I’m currently working my way through Pope Francis’s “apostolic exhortation”, Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel). So far, there’s a lot in there to like. For example:
I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day. No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her, since “no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord”. (para 2)
Or this prayer that Francis encourages each of us to pray “now”:
Lord, I have let myself be deceived; in a thousand ways I have shunned your love, yet here I am once more, to renew my covenant with you. I need you. Save me once again, Lord, take me once more into your redeeming embrace. (ibid.)
But one bit that particularly struck me was the following, seemingly throwaway, remark at the start of the section on “pastoral activity and conversion”:
I am aware that nowadays documents do not arouse the same interest as in the past and that they are quickly forgotten. Nevertheless, I want to emphasize that what I am trying to express here has a programmatic significance and important consequences.
I think those two sentences hold a key to understanding Pope Francis. The first thing that is apparent is his winsome, and genuine, humility:
I am aware that nowadays documents do not arouse the same interest as in the past and that they are quickly forgotten.
You can see the twinkle in his eye as he says this, the “aw, shucks, this old thing?” gesture as he bats away people’s compliments. But under this affable image there is a steelier awareness of the authority of his role and of what he is called to achieve in it, as he tells his church that what he is “trying to express here”:
has a programmatic significance and important consequences.
In short, he is not a man to be underestimated.