Pope Francis has come to North America. This rather modest pastor who drives a Ford Focus, answers his own phone and, oh by the way, leads 2 Billion Roman Catholic believers, over 70 million in the USA alone. This modesty is met in the US by being greeted by the president and other dignitaries and even has bobble heads of his likeness for sale. This intrigues me and I would like some idea of what he stands for in the larger universal Church.
His “Apostolic Exhortation”, the Evangeli Gaudium or Gospel of Joy, is available as a free download from the Vatican and other sources. While several summaries are on the internet, it is worth reading as a whole. This is Pope Francis’s playbook, his ministry foci, and a sort of credo. Click here for the English translation. It is clearly written, though using a lot of Roman Catholic jargon, and set up in 288 short paragraphs in three sections.
I read it as a Methodist. Make no mistake that this is a Roman Catholic document and written by a reformer of the Roman Catholic church. Issues like low worship attendance, difficulty in keeping Sunday School teachers, “Clericalalism” subordinating the laity,faith stealing secularism, unbridaled consumerism, a diminished sense of community and a loss of evangelistic zeal are issues that my own bishop is dealing with. Francis is blunt when he addresses clergy and laity alike. He does not shy away from women’s issues, abortion, and other social issues. Francis is quite blunt with the consumerism and market structures of today. The US and capitalism are not mentioned by name but is isn’t a stretch to see that he is addressing the western, so called first-world, countries.
He speaks passionately of the sacraments being open to all, inter-faith dialogue, inter religious dialogue and even a more energetic conversation with the various Orthodox communities. However, there is no mention of ordaining women or opening up communion to those outside of the Roman Catholic community. When he speak of the mission of “all believers” and the “entire church” I feel he is speaking to his Roman Catholic family. My understanding of these terms includes him though I wonder if his understanding includes me.
Francis’s evangelistic zeal of a renewed relationship with Jesus Christ that is bigger than church structure and more important than edicts is pervasive. He quotes Aquinas, Augustine and both ancient and contemporary writings. However, when he presses a point he goes to the New Testament, especially the Pauline texts. Francis presents a real relationship with Jesus, taken personally, lived in community and at work in a missionary calling wherever you are.
So what? Why does this matter enough to a non-Catholic to spend a couple of hours reading it? Two big things. First, it is refreshing to know that we United Methodists are not the only one struggling with these issues. People are people wherever you go and we are not all that different in out different denominations. Second, dialogue with other Christians begins with understanding and this document gives a glimmer of how things really are. Understanding them a first step to being better understood ourselves by Roman Catholic Christians who need to know that our struggles are much the same.
This review is an editorial and I speak only for myself and am solely responsible for the content of The Thoughtful Pastor Blog. Watch for book reviews of whatever I am reading.