Sometimes the last things we say or hear are the most important.
In the second chapter of Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis ends by saying, "Challenges exist to be overcome! Let us be realists, but without losing our joy, our boldness and our hope-filled commitment. Let us not allow ourselves to be robbed of missionary vigor!"1
It is no surprise that the Catholic Church faces monumental challenges in today's milieu. From rising opposition to the moral teachings of the Church, particularly those surrounding marriage, sexuality, and abortion, to the rising tide of relativism and materialism, to the growing economic inequalities throughout the world, the Church's mission of preaching the love and mercy of Jesus Christ is under attack from seemingly every direction.
Rooted within this context, Pope Francis focuses his second chapter primarily on the social and economic challenges to evangelization and attempts to offer practical advice and encouragement to all faithful evangelizers of the Gospel.
The Holy Father sternly reprimands an economy focused on exclusion, money, and inordinate consumption. In an economy guided by these principles, "Man is reduced to one of his needs alone: consumption."2 This system focuses primarily on being served rather than serving and "combined with inequality proves doubly damaging to the social fabric."3
As a result, an economic system operating for its own benefit combined with an ethos of indifferent relativism makes it impossible for society to truly work toward the common good.
The beauty of this chapter, however, is not its condemnation of poor economic policy and practice. Previous popes have used much ink to describe these systemic problems. The real genius of Pope Francis, here, is his willingness and desire to turn the mirror on the Church, particularly her ministers, and explore where we have failed to properly evangelize our culture. The Church might not be promoting social and economic inequality, but its spread hints at our failure to challenge such notions.
A culture that promotes the supremacy of individual rights and freedoms over social responsibilities, family, and community clearly shows a lack of understanding of the importance of faith and community and love that the Gospels call us to achieve. Therefore, Francis notes, "Pastoral activity needs to bring out more clearly the fact that our relationship with the Father demands and encourages a communion which heals, promotes and reinforces interpersonal bonds."4
Thus, the Holy Father exhorts us not simply to evangelize our friends and family, but to evangelize cultures and
inculturate the Gospel into them. This, however, is not done with one approach. As Francis sees it "the unified and complete sense of human life that the Gospel proposes is the best remedy for the ills of our cities, even though we have to realize that a uniform and rigid program of evangelization is not suited to this complex reality."5
The Holy Father clearly understands, however, that we are broken people marred by the stain of sin. Therefore, he clearly understands the struggles and temptations of pastoral workers. From laziness to practical relativism to selfishness to poor work habits, we struggle to adequately preach the Gospel. To emphasize his point, Francis quotes his predecessor, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, in identifying the greatest threat to pastoral ministry: "The gray pragmatism of the daily life of the Church, in which all appears to proceed normally, while in reality faith is wearing down and degenerating into small-mindedness."6
To combat this, we are called to evangelize through a deep, intimate relationship with God, rooted in prayer, and through recognizing that "worldliness can only be healed by breathing in the pure air of the Holy Spirit."7
Challenges remain. How can we build up and promote the role of women and laity within the Church? How can we evangelize youth and young adults who have run from or been lost to the Church and her teachings? How do we attract men and women to consecrate their lives as priests and religious?
Providentially, thanks to the triumph of Jesus Christ over death, challenges exist to be overcome.