Deacon Michael E. Bulson, St. Andrew Parish, Riverton, Utah

January 5, 2022

It is nothing new to say that the world is fascinated with Pope Francis. His humble tone, his embrace of the poor, and his words, both prepared as in his homilies and encyclicals as well as in his off-the-cuff remarks, have sparked an interest in this humble Jesuit Pope that seems to go on unabated. As a deacon in a small Utah parish, I have certainly shared that interest and the question in my mind, as in the minds of so many others, has been—who is this man? What is the provenance of the many refreshing things he has been saying and doing?

A partial answer to those questions can be found in the recently published book, Open Mind, Faithful Heart with the subtitle: Reflections on Following Jesus by: Jorge Mario Bergoglio (Pope Francis). The book is a collection of short writings by Pope Francis prepared while he was archbishop of Buenos Aires, and which he intended to publish when he reached age 75 and would turn in his resignation to the Pope. Fortunately for the world, that retirement has been postponed. But the writings have been published and give us a welcome insight into both the mind and the heart of the Holy Father. They reveal the spirit of a devoted son of the Church who is steeped in the scriptures and the writings of the Church fathers as well as classical literature. And they show the pastoral side of someone who is familiar not only with the halls of the Vatican but with the barrios of Buenos Aires as well.

In many ways, Open Mind, Faithful Heart reads like the text for a retreat led by a skilled retreat master. Part I: Encounters With Jesus is written in true Ignatian style, with the reader invited to an intimate participation in the life and ministry of Jesus. Each of the short reflections in this section is centered on a scene from the gospels where Jesus is encountered. After breaking open the meaning hidden in these accounts, the reader is invited to prayer and reflection utilizing questions that draw upon the highlighted text. This format could be especially useful for prayer groups wishing to deepen their encounter with Jesus under the guidance of a spiritual master who knows him well.

Encounters With Jesus is followed by three other divisions: Part II: Manifestations of Light, Part III: The Letters to the Seven Churches, and Part IV: Human Prayer. In Manifestations of Light, I found some of the thoughts of then Archbishop Borgoglio that seem to now be echoing in the words of Pope Francis. For example, his compassion for the poor in a reflection on the Gospel narratives of Jesus’ birth: “The preferences of God do not incline toward social elites or the worldly wise, but only toward the lowly, simple folk who insert themselves into history as servants of the only ‘Servant,’ the one who gives meaning to the whole of our journey.” (page 130). His joy: “By bearing witness, we produce light that provokes joy, and from the joy flows glory.” (page 134). And love: “The gift of Christ we receive from the Father is a manifestation of love…” (page 143). These and many more insights can be found in this section.

Part III contains a series of reflections on perhaps one of the more difficult scriptures for exegesis—the Apocalypse, or the Book of Revelation. Drawing on such sources as Romano Guardini and Hans Urs von Balthazar, Pope Francis teases out of this highly symbolic text a meaning that has direct relevance to everyday ministry. A sampling of the headings found in this section prove this point: Ephesus—Recapturing the First Love; Smyrna—Overcoming Fatigue and Bitterness; Sardis—Restoring Self Respect. For anyone leading a Bible study class that decides to take on the obscure imagery of the Book of Revelation, this book would be a most valuable companion text for eliciting insights that might otherwise be overlooked.

As a regular preacher, I found Part IV of Open Mind, Faithful Heart to be most valuable. Here again we find practical applications of the gospel message, something every preacher should be looking for: “loving justice with a desert thirst, preferring the wealth of poverty to the impoverishment produced by worldly wealth, opening our hearts with gentleness rather than inflaming them with ferocity…” This section is filled with gems that can enrich any homily. And what better authority to cite than that of Pope Francis? Not only is Part IV filled with excellent exegesis, it is as well a wise and gentle affirmation of prayer as the climate out of which all good preaching arises.

I finished this book feeling that I knew Pope Francis better. The media may not find in this collection of essays the one-liners that are heard so often. But anyone who delves into this book will come away knowing that, indeed, the world has a pope with truly an open mind and a faithful heart.

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