It’s only been a year since Cardinal Bergoglio walked out onto the balcony overlooking St. Peter’s Square as Pope Francis — and the first Jesuit pope in the history of the Catholic Church. But during that time we have learned a lot about him — especially how his training and experience as a Jesuit informs everything from his understanding of service to his relationship with Christ.
Since all Jesuits spend many years in formation learning to think, pray, and serve just as the pope has, The Leaven invited the six Jesuit novices from the New Orleans Province who ministered here in the archdiocese recently to share how Pope Francis illustrates the basic principles of Jesuit spirituality. But first we had to catch up with all of them — assigned, as they were, to various “mission” assignments in the Kansas City area. They are pictured below preparing breakfasts for the hungry at Morning Glory Ministries at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Kansas City, Mo.
Q. Living in community is an important part of Jesuit life. How do you see Pope Francis making up for this loss of “community” when he became pope, as you have come to understand it?
Nick Courtney, nSJ: One of the main advantages of living in community is the experience of sharing your life with people of very different backgrounds and personalities. Wendell Berry emphasizes that one does not choose the members of his or her community, but finds himself or herself among them. This is how Jesuit community works, and such unchosen relationships are part of what challenge us to find God in new ways and to have a center outside of our own perspectives.
In these respects, Pope Francis seems to be very intent on surrounding himself with people who will provide that challenging atmosphere; his living at the crossroads of the Vatican only furthers that goal. Still, I think his humility, openness, and genuine love for people demonstrate that the gifts community offers are already deeply planted in Pope Francis’ spirit and are bearing much fruit for the church.
Q. Discernment is a churchy word, but is fundamental to the way Jesuits make decisions. First, could you explain briefly what Jesuits mean by discernment, then say how you see the pope exhibiting the kind of discernment you are encouraged to do.
Colten Biro, nSJ: Discernment certainly is a big topic, but basically it is the skill and practice of discovering God’s desires for us within our own desires and experience of Christ. . . .
So where do we see this in Francis? There are a lot of little things that Francis says and does that demonstrate his centering in prayer and in discernment. He wakes up very early to spend time in prayer before he begins his day, which shows the centrality of prayer in his life.
Every now and then, he says little things that demonstrate a definite reliance upon the Spirit, which shows a spiritual freedom which comes from listening carefully to God’s great desires for you (and in Francis’ case, listening also to God’s great desires for the church). . . .
One other thing to note about Francis and discernment is that he seems to be fearless. The clearest example of someone having full faith in the Spirit’s guidance is a freedom that transcends fear. We see that in Francis.
In fact, if there was one thing that inspires me, it would be his peace and fearlessness. In Argentina, he washed and kissed the feet of AIDS patients. Now in one of the most public roles on earth, he doesn’t hide behind bulletproof glass — he reaches out and fearlessly touches others.
Q. The Jesuits have been described in the past as the intellectual shock troops of the Vatican. Yet Pope Francis had some hard acts to follow in the smarts department. What did he say or do that suddenly made you realize the breadth and depth of his learning?
Jonathan Calloway, nSJ: Although the Jesuits are known for our intellectualism, I believe there is also a side of us that reflects a heart for simplicity. Pope Francis is an educated man, but I see much of his learning in his unlearning. His theology draws us to God in a way that is refreshingly simple, even childlike. For me, Pope Francis’ washing the feet of prisoners on Holy Thursday was a poignant example of his theology: God is love, and love is experienced in giving yourself to others. It is a profoundly simple and beautiful concept.
Q. The goal of every good Jesuit is, ironically, to center himself on that which is other than himself. Could you explain that concept, and then name a couple ways in which you see Pope Francis doing that, which could serve as an example to every Catholic on the planet?
Bill McCormick, nSJ: Centering yourself on something other than yourself — namely, Christ —means to live for and through Christ. You live for Christ because he is our great goal as Christians, and through Christ because only his grace is enough. Now, Christ is not only other than you, but beyond you. What this means is that every Christian in centering himself on Christ is being pulled outside of himself, for he must follow Christ.
Francis has made this idea concrete with his every action as pope. First, in emphasizing the pope’s role as servant rather than leader, he has underlined that no earthly authority trumps Christ. Second, his call for Christians to live with joy and hope — a joy and hope that Francis radiates — calls us out of our narrow, sometimes self- obsessed introspection and back to the Resurrection. Third, his push for the church to live with evangelical zeal rather than institutional security reminds us that the church exists for all of the children of God.
Q. The Jesuits have also been described as contemplatives in action, yet that seems to be an oxymoron. What has that phrase traditionally meant to the order and, in particular, what light has Pope Francis’ example shed on your understanding of it?
Michael Mohr, nSJ: “Contemplatives in action” quite simply means that Jesuits live a life in tension. It is a careful balance with which I struggle daily. For the order, it quite simply means that we live a life of discernment, constantly called to reflect on our actions through prayer. Ignatius stressed that every Jesuit should, if nothing else, pray the “examen” twice daily. This prayer invites the Spirit to help us remember the presence of God in our life, to reflect on the ways we have experienced Christ throughout our day, to confront the ways we have failed to respond adequately to him, and to seek pardon and grace in moving forward through the day to respond more generously to Christ’s invitation.
Pope Francis’ prayer life, as he once stated, is a prayer “full of recollection.” When we reflect on our actions, particularly when we seek to find God in them, our daily experience becomes prayerful. It helps Jesuits, the pope, and all people to invite Christ into their mundane experience of the world and to see that God is in all things at all times. While the tension exists between prayer and work, the Spirit helps unify the two to make all action well discerned in the Spirit of God.
Q. Even the average Catholic in the pew could tell you by now why Pope Francis could be described as radically pastoral. But how has he made that concept more concrete for you? How will you change how you move forward in your formation as a result?
Daniel Everson, nSJ: I think of the way Pope Francis visited a prison on Holy Thursday and washed the inmates’ feet, including the feet of two Muslims. I think of his flight home from World Youth Day, when he emphasized the need to integrate gay persons into our church and our society. I think of the ways he has reached out to atheists and non-Catholics. We so often think about what’s worrisome or what’s wrong with these groups of people. But when Francis encounters these people — as when Francis encounters anyone, it seems — he first sees what is right about them. He sees them as children of God, and he loves them.
This is radically pastoral, and it affects the way I see people, starting right here in this diocese. We visit the Lansing Correctional Facility every Wednesday and, on each visit, I have a chance to view the inmates not as criminals but as children of God. I aim to respect them and love them just as Francis would — and just as God would.
Nick Courtney, nSJ
Hometown: New Orleans
Years in novitiate: First year
Assignment in the archdiocese: Chaplaincy at Providence Hospital; Turnaround program in Kansas City, Mo.
Bill McCormick, nSJ
Hometown: Raymondville, Texas
Years in novitiate: First year
Assignment in the archdiocese: Resurrection School and Providence Hospital, Kansas City, Kan.
Jonathan Calloway, nSJ
Hometown: Morristown, Tenn.
Years in novitiate: First year
Assignment in the archdiocese: Journey to New Life and Resurrection School
Daniel Everson, nSJ
Hometown: St. Louis
Years in novitiate: 6 months
Assignment in the archdiocese: Southwest Boulevard Family Health CARE and Journey to New Life.
Michael Mohr, nSJ
Hometown: Baton Rouge, La.
Years in novitiate: First year
Assignment in the archdiocese: Bishop Ward High School. Kansas City, Kan.
Colten Biro, nSJ
Hometown: Lafayette, La.
Years in novitiate: Five-and-a-half months.
Assignment in the archdiocese: Cristo Rey and Journey to New Life, a new agency that helps recently released prisoners to reenter society.