Pope wants us to spread the Gospel

The Church in Ireland is in maintenance mode, but what it needs is a growth strategy, writes David Quinn

At one point in his just published Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium (the Joy of the Gospel), Pope Francis writes: “In today’s world of instant communication and occasionally biased media coverage, the message we preach runs a greater risk of being distorted or reduced to some of its secondary aspects.”

Coverage of his exhortation proved precisely this point. The coverage was concerned almost exclusively with “secondary aspects”, namely what the document has to say about Church structures.

For example, Pope Francis wants more power given to bishops’ conferences. He favours decentralisation (or rather is against “excessive” centralisation). He wants the role of the Papacy re-examined so that it is better able to carry out its function of spreading the Gospel.


But none of these things are central to what Pope Francis is aiming at in his document. They are secondary. The clue to what Evangelii Guadium is primarily about is in the title. It is about evangelisation. It is about winning people to Jesus.

The opening passage of the document sums it up. It states: “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 evangelisation marked by this joy, while pointing out new paths for the Church’s journey in years to come.”

Do we as Christians really believe this? Do we really believe that when people follow Jesus they are “set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness”?

If we really did believe that then we would be constantly looking out for opportunities to convert people to Jesus, to deepen our own relationship with Jesus and to help other Christians to do the same.

Obviously this would have to done with tact because nothing would alienate someone faster than pushing your religion on them. It is simply a matter of looking out for the right opportunity. But that means getting into the mentality of looking out for the right opportunity.


It is hardly a mystery that the community of Christian believers (which is to say, the Church) in Ireland is shrinking when very few Christians ever look out for opportunities to share the Gospel.

The parish is, of course, the Church locally situated. Francis addresses himself to this topic in his Exhortation when he says: “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. In all its activities the parish encourages and trains its members to be evangelisers.”

Consider that last sentence. How many parishes in all their activities really encourage and train their members to be evangelisers? How many parishes do this even in some of their activities?

I suspect in many cases parishes and parishioners are happy to have what they hold, that they have a maintenance strategy and not a growth strategy.

Or if there is a ‘growth strategy’ it is left mainly up to the priests. The Pope is saying evangelisation is the job of all of us, and he is also saying it is the job of the priest to let us know that we all have the same responsibility to spread the Gospel.

The Exhortation offers some advice to priests. For example, it tells them not to indulge in lengthy homilies. (In my experience, that is rare).


But is also tells them to present the Christian teaching on the virtues in a balanced way.

The Pope says: “For example, if in the course of the liturgical year a parish priest speaks about temperance 10 times but only mentions charity or justice two or three times, an imbalance results, and precisely those virtues which ought to be most present in preaching and catechesis are overlooked.”

I can’t help but wonder if in this passage the Pope is worrying about a problem that simply doesn’t exist in sermons in this part of the world anymore?

Realistically, how often do we hear a priest speak much more about temperance than about charity or justice?

If anything the imbalance works the other way. However, the point is well-taken, namely that priests ought to teach about all the virtues equally, or perhaps to speak more often about the neglected virtues.

The media

The Church as a whole will have to rebalance the media coverage of this important document because the coverage has focused too much on structural issues.

When the Pope talks about structures it is only as a means to an end, namely the end of evangelising.

If certain structures, which are not part of the very nature of the Church, are somehow preventing us from spreading the Gospel as effectively as we might, then we must change them. But the structures are not the thing in itself. The Gospel is the thing in itself and it is either worth sharing or it is not. We have to start acting like it is worth sharing and that’s what the Pope wants us to do. Will we do it? That is the question.