorite. I’ll give at least one example of each, although many of the themes below are emphasized multiple times and in multiple ways throughout the document.
1. The Basic Proclamation of the Gospel (Kerygma)
For Pope Francis, evangelization begins by sharing the basic message of the Gospel.
“In catechesis too, we have rediscovered the fundamental role of the first announcement or kerygma, which needs to be the center of all evangelizing activity and all efforts at Church renewal… On the lips of the catechist the first proclamation must ring out over and over: “Jesus Christ loves you; he gave his life to save you; and now he is living at your side every day to enlighten, strengthen and free you” (#164).
He goes on to note the importance of the kerygma throughout the life of a Christian:
“It is first in a qualitative sense because it is the principal proclamation, the one which we must hear again and again in different ways, the one which we must announce one way or another throughout the process of catechesis, at every level and moment” (#164).
Don’t worry he practices what he preaches. In the third paragraph he states:
I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day. No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her, since “no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord” (#3).
2. Two Sources of Evangelization
First, we can evangelize only because of God first loved us.
An evangelizing community knows that the Lord has taken the initiative, he has loved us first (cf. 1 Jn 4:19), and therefore we can move forward, boldly take the initiative, go out to others, seek those who have fallen away, stand at the crossroads and welcome the outcast.
Second, our evangelization depends on theme #1: Our ability to accept the Gospel into our lives.
“Here we find the source and inspiration of all our efforts at evangelization. For if we have received the love which restores meaning to our lives, how can we fail to share that love with others?” (#9).
3. Missionary Disciple
The term “missionary disciple” is used throughout the document. The two terms are used to hold in tension the need both for a relationships with our Lord and the need to go to the outskirts to preach the Gospel. One thing is very clear. Every Baptized member of the Catholic faith is called to evangelize and is called to be a missionary disciple.
“In virtue of their baptism, all the members of the People of God have become missionary disciples (cf. Mt 28:19). All the baptized, whatever their position in the Church or their level of instruction in the faith, are agents of evangelization" (#120).
“What I would like to propose is something much more in the line of an evangelical discernment. It is the approach of a missionary disciple, an approach ‘nourished by the light and strength of the Holy Spirit’” (#51).
“The Church is herself a missionary disciple” (#40).
[From the FOCUS blog: 6 Things to Know When Reading the Words of Pope Francis]
4. The Parish
Pope Francis spends a considerable amount of time on the parish as he looks to see how a missionary impulse would change parish life.
“In all its activities the parish encourages and trains its members to be evangelizers. It is a community of communities, a sanctuary where the thirsty come to drink in the midst of their journey, and a centre of constant missionary outreach. We must admit, though, that the call to review and renew our parishes has not yet sufficed to bring them nearer to people, to make them environments of living communion and participation, and to make them completely mission-oriented” (#28)
In some people we see an ostentatious preoccupation for the liturgy, for doctrine and for the Church’s prestige, but without any concern that the Gospel have a real impact on God’s faithful people and the concrete needs of the present time” (#95).
Then in regards to sharing the message of the Gospel:
“Pastoral ministry in a missionary style is not obsessed with the disjointed transmission of a multitude of doctrines to be insistently imposed…the message has to concentrate on the essentials, on what is most beautiful, most grand, most appealing and at the same time most necessary. The message is simplified, while losing none of its depth and truth, and thus becomes all the more forceful and convincing.”
He will later spend several paragraphs (#135-159 - a LARGE section of the document) just on preaching homilies.
5. The Poor
We all know that Pope Francis wants “a Church which is poor and for the poor.” The poor took up a huge section in this Apostolic Exhortation and his words deserve to be closely examined.
Here are some significant quotes to help sum up his thoughts:
We know that “evangelization would not be complete if it did not take account of the unceasing interplay of the Gospel and of man’s concrete life, both personal and social” (#181).
Each individual Christian and every community is called to be an instrument of God for the liberation and promotion of the poor, and for enabling them to be fully a part of society (#187).
Inspired by this, the Church has made an option for the poor which is understood as a “special form of primacy in the exercise of Christian charity, to which the whole tradition of the Church bears witness” (#198).
“God’s heart has a special place for the poor, so much so that he himself 'became poor' (2 Cor 8:9). The entire history of our redemption is marked by the presence of the poor. Salvation came to us from the 'yes' uttered by a lowly maiden from a small town on the fringes of a great empire.” (#197)
“Without the preferential option for the poor, ‘the proclamation of the Gospel, which is itself the prime form of charity, risks being misunderstood or submerged by the ocean of words which daily engulfs us in today’s society of mass communications’” (#199)
6. De-centrailization of the Papacy
This may strike someone as an odd theme in a document on evangelization, but it was clear in the document that Francis wanted to note that the centralization of the Church can harm evangelization.
“Countless issues involving evangelization today might be discussed here, but I have chosen not to explore these many questions which call for further reflection and study. Nor do I believe that the papal magisterium should be expected to offer a definitive or complete word on every question which affects the Church and the world. It is not advisable for the Pope to take the place of local Bishops in the discernment of every issue which arises in their territory. In this sense, I am conscious of the need to promote a sound 'decentralization'” (#16).
He also practices this principle throughout the document by quoting different groups of bishops.
Note: By the way, I could have probably picked another 6 themes. I may add to this list as time goes on.
List of Quotes (titles are mine)
“Sometimes we are tempted to find excuses and complain, acting as if we could only be happy if a thousand conditions were met. To some extent this is because our 'technological society has succeeded in multiplying occasions of pleasure, yet has found it very difficult to engender joy'” (#7).
Where should we preach the Gospel?
In fidelity to the example of the Master, it is vitally important for the Church today to go forth and preach the Gospel to all: to all places, on all occasions, without hesitation, reluctance or fear. The joy of the Gospel is for all people: no one can be excluded.” (#23).
God Asks Everything
“God asks everything of us, yet at the same time he offers everything to us” (#12).
What’s your four o’clock?
“The joy of evangelizing always arises from grateful remembrance: it is a grace which we constantly need to implore. The apostles never forgot the moment when Jesus touched their hearts: 'It was about four o’clock in the afternoon'" (Jn. 1:39) (#13).
“Evangelization consists mostly of patience and disregard for constraints of time” (#24).
Today, our challenge is not so much atheism as the need to respond adequately to many people’s thirst for God, lest they try to satisfy it with alienating solutions or with a disembodied Jesus who demands nothing of us with regard to others.
What disciples risk?
“The disciple is ready to put his or her whole life on the line, even to accepting martyrdom, in bearing witness to Jesus Christ, yet the goal is not to make enemies but to see God’s word accepted and its capacity for liberation and renewal revealed” (24).
On marriage today
“Marriage now tends to be viewed as a form of mere emotional satisfaction that can be constructed in any way or modified at will” (#66).
On what needs to be done
“Instead, we waste time talking about 'what needs to be done' – in Spanish we call this the sin of 'habriaqueísmo' – like spiritual masters and pastoral experts who give instructions from on high. We indulge in endless fantasies and we lose contact with the real lives and difficulties of our people” (#96).
“We know that the faithful attach great importance to it, and that both they and their ordained ministers suffer because of homilies: the laity from having to listen to them and the clergy from having to preach them!” (#135)
Beauty and evangelization
“Every form of catechesis would do well to attend to the 'way of beauty' (via pulchritudinis)" (129).
Proclaiming Christ means showing that to believe in and to follow him is not only something right and true, but also something beautiful, capable of filling life with new splendour and profound joy, even in the midst of difficulties.”
Jesus and his people
“To be evangelizers of souls, we need to develop a spiritual taste for being close to people’s lives and to discover that this is itself a source of greater joy. To be Mission is at once a passion for Jesus and a passion for his people” (#268).
You talkin’ to me? (Some quotes for particular people)
Pastoral Workers (those in what we often call “ministry” in America)
“It is striking that even some who clearly have solid doctrinal and spiritual convictions frequently fall into a lifestyle which leads to an attachment to financial security, or to a desire for power or human glory at all cost, rather than giving their lives to others in mission. Let us not allow ourselves to be robbed of missionary enthusiasm!” (#80)
Some fall into it because they throw themselves into unrealistic projects and are not satisfied simply to do what they reasonably can. Others, because they lack the patience to allow processes to mature; they want everything to fall from heaven. Others, because they are attached to a few projects or vain dreams of success. Others, because they have lost real contract with people and so depersonalize their work that they are more concerned with the road map than with the journey itself (#82).
Also, for a much longer exhortation, check out paragraphs 76-97. Lots of great advice in there for those “in ministry.”
“Demands that the legitimate rights of women be respected, based on the firm conviction that men and women are equal in dignity, present the Church with profound and challenging questions which cannot be lightly evaded. The reservation of the priesthood to males, as a sign of Christ the Spouse who gives himself in the Eucharist, is not a question open to discussion, but it can prove especially divisive if sacramental power is too closely identified with power in general.” (#104)
Theologians and Academics
“I call on theologians to carry out this service as part of the Church’s saving mission. In doing so, however, they must always remember that the Church and theology exist to evangelize, and not be content with a desk-bound theology. Universities are outstanding environments for articulating and developing this evangelizing commitment in an interdisciplinary and integrated way” (#134).
“The bishop must always foster this missionary communion in his diocesan Church, following the ideal of the first Christian communities, in which the believers were of one heart and one soul (cf. Acts 4:32). To do so, he will sometimes go before his people, pointing the way and keeping their hope vibrant. At other times, he will simply be in their midst with his unassuming and merciful presence” (#31).
“Even if it is not always easy to approach young people, progress has been made in two areas:
the awareness that the entire community is called to evangelize and educate the young, and the urgent need for the young to exercise greater leadership.”
So much more to unpack. I will continue to read and study this document.
Have you read Evangelii Gaudium yet? What impacted you the most? Share your thoughts below.
More about the Author
Kevin Cotter is a missionary with FOCUS (The Fellowship of Catholic University Students) where he serves as the Director of FOCUS Equip and Web. He is the writer of various FOCUS resources, posts on the FOCUS blog, and a newly released book, Through the Year with Pope Francis: Daily Reflections. Kevin holds degrees in Religious Studies and Philosophy from Benedictine College and a Master’s degree in Sacred Scripture from the Augustine Institute. He lives in Denver, Colorado with his wife, Lisa, and their young children.