“TODAY THE CHURCH NEEDS TO GROW IN DISCERNMENT”. A private encounter of Pope Francis with some Polish Jesuits

tumblr_ocmn1jp2zg1qz6bc9o2_400During his Apostolic Trip in Poland on the occasion of the 31st World Youth Day, July 30, 2016—first vespers of St Ignatius of Loyola—at 5 p,m., Pope Francis met with a group of 28 Polish Jesuits belonging to two Provinces of the Society of Jesus of the country and two lay collaborators, accompanied by the two Father Provincials, Fr Tomasz Ortman and Fr. Jakub Kolacz. Attended also the meeting other three Jesuits: fr. Andrzej Majewski, Vatican Radio’s director of programs, fr. Federico Lombardi, at that time director of the Press Office of the Holy See, and fr. Antonio Spadaro, editor in chief of La Civiltà Cattolica. The encounter occurred at the Archbishopric of Krakow in a climate of great simplicity, spontaneity and cordiality, and though it was not devoid of meaningful content to the Order, it also held meaning for the Church more in general.  Francis greeted everyone present, one by one, and he focused in particular on those he had known in the past. When he was seated and began the dialogue, listening to the questions posed and answering in Italian, Fr. Kolacz translated his words into Polish, even though the majority of those present understood Italian well.  Then the Pontiff received some gifts.  Before concluding the encounter, lasting a total of 40 minutes, the Pope wanted to add a recommendation easily understandable in connection with his recent Magisterium. With the Holy Father’s approval, we report here the dialogue, in its immediacy, just as it happened, even preserving some personal memories.  It is intended as a witnessing that—as you will read—even gathers some impressions of the Pontiff’s experience with the young people of WYD and also provides meaningful pastoral lines.

                                                                                           Antonio Spadaro S.J.

Your message gets to the heart of the young people.  How do you speak to them so effectively?  Could you give us some advice for working with youth?

When I speak, I must look people in the eyes.  It isn’t possible to look in the eyes of all of them, but I look into the eyes of this one, of this one, of this one….and everyone feels I look at them.  It is something that comes to me spontaneously.  This is how I do it with the young people.  But, then the young people, when you speak with them, ask questions…..Today at lunch they asked some questions….They even asked me how I go to confession!  They have no discretion.  They ask direct questions.  And you always need to answer a young person with the truth.  A young man asked me: «How do you confess?».  And I began to talk about myself.  He said to me: «In my country there were scandals tied to priests and we do not have to courage to go to confession with these priests who have lived these scandals.  I cannot do it.».  You see: they tell you the truth, at times they reprimand you…Young people speak directly. They want the truth or at least a clear «I don’t know how to answer you».  You never find subterfuges with young people.  So with prayer. They asked me: «How do you pray?».  If you answer with a theory they remain disappointed.  Young people are generous.  But the work with them also requires patience, a lot of patience.  One of them asked me today: «What should I say to a friend who does not believe in God so that they can become a believer?».  Here, you see that at times young people need «recipes».  Then you must be ready to correct this attitude that requires recipes and ready answers.  I answered: «See that the last thing that you must do is to say something. Begin to do something. Then he or she will ask you explanations on how you live and why».  Here, you must be direct, direct with the truth.

What is the role of the Jesuit universities?

A university as a straight line from the Jesuits must point to a global formation, not only intellectual, a formation of the whole human person.  In fact if the university becomes simply an academy of ideas or a «factory» of professionals or a mentality centered on business prevails in its structure then it is truly off the path.  We have the Exercises in hand.  Here’s the challenge:  take the university on the path of the Exercises.  This means risking on the truth, and not on the «closed truth» that no one discusses.  The truth of the encounter with people is open and requires that we let ourselves make enquiries truly from reality.  And the Jesuit university must be involved with the real life of the Church and the Nation:  also this is reality, in fact.  A particular attention must be always be given to the marginalized, to the defense of those have more need of being protected.  And this—it is clear—is not being a Communist: it is simply being truly involved with reality.  In this case, in particular a Jesuit university must be fully involved with reality expressing the social thought of the Church.  The free-market thought that removes man and woman from the center and puts money at the center is not ours.  The doctrine of the Church is clear and it must move forward in this sense.

Why did you become a Jesuit?

When I entered the seminary, I already had a religious vocation.  But at that time my confessor was anti-Jesuit.  I also liked the Dominicans and their intellectual life.  Then I got sick and had to undergo lung surgery. Later another priest helped me spiritually.  I remember when I then told the first priest that I had entered the Jesuits, he truly did not take it well.  But here the irony of the Lord moved.  In fact, at that time they were receiving minor orders.  The tonsure is done in the first year of theology.  The rector told me to go to Buenos Aires to the auxiliary bishop, Mons. Oscar Villena, to look for him to do the tonsure ceremony.  I went to the House of Clergy, but they told me that Mons. Villena was sick. There was in his place another monsignor who was precisely that first priest who had then became a Bishop!  And I received the tonsure precisely from him!  And we have made peace after many years…. But, yes, I can say, my choice of the Society matured by itself…

There are some recently ordained priests in this group.  Do you have advice for their future?

You know: the future is from God.  The most that we can do is the feasible.  And the feasible are all of the bad spirit!  An advice: the priesthood is truly a great grace: your priesthood as a Jesuit is soaked in the spirituality that you have lived up to now: the spirituality of the Suscipe of St Ignatius.[1]

[At this time the encounter seems to be ending with the delivery to the Pontiff of gifts from some Jesuits who followed some young people connected to Ignatian spirituality who came from all over the world to WYD.  Francis then wants to add a recommendation and everyone sits down again.]

I want to add something now.  I ask you to work with seminarians.  Above all, give them what you have received from the Exercises: the wisdom of discernment.  The Church today needs to grow in the ability of spiritual discernment.  Some priestly formation programs run the risk of educating in the light of overly clear and distinct ideas, and therefore to act within limits and criteria that are rigidly defined a priori, and that set aside concrete situations: «you must do this, you must not do this.».  And then the seminarians, when they become priests, find themselves in difficulty in accompanying the life of so many young people and adults.  Because many are asking: «can you do this or can you not?». That’s all.  And many people leave the confessional disappointed.  Not because the priest is bad, but because the priest doesn’t have the ability to discern situations, to accompany them in authentic discernment.  They don’t have the needed formation.  Today the Church needs to grow in discernment, in the ability to discern. And priests above all really need it for their ministry.  This is why we need to teach it to seminarians and priests in formation: they are the ones usually entrusted with the confidences of the conscience of the faithful.  Spiritual direction is not solely a priestly charism, but also lay, it is true.  But, I repeat, you must teach this above all to priests, helping them in the light of the Exercises in the dynamic of pastoral discernment, which respects the law but knows how to go beyond.  This is an important task for the Society.  A thought of Fr. Hugo Rahner has often struck me[2].  He thought clearly and wrote clearly!  Hugo said that the Jesuit must be a man with the nose for the supernatural, that is he must be a man gifted with a sense of the divine and of the diabolical relative to the events of human life and history. The Jesuit must therefore be capable of discerning both in the field of God and in the field of the devil.  This is why in the Exercises St Ignatius asks to be introduced both to the intentions of the Lord of life and to those of the enemy of human nature and to his lies.  What he has written is bold, it is truly bold, but discernment is precisely this!  We need to form future priests not to general and abstract ideas, which are clear and distinct, but to this keen discernment of spirits so that they can help people in their concrete life.  We need to truly understand this: in life not all is black on white or white on black. No!  The shades of grey prevail in life.  We must them teach to discern in this grey area.

[The encounter ends here above all by the necessity to continue on the day’s program brought to the attention of the Holy Father by his collaborators.  Before taking his leave, however, Francis wanted once more to greet the Jesuits one by one concluding with a final blessing.]

[1] The Suscipe is a prayer that St Ignatius inserts in his Spiritual Exercises within the so-calledContemplatio ad amorem (n. 234): «Take Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my entire will, all that I have and possess. You have given all to me. To You, O Lord, I return it. All is Yours, dispose of it wholly according to Your will. Give me Your love and Your grace, for this is enough for me».  Recall that even Benedict XVI recommended the IgnatianSuscipe responding to a seminarian during a visit to Major Roman Seminary, February 17, 2007.

[2] Here the Pontiff refers to a test of Hugo Rahner that arose following a study session on Ignatian spirituality.  The most recent Italian edition is the following:  Come sono nati gli Esercizi. Il cammino spirituale di sant’Ignazio di Loyola, Rome, Adp, 2004.  Francis here was referring to the reflections that Hugo Rahner wrote in chapter eight of the volume.  We note that chapter three of the same study was cited by Blessed Paul VI December 3, 1974, speaking to the 32nd General Congregation of the Society of Jesus.

THIS IS A WORKING TRANSLATION by Reyanna Rice. The original text is published here: http://www.laciviltacattolica.it/it/quaderni/articolo/3867/oggi-la-chiesa-ha-bisogno-di-crescere-nel-discernimento-un-incontro-privato-con-alcuni-gesuiti-polacchi-/tumblr_ocmn1jp2zg1qz6bc9o1_1280

For Pope Francis the world is always in movement: 5 traits of his pontificate

Pope Francis touches wall in Bethlehem

— A pontificate of discernment and «incomplete thought»
— A pontificate of tension between spirit and institution
— A pontificate of frontier and challenges
— A pontificate for a Church, «field hospital»
— A pontificate of geopolitical impact

 1. A pontificate of discernment and «incomplete thought»

For Pope Francis the world is always in movement: the ordinary perspective, with its metrics of judgment to classify what is important and what is not, doesn’t work.

Being men and women of discernment means for the Pope being men and women of «incomplete thought», of «open thought».

That means that he does not seem to have a «project», that is a theoretical and abstract plan to apply to history.

He doesn’t have a road map written a priori, that refers to ideas or concepts. He always refers to «times, places, people», as St. Ignatius of Loyola requires, and therefore not ideological abstractions.  That interior vision does not impose itself on history, seeking to organize it according to its own coordinates, but it dialogs with reality, it sets itself into the history of men and women, it unfolds in time.

This «open» vision gives substance to that which he intends by «reform», that has fire in the heart and not in the structures.

At times    the Pope opens discourses without however closing them right away or drawing hasty conclusions, thus leaving space to dialogue and debate, even among those who have high ecclesial responsibilities (cfr Evangelii gaudium [EG], n. 32, on the conversion of the papacy,  n. 51 on the discipline of the sacraments,  n. 104 on the role of women).

In this journey Pope Francis does not believe that we must expect from his magisterium «a definitive or complete word on every question which affects the church and the world» (EG 16).  In fact «neither the Pope nor the Church have a monopoly on the interpretation of social realities or the proposal of solutions to contemporary problems» (EG 184).  Then «in her dialogue with the State and with society, the Church does not have solutions for every particular issue» (EG 241).

2. A pontificate of tension between spirit and institution

Pope Francis writes in Evangelii gaudium: «The Church has to accept this unruly freedom of the Word, which accomplishes what it wills in ways that surpass our calculations and ways of thinking» (EG 22).

A dialectical tension always exists in the discourse that Pope Francis makes between spirit and institution: the one never negates the other, but the first must animate the second in an effective manner.

Then, further along, he affirms that the Church is «a people of pilgrims and evangelizers, transcending any institutional expression, however necessary» (EG 111).

It is interesting to note this fruitful tension further: that between the Church as «pilgrim people» and the Church as «institution», that reflects the two definitions of Church highly preferred by Pope Francis: «faithful people of God in journey» (Lumen gentium) and «holy mother hierarchical Church» (Ignatius of Loyola).

This tension animates Francis’ reflection with regard to that which he has called the «conversion of the papacy» (EG 32).

3. A pontificate of frontier and challenges

Encountering the Jesuits of La Civiltà Cattolica Pope Francis recommended inhabiting the frontiers: «you must go towards the frontiers and not carry the frontiers home to paint them a bit or to domesticate them». Our task, therefore, is that of «accompanying […] the culture and social processes, and those who are living difficult transitions, even taking charge of conflicts».

We see reality better from the periphery than from the center.  Here’s the reason for his circumnavigation to the borders of the world and of human life.  He is seeking for the «soul».  And the soul is not only the «center», but the pulsing and living «heart».

Francis is like a doctor who seeks to understand if the heart functions, observing if and how the blood flows everywhere, and also investigating the peripheral circulation.

His most radical question is: how do we proclaim the Gospel to everyone, whatever is    his or her   existential condition? This is what really matters.

4. A pontificate for a Church, «field hospital»

At the heart of my discussion with Pope Francis an image emerged: that of the Church as a ‘field hospital after a battle’. It is a very potent image, which also contains within it the dramatic perception of a world living in warlike conditions with people who are dying and people who are injuried.

The weakness of the human condition is the starting point for the mission that must    above all   consider to whom the message of salvation should be addressed. If the Church has    before it    a wounded man who needs salvation, it cannot and must not proceed to measure his cholesterol or glycaemia, It has to save his life, it has to bring him or her the message of salvation.

This is why in my interview the Pope states explicitly: ‘We cannot dwell only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods.’

I have always found myself thinking about an event in Pope Francis’s life which I have always connected with the attitude of ‘cure’, not least in the medical sense, which he frequently expresses: the fact that before entering the seminary Bergoglio fell seriously ill at the age of 21. He suffered a near-fatal lung infection. In a moment of high fever he embraced his mother, saying desperately: ‘Tell me what’s happening to me!’. I think that in some way this marked the great and profound human and spiritual sensitivity of Pope Francis.

One question that the Pope asked vibrantly during our conversation was: ‘How are we treating the people of God?’ It’s a central question, one that he poses every day, even before worrying about structures.

And the word ‘treat’ should perhaps be read in the sense of ‘cure’ in the context of a ‘field hospital’.

This is being…. “merciful”. Mercy means Healing.

5. A pontificate that has a geopolitical impact

Mercy can even have cultural and political value.  It is no coincidence that there are many people who judge Francis also as a prophetic spirit who affects politics.

What does mercy mean as a political category?

In an extreme synthesis, we can say: don’t ever consider anything or anyone as definitively «lost» in relationships among nations, peoples and states.  This is the core of its political meaning. On this Francis wrote: «It is desireable that even the language of politics and diplomacy let’s us be inspired by mercy, that never gives up anything as lost».

Precisely this fluidity is the reason that makes us understand why Pope Francis never espouses rigid intérpretive mechanisms to address international situations and crises.

The Holy See has established or wants to establish direct and fluid relationships with the super powers, without wanting to enter into pre-established networks of alliance and influence.

Essentially, the position wanted by the Pope consists in not giving wrongs and reasons, because at the root, however, there is a struggle for power of supremacy.

There is therefore no imagining a deployment for moral reasons. But the necessity to see the picture by a different optic is required. And this is why is so important his agility in building bridges between lands and distant positions (China, Russia, Iran,…)

All this puts into motion unpredictable logic, precisely of a polyhedric and multipolar vision.

… And now again we got back here at the very beginning: Francis is a pope who is living his ministry as a ministry of discernment, of «incomplete thought»…