As the new media is focused (and rightly so) and Pope Francis' broadsides against our current "deified" free market system, his newly released apostolic exhortation is equally full of gems about living as a disciple and proclaiming the good news. Most refreshing is the straightforward, pastoral approach; the documents reads like a good pastor's homily–though an exceedingly long one! It's worth noting here that this exhortation is the result of/response to the 2012 Synod of Bishops on Evangelization. Here are some highlights from the first sections:
2. 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. Whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor.
7. Sometimes we are tempted to find excuses and complain, acting as if we could only be happy if a thousand conditions were met. To some extent this is because our “technological society has succeeded in multiplying occasions of pleasure, yet has found it very difficult to engender joy”. [that quote if from Paul VI]
10. An evangelizer must never look like someone who has just come back from a funeral!
24. An evangelizing community gets involved by word and deed in people’s daily lives; it bridges distances, it is willing to abase itself if necessary, and it embraces human life, touching the suffering flesh of Christ in others.
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.
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”. 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. The Second 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.” [This is a big signal that the national conferences of bishops, which suffered a major blow to their authority under Pope John Paul II, are about to get an upgrade in status.]
39. When preaching is faithful to the Gospel, the centrality of certain truths is evident and it becomes clear that Christian morality is not a form of stoicism, or self-denial, or merely a practical philosophy or a catalogue of sins and faults. 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.
All of this echoes what Francis has been saying all along: a focus on the church's mission; an emphasis on essentials; and reform of church structures, though the pope repeats the teaching that the church lacks the authority to ordain women: The key paragraphs in this regard are 102, 103, and 104: "Demands that the legitimate rights of women be respected, based on the firm conviction that men and women are equal in dignity, present the Church with profound and challenging questions which cannot be lightly evaded. The reservation of the priesthood to males, as a sign of Christ the Spouse who gives himself in the Eucharist, is not a question open to discussion, but it can prove especially divisive if sacramental power is too closely identified with power in general." That said, the pope acknowledges the importance of finding new ways for women to contribute to the mission and leadership of the church.
There is much to welcome in this message; I suspect almost any Catholic can find something to like here. Time will tell how Francis might convince the church, especially lay people, to get on board.