The Joy of Truth: Rediscovering Jesus in Today’s World

Pope Francis, since his election, has introduced the theme of ‘joy’ in three of his writings, The Joy of the Gospel (Evangelii Gaudium), The Joy of Lo

Apr 12, 2018

By Fr Dr Clarence Devadass
Pope Francis, since his election, has introduced the theme of ‘joy’ in three of his writings, The Joy of the Gospel (Evangelii Gaudium), The Joy of Love’(Amoris Laetitia), and most recently The Joy of Truth (Veritatis gaudium). A cursory reading of all three writings of Pope Francis would point out that he is intent on helping the Church to rediscover the joy of following Jesus, not a burden to be carried. It is also clear that for the Christian, joy is much more than a fleeting or passing emotion. Instead, Galatians 5:22 lists joy as the second fruit of the Holy Spirit, meaning that joy is a gift that we receive from God through the Holy Spirit. Similar to my Professor of Scripture who wanted to help us find joy in Scripture, Pope Francis is clearly intent on leading the Church in rediscovering Jesus and that the fruit of the encounter with Jesus, is joy. Joy is not an abstract concept or some ideal that people can only long for.

In sharing his own experience, Pope Francis says, “I can say that the most beautiful and natural expressions of joy which I have seen in my life were in poor people who had little to hold on to. I also think of the real joy shown by others who, even amid pressing professional obligations, were able to preserve, in detachment and simplicity, a heart full of faith. In their own way, all these instances of joy flow from the infinite love of God, who has revealed himself to us in Jesus Christ” (Evangelii Gaudium, #7). In many of his homilies, Pope Francis encourages his audience to reclaim the joy of knowing Jesus and spreading it to others: “Joy is a beautiful reality... authentic joy, not self-referential or complacent, is the most credible witness of a full life” (Pope Francis addressing the Sister Disciples of the Divine Master, 22 May 2017)

The centrality of Jesus’ teaching also revolves very much on the joy of knowing God. However, it wasn’t just an intellectual knowledge but more towards a personal encounter with God – an encounter that leads to transformation. The positive nature of Jesus’ public ministry is epitomised in the presentation of the Beatitudes. Scripture scholars often present the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-12) as the “new” Ten Commandments. If in the Old Testament the Ten Commandments is presented as prohibitive laws, the Beatitudes in the New Testament is presented as positive law – an invitation to embrace the path of the kingdom for the sake of “blessedness”. The freedom that Jesus offers to all who seek God is clear when He says, ‘Come to me, all you who labour and are overburdened, and I will give you rest. Shoulder my yoke and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls’” (Matthew 11:28-29). The liberation and consolation that Jesus offers inevitably brings joy to His followers.
The recent Apostolic Constitution, Veritatis Gaudium is Pope Francis’ continued plan to restore joy in not just following Jesus but also in embracing the truth that Jesus came to bring to the world. This is clearly expressed in his opening words: “The joy of truth (Veritatis Gaudium) expresses the restlessness of the human heart until it encounters and dwells within God’s Light, and shares that Light with all people. For truth is not an abstract idea, but is Jesus himself, the Word of God in whom is the Life that is the Light of man (cf. Jn 1:4), the Son of God who is also the Son of Man. He alone, “in revealing the mystery of the Father and of his love, fully reveals humanity to itself and brings to light its very high calling” (VG #1). We are aware that objective truth is being challenged on many fronts by ideologies that stem from the wave of secularism, liberalism, and relativism. In the light of all these challenges, how do we, as Church, present Jesus who is the Truth?

In recognising that the world is changing rapidly, Pope Francis calls for a renewed way of presenting the truth. In fact, in the world that we live in today, the very concept of truth is being challenged and being separated and alienated from God, who is the source of all truth. Veritatis Gaudium presents truth as something essential and rooted in the Divine, and any search for, and knowledge of, the truth must lead towards a greater knowledge of God, who is the source of human joy.

In specifically addressing ecclesiastical universities and faculties where formation takes place, Pope Francis calls for a renewed way of approaching formation for the purpose of evangelisation since there is a “new horizon now opening before us”: “The primary need today is for the whole People of God to be ready to embark upon a new stage of “Spirit-filled” evangelisation. This calls for “a resolute process of discernment, purification and reform”. In this process, a fitting renewal of the system of ecclesiastical studies plays a strategic role. These studies, in fact, are called to offer opportunities and processes for the suitable formation of priests, consecrated men and women, and committed lay people” (VG #3).

The Holy Father puts before us a four-pronged approach aimed at achieving this renewal – a renewal that could respond positively to the call of the Second Vatican Council “to overcome this divorce between theology and pastoral care, between faith and life” (VG #2). Firstly he calls for a contemplation and presentation of a spiritual, intellectual and existential approach to the gospel of Jesus Christ; secondly, any presentation of this gospel must have a dialogical nature, in other words, fostering the “culture of encounter”; thirdly, it has to be inter-disciplinary and cross-disciplinary which would prevent seeing things in isolation; and fourthly, a networking among institutions worldwide so that resources may be shared and inspire one another by the different cultural and religious traditions that each brings to the table.

What is notable in this document is that the study of Catholic philosophy, theology and even canon law, should not take a missionary approach and in doing so must take into account the “social and cultural meditation on the Gospel undertaken by the people of God in different continental areas and in dialogue with diverse cultures” (VG #3). In calling for this renewed approach, Pope Francis reminds the Church that “theology must doubtless be rooted and grounded in sacred Scripture and in the living tradition… for this very reason it must simultaneously accompany cultural and social processes and, particularly, difficult transitions” (VG #4).
This document does challenge teachers in ecclesiastical universities and faculties to find creative ways in presenting the gospel, not merely in abstract concepts, but in ways that are rooted within the new realities the Church finds herself in the different parts of the world. Pope Francis calls this “creative apologetics”… that which encourages “greater openness to the Gospel on the part of all” (VG #5). Those who teach must not only be aware of the Church’s rich and diverse tradition and love the faith, it also calls for understanding the modern world and being able to engage with it. Failing this, the chasm between faith and life goes further than it already has.

Veritatis Gaudium is indeed a timely reminder, not just to ecclesiastical universities and faculties, but also to the Church at large as we see “signs that things are now reaching a breaking point, due to the rapid pace of change and degradation” where our secularised society struggles to hold on to even the most basic truths of human existence. In this new landscape that surrounds us, we need to rediscover not only the joy of knowing and following Jesus, who is our Way, Truth and Life, but make Jesus the source and fount of life for all who seek Him in spirit and in truth.

--The The Joy of Truth (Veritatis gaudium) will be on sale by the end of this month. You can get your copy from Arrupe Publications (Tel: 03-20268290/20268291)

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