I was very interested to read this book. Taken from sermons of Pope Francis, this is a collection of quotes on a variety of subjects, with particular focus on economic injustice, children, treatment of the elderly, and the family as an evangelical force as well as the guardian of personal well-being and dignity.
I was curious if this book was going to be as “controversial”—among conservatives at least, as the press releases that have abounded at the beginning of Francis’ papacy. Not so much. There are perhaps one or two quotes that speak against a redefinition of the family, but these passages were not particularly memorable. Most of the time he speaks powerfully about how the family, without emphasis on any rigid definitions, is the basic source of good in the world, that the devaluation of the family is harmful to all of society since the family is (or at least should be) the most basic building block of a compassionate and just society as well as the first exposure and experience with religion and, to Catholics at least, the gospels and teachings of Christ. If we have respect and strive for justice, if we are compassionate toward our fellow man, or if we are religious, we were most likely taught that in our family. Clearly, Francis is talking about what the family can and should be, as an ideal and as a model. To anyone who believes in the family, and mothers, fathers, and grandparents as a source of good for future generations, his words are very encouraging, whether you are religious or not.
The most moving portions for me were when he speaks out on economic injustice and how it destroys children, families, and by extension, the well being of future generations.
“In a world which daily discards tons of food and medicine there are children, hungry and suffering from easily curable diseases, who cry out in vain. In an age which insists on the protection of minors, there is a flourishing trade in weapons which end up in the hands of child-soldiers; there is a ready market for goods produced by the slave labor of small children. Their cry is stifled: the cry of these children is stifled! The must fight, they must work, they cannot cry!
But their mothers cry for them, as modern-day Rachels: they weep for their children, and they refuse to be consoled.”
He similarly calls out the world for the poor treatment of the elderly.
“I remember, when I was visiting a retirement home, I spoke with each person and I frequently heard this: “How are you? And your children? Well, well. How many do you have? Many. And do they come to visit you? Oh, sure, yes, always, yes, they come. When was the last time they came? I remember an elderly woman who said to me: “Mmm, for Christmas.” It was August! Eight months with being visited by her children, abandoned for eight months! This is called mortal sin, understand?”
Francis pulls no punches when it comes to the unfair pressures, both economic and social, placed on the family and the poor treatment of the elderly and children. He states that children and especially the elderly are treated by most societies as if they have no value whatsoever. This is where his focus and his fire is directed. Not on doctrine. While he clearly takes a stand against abortion (no equivocation there) and states that he feels that Pope Paul was courageous in drafting his encyclical against birth control, he doesn’t spend any amount of time or energy on these topics. There is no mention of sexual orientation, no mention of divorce. With regard to the Church, the Catholic Church at least, his words are very different from those of Benedict, who longed for and attempted to create a “smaller, more pure church” with a primary focus on traditional doctrine. Francis says that the Church must go out into the world and be a force for good for all people, and that this may mean that the Church may appear to “make mistakes” or damage its image. He clearly and firmly states that he doesn’t want a Church that is shut out from the world, protecting itself, and that the work of the Church is IN the world and with and for the people in need of help and to fight against injustice of whatever form.
As I finished this book, I was grateful that he had been elected Pope and I hope that he holds that office for a long time and influences future pontiffs to follow his lead.