Let Us Dream
Friday Book Pick: Let Us Dream: The Path To A Better Future by Pope Francis in conversation with Austin Ivereigh
Pope Francis: Supreme Head of the Catholic Church, the 266th Pope, Servant of the Servants of God, Successor of St. Peter, Vicar of Christ, and the World’s Spiritual Director. That last one may not be familiar to you as a title for the Pope. That’s because it was coined very recently by the journalist Austin Ivereigh who is responsible for this book—a compilation of our Holy Father’s reflections on Covid-19—hot off the press. For those who are paying attention to the Holy Father, and trying to understand what he is saying and doing and how he is leading the Church, “the world’s spiritual director” could be an apt description.
Let Us Dream: The Path To A Better Future is a book about the pandemic. It is about the events of the last year that have seared their impact into our minds and hearts and will shape both our history and our future. It would not be accurate to call this book a reflection looking back over the experience of the global health crisis brought on by the coronavirus. No, it is very much a looking forward. It is a call for mankind to emerge from this “Covid time” anything but the same. Rather than desperately grasping at restoring “normalcy” or getting back to the way things were, the Holy Father calls us to perceive, listen and discern how we are to be changed by what we have experienced during the pandemic.
If we are to be changed, as the Holy Father clearly hopes we will be, how will we be changed? What goals and hopes—what dreams—will motivate and shape the changes? Hence the need for discernment, for listening to the Holy Spirit. We know and experience within ourselves that our life decisions are governed by many things, from economics and work, to life and health, to family and other relationships. The Holy Father seems to be imploring us to a profound openness to the Holy Spirit, in search of the will of God in every area. He wants us to allow ourselves to be displaced from the center of our own existence in order to let God take center stage. The Pope is calling for change, conversion, the turning from self and selfishness to God and other-centeredness. He calls for a new humanism “that can harness this eruption of fraternity, to put an end to the globalization of indifference and the hyperinflation of the individual. We need to feel again that we need each other, that we have responsibility for others, including those not yet born and those not yet deemed to be citizens.” But how do we change, and how do we know what the Holy Spirit is prompting us to do?
As a Jesuit, Pope Francis has discernment in his blood. When he speaks, you hear the voice of St. Ignatius in his words and in his ideas. If you are not familiar with “Rules of Discernment” or “Discernment of Spirits,” essentially it is an organized set of observations made by Ignatius of Loyola on how the Spirits (good and bad) influence man. St. Ignatius developed a system, or rules, to help a person figure out what is going on in his inner life. Rather than being a sitting duck—helplessly acted upon by forces outside himself (and also within himself), with the Rules of Discernment he is better equipped to be aware, to understand, and to respond appropriately to the actions and influences of the spirits. This was the main gift that the Holy Spirit gave the Church through St. Ignatius, founder of the Society of Jesus, and Pope Francis is a good son of St. Ignatius. Discernment is the golden thread throughout this book. “Discernment means to think through our decisions and actions, not just by rational calculations but by listening for His Spirit, recognizing in prayer God’s motives, invitations and will. There is a principle worth remembering in these times: ideas are debated, but reality is discerned.” It is as if Pope Francis trusts the Holy Spirit to continue to lead us through this chapter of history, and it is as if he trusts mankind to engage personally with God in prayer—to hear and to understand Him.
The chapters of this short book are: A Time to See, A Time to Choose, and A Time to Act. In each chapter the Pope challenges the reader with his musings and intuitions, all of which reveal something of his own inner workings. The Holy Father does not shy away from the hard message of the Gospel. He wants us first to see reality as it is, to see other people most especially, and then choose to engage reality—every part of it—with the life-breath of the Gospel, to make earth as it is in heaven, as we pray in the Our Father.
The Holy Father doesn’t mind revealing personal stories. In this book he shares three examples from his own life, his own personal “Covids” as he calls them, and what he learned through these different life crises. “What I learned was that you suffer a lot, but if you allow it to change you, you come out better. But if you dig in, you come out worse.” Although he is not aiming to create a point-by-point program for renewal—that’s just not his way—at the very end in the epilogue, the Pope gets practical. He offers two words that can move the reader to deeper reflection and offers a starting point for applying his musings. The words are “decenter” and “transcend.” Both have to do with dying to self, getting out of the way, decreasing. The Pope, I think, is trying to escort us out of the small world of “self” into the much greater world of “other.”
The Holy Father is bold. This strikes me again and again in reading his writings or listening to his words. In his recent encyclical Fratelli Tutti, written to all of humanity, he reveals his ability to dream big. I didn’t count the number of times that he made the disclaimer that he was not proposing a utopian dream (unmoored from realm of possibility). But the very fact that he felt the need to say it shows that his proposal for the world is radically different than the reality of the world we are living in now. It is as if he believes we can actually live the Gospel.
Mother Clare, CFR