Tuesday, September 24, 2013


America magazine has published an extraordinary interview with Pope Francis by Rev. Antonio Spadaro, S.J., editor in chief of La Civilita Cattolica conducted in August.  One can easily find the entire interview on-line, and I encourage you to read it--actually, to reflect upon it deeply since Pope Francis signals his vision for all of us in the Church today.

While I am struck by many elements of the interview, the following are the ones which most captivated me:

I.  The Pope's Jesuit Formation       When Fr. Spadaro asks Pope Francis to identify who he is, he responds "I am a sinner.  This is the most accurate definition.  It is not a figure of speech, a literary genre.  I am a sinner."  But he hastens to add that he is a sinner with hope:  "I am one who is looked upon by the Lord." 

Pope Francis early on felt the need to be a part of a dynamic community.  He did not envision himself living alone; he loves people and needs to be in their midst.  This is the reason he resides at the Santa Marta hotel in the Vatican. 

The notion of discernment which was highlight by St. Ignatius in his Spiritual Exercises also plays a large role in the life and ministry of Pope Francis.  "Discernment is always done in the presence of the Lord, looking at the signs, listening to the things that happen, the feeling of the people, especially the poor.  My choices, including those related to the day-to-day aspects of life, like the use of a modest car, are related to a spiritual discernment that responds to a need that arises from looking at things, at people and from reading the signs of the times.  Discernment in the Lord guides me in my way of governing."

He offers a good example in the life of Pope John XXIII who had as a motto:  "See everything, turn a blind eye to much; correct a little."  Living that out for all of us would create enormous positive changes in all of us!

II.  Church Government      Pope Francis explains how as a young Provincial for the Jesuits he did not carry out sufficient and broad consultation.  He points out two attributes to a fine leader:  broad consultation, and entrusting a task to someone with total trust in that person.

The image of the Church he favors "is that of the holy, faithful people of God....The people itself constitutes a subject.  And the Church is the people of God on the journey through history, with joys and sorrows.  Thinking with the Church, therefore, is my way of being a part of this people....When the dialogue among the people and the bishops and the pope goes down this road and is genuine, then it is assisted by the Holy Spirit.  So this thinking with the Church does not concern theologians only."

III.  The Church as Field Hospital      "I see clearly," the Pope continues, "that the thing the Church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity.  I see the Church as a field hospital after battle.  It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars!  You have to heal wounds.  Then we can talk about everything else.  Heal the wounds, heal the wounds.... And you have to start from the ground up."

"I dream of a Church that is a mother and shepherdess.  The Church's ministers must be merciful, take responsibility for the people and accompany them like the good Samaritan, who washes, cleans and raises up his neighbor.  This is pure Gospel....The first reform must be the attitude.

"Instead of being just a Church that welcomes and receives by keeping the doors open, let us try also to be a Church that finds new roads, that is able to step outside itself and go to those who do not attend Mass, to those who have quit or are indifferent.  The ones who quit sometimes do it for reasons that, if properly understood and assessed, can lead to a return.  But that takes audacity and courage."

Pope Francis then continues to spell out how the Church must know and love Jesus, must live out the Gospels, and must be the beacon for forgiveness, mercy, acceptance, and hope for the world.

IV.  Collegiality      The gift of collegiality is very important for Pope Francis, not only in the reform of the Curia but in the right relationship among all of the Particular Churches with the See of Peter.  He explains:  "We must walk together:  the people, the bishops and the pope.  Synodality should be lived at various levels.  Maybe it is time to change the methods of the Synod of Bishops, because it seems to me that the current method is not dynamic.  This will also have ecumenical value, especially with out Orthodox brethren.  From them we can learn more about the meaning of episcopal collegiality and the tradition of synodality.  The joint effort of reflection, looking at how the Church was governed in the early centuries, before the breakup between East and West, will bear fruit in due time.  In ecumenical relations it is important not only to know each other better, but also to recognize what the Spirit has sown in the other as a gift for us."

He emphasizes how the Second Vatican Council was a re-reading of the Gospel in light of contemporary culture.  The Council's "renewal movement simply comes from the Gospel.  Its fruits are enormous.  Just recall the liturgy.  The work of liturgical reform has been a service to the people as a re-reading of the Gospel from a concrete historical situation.  Yes, there are hermeneutics of continuity and discontinuity, but one thing is clear:  the dynamic of reading the Gospel, actualizing its message for today--which was typical of Vatican II--is absolutely irreversible."

Pope Francis gives his views on many other important issues, such as the important role of women in the Church; the value of art, music, and plays in bringing Christ to the world;  the need for genuine "hope" over optimism; the triumph of Jesus Christ over the mediocrity of today's culture.
Our Holy Father has given us a splendid panorama of the Church as we move forward, his vision statement, if you will.  I find his vision appealing, captivating, and inviting!  I am enthralled with how Pope Francis continues to show us the way forward towards the fullness of Christ, especially in his daily homilies and his many addresses which are filled with discernment and hope.
I hope that you reflect deeply upon this interview, and you will also capture the depth and wonder of the Successor of Peter whom the Holy Spirit has given to us.