This 2015, one of the things I hope to do is to write a short book reflection every month. And for my first this year, I have chosen Open Mind, Faithful Heart of Pope Francis, who will be visiting the Philippines next week (January 15-19, 2015). The book is a compilation of his writings as archbishop of Buenos Aires. According to the foreword, “it is the last book written by [Jose Maria] Bergoglio as cardinal, and it is the one what he liked best of all” (p. xi).
(As you read this, you could play Amazed in the background. From Ross Parsley’s album I Am Free, the song is about how wide, how deep, how great God’s love is. Just click on the Play button below and enjoy.)
After reading the book, it became clearer to me that Francis is, first and foremost, a lover of God, and as a result, a lover of all people, especially of those who are poor and marginalized. Every chapter, from the first (“Apostolic joy is nourished by the contemplation of Jesus Christ, i.e., by observing how he moved about, how he preached, how he healed, how he saw the world,” p. 3) to the last (“We are encouraged to go in search of our suffering sisters and brothers and to ‘enter in patience’ with them by sharing their fate. We should do this without any desire to hold back anything for ourselves, just as Jesus held back nothing…” p.292), brims with love for God and for people. In Pope Francis: His Life in His Own Words, when asked what to him was the greatest of all virtues, he replied: “Well, the virtue of love, of giving oneself to another, and doing that from a position of gentleness.” (p.159)
Open Mind, Faithful Heart has four parts – Experiencing Jesus, Manifestations of Light, Letters to the Seven Churches, and Human Prayer. In the first part, Francis talks about the importance of daily encounters with Jesus through prayer and discernment of the signs of the times, and in our brothers and sisters (p.10); of being part of an evangelized and evangelizing community (p.38); of embracing the cross and losing all (p.72) but our joy, which means fervor (p.17); and of remembering the manifold manifestations of God’s grace in our (individual, familial, church, and human) history (ch.14). In the second part he talks about the need for watchfulness that is not only eager but also patient, careful, and faithful (p.118); and about the need to insert our lives into human history (which is salvation history) if we want our lives to become part of God’s manifestation (pp. 130) today and in the Day of the Lord’s second coming (p.164). In the third part, Francis exhorts individuals and communities whose lives reflect those of the seven churches in the Book of Revelation. For instance, those experiencing tribulation (cf Smyrna) he urges to resist the great temptation of fatigue (p.182), which manifests itself in, say, the tired person’s expending precious strength lashing out at minor enemies. To those tempted to spiritual infidelity (cf Pergamum), he gives the only remedy (p.191): a personal relationship with the Lord, finding expression in the Eucharist (where God gives himself to us) and in prayer (where God calls us by name). So in Pope Francis: His Life in His Own Words, when asked what the experience of prayer should be like he replies (p.45):
“[P]rayer should somehow be an experience of giving way, of surrendering, where our entire being enters into the presence of God. It is there where a dialogue happens, the listening, the transformation. Look to God, but above all feel looked at by God.”
Open Mind, Faithful Heart‘s last part, which is on prayer, is, for me, the strongest of the four parts of the book. It presents prayer not only as “asking God for things” or “asking God to change situations,” which, Francis affirms as “no doubt…true prayer” (p.225), but also our being transformed by God through obedience (pp.225) and understanding (p.262). He reiterates this in his Meeting with Filipino Families at the MOA Arena on January 16, 2015, saying, “If we do not pray, we will not know the most important thing of all — God’s will for us.” Finally, Francis likens prayer to an iterative journey: 1) “setting out in exodus from ourselves,” individually as well as corporately; 2) “enduring our exile and estrangement;” and 3) “a road back home that is ‘far beyond’ any return route we may imagine” (p.249, italics mine). I completely agree!
I was momentarily disoriented when I reached the end of Part 4. Throughout this part of the book, I felt that the Lord was lovingly teaching and encouraging me through his beloved and anointed pastor, Francis, and so I felt sad to have reached the end. But, as Francis pointed out elsewhere about prayer, yes there is always an ending, but there is also always…a beginning.
May the Triune God keep Pope Francis focused on Love (1 John 4:16), and may all “people of good will” (Luke 2:14, The Complete Jewish Bible) vigilantly keep him in their prayers.
Many thanks to Claretian Publications for making this book widely accessible in the Philippines.
Update 1 (January 16): In his message to the families at the Philippines’ Mall of Asia (MOA) Arena on January 16, 2015, his last words were:
“Pray often and take the fruits of your prayer into the world, that all may know Jesus Christ and his merciful love. Please pray also for me, for I truly need your prayers and will depend on them always!”
Pope Francis, you can count on me!
Update 2 (January 20): The original version of this post found its way to the January 18, 2015 edition of the Manila Standard. (Thanks to Pia Manalastas for the invitation.) What a nice, small way to be part of the papal visit to the country. Thank you, Lord!