“I am aware that nowadays documents do not arouse the same interest as in the past and that they are quickly forgotten.” These are the words Pope Francis recently used in his first apostolic exhortation to the Church entitled Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel). The purpose of an apostolic exhortation is to exhort the Church to implement what the Church already teaches. They don’t usually contain new teachings but help us to find ways to live out what the Church is asking of us. This week, we will look at parts of this exhortation and how it can help us prepare in this Advent season for the joy of Jesus’ arrival.
“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. How has your faith in Jesus Christ brought you joy? What are some of the joy filled moments you can remember that you wish to share? How would you compare the joy that Christ brings to the pleasure or momentary happiness that the world might bring? When has your faith not brought you joy? What has that looked like?
Pope Francis mentions the dangers to joy: “The great danger in today’s world, pervaded as it is by consumerism, is the desolation and anguish born of a complacent yet covetous heart, the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures, and a blunted conscience. Whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor. God’s voice is no longer heard, the quiet joy of his love is no longer felt, and the desire to do good fades. This is a very real danger for believers too. Many fall prey to it, and end up resentful, angry and listless. That is no way to live a dignified and fulfilled life; it is not God’s will for us, nor is it the life in the Spirit which has its source in the heart of the risen Christ.”
2. What does this offer to us in the Advent/Christmas/Holiday season?
“I hope that all communities will devote the necessary effort to advancing along the path of a pastoral and missionary conversion which cannot leave things as they presently are. ‘Mere administration’ can no longer be enough. Throughout the world, let us be ‘permanently in a state of mission…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.”
3. Francis mentions that the Church needs to be always in evangelization-mode instead of self-preservation. What do you think are some of the signs of a Church being in self-preservation instead of evangelization? What might the ‘missionary option’ look like? What can we be doing in our own parishes? Diocese? Nation? World?
“The parish is the presence of the Church in a given territory, an environment for hearing God’s word, for growth in the Christian life, for dialogue, proclamation, charitable outreach, worship and celebration. In all its activities the parish encourages and trains its members to be evangelisers. 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.
4. What is your experience of your church parish? In another place, Francis says that it can’t be a place of the ‘self-absorbed cluster made up of a chosen few.’ Have you ever experienced that in a parish or church? What do you think Francis’ vision of a parish looks like in practical terms? How do we promote the view that the church is the place where we come to be refreshed and renewed? Be sure to focus on the theme: joy.
On the poor
“God shows the poor ‘his first mercy…I want a Church which is poor and for the poor. They have much to teach us. Not only do they share in the sensus fidei, but in their difficulties they know the suffering Christ. We need to let ourselves be evangelized by them…We are called to find Christ in them, to lend our voice to their causes, but also to be their friends, to listen to them, to speak for them and to embrace the mysterious wisdom which God wishes to share with us through them.”
5. Where do you think the poor find joy in their lives? Much of this document about the joy of the Gospel is spent speaking about the poor. What do you think is the connection between poverty / the poor persons of the world and Jesus’ constant teachings about being mindful of the poor?
6. What do the poor have to teach us about joy in the Advent/Christmas season? What does the story of Christ’s birth show us? (think of the conditions, those who came to worship, the livelihood of Mary and Joseph, etc.)