‘Soul, Mind, and Heart’

The following is a collection of excerpts from the new e-book by Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, entitled “Soul, Mind and Heart,” in which he examines the numerous contributions made to the Church by its last three popes: Pope St. John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis.

I won’t bore you with a theological treatise on the papacy, but I would like to look at our three most recent popes, who have been particularly compelling agents of Christ. These three popes have been genuine gifts to the Church in bringing Jesus to the world. ...

At the risk of an oversimplification, an easy way to think about these last three popes is this: the Soul, the Mind, and the Heart. The Church is meant to be the soul of the world, to put on the mind of Christ, and to reveal the heart of Jesus. I propose that we look at Pope John Paul II as emphasizing the soul of the Church, Pope Benedict XVI as highlighting the mind of the Church, and Pope Francis as giving priority to the heart of the Church. ...

The Soul: Pope St. John Paul II

On October 16, 1978, when Karol Joseph Wojtyla was elected to the Chair of Peter, the Church seemed to be in the doldrums, maybe even in crisis. In fact, the world and the Church seemed somewhat exhausted. In his close to twenty-seven inspired years as pastor of the Church Universal, his mission was to restore the weary soul of the Church.

John Paul II believed that, if we could restore the primacy of the spiritual as a Church, everything else would fall into place. No surprise, since he truly believed the mandate of Jesus: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God!” (see Mt 6:33).

His emphasis on the soul was evident to others. On his first pastoral visit to the United States, in 1979, he was greeted at the White House by President Jimmy Carter, who called him “the soul of the world.” When he returned to the United States in 1987, Billy Graham called him “a providential prescription for humanity’s exhausted soul.” In 2004, Rabbi Gilbert Rosenthal, a leader in Jewish-Catholic relations, was taking a group of Jewish leaders to meet with the Holy Father, not long before John Paul II died. The pope was in fragile health at the time, and somebody asked Rabbi Rosenthal: “The Pope is ill. He is feeble and can hardly talk. Why are you going to visit him?” To which the rabbi responded: “We’re not going to see his body. We’re going to see his soul.”

The primacy of the soul!

Pope John Paul II
Pope Saint John Paul II

It was Saint John Paul II’s mission to recover the priority of the spiritual. He, himself, had an extraordinarily vibrant life of the soul. In fact, many people — myself included — believe he was a mystic. You know what a mystic is? A mystic is one who periodically enjoys here on earth the union with God that most of us can only hope for in heaven.

You and I may get moments of particular insight where we sense intimacy with the Lord, but all of us admit those moments are few and far between. This rare union to which we all aspire was something ordinary to him. Quite a few were privileged to see this mystic at prayer in person many times.

For most of his pontificate, John Paul II would offer a private Mass every morning at 7:00 a.m. in his small chapel in the papal apartments. About two dozen people would be present, ushered into the chapel around 6:50 a.m., and there he was: locked in prayer.

He’d been there for at least an hour, kneeling in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. It was clear he was in conversation with the Lord. If you got to sit near him, as I often would, you could see that something deep and mystical was going on. You could hear him groan; you could hear him sigh. Periodically you would see a tear. Sometimes you’d see a smile or hear a chuckle. ...

The Mind: Pope Benedict XVI

What John Paul II did for the soul, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI did for the mind. In his almost eight years in the Chair of Peter, he strengthened the intellectual wattage of the Church. With his distinguished academic background, he was particularly well-suited for this task. Benedict was a wonderful teacher and professor. A first-class theologian and philosopher, he was esteemed in Germany — which has a very rigorous academic climate — and thus arrived at the papacy with the ability to tend to the cerebral in a unique way.

He reminded us of the ancient principle that reason and faith are friends, fighting against the misguided idea, unfortunately so common today, that faith and reason are in conflict. Far from it! They’re allies. Quoting Saint Anselm, he was fond of saying that we would have a strange God indeed if His most precious earthly gift to us — our mind — and His most priceless supernatural gift to us — our faith — were opposed to each other. Instead, Benedict XVI encouraged the world to consider that God intends both of these gifts, faith and reason, to be in concert.

This ancient insight is even more timely in a world of increasing secularism and atheism. It’s an extraordinarily important lesson amid a secular culture that attempts to reduce faith and the practice of religion to a private hobby, at best, or an obnoxious, vicious, and oppressive superstition, at worst. Benedict, however, tells us that contrary to what we read every day or hear on the news the Church has been, and remains, the engine of genuine human progress.

The Church’s rich intellectual tradition, so beautifully protected and handed down for centuries, is hardly a museum piece, but rather is a living force in the world today. This is because, as Benedict pointed out numerous times, our reason allows us to discover the truth, and truth ultimately points us to God. When reason is enriched by faith and Revelation, we have sparks. We have freedom. We have the ability to know what is true, good, and beautiful in the human person. ...

The Heart: Pope Francis

As John Paul II restored the soul of the Church, and Benedict XVI the mind, Francis is doing his best to restore the heart of the Church.

Pope Francis
Pope Francis

I was there for the conclave that elected our beloved Pope Francis. Of course, I can’t talk much about what happened in the Sistine Chapel, but it was a remarkable experience. When Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio got the two-thirds majority, the first words the vice-dean asked him were, “Do you accept your canonical election as Supreme Pontiff?” After answering in the affirmative, the next question posed to him was, “By what name will you be known?” When he said “Francis,” there was an audible murmur. Perhaps it’s because when we think of Saint Francis of Assisi we think of creation, love, and compassion for the poor. In an era of the Church rightly celebrated for intellectual achievements in theology and philosophy, Francis reminded the people of tenderness, the imagination, God’s warmth and embrace.

The choice was so natural and so beautiful; from the beginning, we knew that Pope Francis would be leading with the heart. …

About this time, the Sistine Chapel doors had opened and all the attendants started coming in. Having been cooped up during the conclave, we had all sorts of questions. “Did the smoke work?” “What are the crowds like?” When someone asked what the weather was like, one of the Swiss Guards said it was raining, and at this the pope perked up immediately. He’d only greeted a few of us, but said: “My brothers, I hear it’s raining outside. I’m going to be with you for supper, and we can talk then, but I don’t want to keep the people waiting. I should go out and greet them.” It was again spontaneous, simple, and sincere. It also reaffirmed what we cardinals had known: this was a man with an innate sensitivity.

That evening, we cardinals went back to the Domus Sanctae Marthae for our final meal. Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone proposed a toast. Francis got up to return the toast and looked at all of us with a twinkle in his eye and said, “May God forgive you for what you did!” Of course, we don’t want forgiveness at all. We rejoice in his pontificate, and we thank God for the gift he is to the Church.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan is the archbishop of the Archdiocese of New York.