Pope Francis has issued the first Apostolic Exhortation of his papacy. Entitled Evangelii Gaudium, which translates as the Joy of the Gospel, the 223-page document presents the Pope's vision for a missionary Church, which shares the gospel with "enthusiasm and vitality.". He addresses many issues, including the care of the poor, evangelism, politics and the role of women, young people and laity in the Church. His main thrust, however, is a heartfelt appeal to all Catholics to have "a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ" and to allow this encounter to "liberate" and "impel" them towards sharing the joy they have found in Him with those around them.
"For if we have received the love which restores meaning to our lives, how can we fail to share that love with others?" he asks.
Pope Francis goes on to develop the theme of the proclamation of the Gospel in modern culture, saying "I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security."
Here are some of the main points in the Exhortation:
1. A personal encounter with Jesus that is free to all.
"No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her, since 'no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord'...How good it feels to come back to him whenever we are lost! Let me say this once more: God never tires of forgiving us."
"I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day."
2. The Gospel brings joy and is eternally relevant.
"The Gospel, radiant with the glory of Christ's cross, constantly invites us to rejoice."
"Time and time again he bears us on his shoulders. No one can strip us of the dignity bestowed upon us by this boundless and unfailing love. With a tenderness which never disappoints, but is always capable of restoring our joy, he makes it possible for us to lift up our heads and to start anew."
"There are Christians whose lives seem like Lent without Easter. I realize of course that joy is not expressed the same way at all times in life, especially at moments of great difficulty. Joy adapts and changes, but it always endures, even as a flicker of light born of our personal certainty that, when everything is said and done, we are infinitely loved."
3. The Church needs to evangelise and be joyful and creative in doing so.
"Goodness always tends to spread. Every authentic experience of truth and goodness seeks by its very nature to grow within us, and any per- son who has experienced a profound liberation becomes more sensitive to the needs of others. As it expands, goodness takes root and develops. If we wish to lead a dignified and fulfilling life, we have to reach out to others and seek their good."
"Pastoral ministry in a missionary key seeks to abandon the complacent attitude that says: 'We have always done it this way'. I invite everyone to be bold and creative in this task of rethinking the goals, structures, style and methods of evangelization in their respective communities."
"Whenever we make the effort to return to the source and to recover the original freshness of the Gospel, new avenues arise, new paths of creativity open up, with different forms of expression, more eloquent signs and words with new meaning for today's world. Every form of authentic evangelization is always 'new'".
"Today's vast and rapid cultural changes demand that we constantly seek ways of expressing unchanging truths in a language which brings out their abiding newness. Let us never forget that 'the expression of truth can take different forms. The renewal of these forms of expression becomes necessary for the sake of transmitting to the people of today the Gospel message in its unchanging meaning'".
4. The Church must protect the poor and vulnerable.
"If the whole Church takes up this missionary impulse, she has to go forth to everyone without exception. But to whom should she go first? When we read the Gospel we find a clear indication: not so much our friends and wealthy neighbours, but above all the poor and the sick, those who are usually despised and overlooked, "those who cannot repay you" (Luke14:14). There can be no room for doubt or for explanations which weaken so clear a message. Today and always, "the poor are the privileged recipients of the Gospel", and the fact that it is freely preached to them is a sign of the kingdom that Jesus came to establish. We have to state, without mincing words, that there is an inseparable bond between our faith and the poor. May we never abandon them."
5. A fairer economic system and life beyond consumerism are needed.
"The great danger in today's world, pervaded as it is by consumerism, is the desolation and an- guish 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."
"A financial reform open to such ethical considerations would require a vigorous change of approach on the part of political leaders. I urge them to face this challenge with determination and an eye to the future, while not ignoring, of course, the specifics of each case. Money must serve, not rule! The Pope loves everyone, rich and poor alike, but he is obliged in the name of Christ to remind all that the rich must help, respect and promote the poor. I exhort you to generous solidarity and to the return of economics and finance to an ethical approach which favours human beings."
6. Men and women are equal in dignity.
"The Church acknowledges the indispensable contribution which women make to society through the sensitivity, intuition and other distinctive skill sets which they, more than men, tend to possess. I think, for example, of the special concern which women show to others, which finds a particular, even if not exclusive, expression in motherhood. I readily acknowledge that many women share pastoral responsibilities with priests, helping to guide people, families and groups and offering new contributions to theological reflection. But we need to create still broader opportunities for a more incisive female presence in the Church."
7. Religious freedom is a fundamental human right.
"This includes 'the freedom to choose the religion which one judges to be true and to manifest one's beliefs in public'. A healthy pluralism, one which genuinely respects differences and values them as such, does not entail privatizing religions in an attempt to reduce them to the quiet obscurity of the individual's conscience or to relegate them to the enclosed precincts of churches, synagogues or mosques. This would represent, in effect, a new form of discrimination and authoritarianism. The respect due to the agnostic or non-believing minority should not be arbitrarily imposed in a way that silences the convictions of the believing majority or ignores the wealth of religious traditions. In the long run, this would feed resentment rather than tolerance and peace."
8. The Holy Spirit is transformational, and necessary for evangelism.
"Spirit-filled evangelisers means evangelisers fearlessly open to the working of the Holy Spirit...The Holy Spirit grants the courage to proclaim the newness of the Gospel with boldness in every time and place, even when it meets with opposition. Let us call upon him today, firmly rooted in prayer, for without prayer all our activity risks being fruitless and our message empty. Jesus wants evangelisers who proclaim the good news not only with words, but above all by a life transfigured by God's presence."