The first exhortation from Pope Francis is truly a disturbing document: because it reminds Christians of the fundamental task to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ, not because of duty, but rather because they have encountered and formed a personal relationship with that same Jesus.
Having heard the good news the Christian is forever changed, and joyfully so. Having been changed, having been plunged into the joy of the Gospel, the Christian should surely wish to share the source of their joy, of their new life, with others, and do to do so joyfully. The Christian person who has encountered Jesus, the Word of God made Incarnate, is called to live their lives in response to that relationship, which means that their life, every aspect of their life, will now reflect the joy of the Gospel – not just in terms of their spiritual life, but also in their relationships with other human beings, with their community, and with society in general.
Pope Francis reminds the Christian – or indeed anyone who reads Evengelii Gaudium – that joy is the primary modus vivendi of the Christian, and exhorts everyone through his unique conversational and pastoral style to embrace “The Joy of the Gospel” and to share it with each other and the world.
Much has been written by other commentators about the nature of this document, and what it means for the future of the Catholic Church, but there is also a danger of reading too much into what the Holy Father has written. To my mind, this Apostolic Exhortation is a document written by a loving pastor to his flock to remind them that at the very heart of things the Gospel is not a burden to be shouldered, not an onerous duty to be carried out, but rather a joyful and life giving reality that is meant to be lived!
I, for one, will take the Pope’s words to heart…and attempt to live out the true joy of the Gospel that has changed my life forever.