The secret to Christian joy lies in ‘knowing that we are loved, sustained and embraced by Christ in every situation in life,’ Pope Francis told the assembly during his Vespers homily on Thursday 28 July. At Notre-Dame de Québec Basilica Cathedral, in the presence of bishops, priests, deacons, religious, seminarians and pastoral workers, the pontiff reflected on the themes of joy, secularism and how we can more effectively proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ in our own day.

Joy is a powerful means of evangelisation, one born from knowing the absolute love of Jesus Christ. It is not a ‘cheap joy’, he said, ‘like the one that the world sometimes proposes … This joy is not about wealth, comfort and security.’ Instead, it is about an experience of peace deep within that abides even when our external world is turbulent.

Pope Francis said that we must always ask ourselves:

How are we doing when it comes to joy? Does our Church express the joy of the Gospel? Is there a faith in our communities that can attract by the joy it communicates?

There are certainly challenges to this joy, he said, including secularism, a ‘concept of life’ by which the modern world is ‘relegating God, as it were, to the background.’

Pope Francis outlined two ways we can respond to this challenge: one he cautioned against, and the other he characterised as a more truly Christian response.

The first he called ‘the negative view’, where people’s faith is defined by a defensive and embattled posture, always feeling under attack. If this happens, ‘We will close in on ourselves, lament our losses, constantly complain and fall into gloom and pessimism, which never come from God.’

The second response he called ‘the discerning view’, where people’s faith ‘discerns what is good and persistently seeks it, sees it and nurtures it.’ This is not a naïve view, he said, but one that takes reality as it is without succumbing to the ‘crusading spirit’. This perspective motivates us to find ‘new languages and forms of expression’ in evangelisation and to test our ‘pastoral imagination’.

In an environment of secularism, Pope Francis said the Church faces a threefold challenge.

First, the challenge is to ‘make Jesus known’. There are many elements of the Christian faith that are ‘secondary’: this does not mean they are unimportant, but it does mean that they come after an encounter with Christ. It can be unhelpful to become preoccupied with these secondary aspects when people have not encountered and known Jesus Christ. For this reason, ‘it is necessary to return to the initial proclamation.’

Second, the challenge is to ‘witness’. What makes the faith credible to a culture is when it is lived authentically, ‘when life itself speaks and reveals the freedom that sets others free, the compassion that asks for nothing in return, the mercy that silently speaks of Christ.’ In our context, when the Church has been complicit in so many terrible sins against the vulnerable, the Church must be ‘humble, meek and merciful’ if it is to witness effectively.

Third, the challenge is to demonstrate ‘fraternity’: to serve all people as brothers and sisters, created in the image and likeness of God. In this way, the Christian community can become ‘a school of humanity, where all can learn to love one another as brothers and sisters, ready to work together for the common good.’