On The Joy Of The Gospel – Don Antonio Grappone


Don Antonio Grappone, Pontifical Council for the Laity 

Talk on Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii gaudium of Pope Francis

Union of Catholic Apostolate

Saturday, May 24, 2014 at 9:00 AM


I. Some keys to Interpretation

1. General Perspective

1. A risk to be avoided: As we all know, the world media focuses almost daily on what Pope Francis says and does, generally treating it sympathetically, even enthusiastically, particularly highlighting some aspects of his work. This unexpected situation has certain positive aspects, as in fact the great media success of the Pope has certainly done the people of God good: a considerable part of the faithful who were critical in the past or far from the Church is moving closer to practicing the sacraments and to reading Sacred Scripture, rediscovering the importance of faith in their lives; even the reform of the Church undertaken by the Holy Father is arousing great interest not only among Catholics.

Nevertheless, as the Pope himself reminds us, phenomena of this type are certainly not lacking in ambiguity. In this apparently favourable climate, we risk passively accepting the superficial and sensationalistic interpretation that the media give to the Magisterium of the Pope, thus losing its profundity. It therefore seems necessary to me to begin our reflection on Evangelii gaudium by offering some keys to interpretation which are not generally taken into consideration.

2. The place of Evangelii gaudium. Above all we need to highlight the importance of the document. This apostolic exhortation, according to an established practice, was supposed to be simply a re-elaborated version of the results of the  2012 Synod of Bishops on the new evangelisation; Pope Francis instead explicitly made it the programmatic document of his pontificate; in no. 1, in fact, we read: “In this Exhortation I wish to encourage the Christian faithful to embark upon a new chapter of evangelisation marked by this joy, while pointing out new paths for the Church’s journey in years to come.” Evangelii gaudium therefore represents a sort of “map” to understand the teachings of the Holy Father: the many surprising statements that we have heard him make in this first year of his ministry as universal Shepherd, not infrequently poorly interpreted, all find their response and adequate explanation in the apostolic exhortation. In addition, the document is not meant to be simply a doctrinal text but is intended to jolt the conscience of the reader: if we do not allow the text to personally question us, we will not succeed in understanding it. Therefore, in order to understand Pope Francis and his program, it is necessary to have read and meditated on Evangelii gaudium.

3. The method: The Pope is a true Jesuit, a “classic” Jesuit, “old school”, shaped by the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, a profile not now common even among the Jesuits themselves. This means that the fundamental principle which guides the government and Magisterium of Francis is spiritual discernment, along the lines learned in the school of St. Ignatius: a discernment that is applied above all to oneself, to one’s own interior life, in order to transfer it then to the complexities of life in general. From this perspective, we can better understand many aspects of this Pontificate: for example, the fact that issues need to remain open until they have been discerned sufficiently, which sometimes requires time and patience. It is a matter of waiting for God’s to be revealed, without immediately silencing the more uncomfortable challenges. Furthermore, this approach involves a willingness to listen to all, to learn from all, even from those who are mistaken (why are they mistaken?…), as the Pope clearly says in no. 236 of the apostolic exhortation: “Even people who can be considered dubious on account of their errors have something to offer which must not be overlooked.”

4. The form: The Pope is a Shepherd, was for many years first auxiliary bishop and then archbishop of Buenos Aires. He was accustomed to speaking to and teaching not a class of students nor even simply his religious confreres, but the people of God. To a superficial reading, Evangelii gaudium can appear to be an overly long and at times repetitive text, with many digressions that seem to take us far from the main issue. This is what I heard a famous Italian professor say, who advised people to read only the first part. But this is not so. We are certainly far from a “deductive” structure, of a scholastic kind, comprising premises and their consequences, like, for example, my presentation aims to be. But this does not mean that the text lacks logic and coherence. It simply follows another model of communication, another way of organising topics, typical of oral presentations: a cyclical form that methodically presents basic ideas in order to examine them from different points of view. It is truly a well-researched form, as we shall see shortly, and very effective for passing on teachings concerning such a complex issue as that which the Holy Father is addressing.

5. The Language: Naturally even the language reflects the Pope’s pastoral experience, which matured in Latin America. The Church in that continent has had to overcome many obstacles and face serious crises, but precisely thanks to this path it has developed an ecclesial awareness of the first order, which in the last Episcopal Latin American Conference was synthesised in the Aparecida Document, which saw the great contribution of the then Cardinal Bergoglio. The Latin American Church has gradually acquired a great capacity to communicate the Gospel to the people, freeing itself from the superficial and deceiving messages of the North American sects on the one hand and from the deceptive ideologies of a Marxist hue on the other, which had created many problems. The notion of “people”, so important in the document, is one of the most important contributions to the benefit of the universal Church. The direct and effective language of Evangelii gaudium reflects this wealth of experience.

6. The aims: Evangelii gaudium follows the stated objective of supporting reform in the Church. The words reform, conversion, renewal — recur an infinite number of times. The idea of reform in the Church is no novelty, but is, rather, intrinsic to the Church itself: ecclesia semper reformanda (the Church is always in need of renewal, of being reformed), but this idea became explicit above all in the Latin Church from the beginning of the eleventh century (it is much less clearly perceived in the Eastern Church), and therefore, exactly one thousand years ago. It is part of Tradition with a small “t”. This need has been felt in every generation, in order to remain faithful to Christ and his Gospel in the midst of the storms of history. In the course of ten centuries there have evidently been signs of serious deviations, schisms and heresies in the name of “reform”, yet the Catholic Church has never thought that it could avoid this. A famous book by Congar, an important figure at the Council, “True and false reform of the Church”, is interesting: it indicates four characteristics of true reforming action: 1. It must be guided by love; 2. It must remain in communion of the Church, which is safeguarded by the Magisterium; 3. It must be patient: haste leads to schism and heresy; 4. It needs to know how to look backwards, always returning to authentic Tradition, to the source, which is faithfulness to Jesus Christ.

Therefore, the Pope is moving according to an established tradition; he has chosen the name of the most famous of Catholic reformers, Francis of Assisi, and is the spiritual son of another great reformer, Ignatius of Loyola. Furthermore, the document is declaredly inspired by the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii nuntiandi of Paul VI, which gathers together and relaunches the missionary theology of the Second Vatican Council (n. 10). In no. 26 we find an explicit quotation from Vatican II on reform: “Every renewal of the Church essentially consists in an increase of fidelity to her own calling… Christ summons the Church as she goes her pilgrim way… to that continual reformation of which she always has need” (cf. Unitatis redintegratio, 6). In addition, the Holy Father knows that reform, to be authentic, must be in capite et in membris, in both head and members, it concerns, that is, all of God’s people, from the Pope to the last, most recently baptised, of the faithful. That is what Evangelii gaudium strongly proposes, beginning precisely with the reform of the papacy. The Pope, therefore, does not simply want to reform the Curia or the IOR, as the newspapers say. He wants to reform all, beginning with himself: “I too must think about a conversion of the papacy” (n. 32). None of us, therefore, ought to read this document thinking that it does not apply to him- or herself, but rather to others. It must be applied above all to oneself, or otherwise we have understood nothing. The Pope makes this clear right from the beginning: “I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day” (n. 3).

2. The Structure

1. We spoke before of the apparent difficulty of pinpointing a logical development in the text. In effect, if we look at the index, we may find ourselves a bit disoriented: the logical connection of the topics is not obvious. But the index does not by any means reflect the structure of Evangelii gaudium; in fact, I personally have some doubts that it was drafted by the Pope. Instead in no. 17, at the end of the introduction, we find the plan of the document, expressed in a very simple and clarifying way.

After an introduction, the Pope, indicates 7 topics:

a)     the reform of the Church in her missionary outreach;

b)    the temptations faced by pastoral workers;

c)      the Church, understood as the entire People of God which evangelises;

d)     the homily and its preparation;

e)     the inclusion of the poor in society;

f)      peace and dialogue within society;

g)     the spiritual motivations for mission.

2. The sevenfold structure is not a simple succession of themes; it is a traditional way of organising thought, especially when it is presented orally, favouring assimilation and memory. As all students of Sacred Scripture or of popular literature know, this structure involves intersecting relationships between the parts which help to clarify the contents and to connect them to one another. The following is a very famous sevenfold schema that could serve as an example:

 Our Father who art in heaven

1. Hallowed by Thy Name

2. Thy Kingdom come

3. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven

4. Give us this day our daily bread

5. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us

6. And lead us not into temptation

7. But deliver us from evil

Jesus’ prayer has an introduction and seven requests: a central one (bread, no. 4), which represents the focal point of the conversation, and six others organised in concentric links: no. 7 corresponds to no. 1, no. 6 to no. 2, no. 5 to no. 3).

3. As we shall see, the apostolic exhortation of Pope Francis follows the same logic:

Introduction (1-18)

a) The reform of the Church in her missionary outreach (19-75).

b) The temptations faced by pastoral workers (76-109).

c) The Church, understood as the People of God which evangelises (110-134). 

d) The homily and its preparation (135-175).

e) The inclusion of the poor in society (176-216).

f) Peace and dialogue within society (217-258).

g) The spiritual motivations for mission (259-288).

The basic relationships jump out: a) missionary outreach, corresponds to g) spiritual motivations for mission; b) the temptations, which are selfish individualism and self-absorption, correspond to f) openness to the problems of human society; c) the Church as the total people of God corresponds to e) the inclusion of all as a whole, and therefore, above all, of the poor, who are excluded by definition. At the centre we find d): the preparation of the homily … which could seem very strange, but we will see instead that it is not so!

4. It should also be noted that this model, formed by an introduction and seven points related to each another, not only characterises the general structure of Evangelii gaudium, but even some of the seven points that make it up, or some sections within these points. See as some more evident examples: “the temptations of pastoral workers”, or “the Church understood as the entire people of God which evangelises”; … but a more accurate analysis uncovers many other links: truly a text that seems to have been written on the go, which on closer examination proves to be very well structured.

II. Brief Explanation of Evangelii gaudium

As we were saying, Evangelii gaudium consists of seven points. Obviously I will have to proceed rapidly, attempting to highlight the principal themes.

1. Introduction: The introduction is very important because it presents the question. Pope Francis begins with a reassuring consideration: “The joy of the gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness. With Christ joy is constantly born anew” (1). Joy is not an added element to Christian faith, but constitutes a fundamental, indispensable dimension, as the Old and New Testaments bear witness. A Christian without joy is an oxymoron, like saying “a rich person without money”, “a genius without intelligence”… It is evidently not a matter of a superficial joy, but of a profound experience capable of sustaining the disciples of the Lord even in the most difficult moments of their lives. Moreover, the strength to spread the Gospel comes directly from the joy of the people of God.

But at this point the Pope raises the problem from which Evangelii gaudium is born: why, if joy is the distinctive characteristic of our faith, are Christians so often lacking in it? Why do they have the style of Lent without Easter (6), even a funeral face (10)? The loss of joy comes from falling into the great risk of today’s world: an individualistic sadness (2). The Christian is sad precisely because of having given up evangelising. Whoever does not evangelise, whoever does not bear witness to Christ, closes themselves to Grace, and therefore to joy. Pope Francis wants to urge us towards the joy of faith by reawakening the desire to proclaim the Lord in every corner of the world, so that his light may penetrate every corner of our existence.

2. The reform of the Church in her missionary outreach (19-75)

The first section of the document is divided into two parts: the Church’s missionary

transformation (19-49) and the situation in which the world that is so in need of receiving the message finds itself (50-109). The first part emphasises the criterion for reform: in order to fulfil the mandate of Jesus the Church must become “a Church which goes forth”, moving “from a pastoral ministry of mere conservation to a decidedly missionary pastoral ministry” (15): “all of us are called to take part in this new missionary ‘going forth’” (20). A renewal of structures is also therefore necessary: “The renewal of structures demanded by pastoral conversion can only be understood in this light: as part of an effort to make them more mission-oriented, to make ordinary pastoral activity on every level more inclusive and open, to inspire in pastoral workers a constant desire to go forth and in this way to elicit a positive response from all those whom Jesus summons to friendship with himself” (27). Therefore, dioceses, parishes, associations, movements – and even the Union of Catholic Apostolate! – are challenged to open themselves to mission with greater enthusiasm. The risk, then, is a part of the mission and needs therefore be accepted without fear: “I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security” (49). The content of the proclamation must be the fundamental core of faith: “the beauty of the saving love of God made manifest in Jesus Christ who died and rose from the dead” (36), in order to avoid dissipating ourselves in a pastoral ministry that is “obsessed with the disjointed transmission of a multitude of doctrines to be insistently imposed” (35).

The second part of this section is a precise diagnosis of the ills of our globalised world, with which the Church is confronted. The Pope has no doubt: at the centre of the sufferings and sins that characterise our time is an economic system which is “unjust at its root” (59) based on the idolatry of money, on the illusion that the logic of profit ends up resolving all problems: the “deified market” (56). We are almost dealing with a “canonisation” of egoism, which gives rise to a world in which “the excluded are not the ‘exploited’ but the outcast, ‘the leftovers” (53): it is the “throw away culture”. This “individualismof our postmodern and globalised era” (67) undermines the family, the fundamental unit of society, at its foundation, as well as all other forms of human community.

3. The temptations faced by pastoral workers (76-109)

The second section of the pastoral exhortation is a true examination of conscience in the light of the Gospel. It is inspired by the first week of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, a profound meditation on one’s own sins, which is like the door to be gone through in order to discern God’s will in our lives. Unless we engage personally in this reflection, we cannot understand Evangelii gaudium! The Pope addresses each of his readers, at times very explicitly, in order that they might recognise their own sins and be converted. Listen to the example in no. 101: “Let us ask the Lord to help us understand the law of love. How good it is to have this law! […] We all have our likes and dislikes, and perhaps in this very moment we are angry with someone. At least let us say to the Lord: “Lord, I am angry with this person, with that person. I pray to you for him and for her”. To pray for a person with whom I am irritated is a beautiful step forward in love, and an act of evangelisation. Let us do it today! Let us now allow ourselves to be robbed of the idea of fraternal love!”

This section is also formed by an introduction and seven points. In particular, at the conclusion of this question we find an exhortation not to allow ourselves to be robbed of something important: Let us not allow ourselves to be robbed of missionary enthusiasm! (80) Let us not allow ourselves to be robbed of the joy of evangelization! (83) Let us not allow ourselves to be robbed of hope! (86) Let us not allow ourselves to be robbed of community! (92) Let us not allow ourselves to be robbed of the Gospel! (97) Let us not allow ourselves to be robbed of the ideal of fraternal love! (101) Let us not allow ourselves to be robbed of missionary vigour! (109). These affirmations remind us of the words of Jesus: “The thief comes only to steal, to kill and to destroy; I have come so that you might have life, and have it in abundance” (Jn 10:10).

In the introduction, the Pope expresses his great gratitude to the Church, without which there is no reform but only hostility (76): a resentful attitude against the Church does not produce reform, but only harm. It reminds us that we Christians are sinners like everyone else, and if we are not converted we become an active part of that mechanism of sin that is the egotistical world that we spoke about in the preceding point (77). In order to enter into a logic of evangelisation, we must have a “missionary spirituality”: every one of us therefore must be converted from certain selfish attitudes which the Pope describes: individualism, inferiority complexes with respect to the world, egotistical sloth which hides itself under the appearance of good, defeatist pessimism in the face of today’s difficulties, “spiritual worldliness”, a true plague in the Church: “This is a tremendous corruption disguised as a good. … God save us from a worldly Church with superficial spiritual and pastoral trappings!” (97). Then, the internal wars among Christians are a very grave scandal; listen to what the Holy Father says in no. 100: “It always pains me greatly to discover how some Christian communities, and even consecrated persons, can tolerate different forms of enmity, division, calumny, defamation, vendetta, jealousy and the desire to impose their own ideas at all costs, even to persecutions which appear as veritable witch hunts. Whom are we going to evangelise if this is the way we act?” Another danger is clericalism, as much that of the clergy as that of the laity, which tends to exclude from decision-making the indispensable experience of such a large part of the people of God – laity, women, youth and the elderly. What we need are new relationships generated by Christ, [in order to truly become] the people of God: no one evangelises alone.

4. The Church as the entire People of God that evangelises (110-134)

The third section of Evangelii gaudium corresponds somewhat to the second week of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, which serves to discern God’s will in the face of major decisions in life. The Pope, in fact, wishes to clarify that the proclamation of the Gospel is the proper and specific vocation of the People of God as such and not of a “professional” category; we are all pastoral workers by virtue of our Baptism. In this section, the “theology of the people” of Pope Francis plays a fundamental role. For the Holy Father, the people of God is not a passive group, a crowd, to be guided or liberated by the work of educated and enlightened people as, for example, the Marxists hold, but is an active subject to be listened to, especially in matters of faith, a reservoir of wisdom from which we can learn through a pastoral closeness. It is not, however, a matter of learning from them dogmatic truths that compete with the Magisterium: we do not learn who the Madonna is from the people – says Pope Bergoglio – but how to love the Madonna! Therefore, in order to evangelise, the contribution of the whole Church in its catholicity is necessary, through a “varied face” (116), to which “the evangelising power of popular piety” belongs fully in its own right (122). The author of such a variety of charisms is, for the Holy Father, the Holy Spirit, who is also the only guarantor of unity: “Diversity must always be reconciled by the help of the Holy Spirit; he alone can raise up diversity, plurality and multiplicity while at the same time bringing about unity. When we, for our part, aspire to diversity, we become self-enclosed, exclusive and divisive; similarly, whenever we attempt to create unity on the basis of our human calculations, we end up imposing a monolithic uniformity. This is not helpful for the Church’s mission” (131). Theologians, on their part, “must always remember that the Church and theology exist to evangelise, and not be content with a desk-bound theology” (133).

5. The homily and its preparation (135-175)

As we have seen in the introduction, this fourth section is right at the centre of Evangelii gaudium. Therefore the title should not mislead us. It is not simply a technical explanation aimed only at priests to improve homilies: the reflections contained therein constitute rather the very heart of the apostolic exhortation. In dealing with the preparation of the homily, the Pope, in fact, explains the basic content that the mission needs to communicate, that is to say, the kerygma, the first proclamation of salvation, the narration of the fact that our Lord Jesus Christ has taken our sins upon himself, freely giving his own life on the cross to free us from sin and from death, from the meaninglessness of existence and is risen from the dead in order to give us his victory, in the Church, through the Word of God and the sacraments. In the Exercises of St. Ignatius, this theme takes up the third and fourth weeks. For the Pope, preaching has a fundamental role, serving to awaken a thirst for God: “he preacher must know the heart of his community, in order to realize where its desire for God is alive and ardent” (137), in order to speak “words which set hearts on fire”, painstakingly avoiding a “purely moralistic or doctrinaire” preaching (142). The Holy Father says that “A preacher who does not prepare is not “spiritual”; he is dishonest and irresponsible with the gifts he has received” (145). The basic content of every sermon is indeed the kerygma: “In catechesis too, […] the fundamental role of the first announcement or kerygma […] needs to be the centre of all evangelizing activity and all efforts at Church renewal[…]; [it] leads us to believe in Jesus Christ who, by his death and resurrection, reveals and communicates to us the Father’s infinite mercy. On the lips of the catechist the first proclamation must ring out over and over: “Jesus Christ loves you; he gave his life to save you; and now he is living at your side every day to enlighten, strengthen and free you.” This first proclamation is called “first” – continues the Pope – not because it exists at the beginning and can then be forgotten or replaced by other more important things. It is first in a qualitative sense because it is the principal proclamation, the one which we must hear again and again in different ways, the one which we must announce one way or another throughout the process of catechesis, at every level and moment” (164). Without the salt of the kerygma, in fact, preaching and every teaching end up being without flavour, are reduced to an empty moralism, an appeal to the willpower of (“a voluntaristic appeal to”)  human effort which is destined to fail. Christianity becomes an unbearable burden or a sham.

The inclusion of the poor in society (176-216)

6. As we have seen in commenting on the structure of the Exhortation, the fifth section is tightly bound to the third, which underscored the necessity that all of the people of God, in its totality, go forth to evangelise. In order to fulfil this fundamental task, it is necessary to overcome all forms of marginalisation and to recreate a unified human fabric marked by solidarity, above all in Church. The people of God must therefore rediscover its inclusive vocation, completely against the current with respect to the dominant tendencies. There is, therefore, a “profound connection between evangelisation and human advancement” (178), which leads Christians to proactively influence social and economic affairs: “It is no longer possible to claim that religion should be restricted to the private sphere and that it exists only to prepare souls for heaven” (182): “An authentic faith – which is never comfortable or completely personal – always involves a deep desire to change the world” (183). Therefore, adds Pope Francis, “We should not be concerned simply about falling into doctrinal error, but about remaining faithful to this light-filled path of life and wisdom” (194); in fact, “For the Church, the option for the poor is primarily a theological category rather than a cultural, sociological, political or philosophical one. […] This is why I want a Church which is poor and for the poor. They have much to teach us” (198). It is evidently not a matter of limiting oneself to material help: “the worst discrimination which the poor suffer is the lack of spiritual care” (200). Among the “discarded” of our egotistical world, the Pope has not forgotten “unborn children, the most defenceless and innocent among us. Nowadays efforts are made to deny them their human dignity and to do with them whatever one pleases, taking their lives and passing laws preventing anyone from standing in the way of this” (213).

7. Peace and social dialogue (217-258)

The sixth part of Evangelii gaudium corresponds to the second, in which the Pope dealt with the temptations of pastoral workers: if egotistical sloth, a kind of turning in on oneself, is what paralyzes Christians, the therapy consists in spending ourselves for the common good and for the proclamation of the Gospel of peace. I would like to highlight in particular the four criteria of discernment for the evangelising commitment that the Holy Father sets out at this point. Remember that discernment is at the centre of Ignatian spirituality and is indispensable in order to avoid being deceived by temptations.

The first principle: “Time is greater than space” (222-225). In the language of the Pope, space is reality as it presents itself as a whole to our gaze; when an action such as evangelisation is undertaken, we must not get carried away by claiming to occupy all of the space, that is, to succeed in controlling everything, to have immediate success on all fronts. Time is more important than space, because authentic human action is effective when it initiates a process, not when it expects to obtain everything immediately. The one who evangelises is a patient sower because growth requires time: “The parable of the weeds among the wheat (cf. Mt 13:24-30) graphically illustrates an important aspect of evangelization: the enemy can intrude upon the kingdom and sow harm, but ultimately he is defeated by the goodness of the wheat” (225).

The second principle: “Unity prevails over conflict” (226-230): according to Pope Francis, conflict is inevitable in our human reality, therefore we need to know how to face it without ignoring it, but without letting it suck us in: “When conflict arises, some people simply look at it and go their way as if nothing happened; they wash their hands of it and get on with their lives. Others embrace it in such a way that they become its prisoners” (227). The Pope indicates a way out: “But there is also a third way, and it is the best way to deal with conflict. It is the willingness to face conflict head on, to resolve it and to make it a link in the chain of a new process” (227). For this it is necessary to have it very clear that unity is superior to conflict: it involves an evangelical principle which is based on a solid personal spirituality: “the locus of this reconciliation of differences is within ourselves, in our own lives, ever threatened as they are by fragmentation and breakdown. If hearts are shattered in thousands of pieces, it is not easy to create authentic peace in society” (229). Only through a process of reconciliation will diversity become a wealth that does not destroy, but instead values, unity.

The third principle: “Realities are more important than ideas” (231-233). For Pope Francis the idea, thinking developed by human beings, is “at the service of communication, understanding, and praxis”, and therefore when the ideas become disconnected from reality they fail to reach their objective and everything becomes empty and dangerous rhetoric. The principle is based on the fact of the incarnation of the Lord and “It helps us to see that the Church’s history is a history of salvation, to be mindful of those saints who inculturated the Gospel in the life of our peoples and to reap the fruits of the Church’s rich bimillennial tradition, without claiming to come up with a system of thought detached from this treasury, as if we wanted to reinvent the Gospel. At the same time, this principle impels us to put the word into practice, to perform works of justice and charity which make that word fruitful. Not to put the word into practice, not to make it reality, is to build on sand, to remain in the realm of pure ideas and to end up in a lifeless and unfruitful self-centredness and gnosticism” (233).

The fourth principle: “The whole is greater than the part” (234-237), “but it is also greater than the sum of its parts” (235), says the Pope. This principle leads us to “broaden our horizons and see the greater good which will benefit us all. But this has to be done without evasion or uprooting. We need to sink our roots deeper into the fertile soil and history of our native place, which is a gift of God. We can work on a small scale, in our own neighbourhood, but with a larger perspective” (235). Reality is complex and is not like a sphere where every point is equidistant from the centre, but is an irregular polyhedron which in order to be understood, must be considered in every one of its parts. Therefore the search to understand reality cannot begin from the centre, but from the peripheries. This too is an evangelical principle: “The Gospel has an intrinsic principle of totality: it will always remain good news until it has been proclaimed to all people, until it has healed and strengthened every aspect of humanity, until it has brought all men and women together at table in God’s kingdom. The whole is greater than the part” (237).

8. Spiritual reasons for a renewed missionary impulse (259-288)

The last section is clearly connected to the first: the Church in order to accomplish its missionary transformation needs a profound spirituality that sustains it, needs, that is, “evangelisers fearlessly open to the working of the Holy Spirit” (259), who “cultivate an interior space” (262), who pray!

This spirituality is first and foremost Christocentric. In fact, “The primary reasons for evangelising is the love of Jesus which we have received, the experience of salvation which urges us to ever greater love of him” (264). It is this experience which impels us to announce to the world the beauty of Christ’s love. Therefore, we need to keep it alive through prayer: “In union with Jesus, we seek what he seeks and we love what he loves” (267).

Then there is the ecclesial: the love of Christ teaches us “the spiritual savour of being a people” (268), a closeness to others, especially to those who are most difficult and wounded, who are “the Lord’s wounds” (270): “Clearly Jesus does not want us to be grandees who look down upon others, but men and women of the people” (271). The mission, to bring the love of God to our brothers and sisters, is the very reason for our earthly life: “I am a mission on this earth; that is the reason why I am here in this world” (273).

The Holy Spirit is the true protagonist of mission because he makes present in our lives the resurrection of Christ which frees us from the temptation of thinking that everything is futile, that nothing can change: the Spirit of the Risen One renews the universe, calling forth everywhere “seeds of that new world; even if they are cut back, they grow again, for the resurrection is already secretly woven into the fabric of this history, for Jesus did not rise in vain” (278).

But the mission has another protagonist: Mary, the Mother of evangelisation: “There is a Marian “style” to the Church’s work of evangelisation. Whenever we look to Mary, we come to believe once again in the revolutionary nature of love and tenderness” (288).

Mary, Virgin and Mother,

you who, moved by the Holy spirit,

welcomed the word of life

in the depths of your humble faith:

as you gave yourself completely to the Eternal One,

help us to say our own “yes”

to the urgent call, as pressing as ever,

to proclaim the good news of Jesus.