…I will tell you at the beginning of this presentation that up until March 13, 2013, there is probably not a single person in this room who was not touched, moved, formed, impacted, inspired, challenged, affected, instructed or influenced in some small way by the life, ministry and spiritualty of Ignatius of Loyola and his sons who we know to be Jesuits. I, for one had been greatly influenced by Ignatius of Loyola and the religious order he founded. But I must also say that after March 13, 2013, there are very few people in the world who have not been touched, impacted, moved and inspired in big ways by Ignatian spirituality that is being offered to the world on a daily basis by the current Bishop of Rome who happens to be a son of Ignatius!
…Today, the Holy Father is living his Jesuit vocation with a true missionary zeal, a love for community that is oriented for mission and a disciplined life that does not waste anything, especially not time. To journalists aboard the return flight to Rome after his first World Youth Day in Brazil in 2013, the newly-elected Jesuit Pope said: "I am a Jesuit in my spirituality, a spirituality involving the Exercises (of St. Ignatius). …And I think like a Jesuit," he said, but smiled and quickly added, "but not in the sense of hypocrisy." Francis’ Jesuit confrère, Fr. Tom Reese said it well: "He may act like a Franciscan, but he thinks like a Jesuit.” How is Francis’ “Jesuitness” impacting his Petrine Ministry and through that ministry, the entire Church, including each one of us here tonight?
Pope Francis has stressed that quintessential quality of Ignatius of Loyola: discernment. Discernment is a constant effort to be open to the Word of God that can illuminate the concrete reality of everyday life. It was eminently clear to me and to many who took part in the recent Synods of Bishops on the Family that this Jesuit spirit of discernment was a guiding principle throughout the Synodal process. One of the concepts that re-emerged at last year’s (2015) Synod of Bishops is the proper formation of conscience. A very important paragraph of the Synod’s Apostolic Exhortation, Amoris Laetitia speaks to the Church’s great respect for the consciences of the faithful as well as the necessity of formation of consciences:
“We have long thought that simply by stressing doctrinal, bioethical and moral issues, without encouraging openness to grace, we were providing sufficient support to families, strengthening the marriage bond and giving meaning to marital life. We find it difficult to present marriage more as a dynamic path to personal development and fulfilment than as a lifelong burden. We also find it hard to make room for the consciences of the faithful, who very often respond as best they can to the Gospel amid their limitations, and are capable of carrying out their own discernment in complex situations. We have been called to form consciences, not to replace them.” (AL #37)
The Church does not exist to take over people's conscience but to stand in humility before faithful men and women who have discerned prayerfully and often painfully before God the reality of their lives and situations. Discernment and the formation of conscience can never be separated from the Gospel demands of truth and the search for charity and truth, and the tradition of the Church.
In keeping with his own Jesuit formation, Pope Francis is a man of discernment, and, at times, that discernment results in freeing him from the confinement of doing something in a certain way because it was ever thus. In paragraph 33 of his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, Francis writes: “Pastoral ministry in a missionary key seeks to abandon the complacent attitude that says: “We have always done it this way”. I invite everyone to be bold and creative in this task of rethinking the goals, structures, style and methods of evangelization in their respective communities. A proposal of goals without an adequate communal search for the means of achieving them will inevitably prove illusory.”
Humility and clerical reform
Pope Francis’s humility has impressed many people around the entire world. His style has truly become substance. It is the most radically evangelical aspect of his spiritual reform of the papacy, and he has invited all Catholics, but especially the clergy, to reject success, wealth and power. Ignatius insisted that a Jesuit is never to have an anti-ecclesial spirit, but always be open to how the spirit of God is working. The Jesuit commitment not to seek ecclesiastical office, even in the Society is an outgrowth of that experience. What is surprising is that Francis has so interiorized those values that without hesitation he applies it to clerical and curial reform today. He has told cardinals and priests not to behave as princes, counseled priests to abandon their expensive cars for smaller, more economical ones, and given them personal examples.
Humility is a key virtue in the Spiritual Exercises. One of its key meditations focuses on the Three Degrees of Humility. In Ignatius’ eyes, humility is the virtue that brings us closest to Christ, and Pope Francis appears to be guiding the church and educating the clergy in that fundamental truth. Reform through spiritual renewal begins with the rejection of wealth, honors and power, and it reaches its summit in the willingness to suffer humiliation with Christ. Humility is the most difficult part of the Ignatian papal reform, but it is essential for the church’s purification from clericalism, the source of so many ills in the contemporary church. Undoubtedly, it is here that Francis’s reform is receiving the most resistance from practitioners of the millennial-old system of clerical entitlement and a distorted ecclesiology that stems from bygone days of the Church Triumphant! Francis is teaching us that precisely this humility is essential to make the New Evangelization real and effective both within the church and in her encounter with the world.
…It’s hard to predict what will come next. Francis is shrewd, and he has repeatedly praised the Jesuit trait of "holy cunning" – that Christians should be "wise as serpents but innocent as doves," as Jesus put it. The pope's openness, however, also a signature of his Jesuit training and development, means that not even he is sure where the spirit will lead. He has said: "I don't have all the answers. I don't even have all the questions. I always think of new questions, and there are always new questions coming forward."
Pope Francis breaks Catholic traditions whenever he wants, because he is “free from disordered attachments.” Our Church has indeed entered a new phase: with the advent of this first Jesuit pope, it is openly ruled by an individual rather than by the authority of Scripture alone or even its own dictates of tradition plus Scripture. Pope Francis has brought to the Petrine office a Jesuit intellectualism. By choosing the name Francis, he is also affirming the power of humility and simplicity. Pope Francis, the Argentine Jesuit, is not simply attesting to the complementarity of the Ignatian and Franciscan paths. He is pointing each day to how the mind and heart meet in the love of God and the love of neighbor. And most of all, he reminds us each day how much we need Jesus, and also how much we need one another along the journey.