A Jesuit Pope with an Ignatian Formation – What might that mean for the Church and the World? (Part 2)
The Ignatian Spirituality in which Pope Francis has been formed throughout his life as a Jesuit, has been called a mysticism of love and service. At the end of the Spiritual Exercises Ignatius reminds the retreatant that “love is to be expressed more in deeds than in words.” Prayer, while critical, is not enough. We also have to act in ways which help to bring about justice and peace in our society.
Ignatian spirituality is about expressing our love of God through service in the concrete realities of our world. In his homily at the inaugural Mass, Pope Francis talked about the importance of caring for the weakest and most vulnerable in our Society: “Only those who serve with love are able to protect.” The poor and the vulnerable are clearly Pope Francis’ stated priority. His actions, dialogue and decisions on their behalf in the coming months will, I hope, inspire us to do likewise. In our South African context – where there is such an alarming discrepancy between rich and poor, and so much violence and abuse – we need to respond with contemplative action to bring about change.
Pope Francis also spoke of authentic leadership being about self-giving love. “The Pope too, when exercising power, must enter ever more fully into that service which has its radiant culmination on the Cross.” One of the main purposes of the Spiritual Exercises is to help the person making them to become free of any inordinate attachments – including those of status, power or wealth – that might limit their ability to respond wholeheartedly to God’s invitation. Pope Francis’ example is calling to imitate the way of Christ ‘poor and humble’ and exercise a leadership of self-giving love.
Openness, humility and freedom are key virtues that the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises seek to develop in those who make them and are graces that the retreatant is repeatedly urged to ask for. Refusing the ornate dress often worn by Popes, asking for the blessing of the people as he stood on the balcony, riding in the same bus as the cardinals, insisting on paying his own hotel bill, requesting a silent blessing of journalists out of respect for the diversity of their beliefs, all of these are, I believe, signs that graces of openness, humility and freedom have been granted by the Holy Spirit.
In the Spiritual Exercises the one making them and one giving them are asked by Ignatius to adopt an attitude of respect and openness with regard to each other and the process. We are already seeing this in the early days of the new pontificate. Dare we hope that this attitude may allow doors to be opened to honest conversation: between laity and hierarchy; men and women, rich and poor, Catholics and people of other Christian denominations and other faiths, so that we may help one another to grow “in praise, reverence and service of God our Lord.”