Pope FRANCIS.  Walking with Jesus: A Way Forward for the Church.  Chicago: Loyola Press, 2015.  pp. 160.  $16.95.  ISBN 978-0-8294-4254-0.  Reviewed by Ann MICHAUD, Fordham University, Bronx, NY 10458

 An excellent and concise means of getting to know the mind of the Pontiff, Walking with Jesus presents Pope Francis’ understanding of the Christian life by means of excerpts from his addresses and homilies, messages and audiences, encyclicals and apostolic exhortations.

For this first Jesuit Pope, walking is an apt image.  The Society of Jesus was founded on the concept of the “company of Jesus” or the “friends of Jesus” Archbishop Blase J. Cupich reminds us in his Forward.  Not only is Francis a Pope on the go, he is also one who challenges us to walk always with Jesus and in his company with one another.  We are never alone on the journey; this means we are never free to forget those others who are travelling with us.  The way we travel is a crowded one, not a lone and lonely path. 

Organized into five parts, this text addresses the Gospel, the sacraments, the gift of the Holy Spirit, our companions on the journey, and those we accompany and serve along the way. 

Walking with Jesus is a dynamic journey, but not always an easy one.  We are told that Jesus walks ahead of us, but the way that Jesus chooses is the way of the cross.  It is a way of risk, but also of great joy.

By virtue of our baptism, we are all missionary disciples.  Disciples because we receive the word in faith; missionary because we ourselves are called to transmit that message by our words and our lives.  We are both “the mystical and the missionary dimension of the Christian vocation; both are rooted in baptism.” (28)  And we recall the deep significance of those phrases from Vatican II – “community of believers” and “People of God” - because “no one is saved by himself or herself.” (28)

The Holy Spirit is both Gift of God and giver of gifts.  “The Holy Spirit thus makes a Christian ‘wise,’ not in the sense of having an answer for everything, but in the sense that one ‘knows’ about God.” (57)  Why does this matter?  “Christians with this wisdom know how God acts, know when something is of God and when it is not of God…The hearts of the wise in this sense have a taste and savor for God.  And how important it is that there be Christians like this in our communities!” (57)  Pope Francis exhorts us to remember that “this is something that we cannot invent, that we cannot obtain by ourselves; it is a gift that God gives to those who make themselves docile to the Holy Spirit…and we can all have it.  We only have to ask it of the Holy Spirit.” (57)  Do we?

In the encyclical Lumen Fidei, Pope Francis poses the question “How can we be certain, after all these centuries, that we have encountered the ‘real Jesus?’…I cannot possibly verify for myself something that happened so long ago.”  (78)  Then he reminds us “this is not the only way we attain knowledge.  [People] always live in relationship.  We come from others…and our lives are enlarged by our encounter with others.  Even our own knowledge and self-awareness are relational.” (78)  He adds, “language itself, the words by which we make sense of our lives and the world around us, comes to us from others, preserved in the living memory of others.  Self-knowledge is possible only when we share in a greater memory.” (78)  Especially today, we can be referred to as “the culture of encounter.” (97) 

Belonging to the Church is not a passive activity; it is dynamic.  Pope Francis concludes, “Take note: if the Church is alive, she must always surprise.  It is incumbent upon the living Church to astound.  A Church that is unable to astound is a Church that is weak, sick, dying, and that needs admission to the intensive care unit as soon as possible!” (129)  The Church Pope Francis believes in is one that is very much alive and dynamic.  And he calls us to remember that we ourselves are that Church. 

Filled with such wisdom, Walking with Jesus is a practical guide and collection for all those who are curious about Pope Francis and his message.  As Archbishop Cupich states, “Americans are practical people.  When we think about renewal and transformation…we naturally gravitate to reorganizing structures…we often strain to figure things out and struggle to make things work.  Pope Francis offers us an entirely different path for renewal…reclaiming the centrality of Jesus Christ.” (x)  His is a simple but profoundly challenging message.