The white smoke rose out of the chimney yesterday. The bells of St Peter’s rang joyfully. The 1.2 billion members of the Roman Catholic church learned, along with the rest of the world, that a new Pope had been elected. About 45 minutes later, Pope Francis emerged from behind the curtain and a new era of church history began.
Pope Francis is the second pope welcomed to the role during my lifetime. Before yesterday I had no idea who he was or what he stood for. Since that first appearance, however, I have been blessed to learn more about his life and values. Pope Francis brings a unique perspective as a Jesuit which I found fascinating. I found an excellent article (written by a Jesuit) which shared the following observations and explained how the unique history of Pope Francis might direct his daily work as Pope.
- First, the new vicar of Christ is thoroughly steeped in the spirituality of St. Ignatius Loyola, who founded the Jesuits in 1540. Pope Francis has twice in his life, as all “fully formed” Jesuits do, participated in the Spiritual Exercises, the monthlong silent retreat that focuses on the life of Jesus Christ. The Exercises call on you to use your imagination to enter into the life of Jesus in prayer. So Pope Francis, we can assume, is an intensely spiritual man who has plumbed the depths of the life of Christ in a particularly Jesuit way.
- Second, Jesuit training is extremely long. Pope Francis entered the Jesuit novitiate in 1958, at the age of 22, and was not ordained until in 1969. So the new pope is an educated man who also has experience in a variety of ministries, which he would have been assigned to during his long training. Typically, a Jesuit in training is asked to do work with the poor, tend to patients in hospitals, teach in schools, and all the while perform what St. Ignatius called “low and humble tasks,” for example, like scrubbing out toilets and mopping floors.
- Third, the new supreme pontiff knows poverty. Jesuits are supposed to take our vows of poverty seriously. This means in the novitiate living on a pittance, working with the poor and having nothing to call your own. The already-famous stories of Cardinal Bergoglio using public transportation and cooking for himself may find their foundations in St. Ignatius Loyola, who said we should love poverty “as a mother.” We Jesuits are asked to follow “Christ poor” – that is, to emulate Christ in his poverty on earth – and live as simply as possible.
- Fourth, Jesuits are asked to be, in St. Ignatius’ Spanish tongue, disponible: available, open, free, ready to go anywhere. The Jesuit ideal is to be free enough to go where God wants you to, from the favela in Latin America to the Papal Palace in Vatican City. We are also, likewise, to be “indifferent”; that is, free enough to flourish in either place; to do anything at all that is ad majorem Dei gloriam, for the greater glory of God.
- Fifth, we are not supposed to be “climbers.” Now here’s a terrific irony. When Jesuit priests and brothers complete their training, they make vows of poverty, chastity, obedience and a special vow to the pope “with regard to missions”; that is, with regard to places the pope wishes to send us. But we also make an unusual promise, alone among religious orders as far as I know, not to “strive or ambition” for high office.
Much can be inferred from these insights. By understanding Pope Francis’ past we can better understand his future. There is great beauty and truth in the teaching of the Jesuits. I believe that this great beauty and truth will be a light for Catholics and Christians around the world as they witness Pope Francis in his new role. As one reporter remarked:
The new pope follows two great teaching pontificates. He himself is clearly a learned man. But, I had the impression that he intends to lead more by his example than by his teachings in the years ahead. This is a good thing. Popes John Paul II and Benedict left us a lot to chew on theologically. We need fewer documents and more visits to a soup kitchen. We need a pope who asks us, who challenges us, what did you do for the poor today? Did you go amongst them to find Christ?
As he requested, we will pray for Pope Francis. We will ask God to guide him and for the church to do God’s will on earth. We know that the church faces many challenges and there is no shortage of need. We hope that you will join us in this prayer.
We also ask that you will pray for Catholic Charities. If you feel compelled to reach out to those in need, please contact us. We are your local Catholic Charities and we would love to find a way to help you “go amongst the poor to find Christ.” We are a place where you can put your faith into action.