Book reviews April/May/June 2021 Let us Dream: The Path to a Better Future

Pope Francis in Conversation with Austen Ivereigh
ISBN: 978-1398502208
Simon & Schuster 2020
Hardback 149pp £10.99
Pastoral Review bookshop £9.89
After China came Italy. Who can forget that rainswept night, in March 2020, when Pope Francis broadcast Urbi et Orbi? High Priest and prophet, he wrestled with a stern Providence, uttering a lament on behalf of stricken humanity. Then there was his contribution to the UK debate on Radio 4, his words spoken by Joseph Balderamma. Now we have Let us Dream: The Path to a Better Future. Three becomes a general rule: Austen Ivereigh suggested the ‘contemplate-discern-propose’ methodology, familiar from the church of Latin America. Hence ‘A Time to See, A Time to Choose, A Time to Act’. And the three ‘Ls’ – Land, Lodging, Labour – or three ‘Ts’ – tierra, techo, trabajo.

In ‘A Time to See’, the Pope introduces Catholic social doctrine, not without studied ambiguity. His lens is his own ‘three COVIDs’, his ‘Time of Crisis’: illness (1957), Germany (1986) and Cordoba (1990–92). ‘Narcissism’, ‘discouragement’ and ‘pessimism’ hinder our ability to engineer change. In ‘A Time to Choose’, Francis looks at the Beatitudes, ‘the preferential option for the poor’ and ‘the common good’. Turning abstract principles of ‘the universal destination of goods’, ‘solidarity’ and ‘subsidiarity’ into concrete action requires ‘discernment of spirits’. Francis’ ambiguities are revealed in quoting Romano Guardini’s idea of el pensamiento incompleto, ‘unfinished thinking’. Integralism remains elusive, and Francis’ best efforts to gain a wider hearing depend on not foreclosing on the preoccupations of the secular agenda. He manages to engage the outside world but manifestly leaves his critics on the left unsatisfied and on the right indignant. He retaliates with attacks on ‘clericalism’, quoting Mahler, ‘tradition is not the repository of ashes but the preservation of fire’, and being particularly severe with those who attacked the Amazonia Synod in October 2019 ‘…[when] the deep respect for indigenous culture and the presence of the native people … was treated by hysterical accusations of paganism, and syncretism’.

Yet, it is not ecclesiastical issues which most engage him. Appalled by the isolation of the elderly and deaths from Covid-19 in care homes, he reminds us that ‘the elderly are our roots’. Under-developed areas need economic progress, but the rest of us should cut back, recover solidarity, subsidiarity and the centrality of the family, and confront the dangers of individualism. Guardini’s ‘contrapositions’ rather than ‘contradictions’ lead to synodality and the three synods: the family, young people and Amazonia. Everyone has chance to talk, listen and discern the voice of the ‘Good Spirit’. From this we discern an Ignatian spirituality.

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