“The Very Heart of the Gospel” – Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium

“The Very Heart of the Gospel”

“Evangelii Gaudium”

The Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation of Pope Francis

David Schütz
Anima Education


What is “Evangelii Gaudium”

  • Evangelii Gaudium is an ‘Apostolic Exhortation’ written by Pope Francis.
  • The title is taken from the first two words of the document in Latin and mean “The Joy of the Gospel”
  • But the real title is “On the Proclamation of the Gospel in Today’s World”
  • It was signed by the Pope on 24 November 2013, on the solemnity of Christ the King.
  • It is addressed to ‘bishops, clergy, consecrated persons and the lay faithful’ of the Catholic Church throughout the whole world.
  • The occasion for its release was the conclusion of the ‘Year of Faith’, which marked the 50th Anniversary of the Opening of the Second Vatican Council.

What is in Evangelii Gaudium?

  • EG §17. “Here I have chosen to present some guidelines which can encourage and guide the whole Church in a new phase of evangelization, one marked by enthusiasm and vitality. In this context, and on the basis of the teaching of the Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium, I have decided, among other themes, to discuss at length the following questions:

a) the reform of the Church in her missionary outreach;
b) the temptations faced by pastoral workers;
c) the Church, understood as the entire People of God which evangelizes;
d) the homily and its preparation;
e) the inclusion of the poor in society;
f) peace and dialogue within society;
g) the spiritual motivations for mission.”

Jorge Bergoglio at the Conclave

  • The speech Bergoglio gave during the pre-conclave General Congregation meetings of the Cardinals.
  • Evangelizing implies Apostolic Zeal

– Evangelizing pre-supposes a desire in the Church to come out of herself. The Church is called to come out of herself and to go to the peripheries, not only geographically, but also the existential peripheries: the mystery of sin, of pain, of injustice, of ignorance and indifference to religion, of intellectual currents, and of all misery…
2. – When the Church does not come out of herself to evangelize, she becomes self-referential and then gets sick. … The evils that, over time, happen in ecclesial institutions have their root in self-referentiality and a kind of theological narcissism. In Revelation, Jesus says that he is at the door and knocks. Obviously, the text refers to his knocking from the outside in order to enter but I think about the times in which Jesus knocks from within so that we will let him come out. The self-referential Church keeps Jesus Christ within herself and does not let him out.

– …Put simply, there are two images of the Church: Church which evangelizes and comes out of herself, the Dei Verbum religiose audiens et fidente proclamans; and the worldly Church, living within herself, of herself, for herself. This should shed light on the possible changes and reforms which must be done for the salvation of souls.

– Thinking of the next Pope: He must be a man who, from the contemplation and adoration of Jesus Christ, helps the Church to go out to the existential peripheries, that helps her to be the fruitful mother, who gains life from “the sweet and comforting joy of evangelizing.”

Why is Evangelii Gaudium important?

  • Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation on ‘The Joy of the Gospel’ is his blueprint for the Church’s mission in the present and in our immediate future.
  • For the way in which the Church turns her face from looking inwards (pastoral/maintenance focus) to outwards (mission/gospel focus)

From Pastoral Option to Missionary Option

  • Evangelii Gaudium §15 “We need to move from a pastoral ministry of mere conservation to a decidedly missionary pastoral ministry”
  • EG §25 “Mere administration’ can no longer be enough.”
  • EG §25 “Throughout the world, let us be ‘permanently in a state of mission’.”
  • EG §27 “I dream of a “missionary option”…capable of transforming everything, so that [everything the Church is and does] can be suitably channelled for the evangelisation of today’s world rather than for her self-preservation.”

The ‘Very Heart’ of Evangelii Gaudium?

  • So what is Pope Francis’ ‘central idea’? It is neither simple nor familiar.
  • According to the Wikipedia article on Evangelii Gaudium: ‘In the 47,560 word document, Francis uses the word “love” 154 times, “joy” 109 times, “the poor” 91 times, “peace” 58 times, “justice” 37 times, and “common good” 15 times’
  • But he also uses the term ‘proclamation’ 58 times and ‘witness’ 25 times. In particular he introduces the term ‘kerygma’ (8 times) and the phrase ‘first proclamation’ (5 times)!
  • These two unfamiliar terms are used repeatedly in a section in the centre of the document from paragraph 160 through to 185.
  • Although this section actually crosses a chapter division, in terms of content it should be read as a whole

Kerygma = the Primary Proclamation

  • ‘kerygma’ and ‘first [or primary] proclamation’ are synonyms (Francis also uses ‘the principal proclamation’ and ‘the first announcement’, which also mean the same thing)
  • ‘Kerygma’ is the New Testament Greek word which describes the mode of communicating the Good News by proclamation (often translated ‘preaching’ in the New Testament, but should not be narrowly associated with giving homilies or sermons).
  • Other Greek words for communicating the Good News: ‘catechesis’ or ‘didache’ (which both refer to teaching) or even the term ‘dialogue’.
  • These terms have a (not very well known) history in the Church – although Catholic teachers have generally been introduced to them in relation to catechesis
  • In 1936 English protestant Scripture scholar C.H. Dodd published “The Apostolic Preaching”. From the sermons in the Book of Acts and the epistles of St Paul, he identified what he believed was the ‘primitive proclamation’ (‘kerygma’) of the apostles:
  • Kerygma = the Primary Proclamation
  • The Age of Fulfilment has dawned, the “latter days” foretold by the prophets.
  • This has taken place through the birth, life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
  • By virtue of the resurrection Jesus has been exalted at the right hand of God as Messianic head of the new Israel.
  • The Holy Spirit in the church is the sign of Christ’s present power and glory.
  • The Messianic Age will reach its consummation in the return of Christ.
  • An appeal is made for repentance with the offer of forgiveness, the Holy Spirit, and salvation.
  • In more recent times, N.T. Wright has proposed the following as the ‘kerygmatic outline’ of St Paul’s preaching in “What St Paul Really Said” :
  • Kerygma = the Primary Proclamation
  • “that the crucified Jesus of Nazareth…
  • “had been raised from the dead by Israel’s God;
  • “that he had thereby been vindicated as Israel’s Messiah;
  • “that, surprising though it might seem, he was therefore the Lord of the whole world.”
  • In and through him, God is “putting the world to rights”
  • In short, as we Catholics used to say at Mass: “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.”

That was how they preached it then.

  • What, according to Pope Francis, does the ‘primary proclamation’ of the Gospel (the ‘very heart of the Gospel’) sound like on the lips of Catholics today?

What is the Kerygma?

  • EG §164. In catechesis too, we have rediscovered the fundamental role of the first announcement or kerygma, which needs to be the centre of all evangelizing activity and all efforts at Church renewal.
  • [Firstly:] The kerygma is trinitarian. The fire of the Spirit is given in the form of tongues and leads us to believe in Jesus Christ who, by his death and resurrection, reveals and communicates to us the Father’s infinite mercy…
  • EG §164. “… [Secondly:] On the lips of the catechist the first proclamation must ring out over and over:
  • “Jesus Christ loves you;
    he gave his life to save you;
    and now he is living at your side every day to enlighten, strengthen and free you.”
  • Note how the “first proclamation” is addressed in the second person: it is an “announcement” or “declaration” TO YOU which demands to be heard, and which requires a response – either accept it or reject it;
  • Not also that it is NOT a piece of information which needs to be learned or with which one can argue or debate.
  • EG §164. … [Finally:] This first proclamation is called “first” not because it exists at the beginning and can then be forgotten or replaced by other more important things.
  • “It is first in a qualitative sense because it is the principal proclamation, the one which we must hear again and again in different ways, the one which we must announce one way or another throughout the process of catechesis, at every level and moment.”

Mercy’ at the Heart of the Gospel

  • ‘Mercy’ is at the heart of Pope Francis’ message.
  • The Father’s mercy is expressed very specifically through the death and resurrection of Jesus.
  • We receive the Father’s mercy when the Holy Spirit compels us to believe in Jesus who died and who rose again to eternal life.
  • This is the Gospel announcement that Pope Francis (like the Christmas angels) believes is ‘good news of great joy for all the people’ (Luke 2:10).
  • It is ‘the first proclamation’ which must never be lost or pushed into the background, but rather form ‘the centre of all evangelizing activity and all efforts at Church renewal’.

Understanding Francis

  • EG §34 “If we attempt to put all things in a missionary key [that is, if we put ‘the first proclamation’ at the heart of our message], this will also affect the way we communicate the message. In today’s world of instant communication and occasionally biased media coverage, the message we preach runs a greater risk of being distorted or reduced to some of its secondary aspects. In this way certain issues which are part of the Church’s moral teaching are taken out of the context which gives them their meaning…
  • EG §34 “…The biggest problem is when the message we preach then seems identified with those secondary aspects which, important as they are, do not in and of themselves convey the heart of Christ’s message. We need to be realistic and not assume that our audience understands the full background to what we are saying, or is capable of relating what we say to the very heart of the Gospel which gives it meaning, beauty and attractiveness. (EG §34)
  • “We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods… When we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in context,” he said.  Adding that the church should not be “obsessed” with transmitting “a disjointed multitude of doctrines,” Pope Francis said: “We have to find a new balance; otherwise the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel.” Rakesh Ramchurn, “Pope Francis: Church’s ‘obsession’ with gays, abortion and contraception means it risks ‘falling like a house of cards’”, The Independent, Thursday 19 September 2013, in reference to Pope Francis’ interview in America Magazine “A Big Heart Open to God” September 30, 2013 by Antonio Spadaro, S.J.

The Priority of the Gospel

  • EG §36: ‘all revealed truths derive from the same divine source and are to be believed with the same faith, yet some of them are more important for giving direct expression to the heart of the Gospel’.
  • In Pope Francis’ system, the ‘first proclamation’ of the love and mercy of God that comes through the death and resurrection of Jesus must have pride of place in the Church’s communication with the world.
  • Pope Francis is giving the Church a very real wake-up call with respect to how our witness to the Gospel is perceived.
  • Many people hear only words of condemnation and moral reproof from the Church
  • Instead we need to communicate ‘the very heart of the Gospel’ ‘the first or primary proclamation’
  • that Jesus loves us, that he died and rose for us, and that he is living for us now to walk beside us.
  • The first duty of the Church is not to be a school mistress wielding a yardstick but rather a messenger, an angel, bringing news of comfort and joy.

The Social Dimension of the Gospel

  • The ‘first proclamation’ of the Gospel is at risk

A) when we find ourselves preaching moralism rather than the Good News,

B) when we fail to show the charity and love which is at the very heart of the Kingdom of God which the Good News proclaims.

EG §199: ‘Without the preferential option for the poor, “the proclamation of the Gospel, which is itself the prime form of charity, risks being misunderstood or submerged by the ocean of words which daily engulfs us in today’s society of mass communications”’ Pope Francis quoting Saint John Paul II, from his Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte (2001)

Fidelity to the Gospel in Truth & Love

  • EG §39. Just as the organic unity existing among the virtues means that no one of them can be excluded from the Christian ideal, so no truth may be denied. The integrity of the Gospel message must not be deformed. What is more, each truth is better understood when related to the harmonious totality of the Christian message; in this context all of the truths are important and illumine one another…
  • EG §39. …When preaching is faithful to the Gospel, the centrality of certain truths is evident and it becomes clear that Christian morality is not a form of stoicism, or self-denial, or merely a practical philosophy or a catalogue of sins and faults. Before all else, the Gospel invites us to respond to the God of love who saves us, to see God in others and to go forth from ourselves to seek the good of others…
  • EG §39. “…Under no circumstance can this invitation be obscured! All of the virtues are at the service of this response of love. If this invitation does not radiate forcefully and attractively, the edifice of the Church’s moral teaching risks becoming a house of cards, and this is our greatest risk. It would mean that it is not the Gospel which is being preached, but certain doctrinal or moral points based on specific ideological options. The message will run the risk of losing its freshness and will cease to have “the fragrance of the Gospel”.

Encountering Jesus in the Gospel

  • Pope Francis is an apostle of the Gospel.
  • He is so attractive to the world precisely because in his own self he appears to embody all the ‘meaning, beauty and attractiveness’ of the Good News of Jesus.
  • People see in him what they might perhaps see in Jesus if they were to encounter him face to face.
  • EG §7: ‘I never tire of repeating those words of Benedict XVI which take us to the very heart of the Gospel:
  • “Being a Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction”.’

“A Renewed Encounter”

  • In the Introduction to Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis utilises the language of the Encyclical Lumen Fidei to state that his aim is “to encourage the Christian faithful to embark upon a new chapter of evangelisation marked by this joy, while pointing out new paths for the Church’s journey in years to come” (§1)
  • EG §11 “The heart of its message will always be the same: the God who revealed his immense love in the crucified and risen Christ.”
  • The old saying is that ‘you can’t give what you don’t have’.
  • Therefore the start of this “new path” and “new chapter” is to be “a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ” (EG §3).
  • This encounter is not for a select few, the very religious or those who are ‘into that sort of thing’ – it is for “all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment… No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her”

The Joy of the Resurrection

  • The ‘personal encounter with Jesus’ is a personal experience of the Resurrection: “Let us not flee from the resurrection of Jesus” (§3)
  • “There are Christians whose lives seem like Lent without Easter” (§6) (cf. §85 and his warning against being “sourpusses”).
  • And so the “source and inspiration of all our efforts at evangelisation” is knowing the love of God “which restores meaning to our lives” (§8)

Evangelisation “by Attraction”

  • Pope Francis asks: “If we have received the love which restores meaning to our lives, how can we fail to share that love with others?” (§8)
  • This is the key to evangelisation in Pope Francis’ system: EG §15 “Instead of seeming to impose new obligations, [Christians] should appear as people who wish to share their joy, who point to an horizon of beauty and who invite others to a delicious banquet. It is not by proselytising that the Church grows, but “by attraction”.”

“Missionary Transformation”

  • Chapter One is entitled “The Church’s Missionary Transformation”
  • It is significant that the word “transformation” is used rather than “reformation” – Pope Francis is not calling for a “reformed” Church, but a “transformed” Church
  • When we do a word search of Evangelii Gaudium, we see that the Holy Father speaks of positive and negative “transformations”:

Negative “transformations”

  • Negative use of “transform” in EG include:
  • “A tomb psychology [which] transforms Christians into mummies in a museum.” (§83)
  • Places where “the Christian world is becoming sterile,…depleting itself like an overexploited ground, which transforms into a desert.” (§86)
  • What he describes as a ‘tomb psychology’ is an ‘Easter Saturday’ or ‘Emmaus Road’ psychology – acting as if Jesus were still dead and in the tomb rather than risen and alive

Positive “Transformation”

  • Contrast this with the positive transformations:
  • “a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything” (§27)
  • “He sends his Spirit into our hearts…, transforming us and enabling us to respond to his love by our lives” (§112)
  • “The Holy Spirit enriches culture with the transforming power of the Gospel” (§116)
  • “The Holy Spirit, sent by the Father and the Son, transforms our hearts and enables us to enter into the perfect communion of the Holy Trinity” (§117)
  • Lectio Divina is a “way of listening to what the Lord wishes to tell us in his word and of letting ourselves be transformed by the Spirit.” (§152)
  • “We allow ourselves to be transformed in Christ through a life lived ‘according to the Spirit’” (§162)
  • “The essential vocation and mission of the lay faithful is to strive that earthly realities and all human activity may be transformed by the Gospel” (§201)
  • “Christ’s resurrection is not an event of the past; it contains a vital power which has permeated this world. Where all seems to be dead, signs of the resurrection suddenly spring up. …However dark things are, goodness always re-emerges and spreads. Each day in our world beauty is born anew, it rises transformed through the storms of history… Such is the power of the resurrection, and all who evangelise are instruments of that power.” (§276)

The Encounter is what Transforms

  • So, putting this together:
  • the power which transforms us
  • as individuals and the Church as a whole
  • is the personal “encounter” with the Resurrection of Jesus
  • in his Spirit
  • when we receive the proclamation of the Gospel of his love and mercy

The Transformation is Missionary

  • It is not just a ‘transformation’ that Pope Francis is calling for, but a ‘missionary transformation’
  • From a “tomb psychology” (an Easter Saturday psychology) to a ‘resurrection psychology’ [my term], an Easter Sunday / Pentecost psychology
  • From a “fortress mentality” [my term] to a “Church which goes forth” mentality
  • The pattern of the resurrection accounts in the Gospels is:
  • The visit to the tomb (Negative, transformation into desert, hopeless)
  • The encountering the risen Lord (Positive, joyful transformation)
  • The Sending forth (missioned/apostled) to proclaim the Good News (Gospel/Evangel) – eg. the Great Commission (Matt 28, EG §19)
  • The same pattern happens in the life of Saul of Tarsus:
  • Persecuting Christians (hatred has negatively transformed his heart)
  • Encountering the risen Lord (Joyful, positive transformation)
  • Sent forth (missioned/apostled) to proclaim the Good News (Gospel/Evangel)
  • “God challenges those who believe in him ‘to go forth’” (§20)
  • “All of us are called to take part in this new missionary ‘going forth’” (§20)
  • “In fidelity to the example of the Master, it is vitally important for the Church today to go forth and preach the Gospel to all: to all places, on all occasions, without hesitation, reluctance or fear” (§23)

Reformation? No – Transformation!

  • Pope Francis is aware that ‘there are ecclesial structures’ which need to be changed (§26) – there are ‘reforms’ that need to take place
  • But reason we need these ‘reforms’ is because these failed structures actually ‘hamper efforts at evangelisation’
  • The ‘reforms’ must be at the service of the ‘missionary transformation’ of the Church
  • NOT to make the Church ‘more relevant’ or more in line with current opinion, BUT more evangelical
  • The change needs to be a missionary transformation worked by the power of the Spirit through a renewed encounter with the risen Jesus
  • “Without new life and an authentic evangelical spirit, without the Church’s “fidelity to her own calling”, any new structure will soon prove ineffective.” (§26)

The Social Dimension of the Gospel

  • I have structured this course to put Pope Francis’ call for a new engagement with society last because I wished it to be seen in the proper context of his ‘system’
  • That is, the mission of the Church to transform society and culture (what could be called ‘the social gospel’) must be seen in relation to the actual kerygma of the Church:
  • “The Kingdom of God has come near” (Mark 1:15)
  • “Jesus Christ loves you; he gave his life to save you; and now he is living at your side every day to enlighten, strengthen and free you” EG §164

The Social Dimension of the Gospel [§176-258]

  • “No” and “Yes”:In Chapter Two, Pope Francis lists a number of ‘no’s and ‘yes’s to contemporary society
  • (Nb. His point in §51 “It is not the task of the Pope to offer a detailed and complete analysis of contemporary reality”!)
  • In §52 he states “In our time humanity is experiencing a turning point in its history”
  • There are great scientific advances, but at the same time a great number of people “are barely living from day to day”
  • “No” to anonymous powers
  • In the section where he outlines “some challenges in today’s world” he says:
  • No to an economy of exclusion [§§53-54]
  • No to the new idolatry of money [§§55-56]
  • No to a financial system which rules rather than serves [§§57-58]
  • No to the inequality which spawns violence [§§59-60]
  • In their own way, each of these “anonymous kinds of power” (§52) are a denial by human society of the Gospel of Jesus Christ

“Some cultural challenges” [§§61-75]

  • In the same way he lists “some cultural challenges”, which include:
  • “Attacks on religious freedom or new persecutions directed against Christians” [§61]
  • “widespread indifference and relativism, linked to disillusionment and the crisis of ideologies” [§61]
  • “Priority given to the outward, the immediate, the visible, the quick, the superficial and the provisional” [§62]
  • “the process of secularisation” [§64]
  • “The family is experiencing a profound cultural crisis, as are all communities and social bonds” [§66]
  • All these “challenges” are relevant to the topic of the proclamation of the Gospel because they make that proclamation difficult to be understood and even more difficult to be believed
  • Pope Francis concludes therefore that “It is imperative to evangelise cultures in order to inculturate the Gospel… Each culture and social group needs purification and growth” [§69]
  • Thus, it is not just a ‘personal encounter’ with Jesus Christ that the Church aims at, but also (by means of our proclamation of the Gospel) the encounter of whole societies with Jesus Christ.
  • “What is called for is an evangelisation capable of shedding light on these new ways of relating to God, to others and to the world around us, and inspiring essential values” (§74)
  • “The proclamation of the Gospel will be a basis for restoring the dignity of human life in these contexts” (§75)

“Yes” and “No” in the Church [§§76-109]

  • Following the challenges we find in the world, Francis outlines challenges in the Church. In part we have already addressed these, but here is the list:
  • Yes to the challenge of a missionary spirituality (§78-80)
  • No to selfishness and spiritual sloth (§81-83)
  • No to a sterile pessimism (§84-86)
  • Yes to the new relationships brought by Christ (§87-92)
  • No to spiritual worldliness (§93-97)
  • No to warring among ourselves (§98-101)

 “Ecclesial Challenges”

  • These the Pope calls “ecclesial challenges” (§102-109) – we must overcome these challenges within our own community if we are to be evangelisers of our wider human community
  • Among these are the need for formation of the laity so that there is a “deeply rooted sense of community and great fidelity to the tasks of charity, catechesis and the celebration of the faith” (§102)
  • He complains that “lay ministry” too “often remains tied to tasks within the Church [maintenance and preservation!] without a real commitment to applying the Gospel to the transformation of society [going forth!]” (§102)