With his recent Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel), Pope Francis has extended to the universal Church a formal invitation to joy. At the heart of this invitation to joy stands a Person, the crucified and risen Lord Jesus. Evident throughout the exhortation is Pope Francis’ consistent understanding that Christian joy is indelibly characterized by the active marriage of the two greatest commandments: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind…” and “you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mt. 22:37, 39). For Pope Francis, the fulfillment of these commandments—and therefore, the source of Christian joy—begins with a personal encounter with Jesus Christ and the discovery that He has loved us first (cf.1 Jn. 4:19). Through an initial response of faith, gradual conversion, and the reception of divine mercy in and through the sacraments, the joy of salvation comes to life and fruition in the heart and life of the disciple; and it is this divine joy that creates missionaries.
The evangelical joy Pope Francis desires to see radiating from the Bride of Christ requires more, however, than just personal conversion. The very fabric of Church structures, institutions, and processes must also be permeated and constantly renewed with the active presence of the Holy Spirit and the missionary impulse that will make them truly evangelical. To this end, Pope Francis has called the entire Church to an “ecclesial conversion” and to a “pastoral and missionary conversion,” which means “openness to a constant self-renewal born of fidelity to Jesus Christ.”