The New Pope: in the Company of Jesus

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Pope Francis Coat of ArmsHabemus papum! My sister sent these words in a text the afternoon of March 13. I was home with a sick child, so I jumped up to turn on the TV, wondering if I was too late to see the new pope appear.  The crowd was still waiting, and together my son and I watched as history unfolded: the first Hispanic pope, first Jesuit pope in history walked out onto the balcony over St. Peter’s Square.

Now, I am not the emotional type. I don’t cry very easily and I’m not easily surprised, but ever since that early text, I’ve been surprised over and over by this man from Argentina, our new holy father, and I do believe that he will continue to surprise us. As a student of Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, and as a bilingual person serving in the Hispanic community, Pope Francis embodies many of the things I hold dear. But I feel most compelled to write about his spirituality as a Jesuit.

What is a Jesuit? We have all heard the stories about Jesuits being academics, running universities and preparatory schools all over the world. We have also heard the stories, not always flattering, about their theological exploits, and that sometimes the brightest thinkers among them find themselves at odds with Rome. Yet few people know, that from their inception in the 1600’s, the Jesuits have made a sacred vow of obedience to the Holy Father, to go wherever in the world the demand was greatest, no matter how dangerous, no matter how far, to preach the gospel. Ignatius called his group, “La Companía de Jesús” (The Society of Jesus) to emphasize that they traveled in the company of the Lord. Men of action,  they had wanted to go to the Holy Land, but when access to the holy land was denied them by the political situation at the time, Ignatius boldly led the charge:  ‘If not Jerusalem, then the World!’ It was out of apostolic zeal and love of holy Church that they vowed obedience to the pope!

There is another fact about the Jesuits that is often not reflected in secular culture. Their most essential vocation is one of meeting Christ in prayer. This profound encounter with Christ is the basis upon which their life of action and service is built and sustained. Jesuits do not maintain prayer through monastic living, but through periodic intense days of retreat that Ignatius himself designed for his brothers and for anyone who desired to become an agent of the gospel in a weary world. These days of retreat are called The Spiritual Exercises. In the Exercises, one goes through a rigorous set of gospel reflections and faith meditations that are crafted to lead the human person to a profound understanding of the cosmos and one’s place in it. But Ignatius conceived of the cosmos in a way that transcends even the modern understanding of its boundlessness and vast scope. For very early on in his conversion period, he received a graced understanding, a vision if you will, of this cosmic reality. He spent the remainder of his life reaching out to his fellow Christians, so filled with desire was he, that they too be convinced of the Great Works of God and the importance of each individual doing his or her part, all for the Greater Honor and Glory of God, ad majorem Dei gloriam (the Jesuit motto).

It is easier now, to understand how a Jesuit could take the name of St. Francis of Assisi. For Francis loved the whole order of the created world and saw the very connectedness of all reality.

As we gather to pray for our Holy Father, at this moment of his inaugural Mass and the beginning of  his papacy, let us open our own hearts to feel the call of Christ: the call to encounter and the call to action.

Ad majorem Dei gloriam! 

Copyright 2013 Julie Paavola

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