Surprised by Francis
The Joy of the Gospel: Evangelii Gaudium (Apostolic Exhortation)
Author: Francis (As listed on title page)
Publisher: United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
I share the interest of many in Francis, the simple designation the Pope uses in the Joy of the Gospel, which has an appropriate subtitle, Apostolic Exhortation. Fitting because, being addressed to Catholics from lay people to leaders, it’s a challenging call to live the life of Christ in every dimension for the sake of evangelization.
This is far from a how-to-win-souls book. Rather, it’s remarkable for its comprehension of the all-encompassing nature of evangelism, elevating it above drudgery to joy, which is as it should be. Those seeking a fresh vision can find it here under the following broad headings:
1. The Church’s Missionary Transformation
2. Amid the Crisis of Communal Commitment
3. The Proclamation of the Gospel
4. The Social Dimension of Evangelization
5. Spirit-Filled Evangelizers
Francis may not be thought of as an academic like his predecessor—on the basis of what I had read and heard I was expecting folksy inspiration along the lines of his namesake. What a surprise to find such a scholarly outlook filled with practical directives that even I as an evangelical can apply to my own life.
The simple writing style is an encouragement to me personally. I’m not verbose and neither is Francis. He gets to the point with hardly a wasted word.
Each chapter is organized under sub-heads that have numbered sections containing an average of one to four short paragraphs. The sections are consecutively numbered from the beginning of the book.
There is treasure in readily accessible form in each of these 288 divisions. I could revisit them repeatedly and be enriched each time.
The author only lost me with an occasional reference to the Eucharist and in the concluding part that deals with Mary. The latter was a slight let down.
I realize that some might not even consider this volume because of their differences with the Catholic Church. If, however, one approaches it with an open mind to glean what is helpful rather than reading to find fault, one can be the wiser for it. I don’t want to be too proud to learn from anyone. That’s not to say there is no need for discernment.
It’s the capacity that one needs when reading N. T. Wright, John MacArthur, and one of my favorites, F. W. Boreham, or any other author. We grow in our ability to separate the wheat from the chaff in part by being exposed to views that differ from our own. Sometimes we need the help of contemporaries and/or ancients to help us find our way. This is part of the value of reading books.
Whatever we think we know, in a sense we know it imperfectly. I am wrong without realizing it. I fail in many ways and see imperfectly. It’s why we need to evaluate and avail ourselves of resources that God provides.
There is one book that towers over and has inspired this and countless others in Christendom. If we have time for nothing else, the Bible must be our lodestar. Everything else must stand in the light of it.
In the Winter/Spring 2014 issue of Image, Kathleen Norris writes, “However the cultural winds are blowing, I believe that the task for artists of faith is the same as it has always been. Whether or not the culture accepts their work, their job is to reject the false and seek the true; to shun sentiment and formulaic happy endings in favor of passion and surprise” (83). Francis may not be considered an artist, but in this work he rejects the false and seeks the true. He shuns sentiment and formulaic answers. He writes with passion and surprise, which makes this a joy to read.