One of the practices that Pope Francis has undertaken during the past year is to grant personal interviews with newspapers, magazines and other sources of news media. Ever since his interview with the press corps on his flight back from World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro last July, the Pope has shown himself to be quite at ease and very spontaneous in these interviews. He is himself and his faith, sincerity and humility are quite obvious, which make the interviews all the more appealing. While these interviews are not formal Church teaching vehicles, they do express the mind of the Vicar of Christ and are very helpful in our understanding of him as well as of the Church.
In a recent interview published in the Argentine weekly, Viva, Pope Francis spoke on a number of topics. One of them was his "top ten tips" for bringing greater joy to life. All of these tips are Gospel based and truly the foundation of the spiritual life. All ten are worthy of reflection and I would like to share just a few in this column.
One of the tips of the Holy Father is, "Be giving of yourself to others." The Pope expresses that we always need to be open and generous towards others even when this may be difficult. He says that, "If you withdraw into yourself you run the risk of becoming egocentric. And stagnant water becomes putrid." We realize how true these words of Pope Francis are. By forgetting about ourselves and being open to others, we are able to find a joy which we cannot experience when we are closed in upon ourselves. Truly this tip is one that refers to all of our relationships but is especially helpful in regard to members of our own family. By listening and being open to those whom we love, we enable them to be themselves as well as allow ourselves to find ourselves. This certainly is true in our relationship with God and reflects the words of our Lord, "Whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it" (Matt 16:25), as well as His words, "Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit" (Jn 12:24).
Another useful tip of Pope Francis is "Proceed calmly in life." How important are these words in our life each and every day. We can get so caught up in all of the many things that face us that we can become over anxious and place emphases on matters that are not really that important. Remaining calm helps us to put things in perspective and to place all matters in God's hands. In the Gospels we see Jesus falling asleep in a boat with His disciples when a storm arises that causes them much anxiety. It is Jesus who calms the storm when disciples awaken Him and tells them, "You of little faith, why are you so afraid?" We all experience many storms in life but we need to proceed calmly in all situations knowing that the Lord is with us.
Pope Francis gives as one of his tips that we need "A healthy sense of leisure." He tells us that consumerism brings us much stress and causes us to lose a healthy culture of leisure so that our time is swallowed up when we can't take time to be with ourselves and one another. He advises parents, even though they may work long hours, to set aside time to be with their children and to play with them. He also advises that family should turn off television when they sit down to eat because, while it may be helpful in keeping up with the news, having it on during meal time does not give us the opportunity to communicate with each other. We need to take time to enjoy art, music and God's creation itself through which God reveals His love and care for us. While craving for too much leisure can be an unhealthy thing, not having enough can be unhealthy as well.
In line with his tip for having "A healthy sense of leisure," the Pope also advises us that Sunday should be a holiday and a day for the family. It is the day to worship the Lord and to come to Mass as a family to give thanks to Him for His many blessings and to be fed for the week to come. As we have lost a sense of healthy leisure, we have also lost a sense of the Sabbath which God created for rest.
One final tip of the Pope I would like to share is, "Stop being negative." Pope Francis tells us that "Needing to talk badly about others indicates low self esteem. That means, ‘I feel so low that instead of picking myself up, I have to cut others down.'" Letting go of negative things is healthy. Being continually critical of others only builds up resentment inside of ourselves which destroys. We have no control over others’ actions but we do have control over ours. When we feel critical about someone, it is always better to correct something in ourselves. Then we are in a better position to understand the other. As our Lord tells us, "Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye" (Matt 7:3)?
Pope Francis truly has a sense of faith and joy which are contagious. It is obvious that he cultivates this sense by living the Gospel especially in the "tips" for joyful living that he gives. It is the Lord who is the source of all joy and whose wisdom shows us the way to that joy. Pope Francis truly shows us that this joy is real and meant for each of us. Let us follow his lead and listen to his tips!
Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito
August 22, 2014