What Makes the Heart Burn

I just finished reading Pope Francis’ big interview. I’m not planning to comment on the Pope’s liberalism or conservativism or whatever. He’s profoundly orthodox and profoundly human, and I’m very glad for both.

Since most people are not going to have time to read the whole thing, here is my collection of favorite excerpts. I tried to stay away from the bits that touch on hot-button issues and which, consequently, you’ll see all over facebook for the next few days.

I’ve divided them roughly into topics, which involved some chopping, so each paragraph comes from a different segment of the original; but mostly they are at least in the same order.

The People

…when I took possession of the papal apartment, inside myself I distinctly heard a “no”. The papal apartment in the Apostolic Palace is not luxurious. It is old, tastefully decorated and large, but not luxurious. But in the end it is like an inverted funnel. It is big and spacious, but the entrance is really tight. People can come only in dribs and drabs, and I cannot live without people. I need to live my life with others.

This is how it is with Mary: If you want to know who she is, you ask theologians; if you want to know how to love her, you have to ask the people. In turn, Mary loved Jesus with the heart of the people, as we read in the Magnificat. We should not even think, therefore, that “thinking with the church” means only thinking with the hierarchy of the church.

I see the holiness in the patience of the people of God: a woman who is raising children, a man who works to bring home the bread, the sick, the elderly priests who have so many wounds but have a smile on their faces because they served the Lord, the sisters who work hard and live a hidden sanctity. This is for me the common sanctity. I often associate sanctity with patience: not only patience as hypomone (ὑπομονή), taking charge of the events and circumstances of life, but also as a constancy in going forward, day by day.

The Human

Belonging to a people has a strong theological value. In the history of salvation God has saved a people. There is no full identity without belonging to a people. No one is saved alone, as an isolated individual, but God attracts us looking at the complex web of relationships that take place in the human community. God enters into this dynamic, this participation in the web of human relationships.

When does a formulation of thought cease to be valid? When it loses sight of the human or even when it is afraid of the human or deluded about itself.

The Small and the Great

I was always struck by a saying that describes the vision of Ignatius: non coerceri a maximo, sed contineri a minimo divinum est (not to be limited by the greatest and yet to be contained in the tiniest — this is the divine).

This virtue of the large and small is magnanimity. Thanks to magnanimity, we can always look at the horizon from the position where we are. That means being able to do the little things of every day with a big heart open to God and to others. That means being able to appreciate the small things inside large horizons, those of the kingdom of God.


You see, when I perceive negative behavior in ministers of the church or in consecrated men or women, the first thing that comes to mind is: “Here’s an unfruitful bachelor” or “Here’s a spinster.” They are neither fathers nor mothers, in the sense that they have not been able to give spiritual life. Instead, for example, when I read the life of the Salesian missionaries who went to Patagonia, I read a story of the fullness of life, of fruitfulness.

Another example from recent days that I saw got the attention of newspapers: the phone call I made to a young man who wrote me a letter. I called him because that letter was so beautiful, so simple. For me this was an act of generativity. I realized that he was a young man who is growing, that he saw in me a father, and that the letter tells something of his life to that father. The father cannot say, “I do not care.” This type of fruitfulness is so good for me.

A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality. I replied with another question: “Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?” We must always consider the person. Here we enter into the mystery of the human being. In life, God accompanies persons, and we must accompany them, starting from their situation. It is necessary to accompany them with mercy. When that happens, the Holy Spirit inspires the priest to say the right thing.

“Religious men and women are prophets,” says the pope. “They are those who have chosen a following of Jesus that imitates his life in obedience to the Father, poverty, community life and chastity. In this sense, the vows cannot end up being caricatures; otherwise, for example, community life becomes hell, and chastity becomes a way of life for unfruitful bachelors.

The One Needful Thing

The church sometimes has locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules. The most important thing is the first proclamation: Jesus Christ has saved you.

The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently. Proclamation in a missionary style focuses on the essentials, on the necessary things: this is also what fascinates and attracts more, what makes the heart burn, as it did for the disciples at Emmaus.

The Living God

God is certainly in the past because we can see the footprints. And God is also in the future as a promise. But the “concrete” God, so to speak, is today. For this reason, complaining never helps us find God. The complaints of today about how “barbaric” the world is — these complaints sometimes end up giving birth within the church to desires to establish order in the sense of pure conservation, as a defense. No: God is to be encountered in the world of today.

Finding God in all things is not an “empirical eureka.” When we desire to encounter God, we would like to verify him immediately by an empirical method. But you cannot meet God this way. God is found in the gentle breeze perceived by Elijah. The senses that find God are the ones St. Ignatius called spiritual senses. Ignatius asks us to open our spiritual sensitivity to encounter God beyond a purely empirical approach. A contemplative attitude is necessary: it is the feeling that you are moving along the good path of understanding and affection toward things and situations. Profound peace, spiritual consolation, love of God and love of all things in God — this is the sign that you are on this right path.

In this quest to seek and find God in all things there is still an area of uncertainty. There must be. If a person says that he met God with total certainty and is not touched by a margin of uncertainty, then this is not good. For me, this is an important key. If one has the answers to all the questions — that is the proof that God is not with him. It means that he is a false prophet using religion for himself.

God is always a surprise, so you never know where and how you will find him. You are not setting the time and place of the encounter with him. You must, therefore, discern the encounter. Discernment is essential.

If the Christian is a restorationist, a legalist, if he wants everything clear and safe, then he will find nothing.

…the need for those who work in the world of culture to be inserted into the context in which they operate and on which they reflect. There is always the lurking danger of living in a laboratory…Laboratories are useful, but reflection for us must always start from experience.

God has revealed himself as history, not as a compendium of abstract truths.


I do not like to use the word optimism because that is about a psychological attitude. I like to use the word hope instead, according to what we read in the Letter to the Hebrews, Chapter 11, that I mentioned before.

Above all, I also know that the Lord remembers me. I can forget about him, but I know that he never, ever forgets me…It is this memory that makes me his son and that makes me a father, too.

12 Comments on “What Makes the Heart Burn”

  1. Lorraine says:

    I just finished reading the interview too and loved it all. (Also learning about his favorites in art and music.)

    1. Yeah, that was cool! I kind of wanted to know what he meant by listening to Beethoven in a “Promethean” way.

      1. richard says:

        This could be referring to Beethoven’s Overture to the “Creatures of Prometheus”.

  2. mirisyl says:

    It is absurb how the media takes one part of an enormous interview and blows it out of proportion claiming the Pope said one thing or the other. (It is not only the Pope that has suffered this malicious vice and he will not be the last). It makes you wonder what their aim is, sensantionalising simple words, influencing views other than informing.

    ION, thank you for making these excerpts. truly helpful for me. Just got the printable version of the full interview. I will read it as I go

  3. Uyi (Albert) says:


  4. Tara S says:

    I like this too: “We must initiate processes rather than occupy spaces.”

  5. P.J. says:

    An observation:

    The world is moving closer and closer to the unprecedented acceptance/embracing/blessing of gay marriage. It is happening in numerous countries and appears unstoppable. These are, indeed, very confusing times — particularly for those of us dealing with same-sex attraction while valiantly trying to adhere to our Catholic faith.

    Considering this, one would expect our Pope to speak with even GREATER clarity, in an effort to dispel the confusion existing in the world currently over “gay” issues.

    It is surprising, therefore — at least to me — that in the face of this, Pope Francis is speaking in ambiguous language. I must conclude that it is intentional, because he clearly is a very intelligent man and I do not believe any ambiguity on his part could be chalked up to accident. His audience is a global audience — and one listening very intently — and certainly every Pope speaks with this awareness.

    I am not faulting him or criticizing him for doing this; I am merely stating that this is occurring. That he is doing it is one thing; what we are to make of it is another.

    I must say it confuses me.

  6. richard says:

    Thanks for the link to the entire interview.

  7. George says:

    P.J. – I’m not trying to explain away the confusion, but maybe this is a helpful consideration.

    The Church has made explicitly clear the teaching about marriage and the morality surrounding the use of human sexuality. Many people do not want to listen, and as a result the Church could continue speaking as it has until it is blue in the face, but communication would not be established. I think Pope Francis is trying to put a fresh perspective on the Church’s teaching.

    Proponents for gay marriage have taken up the compassion schtick. They lack a real intellectual argument. The Church has focused on the intellectual argument, but perhaps it is presented in a less compassionate light. In my opinion, people are emotionally charged and are more prone to listen to sentiment than reason. Since people have turned off their minds, perhaps Francis is trying to demonstrate that the Church’s position is not uncompassionate so that they will be able to listen with their hearts.

    When I read Pope Francis’ words in light of the scene of Our Lord confronted with the woman caught in adultery, it provides a context for me that illuminates rather than obscures.

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