Pope Francis restores the good sense of Jesus

by Leonardo Boff, Theologian-Philosopher, Earthcharter Commission

Pope Francis’ speeches are not framed either by the doctrines or dogmas of the Roman Catholic Church. It is not that he does not appreciate them, but that he understands that they are theological works created during different historical times. Those doctrines and dogmas provoked religious wars, schisms, excommunications, the burning of theologians and women (such as Joan of Arc and the women considered witches) at the stake of the Holy Inquisition. That lasted for several centuries and the author of these lines had a bitter experience in the cubicle where the accused were interrogated in the forbidding building of the former Inquisition, located to the left of the Basilica of Saint Peter.

Pope Francis has engendered a revolution in the thinking of the Church, returning to the praxis of the historical Jesus. He is restoring what is now called “The Tradition of Jesus”, that precedes the present Gospels, written 30-40 years after His execution on the cross. The Tradition of Jesus, or as it is also called in The Acts of the Apostles, “the path of Jesus”, is grounded more on values and ideals than on doctrine. The essentials are  unconditional love, mercy, forgiveness, justice and preference for the poor and the outcast, and a total openness to God the Father. Jesus, to put it bluntly, did not intend to found a new religion. He wanted to teach us how to live. To live with fraternity, solidarity and caring for each other.


What stands out most in Jesus is His good sense. We say that someone has good sense when that person has the right word for each situation, appropriate behavior, and the ability to quickly identify the gist of a question. Good sense is linked to the concrete wisdom of life.  It distinguishes the essential from the secondary. It is the capacity to see and put things in their rightful places. Good sense opposes exaggeration. This is where the madman and the genius, who are so close in many aspects, are fundamentally distinguished. The genius radicalizes good sense. The madman radicalizes exaggeration.    

Jesus, as the Gospels witness, manifested Himself as a genius of good sense. A matchless freshness runs through everything He says and does. God in His goodness, a human in his frailty, society with its contradictions and nature with its splendor, appear with crystal clear immediacy. Jesus neither preaches theology nor appeals to superior moral principles. Jesus does not get lost in tedious and heartless questions of right and wrong. His words and attitudes go directly to the point where reality bleeds and the human must make a decision for himself and before God.

His warnings are incisive and direct: “first be reconcíled to thy brother” (Mt 5,24). “Swear not at all” (Mt 5,34). “Do not fight back against evil; but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right check, turn to him the other also” (Mt 5,39). “Love thy enemies, and pray for those who spitefully use thee and persecute thee” (Mt 5,44). “When thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth” (Mt 6,3).

This good sense has been missing from the institutional Church (popes, bishops and priests), but not from the Church of the bases, especially on moral questions. The institutional Church is hard and implacable. Humans with their pain are sacrificed to abstract principles. The institutional Church is ruled by power, rather than mercy.  As the saints and wise men and women warn us: where power prevails, love vanishes and mercy disappears.

How different is Pope Francis. The principal quality of God, he tells us, is mercy. He often repeats: “Be merciful as your heavenly Father is merciful” (Lk 6,36). And Pope Francis explains the etymological meaning of mercy: miseris cor dare: «give the heart to the miser», to those who suffer.  In his Angelus talk of April 6, 2014, he said in hushed tones: «Listen well: there are no limits at all to the divine mercy offered to all». And asked the multitude to repeat with him: «There are no limits to the divine mercy offered to all».

He reminds us as a theologian that Saint Thomas Aquinas affirms that, where practice is concerned, mercy is the most important virtue «because it overflows to the others and also succors them in their weaknesses».

Filled with mercy in the face of the dangers of the zika virus epidemic Pope Francis opens a space for the use of contraceptives. It is about saving lives: «to avoid a pregnancy is not  an absolute evil», the Pope said in his visit to Mexico on February of the current year. To the new cardinals, he admonishes them with the words: «The Church does not condemn forever. The punishment of hell used to torment the faithful is not eternal». God is a mystery of inclusion and communion, never of exclusion.  Mercy always triumphs.

This means that we must interpret the Bible references to hell not in a fundamentalist way, but pedagogically, as a way to lead us to do good. Logically, we do not enter in any form into the Kingdom of the Trinity. We must first pass through the purifying clinic of God, until we emerge, purified, into the blessed eternity.

This message is truly liberating.  And Pope Francis’  apostolic exhortation confirms “The Joy of the Gospel”.  This joy is offered to everyone, including non-Christians, because it is the path of humanization and of liberation.          

Leonardo Boff

Share On:

Search Our Site

Explore Our Categories

Latest News

Speaking Out with One Unified Global Voice

"...Until we raise a common voice, we will not only not be heard, we will not even be listened to....   

My hope is that by speaking out together - a strong chorus of calls for reform - we can provide a common, a clear, a strong and ongoing voice for the yet incomplete vision of Vatican II.

In common cause, let us band together across the world. By our desire to be heard on particular issues - all of them important - let us not lose the strength of our common voice by reducing it to a whisper.

In light of this, we invite individuals and organizations to join together in making known our opinions for the good of our Church. By uniting our voices, it is not about abandoning the unique work of your organization but rather about how your work can enhance global reform."

Sr. Joan Chittister, CCRI Special advisor

"We have to join our forces in order to reach a real breakthrough in this window of opportunity." Hans Kung, CCRI Consultor

"When spider webs unite, they can tie up a lion." [Ethiopian proverb]

"Sticks in a bundle are unbreakable." [Kenyan proverb]

"(The Christian faithful) have the right and even at times the duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church and to make their opinion known to the rest of the Christian faithful." (Canon 212 §3)

CCRI is also interested in helping support various causes in regions of the world by garnering the support of our entire global community for those who need support beyond their parish, organization, or locale. Send us (1) your name and affiliation, or (2) the name of your group with some description of your goals, membership, and numbers. Click here to see those organizations who have already joined together speaking out for reform of our Church.

Social Media

How to Contribute

© 2022 Catholic Church Reform Intl. All Rights Reserved Worldwide