NYC Cabbie: Pope Francis and the Supreme Joyfulness of the One Joy

Jamey Brown - Joyfulness


Driving a cab in New York City gives one the opportunity to witness nightly the Miracle of the Multiplication of the Adulterers. Every year there seems to be more people turning away from the Lord, but then again it gives me a great opportunity for prayer and understanding, and yes, even hope. For years ago I was a big, big party guy myself—by chance, today is my twenty-eighth year anniversary of being clean and sober.  If the Lord didn’t give up on me and could turn my life around, there is still hope for anyone.

However, sometimes I still have forebodings about our culture in this Neo Dark Age. It seems that “religious” people, more and more, want a church where the members vote on which commandments they want to break each year. I’m exaggerating here a little bit just to get a laugh, but I hope you get my point. Of my 50,000 cab fares in the last twelve years barely a dozen were to churches or synagogues; amidst a culture that strives for ever wilder obscenities, cruder vulgarities and sicker bizarre-ness; all reported  by a media that makes evil look beautiful.  So how could the world become so fascinated with someone as humble, gentle and charitable as Pope Francis?

As G.K. Chesterton says, “It is the paradox of  history that each generation is converted by the saint that contradicts it the most” (G.K. Chesterton, St. Thomas Aquinas).

It is easy to lose sight of the recent resurgence of the Catholic Church and vocations, and Christianity  amidst the depravity of this Culture of Death. But Pope Francis is the one great light I have seen shining unashamedly in this Very Dark Age. The Lord in his infinite mercy has gifted us with this radiant son of Argentina, a blessing beyond our wildest imagination.

I liked Jorge Mario Bergoglio from the moment he took the name Francis.  In fact, I took that name as my Confirmation Name in 2007. After I first read about him in a Classics Illustrated comic book recommended to me by a Jewish girlfriend in the East Village in 1991, he became my favorite saint. My friend on the other hand took off for Israel to live in a kibbutz and become a bi-sexual Communist–apparently Saint Francis effects different people in different ways.

However, as for Catholics, Chesterton says of the little saint who took a vow of poverty, chastity and obedience:

“Asceticism, in the religious sense, is the repudiation of the great mass of human joys because of the supreme joyfulness of the one joy, the religious joy […] He was, perhaps, the happiest of the sons of men” (G.K. Chesterton, essay entitled Francis, from the collection Twelve Types).

Chesterton  also wrote in his biography of the saint, “It was in a wholly happy and enthusiastic sense that St. Francis said, “Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall enjoy everything”” (G.K. Chesterton, St. Francis of Assisi).

He goes on to say regarding the life of Francis that he “was one of the most consistently successful men that ever fought with this bitter world.  Workhouses and lunatic asylums are thronged with men who have belief in themselves. Of Francis it is far truer to say that the secret of his success was his profound belief in other people (GKC, Twelve Types). He treated the whole mob of men as a mob of kings” (GKC, St. Francis of Assisi).

This last sentence describes our Pope Francis in his persistent reminders to treat all people as kings, since we are all made in the image and likeness of the King. He steadfastly prods and pokes and exhorts and pleads with us to help the poor, the needy, the sick, the destitute, the youth and the old—the message of Christ–in his speeches, writings, homilies and Tweets, and most importantly in his day to day actions. We can’t just forget about our brothers and sisters on the edge of town, in the heart of our cities, or in distant lands.

He reminds us by his words and deeds of the incalculable joy that Christ gives to each of us. If you ever want a shot of Twelve Hour Energy just read the opening half dozen or so paragraphs of Evangelii Gaudium, and this bursting joy that reverberates throughout Scripture and the Gospels, and Pope Francis, will ignite you. You might even read the rest of it for an extraordinarily learned look at nearly everything in the world, except sports and weather. The radiance of his face as he kisses babies or the disabled or old people in wheelchairs, or greets poor people or the homeless cannot be faked.

I recently saw the extraordinarily inspiring documentary Francis: The Pope from the New World produced by the Knights of Columbus on EWTN. In it we see the humble and gentle, but firm, Bishop Bergoglio who spent fifteen years recruiting an army of priests to minister to the slums of Buenos Aires, the Villas Misereria (Villages of Misery). Some of the villages don’t even have names such as Villa 21 that Bergoglio visited regularly. He would go to the poorest of neighborhoods on a city bus to celebrate Mass and for Confirmations and Baptisms. Here are six of the quotes from the documentary that I found jaw dropping, some brought me to tears:

A local priest says upon hearing the news of the elected pope: “It is such a great joy. There is a feeling that this is a pope of the villas – of the slums.”

“I jumped up and started crying like Mary Magdalene,” said a woman resident of the Villas, “I had so many goose bumps, such a good feeling. It was such a joy, a joy because the first thing I thought was, oh, he washed my feet, Bergoglio, and now he is pope.”

Argentinean Senator Lillian Negre de Alonzo “a longtime supporter of Cardinal Bergoglio during contentious public debate over abortion and same-sex marriage calls him “a hero, a martyr […] He was reviled; he was insulted; he was defiled, and as a reward the Lord put him in that place as the successor of Peter on earth. I went to my office weeping with joy and gave thanks to God because He compensated him: this person who had suffered in the flesh the hours of Calvary.” [Can you imagine a U.S. Senator speaking with such eloquence?]

A young man at the 2013 World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil exclaimed, “It is a great emotion to see a pope of the poor. A pope who goes to the young people under (sic) the rain. Who walks on the dirty ground, a ground that is often wet with the blood of the youngsters.”

Carl A. Anderson the Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus and one of the documentary’s producers says of the Holy Father:

“What a pope does in our age can reach far beyond the Catholic Church. And the election of Pope Francis now means that the poor now have the most important spiritual leader on earth as a very personal advocate for them. His election challenges everyone to look at their neighbor differently, to reach out in charity and to understand that every life deserves our help. There is a potential for a real global reawakening of a love of neighbor as a result of this pope’s leadership.”

I think Pope Francis says it best when he said at his Inauguration on March 19, 2013 in his homily on the Feast Day of Saint Joseph to a crowd of political and religious leaders of the world:

“Let us never forget that authentic power is service and that the Pope too when exercising power must enter more fully into that service which has its radiant culmination on the Cross. He must be inspired by the lonely, concrete and faithful service which marked Saint Joseph. And like him, he must open his arms to protect all of God’s people and embrace with tender affection the whole of humanity especially the poorest, the weakest, the least important. Those whom Matthew lists on the final judgment, the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick and those in prison [Matthew 25:35-46]. Only those who serve with love are able to protect.”

And finally to conclude with a message from Pope Francis today February 6, via the Catholic News Service by Cindy Wooden, for World Youth Day 2014 (it will be celebrated locally at the Vatican on Palm Sunday. The next global World Youth Day will be 2016 in Krakow, Poland) :

“The pope said his namesake, St. Francis of Assisi, “understood perfectly the secret of the beatitude” [Blessed are the poor in spirit (Matthew 5:3)] and demonstrated that by living “in imitation of Christ in his poverty and in love for the poor. ” To be poor in spirit, the pope told young people, they must learn to be free or detached from material things, living simply, being concerned about the essentials, but “learning to do without all those unneeded extras.” Poverty in spirit also requires “a conversion in the way we see the poor,’ which means meeting them, listening to them, caring for them and offering them both material and spiritual assistance.”

Can a shepherd of the slums, the Villages of Misery, love the whole world the same way that he loved the poor of the shanty town Villa 21? I think that is what the founder of Christianity, Jesus Christ, did.

©2014.  Jamey Brown. All rights reserved.

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10 thoughts on “NYC Cabbie: Pope Francis and the Supreme Joyfulness of the One Joy”

  1. Pingback: If You Don’t Need God’s Mercy, Don’t Go to Mass

  2. Jamey, I am writing from Lagos , Nigeria. I found your blog yesterday by accident, but I am so glad because much of what I read was heartwarming and inspiring. Lately when I have searched for Catholic articles etc I have come across so much vitriol towards Pope Francis from certain Catholic bloggers. I am bemused and disturbed by this. I wrote to one asking if she actually was a Catholic because her blog entries lacked any charity or even respect toward the faith and our Pope. Thank you so much for highlighting all that is wonderful about him. I really like your blog , one article made me cry and laugh ( the homeless guy who asked You to get him the soup when you tried to just give him $2!).
    This is what I love about being Catholic, it is truly universal. Where else would a NYC cabbie and a Nigerian housewife in Lagos cross paths? Thanks again for your blog, I wish I had found it earlier before all the other negative ones. I was beginning to think all Westerners were disobedient to our beautiful Catholic faith.

  3. Another great post, Jamey. Your writing has a depth and serenity that comes from knowing the mercy of God. Bless you. And I can make these words my own too: ” If the Lord didn’t give up on me and could turn my life around, there is still hope for anyone.” God is good! Your sister in Christ from New Zealand.

  4. Awesome story J! I think Pope Francis is a huge light in our otherwise dark world too. NYC is so blessed to have you as a cabbie, even if they don’t know it! 🙂

  5. You are a REALIST Jamey. I just took a heavy spiritual body blow from a family member back in California. Last night before turning in I told my wife exactly what you said in your article, ” If the Lord didn’t give up on me and could turn my life around, there is still hope for anyone”. I carry out my salvation in fear and trembling! There but for the Grace Of God go you and I! If you ever want to come visit the Father Of Mercy, let me know. Your Brother, John

    1. Thanks for the invitation, Brother John. Maybe some day I can get out there. I always liked the Lazarus story because I was Lazarus, dead in body and spirit. We can’t be Martha’s and give up on anyone no matter how dead they appear. I think Pope Francis needs a song about him. He sneaks out in disguise to feed the poor. He sold his Harley for them. For his birthday he visits the sick kids in the Vatican Clinic & has lunch with 3 homeless men…and their dog! Check out this documentary about him and what he did for the shanty town back home. He rides the bus to say Mass in the poorest church in town. He garages the Pope mobile to ride an ’88 Renault or a Ford Focus. This Pope is real country!

    2. Jamey, PLEASE, remember I record my songs into a video camera and post them just so my band can hear them before we practice. They are only demos. Now that I made a big excuse for the recording quality of my songs and the desperate need of my musician friends, here is the song I wrote for Pope Francis:

    3. Great song John! How wonderful it is to hear the words of Pope Francis and our Lord come alive in a song. Bless you.

  6. Great writing !! Yes, we are very lucky to have Francis. Benedict’s kneeldown almost
    a year ago was a very brave and humble event guided by the Holy Spirit to usher in this ‘contradiction’ for our time.

  7. Jamey what an awesome article! I love Pope Francis. What a wonderful gift of compassion he has, and I love your comparing him with St. Francis, and your observations of their caring for the poor. This so inspires me. Also — congrats on your anniversary! God bless.

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