Pope Francis knows what challenges are facing the church and he has a few ideas on how to overcome those challenges while admiting he doesn’t have all the answers. The pope made the statements in his Apostolic Exhortation, “Evangelii Gaudium” released November 26.
During the first months of his pontificate Pope Francis has addressed all men and women of goodwill on various occasions. Evangelii Gaudium, however, is directed towards Catholics currently engaged in the church to some degree. He makes this clear in the opening paragraph where he says, “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.”
Pope Francis says the Gospel carries a message of hope which should be a source of joy for Christians. If Christians hope to ever pass that message on to others, they must first understand why the Gospel is a source of joy and embrace it. He outlines several challenges to spreading the Gospel message and gives some concrete guidance to overcoming those challenges.
The pontiff focuses on the reform of the Church in her missionary outreach, the temptations faced by pastoral workers, the homily; how it is prepared and delivered, the inclusion of the poor in society, peace and dialogue in society, and the spiritual motivations for mission.
Pope Francis says evangelization is an act of obedience to Jesus’ command “go therefore and make disciples of all nations’ and therefore evangelization is a basic focus of the Church.
A community that spreads the Gospel message must realize that God always takes the first step and the faithful respond to God’s invitation. Pope Francis says members of the church should “get involved in word and deed in people’s daily lives” to bridge distances. He says returning to this basic function of the Church cannot be delayed.
Pope Francis also calls for the re-evaluation of traditional ways of spreading the Gospel, saying “some of these customs may be beautiful, but they no longer serve as a means of communicating the Gospel. We should not be afraid to re-examine them.”
He tackles head on the role of women in the church, acknowledging that women share pastoral duties with priests at the parish level and provide new theological reflection at the academic level. However, opening the priesthood to women “is not a question open to discussion,” he says. Being able to administer sacraments is not sign of power, or a sign of having superior dignity or holiness; it is a function, he says. Still, there needs to be a more incisive role for women in the church.
True to his claim that he does not have all the answers, Pope Francis does not offer concrete suggestions as to what that role might look like.
Youth Ministry is another area the pope says has not kept up with social changes. As a result the current way of trying to reach out to young Catholics doesn’t offer them anything and doesn’t draw them in. Pope Francis says even if young people do not appear to be picking up the Gospel message, many are engaging in initiatives for social change and their efforts should be appreciated.
Turning to very practical issues, Pope Francis devotes an entire section of the exhortation to the homily. He says, “We know that the faithful attach great importance to is, 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!”
Addressing priests and deacons directly, he the homily is supposed to be a moment in which the faithful encounter the Lord. He says a minister who does not prepare his homilies well is neglecting his spiritual life. Pope Francis tells preachers to make homily preparation one of their most important duties during the week, putting it before obligations to one’s community if necessary.
A good homily should be brief, it should not seem like a lecture or a speech, and it should not interrupt the balance and rhythm of the liturgy, the pope says.
Aside from technique, Pope Francis also advises that the preacher should also “discover what it is that the faithful need to hear.” He says in a good homily a preacher suggests what can be done, rather than point out what can not be done.
Pope Francis says in the exhortation he was invited by the Synod of Bishops to write the document. He made reference in his exhortation to the October 2011 Synod on the New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Faith, but did not use the draft drawn up by the Synod for a post-synod exhortation.