At the beginning of his exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (EG), Pope Francis cites the encyclical letter Ecclesiam Suam (ES) of St. Paul VI, citing these significant words: “Paul VI invited us to deepen the call to renewal and to make it clear that renewal does not only concern individuals but the entire Church. Let us return to a memorable text that continues to challenge us: ‘The Church must look with penetrating eyes within herself, ponder the mystery of her own being’ (ES 26).”
Pope Francis adds, still quoting from Ecclesiam Suam, that this self-awareness “is the source of the Church’s heroic and impatient struggle for renewal: the struggle to correct those flaws which her own conscience, in self-examination mirroring her exemplar, Christ, points out to her and condemns.” He also states, “The Second Vatican Council presented ecclesial conversion as openness to a constant self-renewal born of fidelity to Jesus Christ: … ‘Christ summons the Church as she goes her pilgrim way to that continual reformation of which she always has need, in so far as she is a human institution here on earth’” (EG 26). This text of Pope Francis invites us to consider the concept of “awareness” that Paul VI develops in the first part of Ecclesiam Suam.
Our brief literary itinerary will begin, then, with the encyclical of Paul VI and continue to the exhortation of Pope Francis, with the goal of reflecting on the concept of the “popular conscience” or “self-awareness” that the Church has of herself.