Pope Francis radiates joy at public events (think World Youth Day in Brazil and similar gatherings in Korea and Albania) and in private meetings. His interviews with journalists for Catholic magazines and daily newspapers reveal a profound joy.
Reporters who cover papal trips see that same joy when he answers their questions during flights back to Rome. So do people who receive a phone call from him in response to a letter they have written.
“The joy of the gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus,” he writes to open “The Joy of the Gospel” (his November 2013 apostolic exhortation). He continues, “Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness, and loneliness. With Christ, joy is constantly reborn” (1).
Pope Francis has coined memorable expressions such as “There are Christians whose lives seem like Lent without Easter” (6), “An evangelizer must never look like someone who has just come back from a funeral” (10), and we must not allow defeatism to turn us into “disillusioned pessimists, sourpusses” (85).
But Pope Francis is no Pollyanna, refusing to take seriously threats to human dignity on all fronts. Consider this quote: “Today, our challenge is not so much atheism as the need to respond adequately to many people’s thirst for God, lest they try to satisfy it with alienating solutions or with a disembodied Jesus who demands nothing of us with regard to others” (89). Earlier he had written, “We have to state, without mincing words, that there is an inseparable bond between our faith and the poor. May we never abandon them” (48). Joy can indeed lead to deep compassion.
A lifetime of sharing the good news of Jesus Christ reflects a deep inner joy and encourages the same among all Christians.
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