Understanding Pope Francis, From A Jesuit Perspective

Understanding Pope Francis, From A Jesuit Perspective July 31, 2014

With all that’s been written about understanding Pope Francis, fellow Patheos blogger and newly ordained Fr. Sam Sawyer, SJ, may have one of the best responses I’ve seen so far.

He starts with St. Ignatius, whose feast day we celebrate today:

“There are very few people who realize what God would make of them if they abandoned themselves entirely into his hands, and let themselves be formed by his grace.”

Fr. Sawyer goes on to lay out a pretty convincing argument as to how Pope Francis has worked this into his ministry and he addresses head on one of the most controversial quotes from Francis:

Perhaps you hear an echo of this approach in Francis’s first and most famous off-the-cuff remark: “A gay person who is seeking God, who is of good will — well, who am I to judge him?” This is not dangerous moral relativism; this is not even lazy moral equivalence. This is profound confidence that God is at work with people who are seeking him. It’s the insight of the 15th annotation, applied to the present situation of the Church and the world.

 
The reason Francis is so “uncareful” in interviews… might not be some grand master plan; it might not involve a prediction of how this will all turn out. Francis’s hope — and I’ve said this before — is to get us to pay attention to God and to seek him out. Beyond that is God’s business. That doesn’t mean that anything goes; it doesn’t mean that the teachings of the Church get tossed out the window and truth becomes subjective.

Back in March, I wrote about a related facet of this, taking my cue from one of John Allen’s talks at Religious Ed Congress.

Allen noted that this is a “missionary moment” with the whole world looking at the Catholic Church. The question is, what do we want the world to see?

Here are his suggestions [and my comments]:

  1. Stop using the Pope as club to beat up on other members of the Church. Give it up for Lent.
  2. Despite the age of social media, we don’t have to have an opinion on something the Pope says or does minutes after it happens. Give it up for Lent. Instead, sit with it, meditate on it, pray with it. Try it for Lent.

The whole world is looking at the Church. We need to be a Church that the rest of the world wants to be part of, not a Church that they just want to watch for entertainment or scandal. Almost every lapsed Catholic (or other person who’s decided not to become a Catholic) can point to an experience where they saw, even encountered, a Catholic behaving badly.

As much as Pope Francis’ mode of communication might trouble some people, I think Fr. Sawyer’s perspective, based on Ignatian spirituality, helps to close the loop on this.

Look, either we believe that Pope Francis was elected by the cardinals under the divine inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Or we don’t.

Either we believe that teaching – as he sees fit, not as we see fit – is a part of his divine office. Or we don’t.

As Fr. Sawyer notes, the Pope has

[A] radical confidence that God is at work among his people, and that God’s master plan, even when we don’t understand it, is far better than anything we would come up with on our own.

I for one, despite all my various opinions, find that Fr. Sawyer’s perspective really does make sense. And there’s just no way that most of us who are very removed from the Pope are even in a position to begin to understand, much less criticize his communications. At least, that’s my opinion.

And, you know what? The confusion that ensues may indicate that we all need to do a better job of informing and forming ourselves. If something doesn’t make sense to us, why do we quickly assume that we’re right and the Pope is wrong? I just don’t get it. Even after careful consideration, if we are still struggling, I think we have to step back and assume that radical confidence in God that Francis demonstrates.

Happy feast!

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