Dear Parishioners,

Last weekend, I read parts of Pope Francis' Apostolic Exhortation, "Joy of the Gospel." May of you asked me where they could buy it. We don't have any copies at the church for sale, so I encourage you to go to your local bookstore or go online and order it for yourself. But, in lieu of that, here are the paragraphs I read to the community. Read them again and ponder on how you can be more evangelical and mission orientated. Note the numbers before the paragraphs are the Church's way to organize her published texts. In my homily, I skipped from paragraph 28 to 32 in order to shorten my homily. Also note that I included the footnotes in the text, marked by brackets:

25. I am aware that nowadays documents do not arouse the same interest as in the past and that they are quickly forgotten. Nevertheless, I want to emphasize that what I am trying to express here has a programmatic significance and important consequences. I hope that all communities will devote the necessary effort to advancing along the path of a pastoral and missionary conversion which cannot leave things as they presently are. “Mere administration” can no longer be enough.[21] Throughout the world, let us be “permanently in a state of mission”.[22]

26. Paul VI invited us to deepen the call to renewal and to make it clear that renewal does not only concern individuals but the entire Church. Let us return to a memorable text which continues to challenge us. “The Church must look with penetrating eyes within herself, ponder the mystery of her own being… This vivid and lively self-awareness inevitably leads to a comparison between the ideal image of the Church as Christ envisaged her and loved her as his holy and spotless bride (cf. Eph 5:27), and the actual image which the Church presents to the world today... This is the source of the Church’s heroic and impatient struggle for renewal: the struggle to correct those flaws introduced by her members which her own self-examination, mirroring her exemplar, Christ, points out to her and condemns”.[23] The Second Vatican Council presented ecclesial conversion as openness to a constant self-renewal born of fidelity to Jesus Christ: “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”.[24]

There are ecclesial structures which can hamper efforts at evangelization, yet even good structures are only helpful when there is a life constantly driving, sustaining and assessing them. Without new life and an authentic evangelical spirit, without the Church’s “fidelity to her own calling”, any new structure will soon prove ineffective.
27. I dream of a “missionary option”, that is, a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything, so that the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channeled for the evangelization of today’s world rather than for her self-preservation. The renewal of structures demanded by pastoral conversion can only be understood in this light: as part of an effort to make them more mission-oriented, to make ordinary pastoral activity on every level more inclusive and open, to inspire in pastoral workers a constant desire to go forth and in this way to elicit a positive response from all those whom Jesus summons to friendship with himself. As John Paul II once said to the Bishops of Oceania: “All renewal in the Church must have mission as its goal if it is not to fall prey to a kind of ecclesial introversion”.[25]

28. The parish is not an outdated institution; precisely because it possesses great flexibility, it can assume quite different contours depending on the openness and missionary creativity of the pastor and the community. While certainly not the only institution which evangelizes, if the parish proves capable of self-renewal and constant adaptivity, it continues to be “the Church living in the midst of the homes of her sons and daughters”.[26] This presumes that it really is in contact with the homes and the lives of its people, and does not become a useless structure out of touch with people or a self-absorbed group made up of a chosen few. The parish is the presence of the Church in a given territory, an environment for hearing God’s word, for growth in the Christian life, for dialogue, proclamation, charitable outreach, worship and celebration.[27] In all its activities the parish encourages and trains its members to be evangelizers.[28] It is a community of communities, a sanctuary where the thirsty come to drink in the midst of their journey, and a centre of constant missionary outreach. We must admit, though, that the call to review and renew our parishes has not yet sufficed to bring them nearer to people, to make them environments of living communion and participation, and to make them completely mission-oriented.

32. Since I am called to put into practice what I ask of others, I too must think about a conversion of the papacy. It is my duty, as the Bishop of Rome, to be open to suggestions which can help make the exercise of my ministry more faithful to the meaning which Jesus Christ wished to give it and to the present needs of evangelization. Pope John Paul II asked for help in finding “a way of exercising the primacy which, while in no way renouncing what is essential to its mission, is nonetheless open to a new situation”.[35] We have made little progress in this regard. The papacy and the central structures of the universal Church also need to hear the call to pastoral conversion. TheSecond Vatican Council stated that, like the ancient patriarchal Churches, episcopal conferences are in a position “to contribute in many and fruitful ways to the concrete realization of the collegial spirit”.[36] Yet this desire has not been fully realized, since a juridical status of episcopal [37] Excessive centralization, rather than proving helpful, complicates the Church’s life and her missionary outreach.

33. Pastoral ministry in a missionary key seeks to abandon the complacent attitude that says: “We have always done it this way”. I invite everyone to be bold and creative in this task of rethinking the goals, structures, style and methods of evangelization in their respective communities. A proposal of goals without an adequate communal search for the means of achieving them will inevitably prove illusory. I encourage everyone to apply the guidelines found in this document generously and courageously, without inhibitions or fear. The important thing is to not walk alone, but to rely on each other as brothers and sisters, and especially under the leadership of the bishops, in a wise and realistic pastoral discernment.
[21] Fifth General Conference of the Latin American and Caribbean Bishops, Aparecida Document, 29 June 2007, 201.[22] Ibid., 551.[23] Paul VI, Encyclical Letter Ecclesiam Suam (6 August 1964), 9, 10, 11: AAS 56 (1964), 611-612.[24] Second Ecumenical Vatican Council, Decree on Ecumenism Unitatis Redintegratio, 6.[25] John Paul II, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Oceania (22 November 2001), 19: AAS 94 (2002), 390.[26] John Paul II, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Christifideles Laici (30 September 1988), 26: AAS 81 (1989), 438.[27] Cf. Propositio 26.[28] Cf. Propositio 44.[29] Cf. Propositio 26.[30] Cf. Propositio 41.[31] Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Decree on the Pastoral Office of Bishops Christus Dominus, 11.[32] Cf. Benedict XVI, Address for the Fortieth Anniversary of the Decree Ad Gentes (11 March 2006): AAS 98 (2006), 337.[33] Cf. Propositio 42.[34] Cf. Canons 460-468; 492-502; 511-514; 536-537.[35] Encyclical Letter Ut Unum Sint (25 May 1995), 95: AAS 87 (1995), 977-978.[36] Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, 23.[37] John Paul II, Motu Proprio Apostolos Suos (21 May 1998): AAS 90 (1998), 641-658.

I hope our Holy Father's words offer you something to pray with and reflect upon in your heart. Are you a disciple of Jesus? Are you a disciple on mission or just a pew potato? These are questions we all need to ask in light of Pope Francis' challenging words. Let us receive his message with joy and strive to live it out in every moment of our lives.


Fr. William Holtzinger