The Church as a whole has seemed overjoyed and hanging on every move of our gutsy new Pope, Francis. The fever ran high immediately: a Jesuit Pope? Just earlier that day I was having a conversation with someone about how there’ll never be a Jesuit Pope. Maybe not never, but not in my lifetime, that was I oh so convinced of. And then he chose the name Francis – it took a while to really get an answer about which St. Francis he was taking the name from – there are 3 pretty big name St. Francises (is that really the plural of Francis?) in our Church history. It came out later that he chose it after Francis of Assisi, for his love of the poor.
On top of all of that, he is an American pope – not from the USA, as we so easily think of America, but very clearly, he is a Pope from the Americas. And yet, his family has Italian roots – returning the Papacy to where it had been for hundreds of years prior to Blessed John Paul II.
Ok, so we’ve got an Italian and an American Pope, a Jesuit who took the name Francis.
Everyone got this guy figured out yet? Me neither. And my guess is, the second you think you’ve got Pope Francis figured out, you’re just begging to be proven wrong.
At first, it seemed like a Jesuit pride party. I have a strong sense of Jesuit spirituality and history in me, and I was shocked and thrilled that one of these awesome men of the world’s largest and impressively missionary order would be elected by fellow Cardinals.
Then, we had the Franciscan pride party that he chose the name Francis. He has clearly stated that he chose it after Francis of Assisi, because he wants the Church to stay close to the poor – and to love the poor like never before. He started doing some very Franciscan type things – shirking the formality and the rules of his predecessors, and being the most humble and accessible Pope we have seen in, well, longer than I can remember. He has talked more about loving the poor in these 5 days than I can remember other popes doing.
But then things started to get a bit ugly, and this is confusing to me. Our new Pope clearly wants a unified Church on a mission of love and service to the least of the world. Yet I have seen so many calling out the Jesuits for not being loyal to the Church, and anecdotes about how Francis didn’t really like the Jesuits and they didn’t like him either. Suddenly, it seemed like open game on the Jesuits.
Wait, the Jesuits who are the largest religious order in the world? The Jesuits, who have spread the Gospel to literally the ends of the earth? The Jesuits, who have been martyred in every way imaginable are not in love with Christ with their whole beings? (Look up St. Isaac Jogues, SJ and St. Jean de Brebeuf, SJ if you want to read about missionaries that loved Christ and endured it all.) The Jesuits, who have been the ones serving like few others in the poorest of the poor in Latin America? And paid for that presence with their lives? Perhaps the Jesuits are just too liberal. They must agree with the MSM’s ideas on issues like condoms in Africa, right? Um, since the Jesuits are actually in Africa (because they are proclaiming Christ and serving EVERYWHERE), they have a different story to tell, if only you’ll listen.
My point isn’t to put down any order here, or any form of actual Catholic spirituality. But just because you can’t put Jesuits all in one box does not make them any less Catholic, any less devoted, or any less deserving of our prayers and support. Jesuits have a different approach to education and theology than many others, and this makes them scary to some. You see, Jesuits believe strongly that memorizing and accepting teaching does not make it your own. Rather, for faith to be your own, you need to be willing to ask, wrestle with, research, pray over, and discuss the tough questions that have more complicated answers than we like to often admit. In asking these questions and searching for more in depth answers, they are not trying to tear down the Church or be disloyal – they are trying to help people embrace the faith for themselves.
Francis of Assisi was an incredibly gutsy saint. He literally tore his clothes off in front of his Bishop to make his point about uniting with the poor. He was fiery, preaching in numerous towns per day. (It would be totally against his character to say “Preach the Gospel at all time, when necessary use words.”) He embraced poverty in a radical way – which inspired our new Pope. Know who else it inspired? St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits. And in case you’ve bought the idea that Pope Francis isn’t so wild about his own Jesuit order, I present to you the official Coat of Arms of Pope Francis – with the Jesuit logo right smack in the center of it, like never before. Yet he acts so “Franciscan”!
I know! Isn’t it awesome? A Jesuit who espouses so many of the ideals of St. Francis of Assisi?
Sort of scary that we can’t put this guy in a box and have him all figured out, isn’t it. Such like a Jesuit. Or should I say, a Franciscan Jesuit. Or a Jesuit Franciscan. I’m confused.
Let’s follow our new Papa’s lead here – instead of picking sides, let’s recognize the different forms of spirituality, the different charisms, and the different approaches to loving and serving Christ in the world. As a Church, let’s embrace and love those differences, praising God that you can live faith joyfully and spread the Gospel with your charisms and approaches, and I can live out my call to serve Christ as I was created to.
After all, if we’re going to serve the poor like never before, and how Pope Francis, St. Francis of Assisi, and Christ want us to, we’re going to all need to be doing this together. Pope Francis, thank you for challenging the Jesuits, the Franciscans, the Orthodox, the Relativists, the Rich and the Poor. You are very much the Pope we needed now – to put the focus of living out our faith right where Christ asked us to put it. You are the Pope for everyone. And I am thanking God for you.
As you humbly requested, I am praying for you, daily.