When The Joy of the Gospel came out in 2013, I treated it like most of the Pope Francis news—I marveled at the tone, the language, and the focus. Published in the first year of his papacy, the apostolic exhortation was caught up in the fervor surrounding his appointment. But I didn’t read it. I didn’t ignore it—in fact, I read quite a bit of commentary and selections from the document. I could pull out a quote or theme when needed (“smell like the sheep,” “sourpusses,” “Lent without the Easter,” etc) but I never really dug in. My bad.
Reading Joy of the Gospel was a worthwhile effort this fall. I say “effort” because Pope Francis is in dire need of an editor. I imagine him scribbling his thoughts and then presenting this tome to the publishers saying, “Go ahead, publish it. All of it.” He could have used an editor to cut and focus the piece. But it’s full of great insights and the sheer length underscores the importance of evangelization.
First, how to read. There is an introduction and five chapters. I recommend mapping out 6 different settings so you can read the book in six sections. I’ve heard people who use it for prayer. I enjoyed reading it with a pen to mark it up with punctuation and comments.
Second, how to approach. Understand that the “new evangelization” has been around since Vatican II but was popularized by Pope John Paul II. Francis, however, articulates a new vision for evangelization centered on reaching out to the margins and transforming into a “poor church, for the poor.” This is a challenge to the status quo and is all the more remarkable coming from the Pope himself.
Third, how to process. This is the not the type of book you can read once and “get.” You’ll need to reach commentaries, listen to podcasts or videos breaking it open, and discuss with your friends and colleagues. Fortunately, I’m coming out with these resources this weekend (Sep 24th) in the Catholic School Matters newsletter coupled with my podcast conversation with David Faber on “Joy of the Gospel” dropping on September 25th.