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INTERVIEW: Gary Jansen, editor of ENCOUNTERING TRUTH by Pope Francis

Q. How would you describe this book?

On the surface, Encountering Truth is a thought-provoking and inspiring collection of more than 180 of Pope Francis’s most personal homilies. These are sermons he has given in the simple chapel of his current residence in Vatican City. (Pope Francis has foregone the ornate Papal Palace so many previous Pope’s have called home, living instead in an austere room in a very simple building called the Domus Sanctae Marthae, or the House of St. Martha.) These homilies are intimate, simple and profound, providing a glimpse into the mind of a man who is changing the way we talk about religion, compassion, and hope.

 

 Q. The current market is saturated with books either about or by Pope Francis, what makes this one different?

Encountering Truth is truly a unique book. I’ve worked in publishing for more than 20 years and when the manuscript arrived (in Italian), I’d never seen anything like it. As I mentioned earlier, it is a collection of Pope Francis’s homilies that he has given in this little chapel in the Domus Sanctae Marthae. But it’s more than just a collection.

First, a little background. The Domus is this rather modern looking building adjacent to the St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City. It’s a working hotel for visiting priests, nuns and some lay people who have business to attend at the Vatican. It’s also the place where the members of the College of Cardinals stay during a conclave to elect a new Pope.

Most people do not get to see the inside of this building, but I was fortunate enough to stay at the Domus in 2012 when I was the editor for Pope Benedict XVI’s book Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives. It’s a simple, clean and well-lit place. I attended Mass in the chapel one morning and it was an uncomplicated affair given by a regular priest whose name I never learned. Most of the people in the pews were clergy. Now, since Pope Francis became pope he gives Mass in this chapel many days during the week. And he does it extemporaneously, like a normal priest would do at a daily mass. There’s no pomp, no circumstance. It’s just a priest (who happens to be the Pope) and a few dozen people in pews.

This is not a big event, but it is a BIG EVENT in many ways because Pope Francis opens the doors to this service to local people, blue-collars and white-collars, police officers, electricians, maids, care-workers, couples who have been married for more than 25 years. In keeping with the humbling of the Church, Pope Francis uses these services to talk to regular people. Pope Francis doesn’t use notes—the sermons are off-the-cuff—so there is a rawness to them. They’re organic. They can be a little messy at times, too. And because these sermons are essentially just the Pope “winging it,” there’s no written record of them. But they are recorded. What we’ve done—in cooperation with Rizzoli Books in Milan, Italy, and Radio Vaticana, the Vatican’s radio station—is compile 186 these sermons into a single book.

Now, anyone who’s listened to someone give a sermon or a speech knows that there are high points, where the speaker has our attention, and low points, when the material might not be the most interesting thing we’ve ever heard. The book summarizes the core message of the sermon and then quotes Pope Francis at his most powerful moments. At first I was a bit skeptical about how this would all play out on the page—it wasn’t anything I had ever seen before—but the book works very beautifully. Encountering Truth not only gives you a sense of being present at the service, but provides spiritually digestible ideas that you can ruminate on, meditate with, and ultimately use for prayer.

 

 Q. Were you surprised by any of the homilies in this collection? Do you have a favorite?

I was surprised at how poignant and moving these sermons were to me. Pope Francis talks a lot about mercy in this book. Those sermons were my favorite; to remind people that God is not looking for sacrifice. God is looking for mercy. Show mercy to your friends, your family, your co-workers, strangers, fellow commuters. Be kind. Be compassionate. The news headlines nowadays makes it seem like we live in a merciless society. There are definitely deep pockets of this type of behavior around the world—sometimes in foreign lands, sometimes right next door—but the majority of people in the world are good people. There are people who show mercy to others. We all need to build on that. We need these reminders that Pope Francis offers us. That’s essentially how we find heaven on earth. Show mercy, and the doors to peace and happiness are opened to you.

 

Q. What do you hope readers will take away from Encountering Truth?

Each sermon is no more than a couple of pages (some are a single page). For the faithful, I hope readers use the book as a daily devotional. I’d love for people to read a sermon a day over six months and allow the Pope’s words to penetrate their spirit, to lead them to prayer and reflection. For skeptics, or those have an interest in the Pope as a leader, or for those who don’t have a religion or feel more spiritual than religious, I hope it’s an opportunity to see some of the best sentiments that religion has to offer: messages of kindness and compassion, of courage and the need for positive, deliberate action. I think people from all walks of life can find something deep and purposeful in this book. Essentially, I want this book to change readers’ lives.

 

Gary Jansen is a senior editor at Penguin Random House. He is the author of The Rosary: A Journey to the Beloved.

 


INTERVIEW: Gregory K. Popcak, Ph.D.

Q. How did you come up with the concept for Broken Gods?

Christians often talk about how we’re “broken” and how we need to be saved but that doesn’t

resonate with a lot of people. They think Christians mean that people are terrible, horrible,

no‐good, very bad creatures and that God wants us to sit around all day in our awfulness feeling

awful about ourselves. But that’s not it at all!  Human beings are wonderful creatures! God, himself, pronounced us, “very good” (Gen 1:30) at the beginning of time.

And yet, as good as we are, we were made for so much more. We were made to be gods‐‐perfect, immortal, utterly confident in who we were, where we were going, and how we were going to get there. Our First Parent’s sin ripped all of that away from us and we became, in a sense, broken gods–separated, lost in the cosmos, alone, naked and ashamed.  But God never gave up on his original plan for us and he continues to work through all time and space to complete in us a work so wonderful we can’t even begin to imagine it.  He intends to restore the divine light within us and make us the gods we were always meant to be.

 

Q. In the book you make the claim that God truly intends to make each and every one of us a god. Those are bold words! Where do they originate? And what do they mean for Christians today?

They are bold words, so bold they would be blasphemous if they weren’t spoken by Jesus himself in the Gospel of John (Jn 10:34).  In fact, the idea that God intends to make us gods is a central doctrine of Christianity that was universally accepted by 1st Century Christians, by the Church Fathers, and even the Protestant reformers. The concept theologians refer to as “divinization” is mostly lost to Christians today but more than a moldy theological concept, it has profound, practical implications. In fact, it recasts our entire understanding of our Christian faith!

Many people believe that being Christian is about trying to be good, and since they feel like they can be good on their own‐‐or at least good enough‐‐they don’t feel they really need God. But that has never been the Christian view. Christians do not believe we need God to make us good. We need God to make us gods! Only by developing the kind of relationship with God that allows him to transform our deepest and even darkest desires into the engines of our ultimate perfection can we hope to achieve the destiny for which we were created; to be gods who can live with God and be loved by God for all eternity.

 

Q. One of the things that you talk about in the book is the idea that sometimes our darkest desires can reveal God’s plan for transformation in our lives. Without giving away the entire book, can you give us a glimpse into how this works?

Hidden behind our deepest and even darkest desires are seven basic, human longings; namely, the ache for abundance, dignity, justice, peace, trust, well‐being, and authentic love. Everything we do‐‐even the stupid, offensive, and destructive things‐‐represents our feeble attempts to satisfy one or several of these unconscious longings.

When we act in ways that disappoint or hurt ourselves and others, we become consumed with guilt, anger, self‐criticism and sometimes hopelessness that things can ever get any better for us. God wishes to deliver us from this pain. He longs to show us, step‐by‐step, how to authentically satisfy these deepest longings woven into the fabric of our soul. When we let God teach us how to meet these longings according to his plan, he not only frees us from fear and want and leads us to abundance in this life, he ultimately transforms us into gods who, through his grace, can achieve perfection, immortality, and ultimate love in the next.

 

Q. Who is the target audience for your book?

This book is for people who experience an ache in their hearts that tells them that they were made for “more” but struggle to know what that longing really means much less how they can begin to satisfy it. Readers will encounter powerful insights and surprisingly practical tips to help them uncover the spiritual pathways that lead to ultimate fulfillment, unconquerable love, and unimaginable joy.

 

 

Q. What do you hope readers will take away from Broken Gods?

I want readers to discover the joy of knowing that all the people in their lives who told them that they should sit down, be quiet, and stop dreaming are wrong. In fact, our biggest dreams cannot begin compare to the shocking, even scandalous abundance God imagines for us. It is my hope that Broken Gods will reawaken readers’ spiritual imaginations so they can begin to see and experience the amazing transformation God intends to bring to pass in their hearts and in their lives.

 

Q. Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Broken Gods isn’t just another self-help book. It reveals the stunning truth that God wants to satisfy every longing of our hearts in ways that both lead to total fulfillment in this life and ultimate fulfillment in the next. In Broken Gods, readers will find a treasure map that leads to hope for weary hearts, joy for troubled times, and strength to live every part of their lives more abundantly.

 

To request a review copy or to schedule an interview with Dr. Gregory Popcak, please contact Katie Moore, publicist, kamoore@penguinrandomhouse.com, 719-268-1936.

 


BLOG TOUR: Five Years in Heaven, Apr. 29-May 6, 2015

To celebrate the release of FIVE YEARS IN HEAVEN we’re setting off on a virtual book tour to six of the blogosphere’s finest Catholic blogs! Stops on the tour will feature author interviews with John Schlimm, behind the scenes photos of Sister Augustine and her famous pottery, and a chance to win a copy of FIVE YEARS IN HEAVEN!

We’re grateful to our blogging friends for sharing their thoughts and hosting stops on the tour. We encourage you to visit their sites (links below) and read their reviews.

4/29 – Catholic Foodie (podcast)

4/30 – Catholic Book Blogger (review)

5/1 – Catholic Book Blogger (giveaway)

5/2 – Catholic Drinkie (interview)

5/3 – Amazing Catechists (review)

5/4 – Catholic Book Blogger (interview)

5/5 – Simple Mama (review + photos)

5/6 – Seasons of Grace (review)

 

About the Book

In his new memoir, FIVE YEARS IN HEAVEN: The Unlikely Friendship That Answered Life’s Greatest Questions, award-winning author John Schlimm writes a poignant and heartfelt story of friendship and second chances not seen since Tuesdays with Morrie.

At age thirty-one, lost and alone at a crucial crossroads in his life, John found Heaven on earth. On the grounds of a 150-year–old monastery, he met 87-year-old Sister Augustine, the wise and humble artist at the convent’s ceramic shop. Over the next five years, John visited Sister just about every week. Their hundreds of visits became a master class in the meaning of life, love, and starting over, with a lot of laughter along the way.

 

 About the Author

John Schlimm is a Harvard-trained educator, artist, and award-winning writer. He has traveled the country speaking about inspirational/motivational topics, cooking, entertaining, and public relations, including his “Embrace Compassion, Change the World” keynote address on Capitol Hill. He has appeared on such national media outlets as The Ellen DeGeneres Show, Bravo’s Watch What Happens Live, NPR, Martha Stewart Living’s Everyday Food, The Splendid Table, QVC, and Fox & Friends. John also recently debuted his participatory art piece THE SMILE THAT CHANGED THE WORLD (is yours) with installations in Canada and Washington, D.C.

To request a review copy or to schedule an interview with John Schlimm, please contact Katie Moore, publicist, at kamoore@penguinrandomhouse.com or 719-268-1936.

 



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