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.
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?”
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.
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.