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Pope Francis on Jesuit Spirituality: The Power of the Christ Myth

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Duluth, Minnesota (OpEdNews) September 25, 2013: On September 19th, the Jesuit-sponsored magazine AMERICA published a wide-ranging 12,000-word interview with Pope Francis, himself a Jesuit. The pope's interview was also published in different languages in 15 other Jesuit-sponsored magazines around the world.

The interview was conducted in Italian by the Jesuit editor of a Jesuit-sponsored magazine in Rome, based on questions that had been submitted to him from the editors of the 15 other Jesuit magazines.

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At different times in his life in Argentina, Pope Francis had served as the novice master in the Jesuit novitiate and then as the provincial (the regional religious superior) of all the Jesuits in Argentina. Later, he served as the bishop of Buenos Aires and then as archbishop. He was subsequently elevated to the rank of cardinal.

Not surprisingly, some of the questions asked the pope about his experience as a Jesuit. (Digression: The Jesuit religious order in the Roman Catholic Church is known formally as the Society of Jesus. St. Ignatius was the founder.)

Disclosure: Many years ago, I was in the Jesuits for approximately eight years (1979-1987). However, for many years now, I have not been a practicing Catholic.

Here are the specific key passages from Pope Francis's interview that I want to discuss:

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"Discernment is one of the things that worked inside St. Ignatius. For him it is an instrument of struggle in order to know the Lord and follow him more closely. . . . The virtue of the large and the small is magnanimity. Thanks to magnanimity, we can always look at the horizon from the position where we are. That means being able to do the little things of every day with a big heart open to God and to others. That means being able to appreciate the small things inside large horizons, those of the kingdom of God."

"This discernment takes time. . . . Discernment in the Lord guides me in my way of governing. But I am always wary of decisions made hastily. I am always wary of the first decision, that is, the first thing that comes to my mind if I have to make a decision. This is usually the wrong thing. I have to wait and assess, looking deep into myself, taking the necessary time. The wisdom of discernment redeems the necessary ambiguity of life and helps us find the most appropriate means, which do not always coincide with what looks great and strong."

"The Society of Jesus is an institution in Tension, always fundamentally in tension. A Jesuit is a person who is not centered in himself. The Society [of Jesus] itself also looks to a center outside itself; its center is Christ and his church. So if the Society [of Jesus] centers itself in Christ and the church, it has two fundamental points of reference for its balance and for being able to live on the margins, the frontier. If it looks too much upon itself, it puts itself at the center as a very solid, very well "armed' structure, but then it runs the risk of feeling safe and self-sufficient. The Society [of Jesus] must always have before itself the Deus simper major, the always greater God, and the pursuit of the ever greater glory of God, the church as true bride of Christ our Lord, Christ the king who conquers us and to whom we offer our whole person and all our hard work, even if we are clay pots, inadequate. This tension takes us out of ourselves continuously. The tool that makes the Society of Jesus not centered in itself, really strong, is, then, the account of conscience, which is at the same time paternal and fraternal, because it helps the Society [of Jesus] fulfill its mission better."

Frankly, I do not understand what he means by saying that the Society of Jesus could possibly put itself at risk by becoming "a very solid, very well "armed' structure." What does he mean by a very well armed structure? I don't know.

"The mystical dimension of discernment never defines its edges and does not complete the thought. The Jesuit must be a person whose thought is incomplete, in the sense of open-ended thinking."

"No, the Jesuit always thinks, again and again, looking at the horizon toward which he must go, with Christ at the center. This is his real strength."

I want to paraphrase certain points Pope Francis makes. He says that "[a] Jesuit is a person who is not centered in himself." Instead, a Jesuit is centered outside himself on Christ. In short, the mythic figure of Christ serves as the center of a Jesuit's life -- the axis mundi, the axis of his life and his thought-world. This way of living is an antidote to narcissism.

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In plain English, a Jesuit lives a mythic life centered on a mythic character known as Christ.


The historical Jesus was crucified under the authority of Pontius Pilate at the time of the Passover festival in Jerusalem, Jesus's Jewish followers were understandably grief-stricken.

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Thomas James Farrell is professor emeritus of writing studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He started teaching at UMD in Fall 1987, and he retired from UMD at the end of May 2009. He was born in 1944. He holds three degrees from Saint Louis University (SLU): B.A. in English, 1966; M.A.(T) in English 1968; higher education, 1974. On May 16, 1969, the editors of the SLU student newspaper named him Man of the Year, an honor customarily conferred on an administrator or a faculty member, not on a graduate student -- nor on a woman up to that time. He is the proud author of the book (more...)

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