I want to say upfront that I LOVE Pope Francis. He is refreshing, honest, compassionate, caring and I have a feeling that he might just freak out the Roman Catholic hierarchy a bit. You know, maybe keep them on their toes by doing things that previous Popes didn’t do – like walk around the streets chatting with people, catching a bus and paying for his own hotel room. The cheeky side of me kinda likes this.
So it was with interest this week that I read his interview with an old friend who was writing for the Argentine magazine Viva, in which he outlined 10 tips for a happy life. We’d do well to embrace them:
1. Live and let live. He used an Italian expression that roughly translates as “move forward and let others do the same.” It’s an echo of the Pope’s earlier remark on gays: “Who am I to judge?” It’s what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.”
2. Be open and generous. “Be giving to yourself and others” because “if you withdraw into yourself, you run the risk of becoming egocentric. And stagnant water becomes putrid.” It’s like the Dead Sea; it’s dead because it only takes in and doesn’t give out!
3. Proceed calmly through life. The Pope quotes from a favourite novel by an early 20th-century Argentine writer, Ricardo Guiraldes, in which the novelist writes that in one’s youth, a person is “a rocky stream that runs over everything,” but as one gets older, one becomes “a running river, quietly peaceful.” How true!
4. Enjoy leisure. The Pope says that consumerism has brought with it unbearable anxieties. So play with your children. Take time off. And don’t spend all your time thinking about what you need to do next. This needs to include switching off technology – including the TV – and enjoying time with family and friends. Social networking means that so often we are together alone! Get out the board games, enjoy great conversations and really get to know others!
5. Sunday is for families. Of course with the way our society is geared Sunday is a workday for many. But the sentiment here is that once a week we should have a day that restores the mind, body and spirit and gives time to those who are most precious to us.
6. Find jobs for young people. When God created the first humans He gave them work to do. I’ve only experienced unemployment for a few weeks in my life but they were not happy weeks. I love working as I find great satisfaction in what I do, especially helping others and hard work makes leisure time more meaningful. Pope Francis said, “We need to be creative with young people. If they have no opportunities they will get into drugs” and then be at a greater risk of suicide.
7. Take more care of nature. He said, “I think a question that we’re not asking ourselves is: isn’t humanity committing suicide with this indiscriminate and tyrannical use of nature.” As mentioned above, when God made people He gave them responsibility for creation. We live on a finite planet that should be respected not just indiscriminately consumed!
8. Let go of negative thoughts quickly. He urged people not to be negative. “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’.” The Bible condemns gossip and criticism and encourages us to deal well with conflict: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18).
9. Respect each other’s beliefs and not to try and convert others to our way of thinking. He says, “The worst thing of all is religious proselytism, which paralyses: “I am talking with you in order to persuade you.” The church grows by attraction, not proselytizing.” I almost agree with where he is coming from here. I think it’s vital that we Christians respect the beliefs of others and that we are not guilty of loving people “with hooks,” that is, becoming their friend simply to see them convert to our faith. But I’m also very aware of the Bible’s teaching on sharing the Good News with others in order to see them forgiven and brought into a relationship with God through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
10. Work hard for peace. The Pope has preached this message from the beginning of his time as pontiff. He has gone to Jerusalem and worked to bring together Jews and Palestinians. He has prayed for peace and worked for peace. He has listened closely to Jesus, who said, “Blessed are the peacemakers.” He says, “The call for peace must be shouted. Peace sometimes gives the impression of being quiet, but it is never quiet, peace is always proactive.”
Author Jay Parini summarises Pope Francis’ teaching as follows: “[He] has, in this unlikely venue, given us his own Sermon on the Mount, his Ten Commandments for happiness and inner peace. One can only be grateful for his wisdom, which is rooted in a sincere faith, in hard-earned wisdom, and a very practical knowledge of human needs and potentials.”