As a pastor, I want to share why and how “The Joy of the Gospel” by Pope Francis inspires me, and to explain how it could revitalize the Catholic Church. I offer seven reasons why Pope Francis’ “exhortation” is bringing renewed vigor to my ministry.
First, trust in the Spirit! As Catholics we believe that the Spirit of God purifies, renews and unites the church in every generation. The Holy Spirit guides people, both within and outside the church, to the truth that leads to freedom.
In “The Joy of the Gospel,” the pope assures us that the Spirit will help us to overcome fears, to take risks motivated by faith and to try bold ways of expressing what we believe. The Holy Father reminds us that the Spirit will provide the gifts we need to meet challenges in our time. The Spirit does not allow apathy or defeatism.
Second, our spirituality must be internalized and put into action. Faith must motivate us. Like the Good Samaritan, we are to be involved with our neighbor in need. Wider than individual piety, our spirituality must connect us with the community even as it strengthens our convictions about God revealed in Christ. In brief, a spirituality of our generation demands solidarity with the poor.
Third, hope frees us to do what is right without seeking signs of immediate success. Throughout his message, Pope Francis offers reasons to have a hope that leads to service. Jesus turned water into wine (82-84). Our faith began in the desert (86). Seeds of the resurrection are in every experience (278). Easter should be stressed as must Lent (6). Francis wants the church to offer hope, love and encouragement more that condemnation.
Fourth, the church should reach out to the poor, women and youth, keep open her doors to the hungry and thirsty and respect the hierarchy of truths.
There also needs to be a shift in the style of our teaching. We ought to say more about social justice, and more about love rather than harsh laws. Our pastoral focus needs to be more on Christ than on institutional forms. The church must be a source of healing, life and freedom; and give comfort to the wounded.
Fifth, the laity, priests and consecrated persons are to bring the goodness of the Gospel to our world. Since the laity make up 98 percent of the Church, they have a special responsibility to give witness to the Gospel in their families and work place, and in our society and politics. Like missionaries, lay persons should be involved with their culture and promote the common good of all.
Pope Francis urges priests to avoid clericalism, feelings of despair, and fear triggered by the political agenda of some people in the media. He also tells priests that their attitude is more important than proselytizing, and that precision in rubrics and doctrine should be matched by their desire to help the sick and all who carry heavy burdens.
He also warns priests against any crafted appearance of piety, forms of self-indulgence and lives of isolation. These negatives are to be replaced by a ministry grounded in zeal, courage and trust in Divine Providence. Priests should not be afraid to respond to unjust policies. Both laity and priests are to acknowledge that many in our culture are attracted to the idolatry of money.
Some big corporations control the state and deprive the poor (55-57). At the same time, we ought to praise businesses and entrepreneurs who are noble and make their goods accessible to all (203). Society benefits from policies that provide good education, health care and employment for the people (298).
Sixth, we need to dialogue. Our conversations with people within and beyond our faith communities are to be based on goals of mutual respect and understanding. We are to dialogue with marginalized people, other Christians, non-Christians, and nations.
Francis believes that dialogue will help us find our way to the truth, human development, reconciliation and peace. He warns us to remember, however, that this process requires time, patience, realistic expectations, action, unity and a pursuit of the common good (217-237).
Seventh, we need to have conviction about what we believe and do. Jesus was a man with conviction. Our Holy Father believes that our hearts have a spiritual longing for the Good News about God’s love and mercy in Jesus.
Priests, laity and consecrated religious must be convinced that life is diminished without our knowing and walking with Christ. All of us must possess the conviction that the world is a better place because of Christ. Only then will we be able to give authentic witness to the world and bring comfort to those who suffer. This is how “The Joy of the Gospel” can revitalize the church.
It is my conviction that the pope’s exhortation belongs as a core course in seminaries. The exhortation can be taught with seriousness in Catholic colleges, high schools and adult education programs.
Pastors should read and act on Pope Francis’ exhortation, discuss its truths with parish councils and present “The Joy of the Gospel” as spiritual food in homilies.
I am sure that some have dismissed Pope Francis’ message because he is not St. John Paul II or Benedict XVI. Some will have other reasons.
Happily, others who have waited a long time to hear someone encourage faith in the Holy Spirit talk about hope, a Servant Church and a spirituality that is less individualistic and more community oriented, will welcome this exhortation.
I am happy to be the pastor of Blessed Virgin Mary Parish in beautiful downtown Darby. Conviction, community effort and creativity have kept our parish fully alive and our school open, affordable and attractive. The pope’s message supports and inspires our mission to evangelize by feeding the hungry, finding jobs for the unemployed and educating children.
Our parish practices “new, bold and attractive expressions of faith” through our Blue Mary Jazz Café, and an original shrine to honor Mother Mary, “Help of the Addicted.”
As for me, and with the inspiration found in “The Joy of the Gospel,” I join my brothers and sisters at B.V.M. who say, “This train does not go in reverse. It only goes forward.”
Father Joseph M. Corley is pastor of Blessed Virgin Mary Parish in Darby.