“THE JOY OF THE GOSPEL fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness. With Christ joy is constantly born anew. In this Exhortation I wish to encourage the Christian faithful to embark upon a new chapter of evangelization marked by this joy, while pointing out new paths for the Church’s journey in years to come,” thus opens the first Apostolic Exhortation of Pope Francis titled Evangelii Gaudium, issued on November 26, while many of our Visayan faithful are still reeling from the onslaught of super typhoon Yolanda—which, though how fatally devastating, “… has not destroyed our faith and trust in God,” or so says Borongan bishop Crispin Varquez in his Youtube message circulating in social media.
One thinks that the Filipino context of devastation and utter poverty might be a better locus for deeply understanding the Pope’s exhortation. At a certain angle, this 84-page document treads along the path of the preferential option for the poor which, he says, should not be regarded as something ideological but as an authentic conviction to love the poor person precisely as a person. “This is why I want a Church which is poor and for the poor, they have much to teach us. Not only do they share in the sensus fidei, but in their difficulties they know the suffering Christ. We need to let ourselves be evangelized by them.”
Referring to how the church should become in its pilgrimage towards renewal, Pope Francis stressed what he has earlier said: “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.” This is right in the ambit of a Visayan bishop who told the press of late that his overarching priority was the restoration of people’s lives and not the churches that have been seriously ruined by the 7.2 magnitude earthquake or the super typhoon.
In this document, the Pope, appealing in the simplicity of a father and a pastor, calls all Christians to bring about a “revolution of tenderness” by opening their hearts each day to God’s unfailing love and forgiveness. He points out that the great danger in today’s consumer society is “the desolation and anguish” that comes from a “covetous heart, the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures, and a blunted conscience” that ends up having “no longer room for others, no place for the poor.”
The Holy Father presented a “profound connection between evangelization and human development,” saying that the “Gospel is not merely about our personal relationship with God” but rather about its clear social content, which actually defines what makes one joyful in living the Gospel.
This Apostolic Exhortation concludes by turning to Mary, the star of the new evangelization, pointing out that her “interplay of justice and tenderness, of contemplation and concern for others, is what makes the ecclesial community look to Mary as a model of evangelization.”