Pope Francis. The Joy of the Gospel: Evangelii Gaudium. New York: Image, 2013, 2014. See here to purchase the book.
The Joy of the Gospel is primarily about evangelism. For Pope Francis, this includes sharing one’s faith about God’s love for each human being, God’s forgiveness, Christ’s sacrificial death to bring people salvation, and Christ’s triumph over death and evil at his resurrection. And yet, while Pope Francis does offer helpful advice about how Christians can share their faith effectively in interpersonal relationships and in the pulpit, he discusses other issues as well, including the importance of hopeful service to others and being a prophetic voice against income inequality and systemic abuse of the poor. For Pope Francis, evangelism is not just a matter of sharing the good news, but also of embodying the good news.
There are many jewels in this book, and I cannot do them all justice. I did, however, have some favorite passages. I enjoyed his discussion of Bible study and how we should be honest with God when something in the Bible offends us, for God is patient with us, even if we are not entirely ready to obey God right now; at the same time, elsewhere in the book, Pope Francis says that Christians should not try to lessen the difficult commands of Jesus, as certain commentaries do. I appreciated that Pope Francis thought of those who did not have much joy in the Gospel, as he encouraged them to pray. Pope Francis’ discussion of Judaism and non-believers also impressed me, for the Pope said that both Judaism and Christianity draw wisdom from God’s revelation, and that even non-Christians partake of “practical wisdom” from the Holy Spirit that helps “people to bear suffering and to live in greater peace and harmony” (pages 170-171); Pope Francis still affirms, though, that belief in Jesus is important and makes a difference.
Most interesting to me was Pope Francis’ discussion of Mary as a spiritual mother. Pope Francis offers a Scriptural rationale for that position (e.g., John 19:26-27; Revelation 12) and talks about Mary’s virtues, including her love for Jesus and her passion for social justice in the Magnficat (Luke 1:46-55). I myself do not believe in praying to Mary (and Pope Francis recommends a certain prayer to Mary on pages 194-196), but, in reading this book, I did gain an appreciation for Mary’s virtues and reasons that people may desire a nurturing and caring spiritual mother.
There were some things in the book that I did not particularly want to hear but needed to hear, even if it is an open question how I would apply certain principles. Pope Francis is a promoter of Christian extroversion—-Christians going out and being with people and ministering life to them. He tries to embody that in his own life. But what about people who struggle socially or who are loners, either by choice or due to a condition that they may have (i.e., autism)? I do give Pope Francis credit for saying that Jesus brings the lonely into community, but the sad reality is that this does not necessarily work for everybody. As a person with Asperger’s, I wish that Pope Francis had highlighted that even introverts and people who are in solitude can make a contribution to life. At the same time, his statements about how we should listen to people’s stories and respect them as a creation of God are an important challenge to me, especially when I get misanthropic and self-centered.
Overall, I enjoyed this book. I found it to be profound, challenging, prophetic, and also full of love, joy, and hope.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.