Exploring Evangelii Gaudium
by Michael J.K. Fuller
Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, (The Joy of the Gospel) has now been out for over two years. Published on the Solemnity of Christ the King in 2013, it was the finishing flourish for the Year of Faith. And what a finishing touch it is! Since that time, this exhortation has received much praise and publicity, but, as with every document, the question becomes – so now what? The Editorial Board of Chicago Studies thought that answering that question – two years after its initial publication – would be a fruitful endeavor. The result is this issue. Granted, this is only the start; The Joy of the Gospel has much more to offer those who sit with it and reflect. As the Holy Father writes at the very beginning, “The joy of the gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus,” and this exhortation is a wonderful guide to how that can occur.
Ronald D. Witherup gets us started by looking at this, “the first, most extensive and significant teaching” of Francis’ pontificate. In his article, Novelty within Continuity: Exploring the Joy of the Gospel, Father Witherup not only points out some of the significant themes, but also some of the areas where Francis maintains the traditional aspects of an exhortation, and some of the areas where he reinforces, or expresses those aspects in new ways. Everything from the style of the text, the implications for homilies, and the challenges of the contemporary world are open to Francis’ thoughts on how the Gospel can bring joy. The results, as Father Witherup writes, is a rich papal teaching that expresses novelty within continuity.
John G. Lodge explores this rich papal teaching by focusing on how it challenges us to think about Scripture and how we interpret it. From the exhortation it is evident how closely tied the Holy Father is to the Scriptures, and how central they are to his thought. In his article, And Also Use Words: Some Reflections on Scripture and Liturgical Preaching in Evangelii Gaudium, Father Lodge demonstrates how Francis connects Scripture and Tradition in a seamless way, one that brings out the joy in hearing the Good News. This combining of Scripture and Tradition has a profound affect on preaching the Good News as well. “As Francis says: ‘…if we have received the love which restores meaning to our lives, how can we fail to share that love with others?’”
This is especially true, first and foremost, in the family, as Christina R. Zaker writes in her article, Empowering Families to be Spirit-Filled Evangelizers. In this article Dr. Zaker explores how pastors and ministers can empower families to recognize their privileged role as Sprit-Filled Evangelizers. Pope Francis notes, “When the Church summons Christians to take up the task of evangelization, she is simply pointing to the source of authentic personal fulfilment. For ‘here we discover a profound law of reality: that life is attained and matures in the measure that it is offered up in order to give life to others…’'(#10). This lesson, this truth, Dr. Zaker attests, starts within the family, and it is especially in the fifth chapter of the exhortation that we can glean the resources needed to empower families for such an evangelization that the Pope describes.
In the article Pope Francis and Gregory the Great on the Evangelical Sermon, Brendan Lupton offers some insights in how to apply Pope Francis’ advice on homilies. Indeed, The Joy of the Gospel has a lot to say on this subject, and Father Lupton turns to one of the great predecessors of the Holy Father for help in unpacking it all. Highlighting three characteristics of Francis’s homiletical teaching, Father Lupton looks at the homilies of Gregory the Great and the practical wisdom of how the use of a saint’s story can be a powerful rhetorical device. As Father Lupton notes, “Within the history of the Church, many heroes have been moved by exempla and have forever changed the Church.”
This is followed by Marek Duran’s article Memory, Morality, and The Joy of the Gospel. Here, Father Duran shows how this apostolic exhortation is a great response to the culture of forgetfulness that seems to be so prevalent today. He focuses in on the Holy Father’s words: Memory is a dimension of our faith which we might call “deuteronomic”, not unlike the memory of Israel itself. Jesus leaves us the Eucharist as the Church’s daily remembrance of, and deeper sharing in, the event of his Passover (cf. Lk 22:19). The joy of evangelizing always arises from grateful remembrance … The believer is essentially ‘one who remembers’ (#13) Father Duran offers a look into how true these words are, but also at how they call each of us to a moral life. One who remembers their salvation, is one who must act on that memory.
Finally, we have William M. Becker’s article, Ten Problems with Annulments: Must they always determine eligibility for Eucharist? Although not connected to The Joy of the Gospel, it nonetheless addresses an important question connected to another synod, the Synod of the Family (2014 – 2015). Here, Father Becker looks at some very tough questions facing the Church; and, as this issue of Chicago Studies goes to print, we have not yet received any resolution to them. Examining some of the disagreements among the bishops at the Synod regarding Eucharistic eligibility for those civilly remarried, Father Becker proposes an interesting and modest Eucharistic accommodation for those who do not have an annulment.