Only nine months into his papacy, Pope Francis has managed to capture the attention of millions in ways that no other pope has. This is perhaps, in part, because of his very “frank” way of saying things.
On Nov. 24, Pope Francis published “Evangelii Gaudium” (“The Joy of the Gospel”),
his first apostolic exhortation, a type of communication from the pope to the Church. Since it was released, it has been hotly debated for its mention of popular issues like homosexuality, economics and more. While it is important to know the pope’s words on these issues, getting caught up in these specific short passages without actually grasping the pope’s entire underlying message can confuse our understanding of the issues and distract us from the main purpose of the exhortation.
It is one thing to turn on the TV and hear some commentator criticizing something the pope said in the document. It’s another thing to stop talking about it, read it for ourselves, and do something about it. A careful read of the document will reveal, more than anything else, an invitation from our Holy Father. An invitation to act.
This invitation to act includes being willing to serve others; being willing to adapt a “missionary spirituality.” It’s a mistake, he says, to go about serving others with an unhappy attitude, worried about the free time we are losing as a result. Pope Francis is telling us that the moment is now: We are called to spread the Gospel through our words and our actions to those who are already around us each day.
Francis tells us that the first step in spreading the Gospel this way is “personal dialogue.” This doesn’t mean preaching to people. It means developing intentional relationships, where we seek to truly learn about the other person and how Christ is working in their lives. Relationships like this take work and look much different than the superficial, unhealthy relationships that we see all too often.
The attitude we have as we try to serve others in our daily lives is important. I’ve realized that a joyful heart, with a focus on the spiritual meaning of what I’m doing, can make a huge difference. With a mindset like this, our actions can reach more people than we think.
It is important to recognize the specific needs of the poor that are around us each day—whether it’s a coworker who needs a friendly conversation or a family member who needs a listening ear. The poor aren’t far away from us. They’re closer than we think. We’re just not seeing the poverty around us.
It is often a temptation for many of us to read the words of a pope, maybe comment on them, and then assume that the people he is talking to doesn’t include ourselves. But there is no way our dear pope could be any more “frank” about wanting me to begin to act with charity in real and concrete ways.
So let’s not pass up an invitation like this; we need to actually dive deeper and take action ourselves. Pope Francis wants us to get our “feet on the ground,” rather than leave it up to the next person.
It’s refreshing that our pope’s messages are getting so much publicity in the secular media. But if his true messages never get past you and me and shared with others, we’ve missed the point—and disappointed the pope.
“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.” -Evangelii Gaudium, paragraph 49
The entire Apostolic Exhortation can be read at the Vatican website: www.vatican.va.
• Nagel is executive assistant to the bishop at the Diocese of Bismarck. Her column on the words and actions of Pope Francis will appear regularly in the DCA.