These introductory paragraphs are deceptively deep. Pope Francis is offering a lot of food for thought here. The citation given is from Pope Paul VI’s 1975 apostolic exhortation on Christian joy. The problem of empty pleasure in technology seems still with us nearly four decades later:
7. Sometimes we are tempted to find excuses and complain, acting as if we could only be happy if a thousand conditions were met. To some extent this is because our “technological society has succeeded in multiplying occasions of pleasure, yet has found it very difficult to engender joy”.[Gaudete in Domino 8] I can say that the most beautiful and natural expressions of joy which I have seen in my life were in poor people who had little to hold on to. I also think of the real joy shown by others who, even amid pressing professional obligations, were able to preserve, in detachment and simplicity, a heart full of faith. In their own way, all these instances of joy flow from the infinite love of God, who has revealed himself to us in Jesus Christ. I never tire of repeating those words of Benedict XVI which take us to the very heart of the Gospel: “Being a Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction”.[Deus Caritas Est 1]
The citation from Pope Benedict XVI has been well-quoted and is very apt here. Moral choices and grand ideas may be the characteristics of some Christians. But one does not have to be a Christian to be ethical, to be a dreamer, or to align with the political positions of conservative Catholics and their mainstream.
Pope Francis cites the ability to experience joy in spite of material deprivation, or even in spite of a busy life with obligations. Detachment is an Ignatian practice, so it’s not surprising to see that here. Such a practice, as well as simplicity, enable God to work in us and to deposit grace in our lives. This sort of thing precedes a deep faith, not the proper ethical opinions on life. Grace comes first, then the joy, then the way of Christian life grounded in god, not in intellectual propositions.