by Sister Joan Mitchell, CSJ
via flickr user Catholic Church (England and Wales)
Joy brims over in our circles of sisters and associates that gather on Wednesdays to talk about Pope Francis’s exhortation Joy of the Gospel. Spreading joy is his intent. Its source―“a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ” or at least opening ourselves to let Jesus encounter us. His writing infects us with hope, Catholics and Protestants alike in our groups.
What is so infectious? Francis writes out of his real life, what he prays and lives daily. God loves us. This is what Pope Francis wants us to experience and teach our children. No one can take way the joy that God loves us.
The cross he wears images Jesus as a shepherd carrying a sheep on his shoulders, a lost sheep. Francis identifies with the lost sheep. “God never tires of forgiving us; we are the ones who tire of seeking mercy. Time and again Christ carries us on his shoulders. No one can strip us of the dignity of God bestowing boundless, unfailing love” (3).
Francis wants an evangelizing church that shares the joy of God’s love for us, a Church that is poor and for the poor. Sharing our joy is really how Francis defines evangelization. Joy attracts others. It bubbles over into love of neighbors. It infects us with hope.
“The joy of the Gospel is for all people: no one can be excluded. That is what the angels proclaimed to the shepherds in Bethlehem: “Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people” (23).
God excludes no one, which is why Francis goes on to call for a global economy of inclusion. “An evangelizing community gets involved by word and deed in people’s daily lives; it bridges distances, it is willing to abase itself if necessary, and it embraces human life, touching the suffering flesh Christ in others” (24). Francis wants us to smell like the sheep.
If you want to start talking about Joy of the Gospel, just type in the title online and print a copy or buy a book copy at your local Catholic bookstore or on Amazon. Here are the questions we used to talk about paragraphs 1-49. This blog will continue with other chapters.
1. What joy do you experience in the Gospel, in your relationship with Jesus? How does your experience compare with Francis’s description? (paragraph 3)
2. What does Francis think threatens our capacity for joy? What threats do you experience? (2)
3. What call do you hear in Francis’s urging us to become evangelizers who “take on the smell of the sheep?” What sheep do you or should you smell like? (24)
4. How have base communities or small Christian communities helped sustain your commitment as a Christian? How can parishes contribute to renewal? (28)
5. What message is “most essential, most beautiful, most grand, most appealing, and most necessary” in your mind? (35) What communicates the gospel today? What burdens people?
6. “The Church is called to be the house of the Father, with doors always wide open. …The Church is not a tollhouse; it is the house of the Father, where there is a place for everyone, with all their problems” (47). What changes does Francis want to inspire in the church?