Pope Francis (Paperback)
As soon as the name of the new pope was announced on March 23, 2013, the commentators on radio and TV were excited. For the first time in history a Jesuit had been elected pope. Even more exciting, he was the first pope to choose the name Francis. Immediately the commentators assumed that the pope had chosen the name in honor of Saint Francis of Assisi, which Pope Francis confirmed in his press conference the next day.
Saint Francis of Assisi (1181–1226) is perhaps the most well-known and respected saint in Western Christianity. He is seen as a man who epitomized what it means to live like Jesus in his own time and culture. Francis of Assisi was passionate about preaching the Gospel and deeply committed to caring for the poor and needy. He was a man of peace who placed his life on the line to bring the message of Jesus Christ to the Muslim world. With the choice of his name, Pope Francis was telling the world what the principal concerns of his papacy would be.
As a Jesuit, Pope Francis is the spiritual son of Saint Ignatius Loyola (1491–1556), a Spanish soldier who was wounded in battle and discovered his Christian vocation during his convalescence. He went on to take notes on the process of his personal journey, which became the foundation for The Spiritual Exercises. A charismatic leader, Ignatius gathered companions and formed with them the Society of Jesus, or Jesuit community. As a Jesuit, Pope Francis was informed by and in his own right became a well-respected director of the exercises for others.
This book explores the legacy of Saint Francis of Assisi and Saint Ignatius Loyola in the life and ministry of Pope Francis. We will see that God raised them up as saints to address the needs of their time. We will also see how Pope Francis is inspired in his papal ministry by their example.
When we look at the worlds of Saint Francis and Saint Ignatius, we discover that they are not all that far from our own time in terms of the hot-button issues facing Christian life. They lived in a time of social change, with ambitious merchants wanting to turn the cold hard cash they earned into political power. They lived in a time when the Mediterranean world was filled with hot spots that flared up all too often into full-scale war. They lived in a time in Western Europe when more men and women were becoming literate and challenging the older way of teaching by word of mouth. In this literate world of education, new ideas and insights led people to critique the way things were done based on a new reading of the Scriptures. Many practices of the Church were criticized for emphasizing the accumulation of riches over the Gospel’s focus on poverty. This move into a more literate world had begun in the time of Saint Francis, but was accelerated exponentially with the invention of movable-type print by Johannes Gutenberg in 1450. Within fifty years of Gutenberg’s invention, vast libraries of printed books were available for readers to ponder over in the comfort of their homes; they no longer needed to study hand-copied scrolls in a secluded monastery library.
Today we are seeing even more accelerated ways of communication, which make world events instantly accessible, and which have opened up vast libraries of information for everyone to see and judge. This is the communications environment in which Pope Francis is carrying out his papal ministry. We will assess his impact on the world as we continue.
Saint Francis and Saint Ignatius had similar experiences in their respective journeys to Jesus. Each came from a privileged family and wanted to achieve knightly glory. Unlike Francis, who could only aspire to such glory, Ignatius was a full-fledged courtier and soldier, insanely brave against impossible odds. Both saw their hopes shattered in battle. Francis was taken prisoner and held in the most foul of prisons. Ignatius was a prisoner in his own shattered body. In each case the discovery of their own helplessness led to a profound conversion to Jesus Christ, on whom they would depend for the rest of their lives. In his own life Pope Francis experienced a life-threatening illness, which led to the removal of a portion of his right lung. In this period of pain he learned what it meant to offer his suffering to Jesus.
Both Francis of Assisi and Ignatius especially discovered the presence of Jesus Christ in the poor and the sick. They were both men of immense personal charisma, who attracted others to follow the path they had begun toward Jesus. In his environment, Saint Francis was a dynamic preacher, moving the people with his words, actions, and enthusiasm. Ignatius was a great director of souls, through his development and practice of The Spiritual Exercises. Following Saint Francis’ example, the early friars went into the towns to proclaim the Word of the Lord, helped prepare for the celebration of the Mass, and brought peace to feuding families and neighborhoods. The early Jesuits all had received master’s degrees in theology and were called to the world of education and were pioneers in the education of the laity.
Pope Francis has made it clear that he is living the legacy of these great saints. His choice of the name Francis is directly related to his vocation to speak for the poor, the sinners, the immigrants, and the sick, bringing to all of them the continuing message of God’s mercy and forgiveness. And he specifically identifies himself as a son of Saint Ignatius, formed by The Spiritual Exercises, with Ignatius’ fundamental questions on his mind: What have I done for Christ? What am I doing for Christ? What must I do for Christ?
All of us are called to serve God in a particular time and place. We face social, political, family, and religious issues that both limit us in our choices and liberate us to discover where God is calling us to use our talents and abilities most effectively. In this book we will explore how Saint Francis and Saint Ignatius made those choices. We will also see how they inspire Pope Francis in his daily life of prayer and ministry to be all he can be for God and others.
What are some of the hot-button issues Catholics are facing today?
What are some of the limitations we experience as Catholics addressing these issues?
What talents and abilities can we offer to God on the path that he is calling us to follow?
How would we answer these questions: What have I done for Christ? What am I doing for Christ? What must I do for Christ?