Last weekend, I took the time to read Pope Francis' new apostolic letter Evangelii Gaudium. It is a demanding read (85 pages, single spaced). It is a joyful, exciting, surprising and hope-filled text that continually challenges the reader.
Pope Francis writes in the first person. The text reads almost like a personal letter from the pope to the reader.
Often in recent years, talk of new evangelization pushes concern for the poor and action for justice to the margins. Not so with Pope Francis. The English subtitle is The Proclamation of the Gospel in Today's World.
It covers similar ground to Gaudium et Spes at Vatican II, but does it with a more radical edge containing a demanding call to missionary discipleship for all in the Church in a world of rich and poor, justice and injustice.
The document frequently speaks to the whole People of God, who are called to an ever-watchful "signs of the times" in order to address present realities in our world capable of setting off processes of dehumanization. He says we must say "no" to an economy of inequality and exclusion and to an economy which kills.
Pope Francis presents an example that touches close to the lives of many Albertans: "How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?"
The situation of those living in cities is examined. "On the one hand, there are people who have the means needed to develop their personal and family lives, but there are also many 'non-citizens,' 'half citizens' and 'urban remnants.'"
Think of the challenges of homeless men, women and children in Alberta today and their struggle to find welcoming neighbourhoods where they can move in and build new lives.
Pope Francis challenges those who want to help those in need while maintaining a comfortable distance. He insists "that the Gospel tells us constantly to run the risk of a face-to-face encounter with others, with their physical presence that challenges us, with their pain and their pleas, with their joy which infects us in our close and continuous interaction."
Think of St. Vincent de Paul members doing home visits, Welcome Home volunteers, and those volunteering week after week at the Marian Centre.
Mention is made of a theological "option for the poor" that speaks to everyone in the Church. "Each individual Christian and every community is called to be an instrument of God for the liberation and promotion of the poor, and for enabling them to be fully part of society."
Pope Francis speaks of "new forms of poverty and vulnerability in which we are called to recognize the suffering Christ." The list he gives could be taken from the headlines of today's Alberta newspapers: those who are "homeless, addicted, refugees, indigenous peoples, elderly who are increasingly isolated and abandoned."
He speaks specifically of unborn children as vulnerable in society today, "the most defenceless and innocent among us." He affirms the Church's traditional teaching opposing abortion. He then speaks of "creation as a whole" as being weak and defenceless "at the mercy of economic interests or indiscriminate exploitation."
Our redemption is said to have a social dimension: "God, in Christ, redeems not only the individual person but also the social relations existing between persons." The way we organize the social, economic and political structures of our society matters. It is necessary to address the structural causes of poverty and social exclusion.
Pope Francis points to the injustices of an economic system which relies on the invisible hand and where "ideologies . . . defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation." He insists that ethics must permeate the marketplace in order to bring a more humane social order.
One example could be the present Development and Peace campaign for the Canadian government to introduce an ombudsman to help bring ethical oversight and transparency to the activities of Canadian mining companies in countries operating around the world.
Evangelii Gaudium covers many topics and defies being confined to a brief summary. This document could make an excellent Advent reflective reading project. It can easily be read a few pages at a time. It can be downloaded from the Vatican website (www.vatican.ca)
(Bob McKeon: firstname.lastname@example.org)