Pope Francis is arguably the most popular modern pope since John XXIII. Last year he wrote what the Catholic Church refers to as an Apostolic Exhortation called, The Joy of the Gospel. It is not an encyclical; he does not speak “ex cathedra”. In his message, Pope Francis exhorts all Catholics to evangelize. That is, to bring the joy of the gospel message to all peoples of all races and belief systems, not to necessarily convert, but to enlighten their political, economic and cultural decision making to reflect the secure knowledge that each of us is a loved child of God. Francis urges those who are so enlightened to make decisions that are all inclusive of all sectors of society, especially the marginalized and the poor.
Pope Francis does not say anything new in this exhortation; but like Saint Paul, his words are infused with his personal encounter with the Holy Spirit. (Perhaps even more astonishingly, in this modern world, his actions match his words. He shuns the trappings of power to joyfully identify with the marginalized and the poor.) He encourages all Catholics to pray for their own encounter with the Holy Spirit and to do likewise.
To tell the truth, I find this concept of evangelizing somewhat frightening. The Pope wants me to look for opportunities to actually talk about the gospel message in my everyday life. He wants me to actively support social justice in accordance with the gospel teachings. He wants me to love my neighbor not only by “feeding and clothing” him/her, but by preaching the good news of salvation. Like Christ, he wants me to give up my life for the love of others- those ”others” being any human being, friend or enemy; saint or sinner; Jew or Muslim. I can no longer comfort my self by knowing that, like the rich young man in the gospel, “keeping the commandments” is not enough. I must, “go, sell what I have and give to the poor”. I can no longer, “pray in secret”. I am being asked to, “Go, tell it on the mountains”. The Joy of the Gospel takes me out of my comfort zone. It asks me to trust in the Holy Spirit as I bring God’s message of love to all whom I meet.
I think that I will start by smiling at all of the people in my building with whom I ride the elevator. The space is very small; the ride is rather short. But sometimes, just a moment of kindness can remind the other that he/she is not alone and that he/she is loved. So, it’s a start.