Summer Reading with Pope Francis

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Many of us look forward to the summer as a time to catch up on our reading.

There is always a stack of books and articles on my table, ranging from spiritual works to history to fiction, but one author is always on my reading list – the Pope. Reading the words of Pope Francis offers a look at the mind, heart and soul of this man who has captivated the world since he was elected in March 2013. Thus my recommendation for your summer reading list is to add our Holy Father’s written works, the texts of his audience talks, and his tweets, particularly as we prepare for his upcoming visit to the United States this fall.

Certainly a must-read from Pope Francis will be his much-anticipated encyclical on the environment. Last month at a Vatican conference on the environment and sustainable development, I noted that the Pope’s statements on ecology are in total harmony with the teaching of his predecessors, offering moral and ethical principles flowing from respect for human dignity and for the common good.

Pope Francis shortly after his election explained to reporters that he chose his papal name after Saint Francis of Assisi because he was “the man of poverty, the man of peace, the man who loves and protects creation.” On October 4 that year, he made a pilgrimage to Assisi, and we can expect that our Holy Father with his new encyclical will continue to walk in the footsteps of the patron saint of protecting God’s creation.

In his first encyclical issued two years ago, Lumen Fidei (Latin for “The Light of Faith”), Pope Francis wrote, “The light of faith is unique, since it is capable of illuminating every aspect of human existence… Faith is born of an encounter with the living God, who calls us and reveals his love, a love which precedes us and upon which we can lean for security and for building our lives. Transformed by this love, we gain fresh vision, new eyes to see; we realize that it contains a great promise of fulfillment and that a vision of the future opens before us” (4).

That idea of encountering Christ is a key theme of Pope Francis’ 2013 apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium (“The Joy of the Gospel”), which begins, “The joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness. With Christ, joy is constantly born anew.”

Our Holy Father explains that he wrote “The Joy of the Gospel” to encourage Christians to “embark on a new chapter of evangelization marked by this joy” (Evangelii Gaudium, 1). By the example of his own life, Pope Francis shows us how we can radiate the joy of Christ’s love in our everyday interactions with our family members, friends, coworkers and people in our community. That all flows from a renewed personal encounter with the risen Christ, who by his cross and resurrection brings us new life.

On the Vatican website, we can read the text of Pope Francis’ weekly audiences and his homilies at Mass. Many offer homespun wisdom from the heart of a pastor, such as a recent audience talk when he underscored the need for family members to often say three phrases: “May I?” “Thank you.” and “Pardon me.”

On a recent tweet, Pope Francis noted, “God is always waiting for us, he always understands us, he always forgives us.” A recent study found that, with its high engagement levels, @Pontifex is the most influential Twitter account among world leaders, including more than 19.5 million followers on the Pope’s nine language accounts.

So, this summer as we prepare to welcome our Holy Father to the United States in September, we can start hearing his voice by reading his own words, from his encyclicals to his daily tweets. The Holy Spirit which so clearly animates his life and his words can likewise fill us if we include Pope Francis on our summer reading list.

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