Saturday, June 24, 2017

On "Being Happy": The Debunked Papal Homily


A couple of days ago a dear friend sent me what she described as “A speech Pope Francis gave in yesterday’s homily/sermon. It’s to be read and reread several times.  This is the Pope with the greatest spirituality since Peter.”

I respect my friend, and greatly admire Pope Francis, so I read the portion, and I too was moved, so much so that I decided to feature it in this week’s post as a balance to all that is so very out of whack with our world.  As is my practice, I went on line to see what more I could learn about the Pope’s words and perhaps even their inspiration.

Lo and behold, what to my wondering eyes should appear but a rush of articles and posts declaring the speech a false speech, never given by the Pope! Yes, fake news had penetrated the Vatican, in this case sometime around September 2015. 

Gideon Lasco, MD, PhD

As reported by Gideon Lasco, in a story titled “Putting Words in Pope Francis’ Mouth,” published on, the text of “Being Happy” attributed to Pope Francis is “actually an almost-word-for-word translation of a Portuguese text titled ‘Palco de vida’ (Stages of life), attributed to the renowned poet Fernando Pessoa (1888-1935). Only the concluding ‘Life is an incredible show’ was changed from the less-exciting ‘Life is a no-miss obstacle.’”

No, this is not a Melania Trump situation, where a delivered speech is borrowed from another’s work, but a totally made up story baselessly attributing another’s work to a wholly innocent party.  But wait, there’s more.

Fernando Pessoa

As Lasco points out, “There’s an additional twist here: Even the attribution to Pessoa has been dismissed by scholars, citing major differences from his style and the absence of any actual manuscript. They conclude that it was likely a fabrication borne of the Internet,” innocently begun by a Brazilian blogger who’d written the final phrases as his own, only to later learn they’d gained life on the Internet as attached to Pessoa.

Lasco found the text first linked to Pope Francis “in September 2015. The Facebook page of a ‘Missionary Community of St Paul the Apostle and Mary, Mother of the Church’—a Kenya-based Catholic group—shared the same passage in English, attributing it, in what appears to be the first such attribution, to Pope Francis. Given Filipinos’ entrenchment in social media and our collective fondness for the Pope, it did not take long for someone to share it, and the rest is history.”

And, that folks, is how a false Internet story was born.  But wait (once more), because for me, at least, there’s more. 

Yes, Pope Francis never said those words, nor does he claim to have done so, but anyone reading the speech could easily see them as his own, and gain comfort from thinking he had. I know that my friend did, and from the number of Facebook views on pages posting the words as the Pope’s, I’d venture to say millions more around the world have as well.

So, in recognition of one of the few instances I know of where fake news offers at least some palliative benefit, I am reproducing the text of “Be Happy” below.  Be it a poet’s or blogger’s work, or that of some Bobby McFerrin fan inspired by “Don’t Worry Be Happy,” I frankly don’t care. 

Nor do I suspect does Pope Francis, as long as the end result for those inspired by these words is a closer kinship to its promise of Being Happy:

You can have flaws, be anxious, and ever angry, but do not forget that your life is the greatest enterprise in the world. Only you can stop it from going bust. Many appreciate you, admire you and love you.

Remember that to be happy is not to have a sky without a storm, a road without accidents, work without fatigue, relationships without disappointments.

To be happy is to find strength in forgiveness, hope in battles, security in the stage of fear, love in discord. It is not only to enjoy the smile, but also to reflect on the sadness. It is not only to celebrate the successes, but to learn lessons from the failures. It is not only to feel happy with the applause, but to be happy in anonymity. Being happy is not a fatality of destiny, but an achievement for those who can travel within themselves.

To be happy is to stop feeling like a victim and become your destiny's author. It is to cross deserts, yet to be able to find an oasis in the depths of our soul. It is to thank God for every morning, for the miracle of life.

Being happy is not being afraid of your own feelings. It's to be able to talk about you. It is having the courage to hear a "no". It is confidence in the face of criticism, even when unjustified. It is to kiss your children, pamper your parents, to live poetic moments with friends, even when they hurt us. To be happy is to let live the creature that lives in each of us, free, joyful and simple.

It is to have maturity to be able to say, “I made mistakes.” It is to have the courage to say, “I am sorry.” It is to have the sensitivity to say, “I need you.” It is to have the ability to say, “I love you.”

May your life become a garden of opportunities for happiness ... that in spring may it be a lover of joy … in winter a lover of wisdom. And when you make a mistake, start all over again. For only then will you be in love with life.

You will find that to be happy is not to have a perfect life. But use the tears to irrigate tolerance. Use your losses to train patience. Use your mistakes to sculpt serenity. Use pain to plaster pleasure. Use obstacles to open windows of intelligence.

Never give up. Never give up on people who love you. Never give up on happiness, for life is an incredible show.

Thanks, author, whoever you are.



  1. It's always good and respectful to acknowledge sources of our experiences. But acknowledged or not, known or not, those experiences are completely valid.

    "These truths we hold self-evident..." Many people through the millennia have come to these conclusions, and whether we know who first voiced them, or more recently voiced them, or voiced them in this instance, has no bearing on the inherent value of the words and the ideas they represent.

    We can't always choose our experiences, but we CAN choose how we feel and what we think about those experiences. One night in college, while crossing a street with friends, I had the epiphany that I could CHOOSE to be happy, anytime, anywhere. All of my experiences leading up to that moment prepared me for that realization, but in the quickest flash, between stepping down from one curb and up onto the next, I *knew*.

    And life has been SO good ever since.

    1. You were truly blessed in that "crossing" moment, EvKa. And we've all benefitted from your I dread to think what life would be like for the rest of us if you weren't happy all the the time and everywhere.

  2. Lovely discovery, Jeff. So fake news isn't always bad. And without it, probably this nice 'homily' would never have seen the light of day.

    1. I guess it could be said that some folks with good intentions and good ideas also realize it's a lot easier to get their thoughts noticed on the Internet when attached to a well known figure rather than themselves. Hmm, didn't Benjamin Franklin say something like that?

    2. Yes, the actual Franklin (rarely seen) quote is:

      A missive sent with my name on it will be read far more widely than one with a more bland name, like John Adams.

    3. That was, of course, an entirely Fake Franklin quote...

  3. I think I was born happy. It's my default position. I often giggle when something nice happens. And it doesn't have to be much. I am grateful that I possess such brain chemistry. I worry that will power cannot do this for some people. But choosing to love, rather than hate can be the way.

    That Francis is the Pope makes my soul glow. I gave up the Church. But I love him. A devout friend who is a big lay muckety muck in the Archdiocese of New York gave me a copy Amoris Laetitia--The Joy of Love, Francis's encyclical. It weighs four pounds. Joy and Love go together. That is truly Francis's message. Love and be happy. Closing to love can make us happy. Deep in our souls I think we all know that.

    1. Choosing Love is what I meant. ❤️

    2. There's something just... WRONG... about using the phrase "a big lay" when talking about The Church.

    3. I love your dirty mind, EvKa. "The laity" will take on a whole new connotation for me from now on. Lay people, as opposed to those who have vowed celibacy! You are hilarious!

    4. And you're easily entertained. That's one of the things I love about you.

    5. The world is in balance Sis and EvKa because of the two of you. Whenever I think of you, AmA, I see a smile. And whenever I think of you, EvKa.... well, let's just say it's an entertaining moment.

  4. A rose by any other name. . .a wonderful piece and words of wisdom from whomever gave life to them. A most wonderful post!

    1. I thought the same thing J&J. Once again we great minds think alike. :)

  5. Thank you for this post! I am so intrigued with how this came about -- especially the phrase within the beautiful passage itself: " be happy with anonymity" -- we have much to learn from this lovely writing. It also reminds me of Max Ehrmann's endlessly relevant and beautiful poem, Desiderata: Another beautiful passage that thankfully can be verified and attributed. Thank you, Dr. Gideon, and MIE bloggers -- terrific post!

  6. A LOT of those comments attributed to Francis are New Age Cosmic poo-poo that contradicts Catholic theology. These ideas have leaked into the public square over the years and we hear them SO much that OF COURSE many people will say, "oh, yeah - that's true," but some of it is what is called "toxic positivity" and is damaging to the psyches of people suffering in life whose suffering is real and legitimate and who are not helped at all by these concepts that put all responsibility on the person, as if every bit of suffering is one's own fault, which is verifiably untrue. some of these comments attributed to Pope Francis come close to being actual heresies and I doubt seriously he would say them. If I thought anyone was interested in the detailed development of each of the problematic sentences in this work of fiction, I would have done that, but I will say that if anyone really IS concerned about the inherent tendencies in this fake quote, I recommend they do some research and/or discuss it with their parish priest.