Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Did the Jesuits Just Take Over the Vatican?: Thoughts On Francis I

That's right. Your favorite grandfather just got elected Pope.

If you're paying attention to the news, you've already heard a lot about our new Pope Francis.  He's a man of great simplicity, eschewing things like a flashy residence and a driver for a simple apartment and riding the bus.

He's clearly a humble man. Making his first act to ask for the blessing of the people in St. Peter's Square was a real statement of how he sees himself. And at the same time, clearly not a statement at all in the political sense, but just the way he is.  (And, for me, one of the most moving things I've seen a Pope do in my lifetime.)

He also came off like he was enjoying himself.  He made a little joke that the Cardinals went all the way to the end of the earth to find a bishop for Rome.  He was very warm with the crowd, friendly.

I was struck in his opening statement by how often he referred to himself not as Pope, but as bishop of Rome. Some of that might have been because he was speaking to a largely Roman audience, but to me it seemed like a way of saying he saw the job as Pope not as one-standing-above-all, exalted, but as one of many.  The coming months and years will see if that's a correct interpretation.

If you didn't see his opening statement, here it is.  It's incredibly moving.

Many people are asking me, as a Jesuit what do you think of all this? I must say, when I first heard I found it very troubling.  Jesuits actually take a vow not to be made bishops.  We don't see ourselves as the authorities in the church, but as supporting that mission, at times working more on the outskirts.  And -- and this may sound funny if you know many Jesuits, but it's true! -- it is at the heart of our charism not to aspire to positions of authority in the Church.

Recent popes, especially John Paul II, dismissed that vow pretty much at will, and put many religious in positions where they had no choice but to accept. Coming out of the Communist Soviet Union, John Paul did not have a lot of experience with religious orders, and tended to ignore their particular charisms. That's how Cardinal Bergoglio and others were made bishops, then cardinals.

Someone asked me this morning why Bergoglio hadn't chosen the name Ignatius. I would suspect it's because he knows that Ignatius did not want his men in leadership, that in fact like Bergoglio Ignatius was a very humble man when it came to his sense of his role in the church -- his companions had to vote multiple times to get him to be in charge of the Jesuits!  And so for there to ever be a Pope Ignatius -- it could happen, I guess, but it would actually horrify our founder.

I would suspect, even though he was elected by the Cardinals, Pope Francis will have to reassure people that the Jebs have not just taken over the Church. And my brother Jesuits had better not act like we just won the lottery, or face my wrath (!) and the wrath of a lot of others.

Because none of what just happened is about us. It's about a simple man taking on a massive job to try and be a source of light and goodness for all the people of this world.  And it's a huge task, and the best we can all do is just try and be a part of it.

God bless him and God bless our good and holy world.


Carol said...

Well, I'm assuming that before he accepted ordination as a bishop, and subsequently elevation to a cardinal, he had to get permission from the Superior General, and since just about any cardinal could conceivably be elected pope, the Superior General would know that, so I'm assuming that it was all okayed way back when he became a cardinal, just in case he were ever to be considered a candidate for the papacy. But what do I know--I'm just Jane Catholic in the pews!

I don't think this means that the Jesuits just took over the Vatican, but from my point of view, it's a pretty exciting "first" of many firsts. The knowledge that at one time Pope Francis did the Spiritual Exercises (at LEAST once) is the "good housekeeping seal of approval" enough for me!

Steve said...

Last Sunday in Rome, Cardinal O'Malley of Boston gave a homily based on the day's Gospel reading of the Prodigal Son, noting how many children of God today leave their father's house -- the church -- because of "ignorance, a lack of feeling welcome, negative experiences, scandals, spiritual mediocrity" and other reasons.
I think "spiritual mediocrity" is the best and most concise description of the general church situation I've heard.
A good dose of Ignatian spirituality will be a good tonic
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Jim McDermott, S.J. said...

Hi Carol. Here's the way it works -- if you're asked to be a bishop, you say no, and you go to the General. But the Pope can persist -- and if he's asking he pretty much already is. And in that case, some men will feel pretty much like they have to do it. Of course they do it with the General's blessing. I definitely was not trying to imply that Bergoglio somehow went around the Society. Not in the least.

But once he's made a bishop, he no longer lives under 3 of the 4 vows that he took as a Jesuit, vows that define how we live our lives. So in my opinion it's actually not right to call him a Jesuit pope. There really cannot be such a thing as a "Jesuit pope".

This probably seems very esoteric and unimportant in the big scheme of things. I think most people probably feel like you, Steve, a pope inspired by Ignatius is a great thing for the Church. All I can say is, our "least Society", as we call it, is founded on the principle of being of service to the Church and the Pope, not leading it. To be in this situation is kind of anathema.

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