Saturday, September 26, 2015

Review: Rediscovering the Heart of a Disciple

Pope Francis and the Joy of the Gospel: Rediscovering the Heart of a Disciple

About the Book:
The call of Christ to each of us is as heart-stopping as the moment captured by Caravaggio in his painting, The Call of St. Matthew. Jesus points, he invites-and Matthew the tax-collector must make a decision. "The Lord does not disappoint those who take that risk" and choose him, Pope Francis tells us in his Apostolic Exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel.

Dr. Edward Sri, theologian, author, and speaker, unpacks The Joy of the Gospel, making it accessible and actionable. In these brief reflections, Sri explores Pope Francis' call to be "missionary disciples"-Christians who walk ever more closely in discipleship with the Lord and who have a profound sense of mission in the world.

Pope Francis and The Joy of the Gospel help people of all walks of life-diocesan leaders, parish staff and volunteers, families and laity-live out the Holy Father's vision for the renewal of the Church and the New Evangelization.

Great for use by individuals or groups, each chapter concludes with questions for reflection or discussion, moving readers into a renewed personal relationship with Christ and a deepened commitment to the Church's mission.

My Comments:
I wish I could tell you I timed this review to coincide with the Pope's visit to the US, but the planning happened elsewhere; I'm reviewing it because I finally finished it--which makes it sound long and hard to read, but it isn't.  

Over the years I've read a lot of online forum posts or blog posts written by self-proclaimed "faithful" or "conservative" Catholics.  Though I often agreed with what was written, they often rubbed me the wrong way.  It seemed that for many, being Catholic boiled down to not using birth control, liking Latin and the Rosary and hating music by Haugen and Haas.  On the other hand, I'd read more liberal forums and it seemed the topics of the day were the ordination of woman and the normalization of sexual behaviors traditionally considered sinful, though there often seemed to be more said about the poor and marginalized on liberal sites than on conservative ones. Something else I've noted over the years is that converts to Catholicism often read or study their way into the Church.  Those who convert from Catholicism to Protestantism often do so because at some point when they needed someone in their life, a Protestant friend invited them to church and that church became a support system for them.  They don't so much choose to leave the Catholic Church (at least at first) as they choose to go where their needs are met.

So, why am I telling you about me and my experience?  Because I read Pope Francis and the Joy of the Gospel: Rediscovering the Heart of a Disciple and found myself nodding all the way through it.  First, Edward Sri talks about "The New Evangelization" and points out that the Church's number one priority is to make disciples of all nations.  He goes on to state that missionary activity has traditionally focused on those people and places where Christ is unknown.  However, the focus of The New Evangelization is the people in our midst, those who have been baptized, who call themselves Catholic but who have not surrendered their life to Jesus and who do not shape their life by the Gospel. The purpose of Pope Francis' Joy of the Gospel is to teach the faithful how to be missionary disciples.

Edward Sri reminds us that doors let people in, and out.  Often we are concerned with getting people to come to us (the Church) that we fail to go to them.  This doesn't mean preaching; more often it means listening to people, and, through your actions, showing them what Jesus means in your life. In The Joy of the Gospel, Pope Francis urges us to reach out.  He dreams of "a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything so that the Church's customs...schedules, language and structures can be suitably channeled for the evangelization ...rather than for self-preservation".

The main news that needs to be spread is the love and mercy of Jesus--not that abortion, or contraception or gay marriage are wrong.  To me that makes perfect sense.  If I know and love Jesus, then I want to please Him.  In that situation, teaching me why those are moral evils, despite what our culture says, could cause me to change my behavior to match my beliefs.  On the other hand, if I don't believe, then those preaching against those things come across as intolerant harpies, not as those showing love to me or to others.  The Pope said "The biggest problem is when the message we preach then seems identified with those secondary aspects, which, important as they are, do not in and of themselves convey the heart of Christ's message." The book has a chapter on mercy on talks about Pope Francis' famous quote "Who am I to judge?"

Another chapter talks about our culture and our tendency to engage with devices rather than with people and the necessity of reaching out to people as individuals--even people with whom you'd rather not associate. The "professional" church is brought to task for being too inward, too focused on serving those who are always served, rather than coming up with new ways to reach those who do not darken our doors.

I recommend this book.  Each chapter is followed by reflection questions that I think would make excellent fodder for a retreat for a parish council or parish staff, for discussion in small groups in a parish or even to afflict your own conscience.

I won a copy of this book in the Mega-Advent Giveaway hosted by the Catholic Book Blogger.  I was not obligated to read it, or write any review, much less a positive one.

Grade:  A.


  1. This book sounds very interesting,

  2. I'm a big supporter of sexual orientation equality, and I'm not into organized religion. But I do want to read this book. He's really been doing some amazing things. And good people always make an inspiring read.


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