Finally, we should not neglect the importance of Francis being the first Jesuit pope. In many respects, it appears Francis’ Jesuit background has had an important influence on Pope Francis’ theology. Given the Jesuits lengthy history and its varying roles over time, it would be merely superficial to draw the many parallels between Francis’ papacy and the Jesuit order broadly. Rather, the goal here specifically is to focus on the parallels between Francis’ writings and an Ignatian spirituality, specifically as developed by St. Ignatius of Loyola himself.
As Father Robert Imbelli writes for America Magazine, Gaudete et Exsultate “is deeply Ignatian.” Indeed, Pope Francis cites St. Ignatius of Loyola several times in this document. Aside from those direct citations, Imbelli notes a few other clear overlaps between the writings of both.
Francis compares the spiritual life to a battle, a theme quite often used by St. Ignatius in his spiritual writings. This recurrent battle theme in St. Ignatius’ writings, of course, most likely flow from his own personal experiences as a soldier–that is, until his leg was shattered by a cannonball, prompting a deeper spirituality. Francis introduces a section entitled “Spiritual combat, vigilance and discernment” with the following:
The Christian life is a constant battle. We need strength and courage to withstand the temptations of the devil and to proclaim the Gospel. This battle is sweet, for it allows us to rejoice each time the Lord triumphs in our lives.
James Hitchcock, author of The History of the Catholic Church, refers to St. Ignatius of Loyola’s program, particularly within the context of his times, as a “holy pragmatism.” In contrast to a dizzying maze of traditions and devotions that could make God both seemingly inaccessible and also necessarily accessible to those who successfully navigated their way through (paraphrasing Hitchcock), Ignatius’ insistence on discernment, prayer, and a direct spiritual connection with Christ served a great need. Indeed, the Jesuit order would explode with new members in just a few short decades since its founding.
In his writings on discernment, St. Ignatius gives practical advice to people to test whether something is truly good or evil, whether something is from the devil or from the Spirit. Francis also shares this commitment to discernment, but unlike St. Ignatius, Francis is writing to an audience which may not appreciate spiritual realities. Today, with many people holding fast to empiricist principles, talk about “devils” and “spirits” can likely only turn people off. However, Francis doesn’t shy away from these categories. Rather, he insists on them, exhorting us to maintain a “supernatural understanding.”
Having established that this supernatural view is critical and calling us to be alert and on guard, Pope Francis writes,How can we know if something comes from the Holy Spirit or if it stems from the spirit of the world or the spirit of the devil? The only way is through discernment, which calls for something more than intelligence or common sense. It is a gift which we must implore. If we ask with confidence that the Holy Spirit grant us this gift, and then seek to develop it through prayer, reflection, reading and good counsel, then surely we will grow in this spiritual endowment.
The focus on discernment, a major theme of Gaudete et Exsultate, is also a part of many other documents as well. Pope Francis is very much concerned with “next steps”–that is, in a pragmatic sort of way, what God is calling each person to do in the “concrete realities” of his or her life. In Amoris Laetitia, he writes,
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.
In, GE 169, Francis synthesizes the major elements mentioned above and couches them in a very Ignatian way–namely, that discernment is a means of spiritual battle, that discernment happens in everyday realities, and that the goal of discernment is to respond to God’s invitation to grow. Likewise, David Fleming, SJ, summarizes Ignatian spirituality as “an active attentiveness to God joined with a prompt responsiveness to his leading” which leads the Christian to growth. The Ignatian spirituality is all about “What more can we do to love him?”
I’ve never believed for one second the claims of the Francis Haters to be “confused” nor their lies that he is a “heretic”. The truth is Francis is an open book and that book is orthodox. His enemies are not confused by him. They just don’t want to hear what he has to say because they want a gospel that accessorizes their political, social and economic agendas rather than challenges and corrects them.
Bravo to Dan Amiri and the guys at Where Peter Is for choosing to learn from the Holy Father instead of lie about him and fight him. Bookmark their site. It is excellent!