Sunday, December 8, 2013

What's it all about, Francis?

Pope Francis is not writing just for so. Very little he does is accidental. Perhaps that is because his very papacy, as his coat of arms’ motto miserando atque eligendo (lowly but chosen) acknowledges, is an unexpected paradox.

This is his very first major papal document that is completely his own.

The encyclical released in June, Lumen Fidei (The Light of the Faith), took up a draft of a document his predecessor had left unfinished. Similarly, the various speeches and motu propios have been addressed to visitors on particular occasions or to Vatican officials for administrative purposes.

This is a message to the universal Church and to the world announcing his agenda.

An apostolic exhortation is one of the newest forms of papal documents (first used in 1939). It’s an essay in which the pope thinks out loud. Unlike constitutions, bulls and sometimes encyclicals, an apostolic exhortation does not set out to define doctrine, state policies or rule on some aspect of canon law.

To exhort is to urge or advise a course of action earnestly. Think of Francis as standing by the side of a road urging and calling out to his students, “come on, let’s go!”

Indeed, just as a outings sometimes fulfill education aims unmet in the classroom, Francis has seized upon a recent extracurricular event, in this case the XIIIth Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops held in Rome in October 2012, as the teachable moment to address his class.

“I was happy to take up the request of the Fathers of the Synod ,” he writes, winking a little at the reader, to think about the meeting’s official topic: the new evangelization for the transmission of the Christian faith.

No sighing. Keep in mind that such phrases come from Latin, still the official language of the Catholic Church. Put into simpler terms it was a meeting about: spreading the gospel in a new way, to make sure it gets passed on.

Francis is not an iconoclastic firebrand by any means. He takes the traditional means to pour in some new life, some new wine, into the vessels that carry the faith.

Since the business of the Church is to spread the gospel, a meeting about that is an especially good springboard to start “pointing out new paths for the Church’s journey in years to come.”

Next: what a real evangelist looks like to Pope Francis.


  1. One step at a time, sweet Jesus! That's all I'm asking of yooouuuu....


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