The Joy of the Gospel is the new teaching document from Pope Francis about the joy of the gospel. To order a copy, go to USCCB Publishing (usccbpublishing.org)
Here we are in Advent – a brand new Church year! Advent is a time to prepare for Christmas and at the same time for the coming of Christ, as we proclaim in the Creed each Sunday. You also likely have been reading about the Synod of Bishops that Pope Francis has called for this coming October in Rome. The topic for the synod is the very important question of pastoral care for families. By the time of this writing, Pope Francis also will have released his first Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium or The Joy of the Gospel. Let me speak to each of these three topics, for they are connected.
The first topic is the synod and the preparation for the Synod. One question that emerges is whether this process is new or the same as others? The answer is both yes and no.
There is a normal preparation for synods, which we have had since Vatican Council II, with the last being the 13th universal synod on the new evangelization last October. The word synod means to come together or assemble. In the Roman Catholic Church, a universal synod is a meeting of invited bishops called by the Holy Father with experts and observers also participating. As was done last year, each bishop is invited to give initial pastoral observations on the topic. After the Lineamenta, the first preparatory document is presented, there is a second opportunity for comment. Finally, there is the Instrumentum Laboris or working document, usually published a month or two before the synod takes place.
Last year I was a delegate to the synod and benefitted greatly from about five listening sessions in the Archdiocese after the Instrumentum Laboris was issued. So this year we will have a similar path. New is Pope Francis’ unique call that bishops have rich and robust consultation before they present their pastoral observations. I am eager to do so, and our plans in the Archdiocese of Louisville include several consultative steps, including meetings with the Priests’ Council and the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council, as well as the availability of an online questionnaire. (See www.archlou.org/synod-questions.)
The organizers of the Synod have reminded us that it is important for participants to enter prayerfully into this exercise of consultation and to reflect on the initial document before responding. While Pope Francis is intent on passing on the timeless teaching of Christ and His Church, he has called for a true reaching out pastorally to all, including those who have struggled in living out these teachings. (See 1 Corinthians 15: 1-11 to read about this serious task of faithfully passing on what we have received.)
This brings me to the second topic: the reality of our incomplete living out of our faith and the need for conversion. Thank God for Advent and that hope-filled call to prepare the way for the Lord into our lives, which is a call to conversion! I am delighted that I participated in the Holy Hour with the Sacrament of Reconciliation at the end of the bishops’ meeting last month and look forward to joining many of our priests for Reconciliation offered by the Passionist Fathers later this month on Friday, December 13. Who among us is not called to seek the mercy of God through this sacrament in which Jesus in His loving forgiveness enters our hearts. I hope that you will have a chance to join in the Advent Reconciliation Service in your parish or in a parish nearby. Of all the ways to get ready for Christmas, surely having our hearts touched by the mercy of God in and through His Son Jesus and having our sins forgiven is at the forefront.
This brings me to the final point: the joy of the Gospel. Last week Pope Francis shared his beautiful apostolic reflection Evangelii Gaudium or the Joy of the Gospel. While this apostolic exhortation is not limited to the work of last year’s Synod on the New Evangelization, it draws heavily from the proposals coming from the Synod as well as the richness of Pope Francis’ pastoral experiences.
How beautifully Pope Francis begins: “The joy of the gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness. With Christ joy is constantly born anew.” I am eager to study this new gift, especially the long section on homilies. I also urge you to study this powerful message meant for each and every baptized Catholic, who is called to announce the Gospel of Jesus in a way that brings joy to all those who hear.