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Pope Francis and Jesuit Spirituality
Michael O’Sullivan, SJ1
As Jesuits Pope Francis and I have much in common. We have ...
2
to speak of his own sinfulness. In the interview with Rubin and Ambrogetti, two
Argentinian journalists, three years bef...
3
(seeking only advice from the bishops) collegial government,5 reforming the
Vatican Bank, establishing a Commission on t...
4
addressing members of the churches of different religious traditions on 20
March of this year: “We also feel close to al...
5
teachers, researchers, writers, learners, administrators, etc. into new depths of
receptive, reflective, reflexive, rela...
6
In the more recent interview he said, “The Jesuit” (which, of course, includes
himself) “must be a person whose thought ...
7
I feel myself a Jesuit in my spirituality, in the spirituality of the Exercises,
the spirituality I have in my heart. I ...
of 7

Pope Francis and Jesuit Spirituality

Published on: Mar 4, 2016
Source: www.slideshare.net


Transcripts - Pope Francis and Jesuit Spirituality

  • 1. 1 Pope Francis and Jesuit Spirituality Michael O’Sullivan, SJ1 As Jesuits Pope Francis and I have much in common. We have been formed, so to speak, by the same spirituality during long years of Jesuit training as well as in the years since then. In what follows I reflect from the inside on some of the key characteristics of Jesuit spirituality in terms of the insight they can provide into the world’s first Jesuit Pope. A Sinner Called to be a Companion in Christ’s Mission Central to every Jesuit is the experience of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola who founded the Society of Jesus, alternatively known as the Jesuits. Every Jesuit does the full 30-day exercises at the start and at the end of his training, and also, usually, a shorter version of these exercises annually. These exercises draw him into a contemplatively imagined presence and attentiveness to scenes in the life of the Trinity, the historical Jesus, and the risen Christ. For example, he is asked to imagine himself present in the scene where the Trinity are focussed on the tribulations of the world and moved to work out with each other a transformative response. He attends to the persons of the Trinity, notices how they are feeling, feels their distress, listens to their words to each other and is astounded to hear of the daring project of the Incarnation as their answer to the world’s need for liberating love. The Jesuit who engages in this contemplation at the start of the second week of the Exercises is one who has experienced his shameful inadequacy in relation to God’s love in the first week of the Exercises, but also God’s amazing love for him as he is and can be so that he is able to be in the Trinity’s company as they address the plight of the world. This experience of the Exercises is very evident in Francis who, knowing that Popes for centuries tended to be called His Holiness, is, nonetheless, not afraid 1 Rev Dr Michael O’Sullivan, SJ is the Director of the MA in Christian Spirituality programme and pathways, and Cluster Leader of PhD and MA by research in spirituality students, All Hallows College, Dublin City University, and Co-Founder and Co-Director of Spiritual Capital Ireland. He has served as an elected member of the Governing Board of the international Society for the Study of Christian Spirituality, and of the Steering Committee of the Christian Spirituality Study Group of the American Academy of Religion. He is currently a member of the Editorial Board of Spiritus, the premier international journal for the study of Christian Spirituality, and of the Promotions Committee of the international Society for the Study of Christian Spirituality. He is also a founding Board of Directors member of the European Society for the Study of Christian Spirituality. His many publications include the “ground-breaking” (Prof. Linda Hogan) How Roman Catholic Theology Can Transform Male Violence Against Women (Lewiston, New York: Edwin Mellen Press, 2010) and the “original” (Prof. Jack Finnegan) Spiritual Capital – The Practice of Spirituality in Christian Perspective, edited with Bernadette Flanagan (Farnham: Ashgate, 2012). For more information about him, please see http://www.linkedin.com/in/michaelfosullivan1
  • 2. 2 to speak of his own sinfulness. In the interview with Rubin and Ambrogetti, two Argentinian journalists, three years before he became Pope, he said, “It would be wrong for me to say that these days I ask forgiveness for the sins and offences that I might have committed. Today I ask forgiveness for the sins and offences that I did indeed commit”.2 Similarly, to the question, ‘who is Jorge Bergoglio?,’ put to him by fellow Jesuit Antonio Spadaro in the interview for Jesuit journals a few months after he became Pope, which attracted world-wide attention, he answered, ‘I am a sinner’. However, he speaks in this way about himself in the context of having experienced, also, the unbounded merciful love of God. He speaks of himself being like the despised tax collector Matthew whom the Lord looked on with mercy and called to be his companion. He says that this experience is at the centre of his religious experience. It is an experience for him of God asking him to look at everyone else in the compassionate way that God looks at him because “everyone is chosen by the love of God”.3 His utterances about his sinfulness and the mercy shown to him by God also bring to mind for a Jesuit the Decree on Jesuit identity from the 32nd General Congregation (GC) of Jesuits which Bergoglio attended. A GC is the highest authority in the Jesuit order, and this decree begins as follows: “What is it to be a Jesuit? It is to know that one is a sinner, yet called to be a companion of Jesus as Ignatius was” (GC32, Decree 2, “Jesuits Today,” n.1). Inspired by the daring and extraordinary decision of love, that God will enter history in human form and live like everyone else and give ‘his’ life in the process,4 the Jesuit doing the Spiritual Exercises is moved to ask, not in a spirit of guilt, but a spirit of gratitude, what have I done for Christ, what am I doing for Christ, and what must/will I do (still) for Christ? Jorge Bergoglio SJ as Pope Francis is intent on giving all he has for Christ and doing so like Jesus the Christ by going into the heart of the world where he can personally experience what so many people experience; and so he lives simply, visits young prisoners and washes their feet, wants pastors to be able to get the smell of the sheep, and says it would be better for the Church to die by an accident on the street than by getting sick from choosing to be locked away in the sacristy, etc. He is also putting Christ at the centre by establishing a Commission of eight cardinals from different parts of the world to assist him in governing and moving the Church forward, introducing ‘effective’ (real participation by the bishops in the central government of the Catholic Church) rather than simply ‘affective’ 2 Cited by Paul Vallely, Pope Francis: Untying the Knots (London: Bloomsbury, 2013), 94. 3 Ibid., 28. 4 See my How Roman Catholic Theology Can Transform Male Violence Against Women (NY: Edwin Mellen Press, 2010), chapter 5, for an argument about how to understand the maleness of Jesus in the context, also, of God’s relationship with women.
  • 3. 3 (seeking only advice from the bishops) collegial government,5 reforming the Vatican Bank, establishing a Commission on the Economy, seeking to make the Curia serve local Churches rather than attempting to control them, setting up a Commission about child abuse by clergy and the handling of the discovery of the abuse by Church leadership, adopting an inductive approach to the forthcoming synod on the Family by consulting with people on the ground around the world, and speaking out in ways that give hope to gays, to single parents wanting to baptize their children, to divorced and remarried couples wanting to receive the Eucharist, and to the great majority of the world’s people who are the economically poor. The Thirty Second General Congregation (GC) of the Jesuits, which I referred to already, and which, as I said, Francis attended, committed all Jesuits to the promotion of social justice as an absolute requirement of the service of faith and GC34 declared that this mission of Jesuits as companions of Jesus was a participation in Christ’s ongoing mission. Finding God in Everyone and Everywhere A second characteristic of Jesuit spirituality is its emphasis on being able to find God in all people, in all places, and in all things. Francis was the Master of Jesuit Novices (to use the traditional title) in Argentina when he was a young man. In this role he had to be able to give the Spiritual Exercises to those considering becoming Jesuits, which meant that he had to know the Exercises very well. An insight into his understanding of what I am calling this second characteristic of Jesuit spirituality is provided by Sr. Maria Soledad Albisú, the leader of the Congregation of Jesus in Argentina. When she was a young woman in 1985 wondering if she had a vocation to the congregation, she did the spiritual exercises with Fr. Bergoglio as he was then known. He showed her where the Jesuit community kept sheep and pigs and said to her, “that this was a good place to pray and to remember that God is to be found in the lowliest things.”6 The characteristic of finding God present in everyone and everywhere also makes Jesuit spirituality world-embracing, open to people of other religious traditions and none, and open to seeing goodwill in everyone. Francis is well known for this openness. One example out of the many that could be given is what he said at the end of his first meeting with the world’s journalists: “Since many of you do not belong to the Catholic Church and others are non-believers, from the bottom of my heart I give this silent blessing to each and every one of you, respecting the conscience of each one of you but knowing that each one of you is a child of God”.7 A second example is provided by what he said when 5 See Ladislas Orsy, “Francis’ new order,” The Tablet (21 June 2014), 12-13. 6 The Tablet (23 May 2013), 14. 7 http://crossmap.christianpost.com/news/pope-francis-give-first-press-conference-cracks-jokes-with-genuine- warmth-reports-say-2075
  • 4. 4 addressing members of the churches of different religious traditions on 20 March of this year: “We also feel close to all men and women who, although not claiming to belong to any religious tradition, still feel themselves to be in search of truth, goodness, and beauty, God's Truth, Goodness, and Beauty, and who are our precious allies in the effort to defend human dignity, in building a peaceful coexistence between peoples, and in carefully protecting creation.”8 I believe the emphasis in Jesuit spirituality on finding God in everyone is also behind one of the most striking things he said, in my view, in the interview with Spadaro. I am referring to what he said about ‘thinking with the Church’. The people itself constitutes a subject. And the church is the people of God on the journey through history, with joys and sorrows. Thinking with the church, therefore, is my way of being a part of this people. And all the faithful, considered as a whole, are infallible in matters of belief, and the people display this infallibilitas in credendo, this infallibility in believing, through a supernatural sense of the faith of all the people walking together. This is what I understand today as the ‘thinking with the church’ of which St Ignatius speaks. When the dialogue among the people and the bishops and the pope goes down this road and is genuine, then it is assisted by the Holy Spirit. So this thinking with the church does not concern theologians only…We should not even think, therefore, that ‘thinking with the church’ means only thinking with the hierarchy of the church.9 Ignatius of Loyola calls on Jesuits to think with the Church, but for our Jesuit pope this does not mean thinking simply with what is called the hierarchy of the Church: “The church is the people of God on the journey through history, with joys and sorrows. Thinking with the church, therefore, is my way of being a part of this people….We should not even think, therefore, that ‘thinking with the church’ means only thinking with the hierarchy of the church”. Implied in what Francis is saying here is that he, as Pope and Bishop of Rome, cannot think with the Church, and nor can the other bishops, unless they know what the people are thinking and feeling. And so it is not surprising that he has asked that the people be consulted for the forthcoming Synod of Bishops about the Family. Contemplative in Action Being a contemplative in action is a third characteristic of Jesuit spirituality. There is a growing movement now to develop contemplative practice and not simply academic rigour in higher education on the grounds that it leads 8 http://www.cinews.ie/article.php?artid=11515 9 Antonio Spadaro, SJ, “Interview with Pope Francis” (19 August 2013), published in L'Osservatore Romano, weekly ed., Year CLIII, n. 39, 25/09/2013.
  • 5. 5 teachers, researchers, writers, learners, administrators, etc. into new depths of receptive, reflective, reflexive, relational and responsible self-presence. For the Jesuit educator such contemplative self-presence is expressive of his desire to relate to the world as one admitted into the company of the Trinity when he made the spiritual exercises and as one whose capacity to do so has grown over the years. The symbolic actions of Francis which have made such an impression on people such as his colloquial ‘good evening’ to the multitude in St Peter’s Square the evening he was elected, and his bowing his head and asking them to pray for him in silence, or his embracing a man with terrible sores later on, are rooted in and radiate a contemplative self-presence revelatory of living in the company of the Trinity. There are many photos of him, for example, where you see radiance in his eyes and smile. He is engaged in not simply ethical actions, actions that do good, and call forth goodness in others by their effects, but also aesthetic actions, beautiful actions that give the heart a thrill or that can move to tears of joy, and that evoke the splendid attractiveness of God. God’s Greater Glory The desire of a Jesuit is to live and act for the sake of God’s greater glory and this characteristic of Jesuit spirituality is called the magis (Latin for ‘more’). This fourth characteristic of a Jesuit’s spirituality is not about what more can he do for God (a quantitative approach which can foster an unhealthy striving), but about how God can be better known, appreciated, and loved as a result of the Jesuit’s life (a qualitative approach which is more receptive, perhaps, to the action of grace). At the end of his life a Jesuit would like it said that because of the person he was and the life he lived, the wonder of God shone forth more in the world. This trait in Jesuit spirituality makes Jesuits ready to go to the frontiers and peripheries, the frontiers and peripheries of thought and action, of unexplored places and spaces. Francis illustrated this trait of a frontier mind and heart for God in the interview he gave to fellow Jesuit Antonio Spadaro last August, and in the interview he gave in March this year to the Milanese daily, Corriere della Sera. In the interview with Spadaro he said: “God manifests himself in time and is present in the processes of history. This gives priority to actions that give birth to new historical dynamics”; interestingly, when he refers to the innovative potential of history he is not simply referring to what comes to us from the future, but also to the surplus meaning awaiting release which is stored in the past. We see this in the same interview when he says: Tradition and memory of the past must help us to have the courage to open up new areas to God. Those who today always look for disciplinarian solutions, those who long for an exaggerated doctrinal 'security,' those who stubbornly try to recover a past that no longer exists - they have a static and inward directed view of things".
  • 6. 6 In the more recent interview he said, “The Jesuit” (which, of course, includes himself) “must be a person whose thought is incomplete, in the sense of open- ended thinking". The notion of the magis, in particular, which keeps the Jesuit open to the God of surprises (to quote the title of a well-known book by Gerry Hughes, SJ), contributed to Francis being in a position to become, as he puts it, Bishop of Rome. Jesuits commit themselves to not ambition high ecclesial office. However, discerning in a particular context the greater glory of the always greater than we know already God of Jesuit spirituality (Deus semper maior) makes it possible for an individual Jesuit to recognize and accept such office for himself as a call of God. When asked on the flight from Brazil if he liked being Pope Francis replied, “When the Lord puts you there, if you do what the Lord wants, you are happy. This is my sentiment, what I feel”.10 Discernment The practice of discernment is a fifth characteristic of Jesuit spirituality and grounds, methodologically, all the other characteristics. In the interview with Spadaro Francis spoke about the importance of discernment: “I believe that we always need time to lay the foundations for real, effective change. And this is the time of discernment.” A Jesuit believes that lives, institutions, traditions, organisations, structures, situations, policies, procedures, practices, and relationships, etc. are all characterised by spirits, those of beauty, intelligibility, truth, goodness and love, and their contradictories. The former are signifiers of what pertains to God as Creator, Redeemer, and the eschatological fulfilment of the world and individuals, while the latter are not. It is the cultivated art of discernment of these spirits that enables a Jesuit to pivot on the frontiers of feeling, thought, and action and to be able to not fall over but instead walk across the tightrope with assured and balanced composure to reach his destination. Francis is engaged in a tricky and even scary project of reform and transformation in the Catholic Church. He will need all his wits honed by discernment about him to succeed. Who can he trust? When does innovation take precedence over tradition? Does he leave himself open to martyrdom, or does he, because he, too, is precious to God live self-care in a way that could remove that threat? Etc. My emphasis on how Jesuit spirituality is at work in Francis makes us aware that while he is clearly an admirer of Francis of Assisi and inspired by him, he is, nevertheless, I would say, first and foremost a follower of St. Ignatius. And he is in no doubt about that himself. Returning from Brazil he said the following in his unscripted interview with the journalists on the plane travelling with him: 10 See http://www.zenit.org/en/articles/francis-press-conference-on-return-flight-from-brazil-part-2
  • 7. 7 I feel myself a Jesuit in my spirituality, in the spirituality of the Exercises, the spirituality I have in my heart. I feel so much like this that in three days I’ll go to celebrate with Jesuits the feast of St. Ignatius: I will say the morning Mass. I haven’t changed my spirituality, no. Francis, Franciscan: no. I feel myself a Jesuit and I think like a Jesuit.11 11 See http://www.zenit.org/en/articles/francis-press-conference-on-return-flight-from-brazil-part-2. The press conference took place on 28 July 2013.

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