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Best of 2013: A Jesuit learns to live with a Jesuit Pope


Pope Francis

'What's it like to get a Jesuit pope?' A hard question to wake up to, but I have got used to it during the day.

I must say that I hadn't thought of the new Pope in Jesuit terms. I was glad we had a new Pope, felt the sense of hope and possibility that seems to accompany any such changes, and felt sympathy and benevolence for Cardinal Bergoglio in the demanding responsibilities he had assumed.

But of course then I began to recognise in myself the quirky responses that had quickly to be censored. The partisan reaction, for example. A Jesuit pope, great. Just like a Demons player winning the Brownlow. Eat your hearts out, Magpies ... Franciscans and Dominicans! Look who won the big one.

Censored, too, was the self-congratulatory thought that the new Pope is one of us and will understand our Jesuit ways. And that the Church, of course, will benefit immeasurably from his Jesuit training.

That satisfying reflection was immediately followed by a touch of anxiety that I was also reluctant to share. 'Perhaps he will understand our Jesuit ways all too well,' I thought. 'He will recognise some of the slovenly habits we Jesuits have picked up and send us to reform school.'

By this time people had begun congratulating me on the first Jesuit pope, and sharing our satisfaction that now we had our man in the Vatican. I was mildly irritated. 'Don't they know that when Jesuits become bishops, still less the Bishop of Rome, they do not live under the Jesuit rule? The Pope owes the Jesuits nothing, but the Jesuits owe the Pope respect and obedience in accepting jobs he gives us. He is not our man in Rome.

'And don't they know that Ignatius, the Jesuits' founder, was strongly opposed to Jesuits accepting ecclesiastical dignities, especially becoming bishops and cardinals? He saw it as incompatible with the kind of service to which Jesuits were called. Of course, the good of the universal church sometimes trumps the good of the Jesuit order, so there have been many Jesuit bishops and cardinals. But this is more a cause for grief than for congratulation.'

So I thought to myself with increasing passion. But there was no reason why people should know any of these things, so I accepted the congratulations cheerfully. Congratulations are a way of sharing the hope and cheer that comes with a new pope and of finding connections, even through raggle taggle Jesuits.

Then I stopped to think more deeply. And began to recognise in Jorge Bergoglio things that are characteristically Jesuit. I felt some pride that we as a religious congregation had been able to nurture these gifts.

Above all there was his simplicity of life. For a cardinal to live in the burbs, cook for himself and to catch a bus to work is more than an affectation. It is a statement of intent, a definition of ministry, especially when it is combined with his consistent defence of the rights of the poor and his criticism of clericalism.

He was making a statement of what matters, and what matters to him is clearly the proclamation of the Gospel in its simplicity and strength, and particularly its proclamation to the poor. He lives what we Jesuits aspire to.

Inherent in this way of living and in his calling himself Francis is a habit of discernment, another Jesuit ideal. He is clearly in the habit of reflecting on his actions, on the world in which he is called to act, and on the Gospel, and of being ready to act decisively and surprisingly. He is a man after St Ignatius' heart.

This suggests he will be his own man in the Vatican, not bound by conventions of titles, of ceremonial or of administrative practice. The habit of asking what matters is a necessary starting point for developing forms of governance appropriate to the contemporary church and to meet the challenges posed by sexual abuse.

Finally I got back to thinking of myself, not as a Jesuit but simply as a human being, and felt sympathy for another man from whom so much will be expected and demanded, more than any man can deliver. And so I said a prayer for him that he will find consolation as well as attrition in his service as Pope. 

Andrew Hamilton headshotAndrew Hamilton is consulting editor of Eureka Street and a policy officer for Jesuit Social Services. Image of Pope Francis courtesy Claudio Celli. Article originally published on 13 March 2013.

Topic tags: Andrew Hamilton, Pope Francis, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, Benedict, curia, clergy sex abuse



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Existing comments

Thank you for these thoughts, I had not known a good deal of this article's information.

Caroline storm | 06 January 2014  

Could that really be Cardinal Rupert Murdoch just behind the Pope in the photo?!

Eugene | 06 January 2014  

Nice reflection Andrew. Our new Pontiff is a Jesuit and this informs his theological stance but his integrity determines his attitude. For him Poverty is a virtue, perhaps this is why he chose the name Francis. I like this pope because he dares to make a difference in an institution that has seriously lost its way in this world. Poverty has many faces: as a moral force it can cause suffering; as a social affliction it can become a scourge but as a spiritual virtue it can be the source of great love and courage. Francis of Assisi saw all things in relation to Christ: imagine the College of Cardinals letting go of their pomp and ceremony, casting aside their opulent robes, shoes, hats and gold rings and chains of office; imagine them all embracing the poor and homeless. Surely Vatican Airlines could fly provisions and spiritual support to the refugee camps in other countries? This pope is Jesuit trained but also Franciscan in attitude which means his intelligence is incarnate intelligence; for him integrity is not just rational thought but whole-hearted in his nature. We all are answerable to God not for how much we love God but how much we allow God’s love to flow as gift for those who are crippled by poverty and mis-fortune. That goes for each cardinal and bishop too.

Trish Martin | 07 January 2014  

Andrew for Jesuits to now lay claim to this Jesuit pope, although he abandoned his Jesuit legacy by taking on Francis of Assisi, he went on a long walk to freedom, a walk to make amends to those whom he had offended, asking for forgiveness, which as Jesuits they did, even if out of Obedience.

L Newington | 07 January 2014  

I was generally happy with our new Pope until he displayed ignorance of the true nature of Islam as both a religion and a totalitarian political ideology which will use violence to achieve its aims. Pope Benedict had a better understanding of Islam and spoke out about Christians being persecuted in Islamic countries. Will Pope Francis do anything to help Asia Bibi a Pakistani Catholic who is facing a death sentence on a false charge of blasphemy under Islamic sharia law?

cat | 08 January 2014  

Long before Francis, Popes "have been their own men":! #John XXIII, who will be declared a saint this year, was also famous for visiting the nearby Regina Coeli prison, and he wasn’t the first pontiff to do so: #Innocent X, in 1650, and Clement XI, in 1704, paid surprise visits to Roman prisons, and many popes — including Francis — have made similar trips, though usually in the public eye. #POPE PIUS XII was best known for his reticent, aristocratic bearing — and in recent decades for debates over whether he did enough to save European Jews during World War II. But one of Pius’ longtime champions, an American Jew named Gary Krupp, in 2011 uncovered documents that he says indicate Pius dressed in the brown robes of a Franciscan monk during the war and helped spirit Roman Jews to safety behind the Vatican walls. #POPE JOHN PAUL II an avid skier and hiker in his native Poland, could not resist the siren call of the mountains outside Rome, and on at least 100 occasions slipped away for some incognito schussing or mountaineering.

Father John George | 11 January 2014  

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