The Year of Faith for the New Evangelization, called by Pope Benedict, ended officially last Sunday, the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. At that time, Pope Francis officially “presented” his Apostolic Exhortation to the Church, and it was published on Tuesday. Entitled Evangelii gaudium (EG), it has already turned heads with much of its content as well as its style, which has captured much of the homiletic approach has become so well-known. Already, bloggers and others have offered the occasional quote which jumped off the page for them, but I’d like to do something a bit different.
First, I’d like to set the context of the document itself before getting too far into the text. People has asked, “What is an Apostolic Exhortation, and how does it differ from, say, an Encyclical Letter often written by popes?” This document is offered to the Church as a capstone to the Synod on the New Evangelization which was called by Pope Benedict at the beginning of the Year of Faith. While not required to do so, most popes have taken the opportunity to synthesize the work of the Synod, and to indicate its implications for the future. For example, following the 1990 Synod on Priestly Formation, Pope John Paul II promulgated the post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Pastores Dabo Vobis in 1992, which has served as blueprint for much of priestly formation ever since. So, the first thing to realize about Evangelii gaudium is that it is a product intimately related to the last Synod. However, not only does it also point a way forward (as other post-Synodal documents have) in a general sense, it is also the first document published by Pope Francis as completely his own. It therefore can serve as a road map of papal priorities. As he writes in the opening paragraph, “In this Exhortation I wish to encourage the Faithful to embark on a new chapter of evangelization marked by this joy, while pointing out new paths for the Church’s journey in years to come.” So, unlike a papal encyclical, which can be on any topic the pope chooses, a post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation is linked to a specific topic. Pope Francis has chosen, however, to take advantage of this opportunity to offer a trajectory for his papacy.
The second thing that seems quite significant to me in a general sense is the scope of the references used by Pope Francis. I recently reviewed a book being published by Crossroads which contains forty-eight reflections written or delivered by then-Cardinal Bergoglio during his serve as Archbishop of Buenos Aires. I was particularly struck by his profound use of scripture. I know this should not seem so surprising, perhaps, but he is a master of profound and sophisticated scriptural analysis while expressing his reflections in powerful pastoral language. What is rare is finding people who can do both well! This use of scripture is readily apparent in EG as well. After scripture, and in addition to the expected references to the Second Vatican Council and to the work of previous popes on evangelization (in particular, Popes Paul VI and John Paul II), there are exceptional references to the work of the episcopate worldwide: the Aparecida document, for example, the various regional synods on Asia and Oceania, and the bishops of the Philippines. There is a particular richness, depth and universality to EG which can be traced especially to such sources.
Those are a couple of initial points which I believe to be significant from the outset.
What do you think?