Francis, the Writing Pope: A Walk through Some Major Works

Francis, the Writing Pope: A Walk through Some Major Works December 4, 2023

The cover of James Kroeger's book "Walking with Pope Francis"
Fr. Kroeger summarizes major Francis writings in Walking with Pope Francis.

A Maryknoll friend of mine and Orbis Press did us a service with a condensed version of several of Pope Francis’s published writings. In under 200 pages you can get the gist of ten major works of Francis’s papacy. The book is Fr. James Kroeger’s Walking with Pope Francis: The Official Documents in Ordinary Language

The works that Fr. Jim walks through, in Latin and English titles, are:

    • Lumen Fidei, The Light of Faith
    • Evangelii Gaudium, The Joy of the Gospel
    • Misericordiae Vultus, The Face of Mercy
    • Laudato Si, On Care for Our Common Home
    • Amoris Laetitia, The Joy of Love
    • Gaudate et Exultate, Rejoice and be Glad
    • Christus Vivit, Christ is Alive
    • Querida Amazonia, Beloved Amazon
    • Fratelli Tutti, On Fraternity and Social Friendship
    • Desiderio Desideravi, The Liturgical Formation of the People of God

Walking with Pope Francis intends to be an “appetizer,” encouraging the reader to go direct to the source and take in Francis’s practical wisdom and spirituality in his own words. It works both ways. Having read several, but not all of the works summarized in this book, I found here helpful reminders of what I had read before. I also found myself often going back to the originals when Fr. Jim’s summary begged for more.

Going from summary to Francis’s own words was made easy by the book’s format and the papal practice of writing in numbered paragraphs. Fr. Jim follows these numbers meticulously with brief accounts of or judicious quotes from each.

All of the above works are available in book form. But to read Pope Francis in original English translation, you needn’t spend any money. They are all also available on the Vatican website. Six of the writings covered in this book can be found easily in their entirety here:

Major Francis themes

One can’t get far into Walking with Pope Francis without seeing that mercy is important for this pope. That word appears over and over even before you get to The Face of Mercy in Chapter Three. Other themes appear often throughout the book. They include, in no particular order:

  • Decentralizing, going to the periphery, finding unity in diversity
  • Working together, because that’s the way we are saved; we cannot even believe on our own.
  • Opting for the poor and vulnerable
  • Being missionary disciples –I take that to mean learning and growing as we share what we have.
  • And at the same time respecting the others’ culture, inculturating the faith.

It seems Francis never ends without referring to Jesus’ mother. Devotion to Mary is a strong element of Francis’s piety. Often he ends with a prayer, as he does in On Care for Our Common Home, The Joy of Love, and On Fraternity and Social Friendship.

Pope Francis does not separate the Church or the faith from secular affairs. He often mentions the common good and calls politics an exercise in charity when it pursues the common good. Francis notes that private property is a good, but a relative one, that is, relative to the prior universal destination of goods.

The eloquence of Francis

From Walking with Pope Francis you can get a good feeling for the power of Francis’s words. Fr. Jim quotes much of this homely eloquence:

From The Joy of the Gospel:

No to “an economy of exclusion” and a “throwaway culture.” (#53)) The Eucharist “is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.” (#46) Focus on God’s love so others will know “the fragrance of the Gospel.” (#39

From On Care for Our Common Home

“The earth, our common home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth.” (#21) But, “Injustice is not invincible.” (#74) Everything in the entire material universe is “a caress of God.” (#84) So we are invited to discover God in all things – “in a leaf, in a mountain trail, in a dewdrop, in a poor person’s face.” (#233)

From The Joy of Love

“No alleged right to one’s own body can justify a decision to terminate a life.” (#83) But, “We have been called to form consciences, not to replace them.” (#37) Persons with special needs are “a gift for the family and an opportunity to grow in love, mutual aid, and unity.” (#47) “Love does not have to be perfect …. Love coexists with imperfection.” ( #113) “A pastor cannot feel that it is simply enough to apply moral laws to those living in ‘irregular’ situations, as if they were stones to throw at people’s lives.” (#305) The Church needs “to enter into the reality of other people’s lives and to know the power of tenderness. Whenever we do so, our lives become wonderfully complicated.” (#308))

From Rejoice and be Glad:

“Holiness is not about swooning in mystic rapture.” (#96) For “mercy is ‘the beating heart of the Gospel.’” (#97; Francis quotes his own The Face of Mercy.) Holiness involves “the restoration of just social and economic systems.” (#99; Francis quotes the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops.)

From Christ is Alive

Each person’s heart should be considered “holy ground” before which we must “take off our shoes.” (#67) Pope Francis encourages youth involvement, asking them to take to the streets and be protagonists of change. “Dear young people, please, do not be bystanders in life.” (#174) Youth is not an “in-between time…. You are the now of God, and he wants you to bear fruit!” (#178):

From Beloved Amazon

“I dream of Christian communities capable of generous commitment, incarnate in the Amazon region, and giving the Church new faces with Amazonian features.” (#7) But, “The land has blood, and it is bleeding; the multinationals have cut the veins of our mother Earth.” (#41) “Let us be fearless; let us not clip the wings of the Holy Spirit.” (#69)

From On Fraternity and Social Friendship:

“As society becomes ever more globalized, it makes us neighbors, but does not make us brothers.” (#12) “Those who raise walls will end up as slaves within the very walls they have built.” (#27) “No one is saved alone; we can only be saved together.” (153) Politics is “a lofty vocation and one of the highest forms of charity , inasmuch as it seeks the common good.” (#180)

Going to the original

I mentioned that occasionally I was moved to consult Francis’s original works for clarification or expansion of an idea. When I did that, I found Francis to be especially insightful. Here are a couple cases in point.

“Discerning the body” (The Joy of Love, #185-86)

Fr. Jim and Pope Francis help make sense out of this puzzling phrase in St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians. Fr. Jim notes that wealthier Corinthian Christians were discriminating against the poorer ones. But the Eucharist demands “a body of the Church without distinctions and divisions.”

That use of the phrase “discern the body” was new to me.  I usually hear this phrase in reference to the real presence of Christ as bread in the Eucharist. So I went to Francis, who adds that in Corinth discrimination was happening even in the agape meal accompanying the Eucharist: “While the rich enjoyed their food, the poor looked on and went hungry.” The pope criticizes the usual interpretation of this text “outside of its context or in a generic sense, with the risk of overlooking its immediate and direct meaning, which is markedly social.”

Remembering crimes against humanity (On Fraternity and Social Friendship, #246-49)

The pope wrote about remembering the past, including its horrors – the Shoah, in which Nazi Germany murdered six million Jews, the slave trade, the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, persecutions and other ethnic killings. “Forgetting is never the answer.” But, in Fr. Jim’s paraphrase, “remembering goodness is also healthy.”

I wanted to know which goodness the pope might have meant and why that thought was important just then. Turning to the original, I found that the pope had a word for the victims of atrocities, “lest they succumb to the mindset that leads to justifying reprisals.” The pope is thinking not only of “the atrocities, but also all those who, amid such great inhumanity and corruption, retained their dignity and, with gestures small or large, chose the part of solidarity, forgiveness and fraternity.” That dangerous goodness the pope also wants remembered.

Problems with the format of Walking with Pope Francis

I hope Walking with Pope Francis succeeds well, even to the point of requiring a new edition. If that happens, I hope Orbis Press hires an artist. The book is much drier than it needs to be. I can see a place for line drawings and cartoon-like frames.

More serious is the lack of variety in type face. Other than bold print, of which there is, perhaps, too much, variety comes only with the ten slightly larger chapter titles that name each new document. But Francis’s documents contain major sections, which could have been marked more decisively. It would have helped orient the reader and provide a feeling of movement from one place to the next.

Fr. Jim’s consistent following of numbered paragraphs is helpful in some ways. One can easily go from the book to the corresponding place in the original document. But the result is to level all ideas onto a single plane. A better plan might have been to follow Francis’s sectional divisions (marking them well) and hitting main ideas without necessarily culling from every paragraph.

These quibbles are minor. My friend Fr. Jim and Orbis Press are to be congratulated for a timely and useful book. I’ll leave the last word of praise to Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle in the book’s introduction:

{Pope Francis] has written and spoken creatively on migrants, youth, faith, ecology, prayer, friendship, accompaniment, family, synodality, priesthood, popular piety, Mary, Saint Joseph, and the numerous challenges facing evangelization today (e.g., consumerism, complacency, throw-away culture, relativism, violence, poverty, indifference, greed, narcotics, etc.) Listing these many topics can serve as an invitation to read the well-crafted, popular summaries that form the contents of this book you hold in your hands.

"Thank you for this wonderful summary of Laudate Deum!"

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