I first read Evangelii Gaudium (Joy of the Gospel) on the train to Sydney and nearly missed getting off at my station! I did not know what to expect when seeing such a small book, but when I began reading, the words jumped off the page. Each paragraph, sentence or quotation expressed something I had felt in my head and heart, but I could not have found the words to express these ideas in such a gentle but ‘straight to the point’ manner. Pope Francis speaks not only to my personal Christian values, but to those of my family, my church community, and the broader society where I meet and mingle with others every day. This little book was precious to me and I put it aside on arriving home thinking that, as suggested in ‘The Joy of the Gospel’, I would return to the source and recover the original freshness of the Gospel.
I then found myself with a small group of ladies who diligently come together each week to read a few chapters and discuss the underlying meaning of what is being said by Pope Francis, for us and for the broader church and society. We cannot hope to solve the problems of the world or those of our own situations, but we have gained a deeper insight in understanding and new ways of thinking. For example, n276:
Values always tend to reappear under new guises, and human beings have risen
time after time from situations that seemed doomed. Such is the power of the
resurrection and all who evangelise are instruments of that power.
Evangelii Gaudium has given me a connection to our Pope as he addresses challenges both he and I face in communicating our Christian values. He encourages me when he says that each of us, with our own humble and hidden services, no matter how small, has an important consequence. For example (n28):
The parish is not an outdated institution; precisely because it possesses great
flexibility, it can assume quite different contours depending on the
openness and missionary creativity of the pastor and the community.
Indeed Pope Francis sees the world from where I stand. He sees the challenges and temptations to my faith and the cultural changes. He shows me that he is thinking ahead, taking into account what is happening today in society.
He has challenged me through this little book to see that (n25):
“Mere administration” can no longer be enough. Throughout
the world, let us be “permanently in a state of mission”.
‘Mission’ is a small word with great potential. There was an awakening for me as I read Pope Francis’ recipe for missionary success (n280):
Keeping our missionary fervour alive calls for firm trust in the Holy
Spirit, for it is he who “helps us in our weakness” (Rom 8:26). But this
generous trust has to be nourished, and so we need to involve the
Spirit constantly. He can heal whatever causes us to flag in missionary
endeavour. It is true that this trust in the unseen can cause us to feel
disoriented: it is like being plunged into the deep and not knowing
what we will find. I myself have frequently experienced this. Yet there
is no greater freedom than that of allowing oneself to be guided by the
Holy Spirit, renouncing the attempt to plan and control everything to
the last detail, and instead letting him enlighten, guide and direct us,
leading us wherever he wills. The Holy Spirit knows well what is needed
in every time and place. This is what it means to be mysteriously fruitful.
Hope, faith and love feature constantly in the closing chapters, eg (n279):
This certainty is often called “a sense of mystery”. It involves knowing with
certitude that all those who entrust themselves to God in love will bear good
fruit. (John 15.5) This fruitfulness is often invisible, elusive and unquantifiable.
We can know quite well that our lives will be fruitful, without claiming to
know how, or when. We may be sure that none of our acts of love will be lost,
nor any of our acts of sincere concern for others. No single act of love for
God will be lost, no generous effort is meaningless, no painful endurance
is wasted. All of these encircle our world like a vital force.
‘The Joy of the Gospel’ has been a joy to read and discuss.
Mrs Elaine Wallace is a Funeral Minister at MacKillop Parish and recently attended the annual conference of the NSW Association of Pastors and Pastoral Associates.