A Humble Man, A Jesuit, and a Pope…Is this the Start of a Joke?

Il santissimo nome di Gesù

Il santissimo nome di Gesù (Photo credit: Nick in exsilio)

A humble man, a Jesuit and the Pope were sitting in a boat together… the joke’s not written yet, but it will be.  The punch line of course will be Pope Francis.  (Keep it nice, please!)

Never has the world put ‘Jesuit’ and ‘Pope’ in the same description.  Some (mostly Jesuits themselves) would argue the same about ‘humble’ and ‘Jesuit’…

Jesuits are a well-educated and well-humored bunch and I admire them greatly.  The Society of Jesus (S.J.)  often pokes fun at its reputation for humility (or lack thereof).    To give you a sense, here are two well-known jokes about Jesuits:

A Franciscan and a Dominican were debating about whose order was the greater. After months of arguing, they decided to ask for an answer from God when they died. Years later, they met in heaven and decided to go to the throne of God to resolve their old disagreement.

God seemed a bit puzzled about the question and told them he would reply in writing a few days later. After much deliberation, God sent the following letter:

My beloved children,
Please stop bickering about such trivial matters. Both of your orders are equally great and good in my eyes.
Sincerely yours,
God, S.J.

Here’s one about meeting the Holy Family:

A Jesuit, a Dominican, and a Franciscan were walking along an old road, debating the greatness of their orders. Suddenly, an apparition of the Holy Family appeared in front of them, with Jesus in a manger and Mary and Joseph praying over him. 

The Franciscan fell on his face, overcome with awe at the sight of God born in such poverty.
The Dominican fell to his knees, adoring the beautiful reflection of the Trinity and the Holy Family.
The Jesuit walked up to Joseph, put his arm around his shoulder, and said, “So, have you thought about where to send the boy to school?”

Cardinal Bergoglio (2008), now Pope Francis Photo Credit: Aibdescalzo

Pope Francis seems to have plenty of humility, thanks be to God. Humility aside, why is Pope Francis’ training as a Jesuit a big surprise?  Why is he the very first Jesuit to rise to this office?

The Jesuits take pride, and work hard to avoid ambition and the seeking of power.  Jesuits pledge not to pursue offices of honor or prestige.  So how did this happen?

Father Robert Ballecer of the Jesuit Conference of the United States said on NPR, “We have a vow that we will not seek out office, but there have been cases where the office seeks us out.”  For example, Jesuit bishops or cardinals.  “In each case, the story goes that they refused the first time, maybe even a second time…But being obedient priests and being obedient Jesuits, if they’re asked again and again to serve their church, they will.”

I heard a report that during the previous conclave Cardinal Bergoglio (now Pope Francis) was second in the running to Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI).  As the conclave proceeded, Cardinal Bergoglio begged the other cardinals to stop voting for him.

Then Pope Benedict XVI resigned.  So… ‘here we are,’ to quote the new Pontiff.

The Jesuit ‘pedigree’ is considered a high level of achievement within the Catholic priesthood.  Jesuits spend years continuing their education (many earning doctorates), and in spiritual ‘formation.’  Traditionally they are educators too. There is also a focus on social justice and serving the poor.

Ignatius Loyola

Ignatius Loyola (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Jesuits develop their spiritual lives based on the philosophies of their founder St. Ignatius of Loyola.  I have found Ignatian spirituality a powerful, and freeing revelation.  It is a practical, moderate approach to spirituality as part of real life, with direct and intentional connections to God.  See “The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Anything” by Fr. James Martin (an American Jesuit).   Many in the church rely upon Ignatian Spirituality (the ‘examination of conscience’ comes from Ignatius), but the Jesuits are especially well-versed in it and devoted to it.    Fr. Martin on the spiritual approach of St. Ignatius:

“…his way of life has helped millions of people discover joy, peace, and freedom, and not incidentally, experience God in their daily lives.”

It may be part of the mood of the moment, but my hopes for this Pope swing as high as his humility is low.  The Church has missed humility in it’s leadership and it is sorely needed.  I pray that, over time, the leadership of Pope Francis, promotes the healing of wounds so painfully caused by the Church.  May any whiff of wrongdoing (re:  an allegation of complicity in Argentinian conflicts) be addressed honestly and in a straightforward manner, or be shown as a result of scandal-hungry media.

No matter his 76 years, a Jesuit Pope is a new direction for the Catholic Church.  May his spiritual formation be deeply rooted in the ways of God, and may he show not only Catholics, but the world, that God is the way forward, the way of joy, the way to peace and to a life worth living.

No joke!



Where’s My High Five?

I taught CCD today (2nd graders) and the lesson was on the Last Supper and the Eucharist –very important as the children prepare for First Communion in the Catholic Church.  The lesson was… fine.

I didn’t want fine. I went to some trouble and wanted a ‘wow!’  I rearranged the room to set it up like the Last Supper, brought in a chalice, paten, candles, pictures of the Last Supper, and even sticker sets for each child to create their own Last Supper.  We didn’t get to the sticker sets—yes, the fun bit.  Ran out of time. Sigh.

Of course we’ll use it next week.  The children were fairly attentive and responsive.  It just left me a little flat.   This, on top of some other writing-related frustrations, left me low.

In other words: c’mon God!  High five me or something!  I’ve been praying.  I’ve been asking.

I was given insight, if not direct messages today.  Here is what I heard at Mass based on some excerpts from the readings:

In the Responsorial Psalm 27: 7-8,13-14

 “Hear O LORD, the sound of my call;

have pity on me, and answer me.

Of you my heart speaks; you my glance seeks.”

I’m calling, but is my heart speaking of God or looking for glory?  Hmmm. Do I want God to look good, or am I more worried about me?  Guess.

  “Wait for the LORD with courage;

 be stouthearted, and wait for the LORD.”

 I am waiting…   Sigh.  I know.  I’m really just being impatient.  And selfish.  It’s not about me.  And God, I do know you’re not on my time.  Though I do keep forgetting that.

Then Paul’s letter to the Philippians 3:17-4:1

“…many…conduct themselves as enemies of the cross of Christ.

…Their minds are occupied with earthly things.”

 Like recognition?  Reward?  Achievement?  (You talkin’ ta me God?)

  “But our citizenship is in heaven

 and from it we also await a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.

…stand firm in the Lord, beloved.”

Enough said.

Boy, I’m glad you speak to me Lord.  Thank you for reminding me what is important and loving me even though I forget, often.  Strengthen my faith so that I may stand firm in your ways and live humbly in your name. Amen.


On the Front Page

Although she died in 1980, Dorothy Day made the front page of  The New York Times yesterday.   Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbiship of the New York Diocese, has been talking about this divorced mother, journalist and social activist.

How did a woman with a “bohemian” youth,  including an abortion, who rejected religion find her way to God? And possibly sainthood?

“She completely trusted God’s love for her and did not wallow in guilt over the mistakes of the past”. (Stephen J. Krupa, S.J., America Magazine)  Her path to God is one of joy and love, chronicled in her autobiography, From Union Square to Rome.

The birth of her daughter, Tamar Teresa, catapulted Day into God’s arms.

Day could think of nothing better to do with the gratitude that overwhelmed her than arrange Tamar’s baptism in the Catholic Church.  “I did not want my child to flounder as I had often floundered. I wanted to believe, and I wanted my child to believe, and if belonging to a Church would give her so inestimable a grace as faith in God, and the companionable love of the Saints, then the thing to do was to have her baptized a Catholic.”

(from A Biography of  Dorothy Day, by Jim Forest)

Day was already committed to causes of social justice, labor rights, and poverty.  This experience offered her another path into God.   Day so identified with the poor that she co-founded the Catholic Worker Movement, and voluntarily spent her life in poverty, operating ‘houses of hospitality’ for the needy.

The mystery of poverty is that by sharing in it, making ourselves poor in giving to others, we increase our knowledge of and belief in love.” (Dorothy Day)

A post-election political angle was picked up by the NY Times.  Day is of interest to both poverty-motivated (left-wing) and right-to-life driven (right-wing) Catholics.  Cardinal Dolan calls her a “saint for our time”, and a woman whose journey inspires.

For us, her faith journey is very well documented, and an inspiration to those of us, who, like her, live in a modern world.  Her faith was the basis for her life, and her life is a testament to God.  

“Your love for God is only as great as the love you have for the person you love the least.”

Whether she ends up titled ‘Saint’, or not, Dorothy Day is a model of strength and justice, especially in this Year of Faith.   Most of us will never make the front page for our spiritual journey or charitable efforts.  No need to.  Our job is to keep God on the front page of our lives.