Understanding Pope Francis

There seems to be a certain amount of confusion among English-speaking Catholics over how to properly understand Pope Francis — and particularly how to understand the “off-the-cuff” homilies that he has been providing at the Domus Sanctae Marthae, as they are reported variously by Radio Vatican and L’Osservatore Romano.

I’ve no idea how much help the following will be, nor how many people will even see it, however it is certainly possible to make better sense of these homilies, and through this better understanding, to gain a better perspective on the actual personality and ministry of our Pope, in the face of the masses of disinformation that have (inevitably) started circulating about our Holy Father.

The Homilies

First of all, which source to use to make sense of them ?

Straight to the source — http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/francesco/cotidie/2013/index_it.htm (Italian)

1) The English-language translations of these homilies, even those provided at the Vatican website itself, have demonstrated that they are, at least for the time being, untrustworthy sources of information. Avoid them !!!

2) The Pope’s rhetoric is simultaneously Latinate and Italianate in nature, and his sense of humour is mischievous and ironic, so that a surefire way of misunderstanding these homilies is to read them quickly, in their poor English translation, and according to English or American expectations on how speeches should be constructed, and with the expectation that every single off-the-cuff word is to be taken 100% po-faced seriously. Instead, start your reading with the basic assumption that at least one disarming trait of humour will be provided in the homily, always remembering that you’re reading in a foreign language, translated or in the original, and read carefully, and trying NOT to engage your pre-conceptions on what the Pope must be saying. Try and remember how texts are constructed in Latin, or in 16th century literature, or perhaps as Shakespeare wrote them, because these are the sorts of rhetorics that the Pope is using, and NOT the pre-digested sound-byte rhetorics of our Mass Media.

3) There is a certain delightfully spontaneous baroque aesthetic in the Pope’s homilies that one should try and be sensitive to — this is an aesthetic with the direct purpose of causing listeners to approach its contents anew, afresh. It is NOT the type of magisterial exposition of theology and doctrine and of the related morals that Pope Benedict XVI provided for us with such consummate skill, BUT one should also understand that the inner questioning that the Pope’s rhetorics seek deliberately to foster in his listeners, and that many are confused by, is VERY firmly based on the magisterial teachings of the Pope’s immediate predecessor, both as Pontiff, and as the ex-Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The baroque rhetorics are used to try and shake up our intellectual complacency, and try and revive in us the nature of the link between our Souls, our Faith, our Religion, the Revelation, God, and the nature of our vocations in this world.

4) The Pope is teaching us that an intellectualised religion is not really any kind of Christianity at all — but that the intellect should ALWAYS be a servant of the Catholic Religion, but never seek to define it according to its own terms, as ONLY the Revelation provides that definition. This, as many people haven’t quite realised, is also the beating heart of the teachings of Pope Benedict XVI !!!

5) Brush up on your Italian, or your Latin, or your other Romance languages, or by default, brush up on your Shakespeare and your Chaucer — the Italianate aesthetics that are redolent in Pope Francis’ off-the-cuff homilies can be understood better via a prism of thought that is closer to them than by trying to stick to the intellectual aesthetics of a modern UK or US Liberal Arts Education, which they are almost completely incompatible with.

The Spirituality

Pope Francis’ deep spirituality is perhaps most comparable among recent Popes to that of Pope John Paul I. And so it may easily seem to be both mysterious, and confusing, especially in the light of the extreme shortness of John Paul I’s Pontificate.

Pope Francis’ spirituality appears to be centred on a constant awakening to the presence within one of one’s soul, and the outpouring of its divine relationship with God, which in turn provides the living source of ALL proper action, in prayer, in Liturgy, in work, and speech, in homily, in thought, and in deed.

This is not the banal exuberance of a dancing charismatic, it is a deep and thoughtful, prayerful, and Faithful attention within to the Work of the Holy Spirit. It is a devotion that is intrinsically Trinitarian, deeply Marian, and of the highest nature of the Catholicity.

And this is the kind of very deep Faith that the Pope is teaching, instead of an “intellectualism without talent”, as he puts it, an “ethicism without beauty”, that seeks to reduce the Catholic Faith to its sole intellectual, moral, social, psychological components, but that would transform the Church into just another NGO.

Our souls are the children of God, not “adopted” from out of this material world and its worldliness, but vivified in the living relationship of Love with Our Father.

And everything that the Holy Father is teaching is derived from this Eternal Source of ALL Truth and ALL Beauty and ALL Love.

And then people are surprised that his teachings are “confusing” !!! There is nothing more confusing than God when He reaches past the intellectual falsehoods of our worldly pride towards the very intimacy of our Souls.


Pope Francis is NOT of course suggesting, nor am I, that one’s intellectuality should simply be cast by the wayside !!!

He is suggesting that the Intellect is useless if it is not the servant of one’s Soul, turned towards God.

To deeply understand Pope Francis’ rhetorics, always remember this : that if he asks us, explicitly or implicitly, to always keep our very souls always turned to God in the Holy Spirit and through Christ, that he himself is practicing this very ascesis. The Pope’s own intellect is properly ordered in its processes within this vivification of the Self in Faith, and to read his homilies and to try and understand this Pope via the dead letter of a simply formalistic rationality is to understand nothing either of Francis or of his homilies.

I am asking you to try and understand them in the light of the most child-like Faith that resides in the heart of our love for God and for the Church of His Christ. In the very light of what makes us Catholic Christians instead of just another organisation of intellectuals, moralists, and social workers.

In the light of our very Souls.

Religious Freedom in the European Union

The EU has just adopted a very important text on the question of Religious Freedom.


Whilst its provisions are still not European Law for the time being, this is the final draft of the proposals that will be offered to the Commission for actual legislation.

Happily, several questions that have arisen in recent decades over the intellectual persecution by some radical secularist ideologues of (particularly) the Christian religious freedoms are explicitly provided against in the proposals :

Collective dimension of freedom of religion or belief

(h) It should be stressed in the Guidelines that an indispensable part of freedom of religion or belief is the right of each individual to manifest the freedom of religion or belief alone or in community with others; this includes:

– the freedom to worship or assemble in connection with a religion or belief, and to establish and maintain places and religious sites for these purposes;

– the freedom not to participate in any given religious activity or event,

the freedom to establish and maintain appropriate religious, media, educational, health, social, charitable or humanitarian institutions;

– the freedom to solicit and receive voluntary financial and other contributions from individuals and institutions;

– the freedom to train, appoint, elect or designate by succession appropriate leaders called for by the requirements and standards of any religion or belief;

– the freedom to establish and maintain communications with individuals and communities in matters of religion and belief at the national and international levels; equally, it should be noted in the Guidelines that the right to exercise religion in community with others (in the context of which ‘individual freedoms must always be respected) should not unnecessarily be limited to officially recognised places of worship, and that all undue limitations to the freedom of assembly should be condemned by the EU; the Guidelines should underline that States have a duty to remain neutral and impartial towards religious groups, including as regards symbolic or financial support;


(k) As recognised by internationally accepted standards, the parents or legal guardians of a child have the liberty to ensure that their children receive a religious and moral education in conformity with their own convictions, and the child shall not be compelled to receive teaching on religion or belief against the wishes of his or her parents or legal guardians, the best interests of the child being the guiding principle; the right of parents to educate their children according to their religious or non-religious convictions includes their right to deny any undue interference by state or non-state actors in their education opposed to their religious or non-religious convictions; the Guidelines should stress these aspects of the right to freedom of religion or belief, and should also guarantee secularisation in public education, and EU delegations should take appropriate action if this principle is violated;

I find these proposals to be an interesting mix of both some intrinsically secularist notions, and some intrinsically religious requirements — and on the face of the more general nature of the proposals, they may end up requiring of the UK that the Church of England shall be disestablished (though I will leave others to read the document for themselves and make up their opinion about these aspects).

My own interest is in the specific protections that are being proposed herein for all religiously-minded folk, including Catholic Christians.

It is a significant step forward for the EU that parents’ rights and the rights of religious communities to provide a religious education to their children is being proposed as a strongly worded inalienable human right !!! This right has been under constant assault from atheists and secularists for nearly 50 years, and it is very gratifying to finally see someone acting to put a stop to this horrendous persecution of religious families in Europe.

That public education is defined as being secularised is of little importance in the face of this great advancement, given that it already has been so secularised throughout nearly the whole of Europe — though here, the public education that is provided in Italy may sadly be put under assault (except that I have great faith in the Italian genius for finding detours around any overly oppressive lawmaking).

The proposals on the Collective dimension of freedom of religion or belief are a LOT more interesting though !!!

It is of the very NATURE of a religion to be collective, and we can see here that the EU is at last decided upon formally defining religion and the associated religious freedoms to be of a collective nature. This is amazingly good news, in the face of the constant barrage of propaganda from the atheists and secularists to try and turn religion into a purely private affair.

Noteworthy, is the expressed desire that religions and religious communities should have a right to establish charities that are consistent with their religious beliefs, and one cannot help but think of the ghastly cases of the Christian Adoption agencies that have been forced to shut down or lose their charitable status in the face of secularist legislative aggressions and persecutions, in the UK for example.

It is very refreshing to see a secular institution of the EU positively recognising that religious freedoms cannot be limited to freedom of belief and freedom of assembly.

This is a great advancement, and we should be celebrating it, notwithstanding the more secularist notions that are simultaneously being vehicled in this document.