This exhortation by Pope Francis mostly discusses the Catholic Church’s responsibility to evangelize and to work for the common good of all people throughout the world. It’s not an official Church doctrine, so it’s basically the pope’s opinion of what’s happening in the Church. A number of things struck me while I was reading it:
- Pope Francis’s focus is not on the usual social issues (e.g., abortion, death penalty) but on one of Jesus’s most basic messages: Give to the poor. I didn’t read it as a “communistic” point of view, just a louder cry to help those who are in need and to treat those who have less with the same respect as those who have more. Rush Limbaugh’s opinion that it was “Marxist” seemed rather extreme.
- I don’t feel as though the Catholic Church is as tied to “evangelizing” as the other Christian churches. You don’t often hear about active evangelization by the Catholic Church. “Evangelize” is almost like a dirty word in today’s society, and even today’s Catholics might think of it as something negative and as something in which they are reluctant to get involved. “Evangelize” brings to mind Jehovah’s Witnesses and their relentless attempts to shower people with the good news of Christ through visits to your home and free copies of The Watchtower. “Evangelize” brings to mind cults that brainwash people into becoming part of a religious movement against their will. “Evangelize” brings to mind “born-again Christians” and “Evangelicals,” in whose churches there are widescreen TVs, loud music, and coffee shops. Worst of all, “evangelize” could even paint a picture of hate groups like Westboro Baptist Church and the misconception that Christians are narrow-minded bigots who hate homosexuals. Not all evangelism is negative; there are right and wrong ways to go about it.
- The Gospels are full of joy. Common Catholic belief is that since Jesus rose from the dead, we are no longer living in an Old Testament world. The sacrifice on the cross was made once, and it was made for all time. Thus, Catholics who hear the gospel every Sunday and who partake of the sacraments should be the most joyful people on earth. Their joy alone should be enough to draw people in and develop in them a desire to experience that same joy. The burden of evangelization would be eased if the people’s joy upon hearing the gospel was contagious enough to reach others. But unfortunately, Catholics today are lacking in joy. Perhaps this is because of poor (and oftentimes hypocritical) leadership, sexual abuse scandals, and the notion that religion is no longer relevant in today’s society.
- The poor will always be in the world. There will always be people who shun religion, no matter how hard or in what ways people try to “evangelize” them. Yes, the world and its people will always be imperfect. Perfection can never be reached. The presence of religion definitely does not make a perfect or ideal world. But I will always believe that things can be better. I know it’s a naive hope, but perhaps instead of rushing to evangelize those in other countries, each country should focus on renewing its own people’s faith and joy first. Then once joy has returned, Catholics will discover the fortitude to proclaim the gospel to others without fear.