by Joan Mitchell, CSJ
In Joy of the Gospel Pope Francis writes as a person who practices the Ignatian spirituality of the Jesuit society to which he belongs. St. Ignatius teaches that an examen of consciousness is a daily prayer too basic to skip. His method involves taking time each day to identify people and events that excite and energize us, and conversely, encounters that haunt us with regrets or fears. An examen concludes with asking God’s help and expressing gratitude for God’s gifts. Over time this simple practice helps the gospel transform how we live our everyday lives and makes us evangelizers who attract others.
In his recent exhortation Pope Francis calls us “to proclaim the gospel without excluding anyone, without imposing new obligations; rather to share our joy, point to a horizon of beauty and invite others to a delicious banquet” (14). He testifies to his experience of joy in Jesus in the first 24 paragraphs of his exhortation. Take a step toward Jesus; he’s already there (3).
The pope’s call sounds like the experience of our first Sisters of St. Joseph, who describe themselves as “seized by God’s love.” They were responding to the preaching of our Jesuit founder Father Pierre Medaille, awakening to the difference they could make among the multitudes of people who are poor in France in 1650.
“We become fully human when we become more than human,” Francis says, “when we let God bring us beyond ourselves in order to attain the fullest truth of our being” (8).
The first time I read Joy of the Gospel, I could hardly believe Pope Francis cites so many verses I have prayed and lived. For example, for those suffering, he suggests two of my favorites from the Old Testament book of Lamentations. This book vividly describes the ruined city of Jerusalem, then ends with the verses that helped me survive my mother’s death:
The steadfast love of God never ceases;
God’s mercies never come to an end;
they are new each morning.
So great is God’s faithfulness” (Lamentation 3.22-23).
Our new pope comes from a new social location, not Europe, not a first world country. He shows not only a Latin American sensibility for beauty and joy but a voice sharply critical of global capitalism that leaves vast numbers of people poor. He describes his critique of an economy of exclusion as “an evangelical discernment.”
Pope Francis thinks the 5th commandment, “Thou shall not kill,” forbids an economy of exclusion and inequality. “How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points? This is the case of exclusion. Can we continue to stand by when food is thrown away while people are starving? This is a case of inequality” (53).
His questions give us in the United States lots to think about. So does his description of a new economic tyranny. “While the earnings of a minority are growing exponentially, so too is the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by those happy few. This imbalance is the result of ideologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation. Consequently, they reject the right of states, charged with vigilance for the common good, to exercise any form of control. A new tyranny is thus born…” (56).
Here are some questions for discussion:
- How does Francis view trickle-down economics and ideologies that depend on the absolute autonomy of the marketplace? How does he view the relationship of inequality and exclusion to peace? How can American Catholics respond? #53-58
- Among the things eroding culture according to Francis in paragraphs #61-75, which seem threats to you?
- What would you say to Pope Francis in response to his comments on the importance of lay people and women in paragraphs #102-104?
- What call do you hear personally to become a more transforming evangelizer?