Evangelii Gaudium: Will It Unite or Divide?

shutterstock_165469178Thanks partly to tunnel vision reporting and commentary, Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium—The Joy of the Gospel—could be the occasion for a fresh round in an old argument between Catholic prolifers and Catholic social justice people. If so, it will be a pity, for this document sets out a generous vision of what Catholics collectively should stand for in today’s world.

That is in marked contrast with the apparently popular view of  apostolate (a more comprehensive term than “ministry” and therefore preferable when speaking of the Church’s mission as a whole) as a zero sum power game where some people win and others lose. As Pope Francis makes clear, the challenge of apostolate is an opportunity for all Catholics to perform a multitude of individual tasks that together continue the redemptive work of Christ.

Yet much of the media discussion of this document has been an exercise in reductionism focusing largely, or even exclusively, on what it says about trickle-down economics. That Francis has something to say on this subject is obvious. That this is all he has to say is simply not true. But you’d have a hard time knowing that from some of the ideologically colored commentary, both left and right.

Which, to repeat, is a shame. Understood this way, Evangelii Gaudium becomes a one-dimensional tract lending support to the idea that declaring a commitment to social justice is all it takes to claim bona fides as a Catholic. But this ignores the Pope’s strong words on abortion, traditional marriage, and much else. The papal invitation to prolifers and justice people to make common cause on a broad agenda relating to human life and human dignity gets lost.

Note, too, that this apostolic exhortation is a response to last year’s world Synod of Bishops on evangelization. Preaching the gospel–the good news of Christ–is its theme and rationale. This fundamental fact has also been ignored in much said about the document.

A few quotes may suggest the flavor of Evangelii Gaudium.

On poverty. “The current financial crisis can make us overlook the fact that it originated in a profound human crisis: the denial of the primacy of the human person. We have created new idols. The worship of the ancient golden calf has returned in…the idolatry of money and the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose.”

On abortion. “Precisely because this involves the internal consistency of our message about the value of the human person, the Church cannot be expected to change her position…. This is not something subject to alleged reforms or ‘modernizations.’ It is not ‘progressive’ to try to resolve problems by eliminating a human life.”

On marriage and family. “The weakening of [social] bonds is particularly serious because the family is the fundamental cell of society….Marriage now tends to be viewed as a form of mere emotional satisfaction that can be constructed in any way or modified at will. But the indispensable contribution of marriage to society transcends the feelings and momentary needs of the couple.”

Early on, Francis makes the point that today’s instant communication and “occasionally biased” media create a “greater risk” that the Church’s message will be distorted. How sad, then, if a papal message with great potential for bringing Catholics together gets exploited to drive them apart. As he says of abortion, the defense of unborn human life is “closely linked to the defense of each and every other human right.” Surely we can all come together on that.

image: neneo / Shutterstock.com

Russell Shaw


Russell Shaw is a freelance writer from Washington, D.C. You can email him at RShaw10290@aol.com.

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  • Fed up with this pope.

    Sorry, but this pope has already lost me. Nothing he can say or do can make up for all the moral damage he’s done in the last nine months. I’m hardly about to rally around him now.

  • I’m with HIM

    Seems to me the picture included here (of our beloved Pope blowing a kiss) is representative of that which is so difficult to put into words.

    Choose to see through, with, and in the eyes of LOVE.

  • I’m with HIM

    ‘eat My body and drink My blood’

    HE lost most of them. The advocate is at work, have Faith.

  • rff

    Amen; very well written and right on the mark!

  • Jose Samilin

    The worst thing you can do to yourself is to reject the things you do not know.

  • Jose Samilin

    CNN says about Pope Francis, “He took the name of a humble saint and then called for a church of healing,”

  • Jose Samilin

    What an evil words!!! Don’t you know: “He’s changed perceptions of
    the church from being this out-of-touch institution to one that is humble and
    merciful,” Ghosh said. “He’s changed the focus of the church from
    being focused on doctrine to becoming more about service. And he’s changed the one in which the church speaks to one of compassion. It’s all about the poor. This is the church as it used to be in its — arguably its best period in the
    past. And Francis seems to be bringing that back.”

  • Jose Samilin

    Amen, Amen!!! Also, “he’s talking about homosexuality, about giving women a bigger say in the church. These are things that are very, very important. They’re not just words. He’s actually following
    them up with action,”

  • BillinJax

    The Church is a living dynamic expression of God’s mercy and
    love for humanity. It is not buildings or books or bank accounts. These are all
    helpful aids to the growth and maturity of families but all that is really
    necessary for God’s people, the Church¸ to survive is to cling fast to the Truth
    of Jesus Christ. We have his promise and our trust in the Holy Spirit he has
    sent to us to forever abide as the blessed children of God regardless of who is
    seated on the Chair of St. Peter. No single manner of man has the power to
    change or corrupt what God has set apart for himself. But when we see a Pope
    who openly shows great respect and honor to our Blessed Mother that is all I
    need to know our ship and journey of faith is in good hands.

  • Katalina

    I agree with fed up I tried giving him these last nine months the benefit of the doubt but its not just his remarks on economics its the way he treats conservatives in general Like the FFI fiasco which not the secular press is talking about on AP. If that were not enough he dropped three solid Bishops from the Congregation of Education kicking out Cardinal Burke because he is too ULTRACONSERVATIVE as well as three others Benedict had put on. The Pope Emeritus IMHO should have been Man Of the Year either along with Francis or by himself for the humble act of resigning. I have had enough of constantly hearing what a BREATH of FRESH Air he is.


    Beware when all men speak well of you… our Lord said!!! I am not impressed with the Holy Father seeking approval of the world. His arrogance and pride was immediately manifest on the balcony at St. Peter’s when he refused the Papal garments and did not speak to us, but was thinking of himself first (pray for me) and then the crowd in front of him. He was not concerned with the rest of the Church. He had nothing to say to us that eveing and he still has nothing to say except to bring confusion and scold those who are trying to do what he says we are not doing. He has nothing for those who were not taught and have left the Church. He won’t teach anything either.
    He is a poor speaker and should get some help, if he thinks what he is saying is so important.


    What does that mean ‘giving women a bigger role in the Church”?
    The Blessed Mother, the greatest woman , already plays a more significant role in the Church than even Pope Francis! Women are already playing a super significant and vital role which apparently the Holy Father along with the world also do not appreciate-that of being wives and mothers. Does the Holy Father think women should become like men and give up their mothering for the workplace? Does he want to clericalize laywomen? How about some respect and support for what we are, women, who bare, nurture and feed?

  • Jose Samilin

    Thanks for your reaction. While i gave my own opinion, you seem to disagree. Whatever your opinion, its yours. As to your further question, even it contradict to my opinion, I have nothing more. I have also nothing to do about your questions.

  • Jose Samilin

    If you were not impressed, that’s your own business. If you think Pope Francis is arrogant or selfish or what not, that is your own opinion, others are not bound by that.

  • Jose Samilin

    The doctrine of the Church whose Head is Christ can never change since not made by man but rather made by God. It can never cause evils of poverty, but only those who perverts doctrine. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches #25
    The whole concern of doctrine and its teaching must be directed to the love that never ends. Whether something is proposed for belief, for hope or for action, the love of our Lord must always be made accessible, so that anyone can see that all the works of perfect Christian virtue spring from love and have no other objective than to arrive at love.

    Perversion of doctrine is now directly pointed to you FRLBJ.

    Let us see if you can fit to this or else the furious arrow God has been directed to your heart:

    Whoever teaches must become “all things to all men” (1 Cor 9:22), to win everyone to Christ. . . . Above all, teachers must not imagine that a single kind of soul has been entrusted to them, and that consequently it is lawful to teach and form equally all the faithful in true piety with one and the same method! Let them realize that some are in Christ as newborn babes, others as adolescents, and still others as adults in full command of their powers. . . . Those who are called to the ministry of preaching must suit their words to the maturity and understanding of their hearers, as they hand on the teaching of the mysteries of faith and the rules of moral conduct.

    Scary isn’t it!!

  • Jose Samilin

    Katalina you agreed with the fed up so you are among the fed up? That’s freedom of choice, opted on the dark side. But it’s true Pope Francis is Million times “BREATH of FRESH Air. “When he preaches, he’s a man who can make the people listen to him. And not only Catholic people, I mean not only the people who belong to the church, but he’s also very known nationwide. The people in our country really know him and also look up to him — the way he addresses issues regarding social justice, education, our own identify as a nation,” Mangiarotti said.

    We think that the declaration of the Pope as the man of the year is a positive sign. because it is a very prestigious declaration, given to a man that announces the love of God and the peace for all,” the Rev. Federico Lombardi told reporters. “And the Pope does not look for honors, but he is happy if his message — his message of the love of good — is received and understood. And then, in this sense, he can be happy of this declaration.”

  • Jose Samilin

    Amen!! A a m e n! ! ! ! In the new testament is the apostolic authority of St, Peter Chair. “Jesus relies on the oral tradition of acknowledging Moses’ seat of authority, which passed from Moses to Joshua to the Sanhedrin. Of course
    Moses’ Chair was replaced by “Peter’s Chair” upon which each of the
    bishops of Rome sit in succession at the Pope. However, some former leadership became unwise and are prone to their weaknesses, so Jesus warn the faithful, “The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses; therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do
    according to their deeds; for they say things and do not do them.”
    Matthew 23:2-3 But amazing the Catholic Church now headed by Pope Francis had been surviving for over 2000 years, which surely not because of the ingenuity of it’s leadership or it fall and crumble early on, but of course by the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

  • Rory

    Head for the hills! Evangelii Gaudium marks not a rallying point, but the beginning of dissolution. The commentary on this article shows extreme polarization. This is not the only place on the web where one finds this kind of extreme division. Under this pope the Church will fly apart like a whirling burning spark-spitting Dalek in a wild Dr. Who finale, with small demented voices chirping in the chaos: This is the work of the Spirit! Where the Spirit was actually working, we will find out only in the quiet smoldering aftermath…

  • Jose Samilin

    Thanks Rory for your very eloquent opinion or I should say tantamount to a prediction of Pope Francis stewardship gleaned from his Evangelii Gaudium and your other sources. I can’t disagree with you much as there really is a great possibility of the church’s division looking at the moral decadence of the faithful worldwide and we cannot waive out of that possibility, because beyond pope proclamation and his views and teachings, the Holy Spirit works takes over. In other words, the Pope has done his duty to proclaim and teach, trying his best too to live out himself what he preach. The work of converting the hearts and conscience of the people is not the preachers work anymore, but the work of God’s Spirit and so division from inside and outside the Church may occur. The Pope will be satisfied whatever will happen in the future as the result of his preaching knowing that he did the best he can and sincerely obeying the jolting of the Holy Spirit in him. Or it may turn out otherwise for a unity, I really don’t know or who knows?? I think only God knows at this point. Your opinion maybe better than mine!! Rory, Merry Christmas and a Happy New year and to everyone in this forum.

  • Barth

    Hello Jose, may the Spirit be with you.

    Pope Francis seems to disagree with your sense of the Church. He fears it will collapse like a house of cards if it persists in its old ways. So all that long history is not the Holy Spirit, but is error.