I don’t really have an opinion on Pope Francis yet. I mean, he’s the pope, so I follow his authority on Earth and all that, but I don’t know whether I like his individual personality or not (as much as that matters). I realize that he’s been pope for over a year, however, I am terrible at keeping up with Catholic news that doesn’t get blogged. I read a couple of his Wednesday audiences on the sacraments and the gifts of the Holy Spirit. I’m so glad that he’s preaching about those topics in particular. It’s like a Confirmation prep refresher for everyone! I rarely get the same impression from someone’s speaking that I do from the same person’s writing, though.
So I solved that problem: I found a book by Pope Francis and read it.
Several months ago, Open Mind, Faithful Heart: Reflections on Following Jesus was available for free from the Amazon Kindle Store. Despite my lack of a dedicated Kindle device, I snapped it up for my Kindle apps.* A reviewer’s backlog is never empty, though, and I wanted to give it the time it deserved, so I did not read and review it until now. This turned out to be the perfect time (but that is another story).
Open Mind, Faithful Heart is a collection of reflections and sermons preached by Pope Francis while he was still Cardinal Bergoglio. Each of the four parts covers a different topic:
- Encountering Jesus
- Manifestations of Light
- The Letters to the Seven Churches
- Human Prayer
As the prologue author, José María Arancedo (Archbishop of Santa Fe de la Vera Cruz, Argentina) writes, the divisions are quite similar to the four parts of the Catechism:
- The Profession of Faith: the initial relationship with God and what we believe
- The Celebration of the Christian Mystery: concrete encounters with God in the sacraments
- Life in Christ: practical examples of the Christian life
- Christian Prayer
Whether these topics collected into this particular book and published at this time was accidental is up to our dear pope. There must be something about me and the ends of books, though, because I found the latter two sections to be the easiest to follow and most enriching. (For what it’s worth, Archbishop Arancedo liked Part III best, too.) I read The Lamb’s Supper last summer, and since then, I keep an eye out for references to the Book of Revelation. I understand it so much better now that I tune in instead of tuning out. It was so enlightening to realize that the churches of Asia Minor experienced so many things that we do today. This section of Revelation contains “words of comfort that God wanted to place in the Church’s hands as the apostolic times were ending,” just as all Scripture was written for our edification and consolation. Similarly, it was comforting to read about the prayers offered by actual biblical figures and connect them with my own struggles and prayers.
Pope Francis’s personality shines through in this book. As a Nicaraguan friend of mine says, Pope Francis sounds like a Latino. He uses humor, he takes a simple approach to complex topics, and he stays humble. For example, he writes that all death represents failure, even the death of Jesus. We were never supposed to die. We have to recognize that reality and the hope of being saved by Christ, but “after Saint Peter’s Square, the place where most people are canonized [declared to be in heaven] is at wakes: usually the dead person is described as a ‘saint.’ Of course, he was a saint because now he can’t bother us!” Speaking of the value of intercessory prayer, particularly Moses’ efficacious pleading on behalf of the unfaithful Israelites in Exodus 32, he says, “It is not God who changes his mind; it is human beings who change their understanding.” Many people say they love him based on what he has done, yet they miss that he works for Jesus just as all Christians do. “How often our pastoral performance has taken on a princely style or been transformed into a personality cult!” he writes. He is winning people over for Christ and the salvation Christ offers, not for himself. That’s a good role model.
Among the large number of publications that have appeared in the months since the conclave, we do well to distinguish between books “about” the pope and books “of” the pope. […] The pope’s own books, of which this is one, come directly from his own hand. For that reason, I think they will be long-lived. These are the books that show us all the depth and breadth of Francis, the new pope. It is in these books that the author projects his inner self and makes himself visible in his own words.
I suppose that what I said in the beginning isn’t true anymore. I do have an opinion on Pope Francis now, but I formed it not by hearing stories of his unusual habits like sneaking out at night, not by listening to his constant appeals for the good of the poor (which are nevertheless awesome), and not by waiting for him to change Church teaching (which he hasn’t, really, even after a year). The original Spanish title Mente abierta, corazon creyente (open mind, growing/maturing heart) suggests a much broader goal for this collection: that we will be open to the Spirit so that our hearts may grow in love for the Lord. That this can happen through the cardinal’s words and that this cardinal became pope is an incredible blessing. Reflecting on the love of God is a crucial aspect of growing in faith, and doing so by using this book provides us an opportunity to get to know the man behind the media-friendly mask.
Pro tip: If you, like me, don’t have a Kindle but read (or want to read) Kindle books, you can use the Kindle Cloud Reader web app at read.amazon.com in a desktop browser or download the desktop app. They will sync with all your other Kindle readers like magic!