Every pope seems to have a signature spiritual idea. For John Paul II, it was courage: “Be not afraid!” was his catchphrase to invite the church to recapture its missionary swagger after years of introspection and self-doubt. For Benedict XVI, it was “faith and reason,” the idea that religious belief and intellectual reflection need one another to remain healthy.
For Francis, the best early candidate for his signature touch is mercy, expressed in his repeated emphasis on God’s endless capacity to forgive…
In a recent essay for the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, Enzo Bianchi, founder of the celebrated ecumenical monastery of Bose, offered a statistical analysis of the words used most frequently by Francis since his election. He found that the single most commonly used term was “joy,” more than 100 times, followed closely by “mercy,” which the pope has used almost 100 times.
One that note, it’s worth revisiting Francis’ remarks from a homily he delivered during a Mass celebrated in the Chapel of the Domus Sanctae Marthae at the end of May:
The Pope began by referring to the readings of the day from the book of Zephaniah (3:14-18) and the Gospel of Luke (1:39-56), saying that they “speak to us of joy and happiness: ‘rejoice, shout for joy’, says Zephaniah… ‘The Lord is in the midst of you’… He too will rejoice over us. He, too, is joyful”.
“Everything is joy. But we Christians, we are not used to talking about joy, about happiness. I think that many times we prefer complaints! What is joy? The key to understanding this joy is in the Gospel: ‘Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit’. What gives us joy is the Holy Spirit.
“It is the Spirit who guides us. He is the author of joy, the creator of joy, and this joy of the Holy Spirit gives us true Christian freedom. Without joy we Christians can not become free. We become slaves to our sorrows”.
(Photo: Pope Francis smiles after his weekly general audience in St Peter’s square at the Vatican on June 12, 2013. By Alberto Pizzoli/AFP/Getty Images.)