Learning joy from Pope Francis

Many things have been said about Pope Francis, and many more will be said for sure. He is, after all, a man of surprises, and while there’s no telling what he’ll do next, there is something constant about him: joy.

It was joy he wrote about in his first apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel). He also encourages Christians to "let go" of joy because keeping it, he said, "will make us sick in the end."

So let go of joy he did. We’ve read about it in countless stories written about him, but seeing it up close was something else.

I’m not a Catholic nor a fan of Pope Francis, but I have to admit his joy was infectious – from when he first peeked through that airplane window, to his last wave to Filipinos before leaving for Rome.

Let me digress a bit here and talk briefly about my religious beliefs. I’m a Born-Again Christian, born and raised in a family that never missed going to church as much as possible. I attended Sunday School religiously (because that’s where all the kids go after worship), and went to youth camps for the fun of it (camp crushes, anyone?).

But growing up, I was also trained to examine my faith. I read the Bible and other books by Christian authors such as C.S. Lewis, A.W. Tozer, Joshua Harris, and John Piper. Piper is a personal favorite because he has written (and spoken) extensively about joy and why it matters in the spiritual walk of Christians.

(And when one of your nicknames is Joy, it is kind of an imperative to know what the word means.)

'A spontaneous response of the heart'

Twice during his 5-day visit in the Philippines, Pope Francis ditched his prepared speeches to speak from the heart.

He must have been overwhelmed by what he saw: thousands of Filipinos – both at the Tacloban airport and at the University of Santo Tomas (UST) – waiting for hours under the rain just to see him, and to listen to what he had to say. 

It was just as the Bible said: Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.

"I'd like to tell you something close to my heart. When I saw from Rome that catastrophe I had to be here. And on those very days I decided to come here. I am here to be with you – a little bit late, but I’m here," he told Filipinos in typhoon-hit Tacloban City.

‘Deep and firm'

I again witnessed this joy – deep and firm – when he offered a short prayer and a moment of silence for Kristel Padasas, an aid worker who died after a scaffolding by the stage where Pope Francis said Mass for disaster survivors in Leyte collapsed on January 17.

The news was sad, but it did not rob Francis of his joy. There were thousands more he needed to minister to – young people who lined up at UST as early as the night of January 17.

"The Bible describes Christian joy as flourishing right in the midst of pain and suffering," Piper wrote.

The Pope's joy did not diminish, because joy does not work that way.

"It is a joy for me to be with you this morning. I greet each of you from the heart, and I thank all those who made this meeting possible. During my visit to the Philippines, I wanted in a particular way to meet with young people, to listen to you and to talk with you. I want to express the love and the hopes of the Church for you," said Pope Francis. 

In the end, Jesus

Piper’s third point – Christian joy as spiritual – is something Pope Francis himself talked about with reporters on his way back to Rome.

"As for the great turnout, I felt annihilated. These were God’s people, and God was present, and the joy of the presence of God which tells us – think on it well – that you are servants of these people, they are the protagonists," the Pope said of his mass in Tacloban, the "most moving moment" of his Philippine trip.

When he saw the crowd there, Pope Francis said he could not explain what happened to him, only that he "felt very little." This is a man looked up to by billions of Catholics, and yet in the presence of God he felt small.

No wonder he said it before he came to the country: to make Jesus – not him – the focus of his 5-day visit. Because at the end of it all, he is only a representative of Jesus.

I’m not a Catholic nor a fan of Pope Francis, but you have to admit he’s so joyful and adorable! Now let’s keep pointing to Jesus, ok? :) — Jee Y. Geronimo (@jeegeronimo) January 15, 2015 

I’m not comfortable with the fanfare that follows Pope Francis (in the Bible, Jesus would, from time to time, slip through the crowd – especially that one time they wanted to "make him king by force"), but there are many things this man is doing right.

Spreading the joy of the Lord is one; his humility is another. Why else would he keep telling people to pray for him? I hope everyone who heard him speak and saw him in the flesh were moved to action.

After all, faith without works is dead. – Rappler.com

Jee Y. Geronimo

Jee is part of Rappler's Central Desk, handling most of the world, science, and environment stories on the site. She enjoys listening to podcasts and K-pop, watching Asian dramas, and running long distances. She hopes to visit Israel someday to retrace the steps of her Savior.