The new Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, coming to us only eight months after Francis' Papal election, suggests that the Holy Father's overriding intention for the Church is to enable the Church of the New Evangelisation; to enable the Church to see the New Evangelisation not as another task to be undertaken, but rather to see the New Evangelisation as her primary focus.
I have read the document over Christmastide, and then spent the first two days of the New Year with four other priests and a seminarian, discussing the Letter section by section. There is a lot of content in the Letter and I will need to read it again as a whole, and in its parts. The Letter proposes the vision of the New Evangelisation for the whole Church and, my hope is that the Church will be ready now to respond. I will make some preliminary remarks in this post before returning to post on each section in greater depth.
Although the Holy Father says in paragraph 16 that he is taking up the request of the Fathers of the 2011 Synod to write the Post-Synodal Letter, he also says that he wishes to express his own concerns about the New Evangelisation. It is not clear where the former ends and the latter continues!
Evangelii Gaudium is a visionary document; it builds upon the vision of the New Evangelisation which was given first by Paul VI and then by John Paul II and Benedict XVI. In many ways, Evangelii Gaudium is a response to Evangelii Nuntiandi of Paul VI. But, whereas Paul VI's Letter went somewhat unheeded, it is hard to see how this new Letter could be side-lined at all.
John Paul II, in his Encyclical Redemptionis Missio, called the whole Church to devote her energies to a new evangelisation. Francis' Letter concretely inculcates the Whole Church in this mission.
Bendict XVI repeatedly pointed us to our encounter with Christ and the relationship which is formed in that encounter. Francis' teaching plunges us into friendship with Christ as the very hinge of whole mystery of the Church.
The vision of both John Paul II and Benedict XVI is unwrapped and exposed by Francis to enable a greater participation.
The overall style of the Letter is one which seeks to be attitude-changing. This is not a dogmatic or disciplinary Letter, but rather one which seeks to inculcate a vision by changing the attitude of individuals, communities and the whole Church. I can't see anyone remaining unchallenged, in some way, by what the Holy Father says to us in this Letter.
The New Evangelisation burst unexpectedly on the scene in 1975 and, during the Pontificates of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, sectors of the Church began to respond and to engage in it. Francis now seeks to plant the whole Church Universal in the New Evangelisation, and the renewal that this will cause will be very great and very beautiful indeed.