Nexus

Whoa—a Jesuit Pope!

This Unprecedented Milestone Is Very Welcome—and Not Just For My Religious Order

Newly elected Pope Francis, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina appears on the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican

The new pope is a Jesuit! The first ever. That’s quite good (and surprising) news for the Society of Jesus, but more importantly for the church. And what a name! The decision by Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires to take the name Francis is rich in symbolism. The new pope chose to recognize the transformative spirit of the little saint from Assisi who left his privileged background to live in evangelical poverty. If Pope Francis, 76 years young and the first pope in more than 1,000 years to hail from a non-European land, has as much success in winning followers as did St. Francis (1181-1226), who revitalized the church in the 13th century, he will have made incalculable contributions to the church for hundreds of years.

Then again, even as we’re assuming that “Francis” refers to St. Francis of Assisi, can we be sure that the new pope isn’t referring to St. Francis Xavier (1506–1552), a co-founder of the Society of Jesus? That would be more Jesuit, indicating missionary zeal for spreading the Good News to all parts of the earth. St. Francis of Assisi or St. Francis Xavier? Perhaps Pope Francis is being a typical Jesuit teacher here: making us think, and keeping us a little mystified … until the test!

Jesuits are often seen as being the liberal wing of the Catholic church, but in truth our political and theological views run from one end of the ideological spectrum to the other. The old joke goes that if there are three Jesuits in the room, there are at least seven obstinate and loudly defended opinions. Where Jesuits are united is in their love for the people of God and in their grounding in what are known as St. Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises, a set of prayers, meditations, and exercises carried out over a period of roughly a month.

The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius are quite familiar to Pope Francis. They are the foundational experience of his life, and he has given the Exercises to young men entering the Jesuit order. Separated into four stages, or “weeks,” the Exercises lead a person to pray over God’s love and the wonders of creation. Each person making the Exercises ponders God’s concern for him or her and how he or she has made use of all God has given us. The process often reveals aspects of oneself that need ordering, or reformatting, to rid oneself of selfish and sinful tendencies. In the second, third, and fourth weeks, one contemplates the scenes of Jesus’ life, the crucifixion, and the joy of the resurrection and birth of the church. The result—as so many of us have found—is an abiding love for Jesus and an energy and desire to serve others.

The new pope’s fellow cardinals seem to have sensed that love and energy for many years now. Some reports indicate that Bergoglio was the runner-up in the election that named Pope Benedict XVI, even if many Vatican watchers missed him and focused instead on others. It just proves once again the old adage, “He who goes into the conclave a Pope, comes out a Cardinal.”

Pope Francis will not shake up tradition in the areas that receive particular attention from the public and the press. He opposes abortion and euthanasia. He reportedly upholds the church’s teaching on homosexuality, but, along with the Catechism of the Church, teaches that homosexuals are to be treated with compassion, sensitivity, and respect. He sounds something like Dorothy Day, the founder of the Catholic Worker movement, who was known to be conservative on matters of church doctrine and liberal on matters of social justice.

Francis I is renowned for being a humble and simple man. He takes the bus in Rome rather than limos. He lives in a small apartment and does his own cooking. He chastised priests who refrained from baptizing the babies of persons afflicted with AIDS. As he was introduced to the world, he asked the assembled crowd in St. Peter’s to pause for a moment of silent prayer—so I expect he listens: the words “silent” and “listen” are spelled with the same letters. Let us take a moment these days to listen—and to pray for our new Holy Father. May he receive the graces he needs to lead our complex and consoling church into the 21st century.



Fr. Rick Malloy, SJ, is vice president for University Mission and Ministry at the University of Scranton.
Primary editor: T.A. Frank. Secondary Editor: Joe Mathews.
*Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Dylan Martinez.
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  • David Campbell

    Quite a liberal rant. The policies of the church promote the unique special relationship of a husband and wife. These relationships which have been defined as marriages are excellent structures of procreation and rearing of children. Flaws exist in this sinful world, but relationships based on unusual sexual attractions are not healthy parental structures, in a majority of the cases. Each case is different and some gay, lesbian, transvestite or polygamous (gltp) families may turn out to be excellent adoptive parental substitutes, but should any child endure this increased risk if there are enough parents who have the ideal masculine/feminine balance. That’s a reasonable position for anyone to take, even whole states to stand upon. Now, the label of marriage is treasured by many and used in traditional literature in a very specific manner, so redefining such an important term is Orwellian social engineering that isn’t a healthy public exercise. If the term spousal union doesn’t mean as much, live your life in a manner that creates a special definition for the term that engenders respect. Once the respect is earned maybe the culture will see the terms as interchangeable, and the gltp community will not see a need to demand redefinition of ancient dialogues. Did anyone really believe the next pope was going to be liberal? When the Pope asks for silence, his is listening for the Lord, creator to guide our steps in a manner that honors us as a dim reflection of His image. To ask the Lord to bless our aberrations from His ideals is arrogant and egotistical. It’s not about us. Humility does not demand acceptance and honor. Christ to help us endure this life with the leadership of the Holy Spirit, and to help us shed this sinful life as we passed into the next life. A life without aberration, sorrow, pain, or strife. Please leave the church and it’s marriage structures alone to continue our efforts to bless the nations and serve the poor. Create your own spousal unions and Orwellian ideals in ways that don’t abuse or euthanize embryos, women in wombs, young children and elders who have lost their usefulness to you. That is where our strife is unavoidable. We do not seek to traumatize your psychological dream state, just leave the children and elders alone.

    • JamesKoenig

      My comments were an honest response to the event of a new pope. They were the comments of an orthodox Christian who has a deep love and respect for the church– the church, theologically speaking, being the body of Christ on the earth. The Roman church as an ecclesiastical structure is an important segment of Christianity. The “family” that it represents includes a wide range of thought and a broad spectrum of human experience. You exceedingly judgmental come-back to my comments, dare I say, isn’t very Christian. You define marriages as a unique special relationship of a husband and wife…and a structure of procreation and rearing of children. (Of course, you do not mention what to do with those children if they happen to be gay or lesbian sons and daughters of the family.) You at least imply that you would simply label them as an “aberration.” There are many within the church who are led by the Holy Spirit to new understandings of the gift of love and relationships in human experience. Would you imply that childless couples are an aberration of your purpose for marriage? Or couples who marry after child bearing years? You say that “marriage is treasured by many and used in traditional literature in a very specific manner…(therefore) redefining it is Orwellian social engineering that isn’t a healthy public exercise.” If “traditional” marriage is such a treasure why do over half of all such marriages end in divorce? (And just what is traditional marriage? Which traditional marriage is the result of your ‘ancient dialogues’ that should remain sacrosanct.? To which example of Biblical marriage are you referring? Women were virtually property in Biblical times. And in the Old Testament you see many patriarchs with more than one wife.) Do you prefer traditional marriage like in Downton Abbey? You also see same sex partners who shared deep love– The early church even has icons of same sex partners in religious lives. Denying people their rights within the church or in society in general is the thing that is not “a healthy public exercise.”

      And, you are right. Nobody believed the next pope was going to be a liberal! However the term “liberal” is probably more in line with the Gospel than “conservative.” Scripture is full of one example after another of “conservative” religious authorities. And it’s usually in the context of a “liberal rant” about Jesus healing someone on the wrong day, eating with the wrong people, passing by the one in need, (read the story of the Good Samaritan.) You know– menstruating women used to be kept outside of the church during their time of being “unclean.” Should that stricture be reinstated? Your prejudices don’t seem so well informed. In Acts 10, Peter (you know– upon whom the church is built) Peter is told “What God has cleansed, that cannot be called unclean.”Francis of Assisi said “he considered himself no friend of Christ if he did not cherish those for whom Christ died.” I believe Christ lived, died, and rose again for all. If that’s a liberal rant– it’s the liberal rant of the Gospel. (Which way predates Orwell.) One of the greatest theologians of our time, Hans Kung, said “Faith is not submission to a human authority, but unconditional trust in God.” Authority should always be questioned– from within and from without. We certainly limit God if we don’t believe that the Spirit of God can lead to new understandings. The church used to use scripture to justify slavery–

    • JamesKoenig

      My comments were an honest response to the event of a new pope. They were the comments of an orthodox Christian who has a deep love and respect for the church– the church, theologically speaking, being the body of Christ on the earth. The Roman church as an ecclesiastical structure is an important segment of Christianity. The “family” that it represents includes a wide range of thought and a broad spectrum of human experience. Your exceedingly judgmental come-back to my comments, dare I say, isn’t very Christian. You define marriages as” a unique special relationship of a husband and wife…and a structure of procreation and rearing of children.” (Of course, you do not mention what to do with those children if they happen to be gay or lesbian sons and daughters of the family.) You at least imply that you would simply label them as an “aberration.” There are many within the church who are led by the Holy Spirit to new understandings of the gift of love and relationships in human experience. Would you imply that childless couples are an aberration of your purpose for marriage? Or couples who marry after child bearing years? You say that “marriage is treasured by many and used in traditional literature in a very specific manner…(therefore) redefining it is Orwellian social engineering that isn’t a healthy public exercise.” If “traditional” marriage is such an inviolable treasure, why do over half of all such marriages end in divorce? (And just what is traditional marriage? Which traditional marriage is the result of your ‘ancient dialogues’ that should remain sacrosanct.? To which example of Biblical marriage are you referring? Women were virtually property in Biblical times. And in the Old Testament you see many patriarchs with more than one wife.) Do you prefer traditional marriage like in Downton Abbey? You also see in Scripture same sex partners who shared deep love. The early church even has icons of same sex partners in religious callings. Denying people their rights within the church or in society in general is the thing that is not (as you put it) “a healthy public exercise.”

      And, you are right. Nobody believed the next pope was going to be a liberal! However the term “liberal” is probably more in line with the Gospel than “conservative.” Scripture is full of one example after another of “conservative” religious authorities. And it’s usually in the context of a “liberal rant” about Jesus healing someone on the wrong day, eating with the wrong people, or about the cleric passing by the one in need, while the dreaded “Samaritan” (read the story of the Good Samaritan) stopped and helped. Religious authorities are to be the chief among servants. The object is serving Christ in the needs of others and in the pursuit of justice. The emphasis isn’t so much on who’s “in” and who’s “out” — who’s “clean” or who’s traif. Did you know that menstruating women used to be kept outside of the church during their time of being “unclean.” Should that stricture be reinstated? Your prejudices don’t seem so well informed. In Acts 10, Peter (you know– upon whom the church is built) Peter is told “What God has cleansed, that cannot be called unclean.”Francis of Assisi said “he considered himself no friend of Christ if he did not cherish those for whom Christ died.” I believe Christ lived, died, and rose again for all. If that’s a liberal rant– it’s the liberal rant of the Gospel. (Which way predates Orwell.) One of the greatest theologians of our time, Hans Kung, said “Faith is not submission to a human authority, but unconditional trust in God.” Authority should always be questioned — from within and from without. We certainly limit God if we don’t believe that the Spirit of God can lead to new understandings. BTW, the church used to use scripture to justify slavery– And, by the way, it’s the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Transgendered) not as you said GLTP — meaning gay, lesbian, transvestites, and polygamists.