A Gift of Joy and Hope by Pope Francis - Book Review

“A Gift of Joy and Hope” by Pope Francis can challenge your views, broaden your horizon and provide you with some new perspective

A Gift of Joy and Hope
A Gift of Joy and Hope

When choosing the next book to read, it is good to look for something that can challenge your views, broaden your horizon and provide you with some new perspective. I was sure that when I picked up Pope Francis’s book that I could find some valuable lessons in it, and I was not disappointed.

Pope Francis recently published his book “A Gift of Joy and Hope”. Before I dive into a short review of the book, I would like to give you some insight into the somewhat unusual perspective I bring into this book review. I stopped being religious during my teenage years; I was always surrounded by good Christians who practised what they preached - I had some very kind teachers, devout mentors and what I can only describe as a good upbringing. Everyone who cared, diagnosed my Atheism as just a phase of rebellion and that I would eventually find my way back; I am now in my thirties and am still non-religious. I feel it is important to clarify that my form of Atheism is not a rejection of Christian values, but rather finds its basis primarily in a scientific perspective.

Despite my philosophical predicament, I still have great respect towards the Christian values I was brought up with. Pope Francis had always struck me as a good man with the courage to challenge tradition for the sake of Goodness. I could not help award him several brownie points when he publicly expressed his belief that even good Atheists have a place in Heaven. While people like me do not believe in an afterlife, I think that having the leader of the Church expressing such a sentiment shows us that some things matter more than others. While I disagree with religious people on a lot of things, I believe that the things we have in common are far more consequential than our differences.

With that aside, if you would like to read the book and discover the Pope’s message for yourself, I definitely recommend it. Whatever your beliefs, go ahead and read it. May I add that the audiobook version is beautifully narrated.

The following are my key takeaways from the book.

The gift of a smile

One of the gifts that the Pope believes goes a long way in bringing Joy and Hope to the world, is the gift of a smile. In various chapters he describes how a smile can go a long way to bring comfort to both sender and recipient. He even suggests that we learn to accept our emotions and master them without suppressing them. It is good to allow yourself to weep, it is good to know shame and most importantly, it is good to smile.

Truth and beauty

I really enjoyed the focus on Poetry, Truth and Beauty as key pillars of a good life. I do believe that the world would be a better place if Art and Beauty were allowed to take centre stage instead of greed, and I obviously stand by the scientific axiom; question everything. The pursuit of Truth wherever it may be hiding.

Kindness and good-humour 

I admit I winced a bit when the text implied that people who do not have God in their life are ‘sad’ and ‘unable to smile’. Despite this small transgression, I still found it very easy to focus on the positive messages of the book - there is not a single unkind word in the Pope’s message. He even goes to some length to urge Christians NOT to proselytise their religion but rather focus on living a good life and leading by example. Being kind and accepting towards others, focusing on our shared humanity and going out of your way to help the sick and poor. He also encourages us to not be too serious or gloomy, to play and find joy in life by being present to our family, children and friends.

Unlike pseudo-philosophical books, none of the messages in this book are subject to interpretation - the Pope writes clearly and chooses his words carefully. It is a Good message that many of us can get behind.

Planet earth

The penultimate section of the book includes twelve prayers from Pope Francis. I expected to find this section to be the least interesting, yet I was pleased to find that four of those prayers focused on the protection of our planet Earth, including its natural resources and all creatures in it. Three other prayers focused on the sick, the poor and human suffering in general. While I do not believe in anything spiritual or supernatural, the content of these prayers sheds some light on the Hopes and Desires of this Pope. It would be a great thing if more people shared such aspirations.

Final thoughts

The book ends with an interview with the Pope. His humanity and good nature come through even as he discusses the corruption within the Church and his efforts to build on the work of his predecessors. In earlier chapters he speaks about how everyone can be a saint, and I think this is the real message of Hope in this book. Despite all the evils in the world, despite any grievances you may have and divergent perspectives, we can all do our bit by focusing on being good people. And if the definition of what it means to be good is elusive, I think this book may be a good place to start.