Talking about Pope Francis today is an interesting experience. 18 months have passed since most of us were taken aback by an unexpected name being proclaimed from the balcony of St Peter’s, and since most of us were encouraged by that first public gesture of asking the blessing of the people in St Peter’s Square. The various events, interviews, and public statements since then have been reported widely and mostly favourably, and one of the minor delights of this period has been watching a traditionally sceptical and sometimes hostile secular press adjust to a very different style of papacy.
So much of what Pope Francis has said and done has had such massive coverage that there is a risk of simply repeating everybody’s favourite anecdotes. At this point I have to make a small apology: my understanding of what I am to talk about, and the advertising of this event, have slipped out of synch slightly. What I would like to do this afternoon is not to talk directly about Pope Francis and Evangelii Gaudium, but something a little “tangential” – to share with you some not very original thoughts about how Pope Francis’ Jesuit background influences him in his ministry, and how he is, in my view, refounding the papacy. When the news of Cardinal Bergoglio’s election reached my Jesuit community in Oxford, it caused varying reactions. As it happened, we did not see that moment of grace on the balcony, and were reacting to a name that most of us did not know. One or two remembered accounts of a very authoritative (and very young) Jesuit Provincial of Argentina, and wondered what might lie in the future. Perhaps we were being parochial, and initially focussing on the possible impact on ourselves as Jesuits. We were conscious – very conscious – that this was the first Jesuit Pope: what I don’t think any of us foresaw was the way in which his being a Jesuit would shape his ministry, and in all likelihood, reshape the ministry of the Bishops of Rome in such a way that “refounding” might be an appropriate as well as perhaps a startling term to use. I’d like to suggest that there are a number of key areas in which Pope Francis’ experience as a Jesuit are relevant to how he exercises his ministry. These include (but are not limited to) a particular attitude to holding offices of responsibility and leadership, a particular approach to thinking theologically, and a spirituality that fosters rather than discourages an engagement with the world around us, and which looks always towards the greater glory of God. Jesuits in the popular imagination attract military terminology, and it must be acknowledged that some of the language of the foundational documents of the Society of Jesus, and some of the hagiography of St Ignatius, make these militaristic metaphors easy to apply. But when we look at how Jesuits are appointed to leadership positions the military imagery turns out to be massively inappropriate, in that for Jesuits such appointments are functional and temporary: the Colonel, so to speak, reverts to being a Private (normally a sadder and wiser Private) when he has finished his assignment. Jesuit superiors at every level are appointed for fixed terms, and at the close of those terms are at the disposal of the Provincial for a new mission. (On reflection, even that suggests a stability that isn’t the case: I am certainly not the only Jesuit to receive a phone call from the Provincial at what I thought was mid-way through a term of office to be missioned elsewhere.) The point at issue here is, I hope, an obvious one. Leadership positions for Jesuits are missions to be accepted just as any other mission is accepted, to be worked in for the building of the Kingdom and the proclamation of the Gospel just like any other mission, and to be relinquished and moved on from in freedom when missioned elsewhere. It is also relevant that a Jesuit is appointed to a leadership position after a consultative process which combines the gathering of advice on suitability from those who know him – “taking up references”, 1 if you will – with an ongoing personal transparency on the part of the individual Jesuit to his Provincial. Oliver Cromwell, in his curt advice to a nervous portraitist, gave us the phrase “warts and all”: an individual Jesuit is expected to maintain an ongoing “openness of conscience” with his Provincial that goes beyond what is required by other groups within and outwith the Church, and certainly includes “warts and all”. What is at issue is the service of the Kingdom: whatever assists the best possible decision-making has its place. Ideally, such a process leads to a graceful/grace-filled match of man and mission: the man is placed where he will grow and be effective, and not be overwhelmed by the situation and what he brings into it by way of “baggage”, and the mission is served by the best man available at this particular time. A further element of the Jesuit attitude to leadership positions is relevant to our thinking. When a Jesuit makes his Final Vows, alongside the classic vows of religious life are others. The vow of “special obedience to the Sovereign Pontiff with regard to the missions” is perhaps best known, but the man also vows that he “will never strive or ambition, not even indirectly, to be chosen or promoted to any prelacy or dignity”, whether within the Jesuits or in the Church at large, and not to accept office in the church (i.e. being appointed a bishop) “unless I am forced to do so by obedience to him who can order me under penalty of sin” (i.e. the Pope). It is this last which explains why there are Jesuit Bishops (and Cardinals), even if they are mainly foreign to our experience in this country. Again, the point at issue is central: Ignatius looked round the church of his day and saw how what ought to be positions of service and leadership had become positions of honour and privilege. In the light of this he built-in the strongest protections against any form of careerism and status-seeking that he could, protections for the members of this new religious order but also for the Church at large. When a Jesuit has been appointed to a leadership position within the Society he carries decision-
making responsibility that doesn’t require votes in chapter and the like: decisions are his to make. But Ignatius provides further helps towards his being able to carry out this mission in the form of an admonitor, with the responsibility of picking-up with the Superior where he seems to have acted unwisely or incorrectly, and of consultors, experienced members of the community who he must consult regularly and before making any major decision. What is at issue here is, in my own experience, a delicate balance. The Jesuit-in-leadership is expected to make wise and prayerful decisions without having to tally-up possible votes in favour or against, but both he and those affected by such decisions are protected by structures which work against the development of any “isolation of power”. So a Jesuit “grows up” within a very particular culture as regards the holding of what might otherwise be seen as privileged and powerful positions: being a Jesuit “superior” – local or Provincial – is a mission, a task to be accomplished for the building of the kingdom, not a position of status to be held for life; appointment to such a mission is based on a profound and trusting transparency between the Jesuit and the Provincial; striving for such an appointment in the Society of Jesus or the wider church is strictly ruled-out; individual responsibility for decision-making is balanced and supported by consultative mechanisms. Pope Francis lived his Jesuit life within this culture, as does any other Jesuit. But thanks to his own autobiographical frankness as well as to what has been in the public domain, we know that his initial experience of significant leadership – as Jesuit Provincial of Argentina - was, to put it mildly, vexed. In the interview with Jesuit periodicals published just over a year ago, Pope Francis puts it like this: 2 “My style of government as a Jesuit at the beginning had many faults. That was a difficult time for the Society: an entire generation of Jesuits had disappeared. Because of this I found myself provincial when I was still very young. I was only 36 years old. That was crazy. I had to deal with difficult situations, and I made my decisions abruptly and by myself. ... “My authoritarian and quick manner of making decisions led me to have serious problems and to be accused of being ultraconservative. ... It was my authoritarian way of making decisions that created problems.” It is a very forthright commentary on his own earlier experience. If I may add a strictly personal reflection – at roughly the same age at which Fr Provincial Bergoglio was trying to lead a divided Province in a very difficult church and state context, I was making a mild hash of leading a small local Jesuit community of friendly and mutually amicable Jesuits in London, with a wise Provincial a few miles away in case of necessity. As Pope Francis notes of himself: “I was only 36 years old. That was crazy.” I draw attention to this not to excuse but to point to a lived reality from which the then Fr Bergoglio learned major lessons, and learned them fast. He speaks in the same interview of “a time of great interior crisis” following on from his term of office as Provincial. It is in no way an original observation to suggest that it was the fraught experience as Provincial and the honest reflection on it afterwards in the light of Jesuit approaches to leadership that shaped his subsequent exercise of leadership and service, as bishop and now as Pope. It was Leo X, back in the 16th papacy, let us enjoy it.” We have been fortunate to live in an era of the church’s life when such an attitude on the part of a newly-elected Pope seems impossible: whatever our opinions of particular decisions made by the most recent Bishops of Rome, we are a long way from the Medicis as far their personal lives and their ministries are concerned. So drawing attention to “Jesuit elements” in Francis is doing no more than that – highlighting how he has been influenced by his particular past as each of his predecessors was influenced by theirs. Let me just draw attention to two such elements: leadership as a ministry of service, and leadership as consultative. In his personal behaviour as well as in his speaking and writing, service is a theme to which he has returned again and again. There are so many instances where this has been manifest in Francis’ life that it is invidious to pick out one, but let me offer us a brief description that the Pope himself provided. Here is Francis speaking about the qualities to be looked for in men to be appointed Bishop: it strikes me that he is spelling-out his personal vision of being a pastor in the church: “be careful that the candidates are pastors close to the people, fathers and brothers, that they are gentle, patient and merciful; animated by inner poverty, the freedom of the Lord and also by outward simplicity and austerity of life, that they do not have the psychology of ‘Princes’.” It seems to me that we can see something very similar in terms of his viewing and living leadership as consultative: the G8 or “Council of Cardinals” is one manifestation of this, as are his injunctions to priests and bishops to consult and listen. It takes no great insight to see his own painful experience as Jesuit Provincial at play here, but alongside that is the insight that a leader in any setting is an imperfect and fallible person. “If one has the answers to all the questions - that is the proof that God is not with him. It means that he is a false prophet using religion for himself. The great leaders of the people of God, like Moses, have always left room for doubt. You must leave room for the Lord, not for our certainties; we must be humble.” Century, who is reputed to have said “Since God has given us the 3 Alongside a particular attitude towards leadership, I think it is legitimate to see as significantly “Jesuit” in Francis a particular attitude towards thinking theologically. At this point I have to make an awkward confession-cum-acknowledgement. Somewhere in the past few days I came across an article making the point I want to share with you, but where it appeared and who was its author I am unable to track down. But let me make a slight detour on our way to the main point. John O’Malley’s “What Happened at Vatican Two” ought to be on the shelf of everybody who has a love of the Church. It brings to the non-professional reader the fruits of massive historical research into the wealth of material relating to the Council, and sets out the essential elements of what transpired, and the heart of the main documents and decrees. But one of the key points John O’Malley makes is perhaps something unexpected – that potentially the most transformative element of the Council was not its content, that is, who said what, or what made it into the decrees, but the way in which the Council went about its business and the style of the decrees it produced. In a very real sense the Council was modelling the new style of Church it was mandating and calling for. John O’Malley (in an article in the Jesuit journal America rather than in the book itself), notes several points of this new style: 1) a renewed emphasis on participation and collegiality, perhaps summed-up in the key phrase “the people of God” which John sees as demonstrating the intrinsic relationship between style and content; 2) a call to serving rather than to controlling; 3) a readiness to see the possibility of change – even if that scary word was substituted for by progress, development, and evolution; 4) a language which emphasised inclusion and active engagement and participation rather than exclusion and passive acceptance. John O’Malley sums up: The council was about many things, but most fundamentally it was about style, about the “how” of the church. It was about how we “do business.” It asked the great question that is very much on people’s minds today: “What kind of church do we want?” By this point the powerful parallels may be so strongly obvious that the simple point I want to make is in danger of being lost. What had caught my attention in the article I can no longer trace was the insight that one key quality that marks Pope Francis out from his immediate predecessors is his style of thinking theologically. Francis theologises from what he encounters, from life as it presents itself to him. He moves from the everyday reality in which people live to the theological reflection it promotes. Without getting into lengthy arguments about inductive and deductive reasoning, I would simply suggest that in this approach, so different from that of his two scholarly predecessors, we can see the Ignatian and Jesuit style of theological thinking. I would certainly not want to assert that all Jesuits have done their theological thinking in such a way – the dominance of scholastic theology on Jesuit formation lasted over many decades, and its influence persisted at the level of the individual as well as that of the order as a whole. But starting from the world as it presents itself, and embarking on critical and informed theological reflection from that point, rather than starting from theological principles and working out how the world ought to present itself, (I caricature, of course), is a significantly Jesuit approach, if not an exclusively Jesuit one, of course! Of course, at this point the former Principal of Heythrop finds it necessary to remind himself that theological comprehensiveness requires the presence in the Church of both inductive and deductive theological methods “to purify the dialect of the tribe” as Eliot puts it in The Four Quartets. It seems to me that many of the more striking interventions and statements that Pope Francis has made reflect this “engaged” style of theological reflection. The gear change from previous papal 4 pronouncements has been so abrupt and complete that commentators have been floundering, wanting to use the labels “progressive” and “conservative”, but very much at a loss as to how to categorise what Pope Francis has said and done. “Who am I to judge?” might serve as an instantly recognisable example of theologising-from-the-
pastoral-setting, as well as a comment which generated questions and comments from multiple perspectives. Similarly, the approach he appears to be taking to the forthcoming Synod on the Family has the signs of a theology which engages first of all with the lived experience of God’s people as they are. “The church acts like Jesus. She does not give lectures on love, on mercy. She does not spread a philosophy, a path of wisdom throughout the world. ... Of course, Christianity is all this, but as a consequence, in reflection. The Mother Church, like Jesus, teaches by example, and uses words to illuminate the meaning of her gestures.” So far I’ve looked at two areas where I think Pope Francis is manifestly influenced by his Jesuit roots – how he approaches his position of leadership, and how he thinks theologically. Before coming back to the notion of a refounding of the ministry of the Bishop of Rome, I’d like to consider what are perhaps the most fundamental ways in which Francis’ Jesuit background affects his living and working. At the heart of the spirituality of St Ignatius is a compellingly positive insight, and one that challenges any truly negative attitude towards the world in which we live. Let me set it in context, even at the risk of presenting an over-simplified account of some aspects of the history of our Christian community. We need to remind ourselves that the followers of Jesus, for our first few centuries of existence, were outsiders, challenges to the established Imperial order and subject to violence and persecution. The true heroes of the Church paid the price of faith with their lives: a martyr was an icon of being a Christian. But the church of the catacombs, and the church of the martyrs, suddenly found itself the Church of the Empire under Constantine, and those radical iconic figures were no longer there in the midst of the Church, as the Church settled into being a dimension of the civil world. For some, their reaction to this dramatic shift led them to the desert and a new radical separation from the world, and out of this was born the strand of the church’s lived experience which we call religious life. But one consequence of this point of origin was a growing belief that the search for God necessarily involved flight from the world – the key word there being “necessarily”. The early hermits, monks and nuns each looked at their own lives and saw that if they were to serve God most fully and respond to the work of the Spirit they needed the “fuga mundi” – the flight from the world. But the conclusion that was drawn from this said something crucially different – that the only real way of finding God was in withdrawal from the world. This had two consequences: the notion that the life of the vowed religious was superior to that of the Christian-in-the-world, and the belief that God was not to be found outside in the world, but only within that which was made safe by explicit inclusion in “the Church.” I mentioned the risk of caricature, and by now you can see why. For example, such a drastic summary doesn’t include the influence of Francis of Assisi and his rapturous and loving engagement with all of God’s creation, or those other individuals whose example stands out against the prevailing mood of distrust of the world. But St Francis was at loggerheads with his own followers before he died, and others found themselves similarly challenged by ecclesiastical authorities. The world in which Ignatius was brought up was shaped by this negative attitude towards the world, but for Ignatius himself, this gave way to a realisation that God was to be found in all things. Forged 5 in his own initial experiences of drastic withdrawal from the world, experiences which he later came to understand as influenced by false inspirations, Ignatius’ mature beliefs might be crystallised by two sentences from the writings of the Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins: “The world is charged with the grandeur of God”, and “all things give [God] glory if you mean they should.” This key insight and belief underlies much of the legacy of Ignatius, from his approaches to the shaping of religious life for the new Compania de Jesus, shorn of so many of the traditional structures that kept the monk or friar apart from the world, to the pattern of prayer which he himself saw as the core of his own praying, the “Examen” prayer in which the one praying learns to recognise the presence of God in the events of the day and in their response to these events. The world for Ignatius is always and everywhere God’s world: beneath his realistic awareness that we are capable of being deceived and led astray by that which is opposed to the Gospel, there was for Ignatius this fundamental faith in the power of God at work – and at work tangibly – in the world. Note that I do not use the word “optimism” – what was at work for Ignatius was faith. We don’t need much by way of church history to see how Ignatius’ faith is not always mirrored in the way in which voices in the Church have spoken of “the world”, though a moderate knowledge of church history can sometimes help us to a better understanding of this more defensive attitude. Many of us have grown up in a period where these different approaches have been visibly in competition or even in conflict. One of the great achievements of the Second Vatican Council was to begin a fundamental “change of course” into a more faith-filled and positive attitude towards the-world-outside-the-Church. It seems to me that what was begun at the Council has not always been supported since at all levels of the Church in the last few decades, but that on balance that course-correction is slowly taking hold despite the tiller being jogged occasionally... Manifestly, Pope Francis comes to the world in a spirit of welcoming faith. Paradoxically, this gives him the freedom to be critical when necessary. Evangelii Gaudium is as joy-filled as its opening words suggest, but it also contains hard-hitting criticisms and challenges. "While the earnings of a minority are growing exponentially, so too is the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by those happy few... The pope loves everyone, rich and poor alike, but he is obliged in the name of Christ to remind all that the rich must help, respect and promote the poor." Astute readers of the press may have noticed that this particular paragraph hit home with at least one super-rich American Catholic, who dropped not-too-subtle hints about the potential drop in donations from like-minded wealthy people. But of course what has captured the minds and hearts of so many both within the Church and outside it is that the language of Francis is not the language of criticism but the language of mercy. One example of this may be found in his recent address to newly-ordained Bishops: I also beg you not to fall prey to the temptation to change the people. Love the people that God has given you, even when they have committed grave sins, without tiring of turning to the Lord for forgiveness and a new beginning, even at the cost of having to cancel your false images of the divine face or the fantasies you have nurtured of how to ensure their communion with God. So Pope Francis sees the presence of God in all people – and in this he is influenced by the central insight and practice of Ignatius of “finding God in all things”. 6 Allow me another aside: as a psychologist I am clear that one consequence of the sort of engagement in prayer which the Spiritual Exercises foster is the renewal of my images of God – a continuous “upgrading” which can necessitate my “having to cancel [my] false images of the divine face”. Ignatius suggests that I should make use of all that I encounter in this world to the extent that it helps me towards God , and set it aside to the extent that it hinders this growth. Any image of God is no more than and no less than that, an image, not God, and so to be made use of or set aside at the prompting of the Spirit. That last suggestion flows from Ignatius’ positive understanding of the world, and I think we see its consequences in many of Pope Francis’ actions. If something will assist proclaiming the Gospel, then no matter how unusual or “untraditional” it might appear, let us use it; if something impedes the proclamation of the Gospel, then let us set it aside, no matter how established and “traditional” it might appear. The key is issue here is the “magis” – that which gives God greater glory. It is a foundational idea in Ignatius’ thinking, and one he passed on to the Jesuits. While it sometimes gets mis-read as requiring harder and harder striving, what is at stake is not that which costs me more in terms of effort or sacrifice, but that which better advances the building of the Kingdom. Let me recap once more. Pope Francis, it seems to me, operates out his Jesuit heritage in his approach to leadership, in his style of theologising, and in how he relates to the world and to those who share this world, which for him as for Ignatius is always and everywhere God’s world. What of the notion of refounding? I cannot claim to be an expert on the thought of the New Zealand Marist Gerry Arbuckle, but it seems to me that he has contributed greatly to our understanding of how the Church functions, above all by bringing to bear his scholarship as a cultural anthropologist as well as a theologian. One of his key notions is that of refounding. Whether at the level of a small group or a religious order or of the whole church, there is a constant need to find and implement new forms of bringing the Good News to the world. In an ideal world, this constant need meets a constant and positive response: in practice, this is rarely how things turn out. Any group has among its tasks and functions those of administering, maintaining and protecting from harm that which already exists. I hope that much is obvious. What is equally obvious is that those particular tasks can overwhelm the primary tasks of the group – assuming that it wasn’t founded simply to be there. This is not a comment on church groups (or the wider church) in particular, simply an observation on the dynamics of all groups. It strikes me that for some groups, a good deal of the reward of being within the group lies precisely in “administering, maintaining and protecting from harm that which already exists.” I am a non-golfer, so some golf clubs come to mind. I am not a civil servant or a politician, so “Yes Minister” comes to mind. But Scotland has recently provided us with a startling example of how what can be “maintenance” and “conserving” groups can be inspired to retrieve what is their primary purpose. I am, of course, referring to the recent decision of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews to admit women to full membership. When we look at the Church the dynamics of conserving are clearly visible, and we need to recognise that such dynamics have their positive function. But it is obvious that for the Church above all, the dynamics of conserving can swamp that necessary process of finding and implementing new forms of bringing the Good News to the world. Again, a moderate knowledge of church history can help us understand the defensive position the church has so often adopted in recent history, but that is not our task today. 7 A Pope speaks of this risk: [The Church] cannot shut herself up, inactive, in the privacy of her churches and thus neglect the mission entrusted to her by divine Providence, the mission to form people in their fullness and so ceaselessly to cooperate in building the solid basis of society. This mission is of her essence. I couldn’t resist this – not only because it speaks in such an “inclusive” manner of the Church’s mission, but also because it was uttered not by Pope Francis but by Pope Pius XII. It suggests that those in leadership positions in the church have frequently been aware of the risks of being trapped by the dynamics of conserving, but have not always been able to do anything effective to change matters – even if for a Pope it was not the case that a bold decision might cost him votes, or a courageous decision cost him an election... Back to Gerry Arbuckle: in 1993 he published a book called Refounding the Church. It is far too rich a book for me to attempt to summarise, but at its heart is the idea that also serves as its subtitle – Dissent for Leadership. For Gerry, dissent is not a matter of disrespect for legitimate authority, but the proposing of alternatives to the status quo. The prophets of Israel were, in this richer sense, dissenters, confronting God’s people with a radically different way of living. Jesus dissents: “you have heard it said.... but I say to you...” is a formula of dissent – the offering of a new vision of the relationship between God and humankind. And for both the prophets and for Jesus, it was the ordinary people who were able to open themselves to this new vision and many of those in religious authority who were not. Allow me the chance to characterise the Council Fathers of Vatican II as dissenters. Faced with one vision of the church and its relationship to the world, they offered a radically new vision of how to preach the Good News to the world of our time. Again, it was ‘the ordinary people’ who were touched and enlivened by this vision, and again, it was mainly those in religious authority who were not. Such a radical development was bound to create a measure of chaos, and chaos always fosters in some a need to restore things to how they had been. So it was with the prophets of Israel: their radical challenges were sidelined even if their words were written down. Religious groups can find themselves trapped by their own cultures, so that the necessary creative steps cannot be taken. What we see in the Gospel is Jesus both offering a radical vision and creating the structures that enabled the living-out of that vision: acting at one and the same time as what Arbuckle calls a pathfinding dissenter and an authority dissenter. It is rare for anyone to combine these charisms. If we are fortunate, we can probably think of pathfinding dissenters in our own experience of church, and if we are very fortunate we can think of authority dissenters too. Where a path-finding dissenter might be, for example, someone in ministry who comes up with a creative and Gospel-effective pastoral development, the authority dissenter could be the bishop who encourages them and gives them space. Without an authority dissenter, the work of the pathfinding dissenter can be held back or overwhelmed by those to whom it is too great a challenge. I think John XXIII was an authority dissenter. By putting forward a vision of a transformed church, and creating the structures by which that transformation could take place, he enabled the charism of pathfinding dissenters – the majority of the Council Fathers, as well as their periti – to find effective and transforming expression. Paul VI, a very different personality, was also capable, some of the time, of acting as an authority dissenter, above all in holding open the necessary space for the Council to complete its mission. 8 Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict did not have this role in the Church, but in Pope Francis, it seems to me, we have someone who manages to combine being both an authority dissenter and a pathfinding dissenter. Gerry Arbuckle notes that such a rare combination is commonly found in the founders of religious congregations, and that both functions are needed (even if not in one person) if a genuine refounding is to take place. My sense is that Pope Francis is taking new pathfinding pastoral initiatives as they present themselves, and so bringing to life in his actions as well as in his words a new vision of the church and of the ministry of the Bishop of Rome. At the same time, as a carrier of authority in the church, he is working at creating the new structures that will hold open the spaces that will make it possible for others to take and enable pathfinding initiatives. And in doing this he is refounding the ministry of Peter, in a manner influenced by his Jesuit background in his approach to leadership, in his style of theologising, and in how he relates to the world and to those who share this world, which for him as for Ignatius is always and everywhere God’s world.
Brendan Callaghan SJ September 2014