In his two months as leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics, Pope Francis has captured the imagination not only of his own flock, but that of the world at large.
Many of us, Catholic or not, seem to hang on his every word both for spiritual guidance and clues to the personality of the man we collectively are getting to know as perhaps the most recognizable Christian on the planet.
Two new books offer further insights into the heart and mind of the former Jorge Bergoglio through his own words. Both are fascinating reads for papal watchers and news junkies alike, painting a vivid portrait of the man, the leader, and the humble follower of Christ.
On Heaven and Earth
The first book, On Heaven and Earth: Pope Francis on Faith, Family, and the Church in the Twenty-First Century, is co-authored by the pope himself and Abraham Skorka, an Argentine rabbi, biophysicist and professor.
First published in Spanish three years ago, the book (now available for the first time in English) is drawn from conversations between the then-archbishop and the rabbi, who have been friends for many years. It is the clearest, most direct and in-depth peek into the new pope’s mind available publicly.
Each chapter of the book alternates between Bergoglio and Skorka. While the now-pope’s voice is fascinating in and of itself, sometimes the juxtaposition of the men’s voices in conversation gives the text an even deeper richness. Their conversation about same-sex marriage, for instance, is fascinating in its back-and-forth, so much so that I won’t quote just a portion of it here lest it be taken out of context. For that alone, the book is well worth a read.
Here are a few of Pope Francis’ thoughts from On Heaven and Earth:
On justice: “An act of justice that becomes concrete in helping one’s neighbor is a prayer. If not, one falls into the sin of hypocrisy, which is like schizophrenia for the soul. One can suffer these dysfunctional features if he does not take into account that the Lord is my brother and my brother is hungry. If a person does not take care of his brother, he cannot talk with the Father about his brother, with God.”
On women: “In the theologically grounded tradition the priesthood passes through man. The woman has another function in Christianity, reflected in the figure of Mary. It is the figure that embraces society, the figure that contains it, the mother of the community. The woman has the gift of maternity, of tenderness; if all these riches are not integrated, a religious community not only transforms into a chauvinist society, but also into one that is austere, hard and hardly sacred. The fact that a woman cannot exercise the priesthood does not make her less than the male.”
On feminism: “Feminism, as a unique philosophy, does not do any favors to those that it claims to represent, for it puts women on the level of a vindictive battle, and a woman is much more than that. The feminist campaign of the ’20s achieved what they wanted and it is over, but a constant feminist philosophy does not give women the dignity that they deserve. As a caricature, I would say that it runs the risk of becoming chauvinism with skirts.”
On the future of religion: “I am respectful of all new spiritual proposals, but they must be authentic and submit themselves to the passage of time, which will reveal if their message is temporary or will live on through the generations. Surviving the passage of time is the major test of spiritual purity.”
Pope Francis in His Own Words
The second book, Pope Francis in His Own Words, is a compilation of direct quotes from the new pontiff mined from his past writings, books (including a number from the Spanish edition of On Heaven and Earth), and interviews.
Edited by journalists and authors Julie Schwietert Collazo and Lisa Rogak, this book, released on sale May 14, admittedly condenses the new pope’s thoughts into “neatly concise, bite-sized bits so everyone – Catholic or not – can immediately learn more about ‘Father Jorge.’”
In His Own Words is fun to browse, with hundreds of individual quotes arranged into more than 100 categories, even if it lacks the larger context from which many of the quotes are taken.
Here are a few of the more interesting quotes:
On being right and wrong: “I don’t have all the answers. Nor do I have all the questions. … I confess that, in general, because of my temperament, the first response that occurs to me is the wrong one. … It’s curious, but that’s the way it is with me.”
On celibacy in priests: “Yes, hypothetically, western Catholicism could revise the theme of celibacy. … But for the moment, I am in favor of maintaining celibacy, with the pros and the cons it has, because we have ten centuries of more good experiences than bad ones.”
On choices: “Each day, we all face the choice to be Good Samaritans or to be indifferent travelers passing by.”
On evangelism: “We have to go out and talk to people in the city who we’ve seen on their balconies. We have to come out of our shell and tell them that Jesus lives … to say it with joy … even though it seems a little crazy sometimes.”
On God: “What God cares about most is that we are His friends.”
On possibilities: “Human history, our history, the history of every one of us is never “finished”; it never runs out of possibilities. Rather, it is always opening to the new — to what, until now, we’d never even had in mind. To what seemed impossible.”
On time: “Let me be clear: ‘take your time’ isn’t the same as ‘just let it be.’”
On soccer as a metaphor for life: “It’s like in soccer: you have to deal with the penalties where they fall; you can’t choose where they’re going to land. Life is like that, and you have to deal with it even if you don’t like it.”
Cathleen Falsani is the faith & values columnist for the Orange County Register.