Posted by: gmscan | February 1, 2014

Has the Pope Become a Protestant?

Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation

I have finally finished reading the Pope’s “Evagelii Gaudium” paper. Please don’t take my slowness as a criticism of Francis’ writing. In fact it was a joy to read. But I am a slow reader. I look up Scriptural references and make many marginal notes when I read. What I lack in speed I make up for in persistence.

Most of the reaction in the American press focused on his comments about money. But that was a very small part of what he had to say, taking a mere seven pages out of a 217-page document. I will deal with all that in a future posting, but for now I want to emphasize what he emphasized – the joy of evangelism.

He starts right out with this in the very first paragraph –

“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. In this Exhortation I wish to encourage the Christian faithful to embark upon a new chapter of evangelization marked by this joy, while pointing out new paths for the Church’s journey in years to come.”

He immediately cautions about the dangers in today’s world –

“The great danger in today’s world, pervaded as it is by consumerism, is the desolation and anguish born of a complacent yet covetous heart, the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures, and a blunted conscience.”

This is less a caution about capitalism than it is about materialism. He is absolutely right. People who are lost and hollow often try to fill that emptiness with possessions, entertainment, drugs, sex. It is easy enough to drown in a sea of “stuff,” and fail to see that our hunger can be filled only by God in the person of Jesus Christ.

I cannot say this better than he does, so let me quote –

“I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day. No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her, since “no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord”. The Lord does not disappoint those who take this risk; whenever we take a step towards Jesus, we come to realize that he is already there, waiting for us with open arms. Now is the time to say to Jesus: “Lord, I have let myself be deceived; in a thousand ways I have shunned your love, yet here I am once more, to renew my covenant with you. I need you. Save me once again, Lord, take me once more into your redeeming embrace”. How good it feels to come back to him whenever we are lost! Let me say this once more: God never tires of forgiving us; we are the ones who tire of seeking his mercy. Christ, who told us to forgive one another “seventy times seven” (Mt 18:22) has given us his example: he has forgiven us seventy times seven.”

And this is where the joy comes in –

“When Jesus begins his ministry, John cries out: “For this reason, my joy has been fulfilled” (Jn 3:29). Jesus himself “rejoiced in the Holy Spirit” (Lk 10:21). His message brings us joy: “I have said these things to you, so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete” (Jn 15:11). Our Christian joy drinks of the wellspring of his brimming heart. He promises his disciples: “You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy” (Jn 16:20). He then goes on to say: “But I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you” (Jn 16:22). The disciples “rejoiced” (Jn 20:20) at the sight of the risen Christ. In the Acts of the Apostles we read that the first Christians “ate their food with glad and generous hearts” (2:46). Wherever the disciples went, “there was great joy” (8:8); even amid persecution they continued to be “filled with joy” (13:52). The newly baptized eunuch “went on his way rejoicing” (8:39), while Paul’s jailer “and his entire household rejoiced that he had become a believer in God” (16:34). Why should we not also enter into this great stream of joy?”

With this joy it becomes easy to want to share it with the world. Joy cannot be hoarded, it must be shared –

“’Life grows by being given away, and it weakens in isolation and comfort. Indeed, those who enjoy life most are those who leave security on the shore and become excited by the mission of communicating life to others’. When the Church summons Christians to take up the task of evangelization, she is simply pointing to the source of authentic personal fulfilment.”

Spreading the Gospel is not heroic because the real work is done by the Holy Spirit. A friend of mine likens us to the donkey that Jesus rode into Jerusalem. We are happy to do it, it is our purpose, but the crowds are not singing Hallelujah to us, but to Jesus. –

“Though it is true that this mission demands great generosity on our part, it would be wrong to see it as a heroic individual undertaking, for it is first and foremost the Lord’s work, surpassing anything which we can see and understand. Jesus is “the first and greatest evangelizer.” In every activity of evangelization, the primacy always belongs to God, who has called us to cooperate with him and who leads us on by the power of his Spirit.”

Interestingly, Francis makes many of the same points Bruce Dreisbach makes in his call for Christian witness. In reaching out to non-believers, Francis writes –

“Many of them are quietly seeking God, led by a yearning to see his face, even in countries of ancient Christian tradition. All of them have a right to receive the Gospel. Christians have the duty to proclaim the Gospel without excluding anyone. Instead of seeming to impose new obligations, they should appear as people who wish to share their joy… “

Like Dreisbach, Francis says it is futile to sit in our churches and wait for people to come to us –

“… the Latin American bishops stated that we “cannot passively and calmly wait in our church buildings”; we need to move “from a pastoral ministry of mere conservation to a decidedly missionary pastoral ministry”.

Some of Francis’ writing could have been taken directly from Dreisbach’s work –

“In virtue of their baptism, all the members of the People of God have become missionary disciples (cf. Mt 28:19). All the baptized, whatever their position in the Church or their level of instruction in the faith, are agents of evangelization, and it would be insufficient to envisage a plan of evangelization to be carried out by professionals while the rest of the faithful would simply be passive recipients. The new evangelization calls for personal involvement on the part of each of the baptized. Every Christian is challenged, here and now, to be actively engaged in evangelization; indeed, anyone who has truly experienced God’s saving love does not need much time or lengthy training to go out and proclaim that love.”

“… each of us should find ways to communicate Jesus wherever we are.”

“Today, as the Church seeks to experience a profound missionary renewal, there is a kind of preaching which falls to each of us as a daily responsibility. It has to do with bringing the Gospel to the people we meet, whether they be our neighbours or complete strangers.”

Now, one of the things that surprised me about this paper is the Pope’s embrace of “reformation” of the church. In many ways he sounds like a Protestant. He quotes Paul VI as saying –

“Every renewal of the Church essentially consists in an increase of fidelity to her own calling… Christ summons the Church as she goes her pilgrim way… to that continual reformation of which she always has need, in so far as she is a human institution here on earth”.

Many of the lay Catholics I know believe that salvation lies in our own hands, that if we try our darndest to abide by the Ten Commandments God will reward us in the next life. But Francis quotes Thomas Aquinas, saying –

“We do not worship God with sacrifices and exterior gifts for him, but rather for us and for our neighbour. He has no need of our sacrifices, but he does ask that these be offered by us as devotion and for the benefit of our neighbour.”

He adds –

“The salvation which God offers us is the work of his mercy. No human efforts, however good they may be, can enable us to merit so great a gift. God, by his sheer grace, draws us to himself and makes us one with him.”

He adds that, “an imbalance results…when we speak more about law than about grace, more about the Church than about Christ, more about the Pope than about God’s word.”  He says, “The integrity of the Gospel message must not be deformed”–

“Before all else, the Gospel invites us to respond to the God of love who saves us, to see God in others and to go forth from ourselves to seek the good of others. Under no circumstance can this invitation be obscured! All of the virtues are at the service of this response of love. If this invitation does not radiate forcefully and attractively, the edifice of the Church’s moral teaching risks becoming a house of cards, and this is our greatest risk. It would mean that it is not the Gospel which is being preached, but certain doctrinal or moral points based on specific ideological options.”

Later on he cautions against being too devoted to the rituals of the Church. –

“In her ongoing discernment, the Church can also come to see that certain customs not directly connected to the heart of the Gospel, even some which have deep historical roots, are no longer properly understood and appreciated. Some of these customs may be beautiful, but they no longer serve as means of communicating the Gospel. We should not be afraid to re-examine them. At the same time, the Church has rules or precepts which may have been quite effective in their time, but no longer have the same usefulness for directing and shaping people’s lives.”

And –

“In some people we see an ostentatious preoccupation for the liturgy, for doctrine and for the Church’s prestige, but without any concern that the Gospel have a real impact on God’s faithful people and the concrete needs of the present time.”

He seems to believe there are only two essential sacraments, baptism and the Lord’s Supper, or the Eucharist in Catholic terminology.

Salvation by grace alone, the primacy of the Gospel, love as the greatest virtue, the two essential sacraments. If this Pope had been in office 500 years ago, I wonder if Martin Luther would have bothered writing the 95 Theses.

Now, I don’t want to overstate this. He is still big on shrines, rosary beads, lighting candles for the dead, and the veneration of Mary. But even there, he devotes only the last six pages to extolling Mary, almost as an afterthought, something added at the last minute.

Next time I will take up his thoughts on the worship of money.



  1. Outstanding work Greg. we are called to get out and spread the good word on the saving power of Christ. Francis is leading the way for a new evangelization when the world is in great need of the good news!

  2. What Francis is supporting is the Christian getting his heart right
    If rituals aid in that process so much the better
    In Chasidic Judaism we learn that when we are commanded to love God with all our heart it means both sides of the heart
    The heart is divided between they earnings of the flesh and the yearnings of the spirit
    Even our fleshly desires can be used for spiritual divine purposes
    Three others and I are starting a health insurance company which we will provide a unique product to self funded employers of 200 or more employees
    There is significant money to be made of which most will need to go into reserves
    But this is an example of a fleshly endeavor to accomplish a holy mission
    The joy Francis alludes to should
    Not come from salvation from a Jewish perspective
    Salvation means simply our plea for God to help us
    The joy needs to be the feeling we get from trying to
    Make our world which is the lowest spiritually of the seven worlds a place in which God would be honored to dwell as we learn in Genesis. This world is God’s garden not our garden
    It needs to resemble God’s dwelling place
    Don Levit

  3. […] time we looked at The Pope’s Apostolic Exhortation  we focused on the 210 pages that had to do with the joy of evangelism. But the American press […]

  4. […] time we looked at The Pope’s Apostolic Exhortation we focused on the 210 pages that had to do with the joy of evangelism. But the American press […]

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