Arts and Culture

Pope Francis’ Optimism

by Father Robert Lauder

Fourth in a series

Going through Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation, “The Joy of the Gospel,” for the third or fourth time, I have been thinking about why I find his writing so inspiring.

Given Pope Francis’ popularity, my guess is that I am not the only one who finds his insights inspiring. In fact, as I am typing this column, I am thinking about a group of lay people with whom I will meet this evening and wondering if their reaction to “The Joy of the Gospel” will be similar to mine.

Certainly the Holy Father’s style of writing appeals to me. Also his compassion and stress on God’s mercy appeals to me. I find his insights very provocative. I am beginning to think that what makes his writing so attractive is his holiness. Somehow his goodness and closeness to God come through in what he writes.

Reflecting on the goodness of people, Pope Francis writes the following:

“To understand this reality we need to approach it with the gaze of the Good Shepherd, who seeks not to judge but to love. Only from the affective connaturality born of love can we appreciate the theological life present in the piety of Christian peoples, especially among their poor. I think of the steadfast faith of those mothers tending their sick children who, though perhaps barely familiar with the articles of the creed, cling to a rosary; or of all the hope poured into a candle lighted in a humble home with a prayer for help from Mary, or in the gaze of tender love directed to Christ crucified. No one who loves God’s holy people will view these actions as the expression of a purely human search for the divine. They are the manifestation of a theological life nourished by the working of the Holy Spirit who has been poured into our hearts.” (cf. Rom 5:5).

I don’t know how many times I have read the above quotation, but every time I read it, I am moved by the pope’s love of people and his profound understanding of people. Pope Francis is a very wise man.

Innate Knowledge

But what does he mean by “connaturality?” There can be a special type of familiarity produced by frequent experience. Possibly this might be expressed as a knowledge due to a loving familiarity with some reality. One example would be a farmer who has a connatural knowledge of the weather. His knowledge has been drawn not from books but from his experience of farming outdoors, working in various temperatures in snow, rain and sun.

The notion of connaturality suggests that the farmer’s experience goes beyond that of a person who makes weather forecasts on television. The farmer knows in a special way, and that is what the word “connaturality” is – an attempt at expressing. Affective connaturality born of love stresses that the knowledge comes through loving and identifying in some way with the reality known.

Disposed Toward Piety

I believe Pope Francis is suggesting that love of God and familiarity with God’s presence in our lives will dispose us toward the piety of Christian people and deter us from reducing some devotions to nothing but emotional experiences.

As I am writing this, an image of my mother comes to me. My mother knew little theology and was not interested in knowing more. Commenting on my weekly columns and on some books that I had written, she would say something like: “Why are you writing all these columns and books? No one knows what you are talking about!”

But every morning that I was home, for as far back as I can remember, my mother sat in her favorite chair in our living room, and with the rosary in her hands, she said her daily prayers. This was a daily ritual right up to her death. Pope Francis would have admired that kind of devotion.

Nourished by the Spirit

Reading his remarks about “theological life nourished by the working of the Holy Spirit,” I am upset that the media stresses all the bad events that are happening in the world and neglects so many good events and actions that are happening. A constant diet of bad news has to have an effect on us. When we remind ourselves of the countless good actions that are being performed around the world but that receive little if any attention in the media, our perspective on the world can change.

The Holy Spirit is operative everywhere! I believe that the Holy Spirit is influencing people who profess their faith in the Spirit’s presence in their lives.

However, I also believe that the Holy Spirit is active in the lives of many who don’t believe in the Spirit and may not have even heard of the Holy Spirit. I think Pope Francis believes that too.


Next week, Father Lauder employs Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation to examine the social dimension of the Gospel.[hr] Father Robert Lauder, a priest of the Diocese of Brooklyn and philosophy professor at St. John’s University, Jamaica, writes a weekly column for the Catholic Press.

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