Metaphors are used extensively in the Bible and they pop up just as often in Pope Francis’ talks and teachings.
Some of his most vivid allegories as pope included his urging the world’s priests to be “shepherds living with the smell of sheep” by bringing Christ to people far from the faith; and his telling cardinals that all Catholic elders need to share with the young their insight and wisdom, which are like “fine wine that gets better with age.”
Metaphors did not come to Pope Francis with the papacy. As archbishop of Buenos Aires, he used similar figures of speech to get simple, yet powerful, ideas across to his listeners.
The following are some metaphors that appear in the book, “Pope Francis: Conversations with Jorge Bergoglio.” The book, by Sergio Rubin and Francesca Ambrogetti, is a series of interviews originally published in 2010 under the title “El Jesuita” (“The Jesuit”). The book is currently unavailable in English.
— Priests and the stink of sheep: The future pope said, “A church that limits itself to just carrying out administrative duties, caring for its tiny flock, is a church that in the long run will get sick. The pastor who isolates himself is not a true pastor of sheep, but a ‘hairdresser’ for sheep who spends his time putting curlers on them instead of going to look for others.”
He said the situation today is the mirror opposite of the biblical parable of the shepherd who leaves his 99 sheep to find the one that is lost. “Today we have one in the pen and 99 we need to go looking for.”
— The need to mature in life like fine wine: The future pope tells a story of being in an airport and seeing an older, very well-known, successful businessman waiting at baggage claim. He said it’s common to see young people be impatient, but it came as a surprise to see an older gentleman get “infuriated because his bag was late.”
“It made me sad to see a person who wasn’t able to enjoy the wisdom of old age. Instead of improving (with age) like a fine wine, he had gone sour like a wine gone bad.”
— Knowing how to let children grow and go is like flying a kite: The future pope tells a story of flying kites in his neighborhood when he was a child.
“There’d come the moment when the kite would begin making a ‘figure 8’ and begin falling. In order to keep that from happening, you mustn’t pull the string. The kids who knew more than us would scream, ‘Give it some slack, it’s wobbling!'”
“Flying a kite resembles the approach you need to take regarding a person’s growth: sometimes you need to give them some slack because they are ‘wavering.’ In other words, it is necessary to give them time. We have to be able to set limits at the right moment, but other times we need to know how to look the other way and be like the father of the parable (the Prodigal Son) who lets his son move out and squander his fortune so that he learns from experience.”
— Salvation from sin is like being saved from drowning: Being upfront and honest about one’s sinful nature actually helps create a more authentic encounter with God, the future pope said.
“There are people who believe they are righteous, follow the catechism well enough and abide by the Christian faith, but they don’t have the experience of having been saved.”
“It’s one thing to hear about a boy who was drowning in a river and the person who jumped in to save him; it’s another to have personally been at the scene and lent a hand; and even another for it to have actually been you who was drowning while someone jumps in the water to save you.”
“Only we big sinners have this grace” of knowing what salvation really means, he said.
— Sin is a stain only Jesus can remove: “Sin is not a stain that I must wash out. What I need to do is ask forgiveness and reconcile myself, not go to the drycleaners…. I have to go encounter Jesus who gave his life for me.”
— People need to learn from the “shipwreck culture” and salvage the past to build the future: “The shipwrecked castaway faces the challenge of survival with creativity,” he said.
“He needs to begin building a hut using the boards from the sunken ship, together with new things found on the island he’s washed up on.”
“In every new era, one can apply the image of the shipwreck because there are things that we no longer need, temporary things, and (eternal) values that get expressed in another way.”
— Pain versus resentment: “Resentment is like a full house with lots of people crammed inside so they can’t see the sky, while pain is like a city in which there are still lots of people, but at least you can see the sky. In other words, pain is open to prayer, tenderness, the company of a friend and thousands of things that offer dignity. That’s why pain is a healthier situation” than resentment.
— Optimism versus hope: “It’s best to not confuse optimism with hope. Optimism is a psychological attitude toward life. Hope goes further. It is an anchor that one hurls toward the future, it’s what lets you pull on the line and reach what you’re aiming for” and head in “the right direction.” Hope is also theological: “God is there, too.”
— God’s patience is “comfortable and sweet like a summer’s night.”
— Death, who is “eager,” knocks daily; “I run from it, but it smiles at me inviting me to accept it.”