After the meeting of the Roman Jesuits with Pope Francis on Jan. 3, 2014, we asked Fr. General his impressions. Here is his response.
On the third of January in the Church of the Gesù there was a Mass of thanksgiving for the canonization of Pierre Favre, one of the first companions of Ignatius and a co-founder of the Society of Jesus. Does this mean that the Society intends to continue promoting the canonization of Jesuits in order to increase the already large list of Jesuit saints?
This question seems to be unaware that in practically all Religious Orders there are one or two persons well qualified to make sure that the necessary requirements are fulfilled for the canonization of any individual who can contribute to the life of the Church with the inspiration of his or her own life. These persons, called "Postulators," study and prepare the process not only of other members of the same Religious family, but at times also take on the responsibility of lay persons or even other religious and ecclesiastics whenever their collaboration is requested. Naturally the Postulators work according to the principles or policies of their own Order. We believe that the fundamental good is the good of the whole Church and we take very seriously the fact that an individual enjoys popular devotion when we consider that person a candidate for canonization. If there exists a "popular devotion," we collaborate in the preparation so that it can be serious and well founded. Therefore, it can be said that we in no way seek to add to our list of saints in order to increase our prestige. That would be contrary to the good of the Church and for that reason unworthy of our vocation.
You wrote a brief letter to the Society after the Mass of the Feast of St. Ignatius with your impressions on the participation of Pope Francis who presided. What would you emphasize about his participation on this occasion?
I must confess that I very much liked the observation that Cardinal Vallini made in the sacristy before the celebration of the Mass. He said that this celebration was following paths of "extreme simplification." Pope Francis entered the church on foot as we priests are used to doing - he did not carry with him the crosier, the symbol of authority and of pastoral ministry, etc. The same thing happened on the feast of St. Ignatius in July. My interpretation is that among Jesuits he wanted to manifest that the direction comes from St. Ignatius and that he himself came as a "brother among brothers" to hear the word of God and to let himself be guided by it. In fact the majority of the Jesuits present (some 346) recognized themselves in the words of the homily and felt themselves addressed by Pope Francis in the intimacy of their hearts.
What were the central points in the homily for you Jesuits?
I cannot pretend to speak in the name of all those who heard the homily. For me there are four points the Pope touched on that invite us to pray over and plunge the depths. (1) First of all the necessity to center oneself on Christ, so essential to St. Ignatius and which explains why we carry the name of Jesus. To center oneself on Jesus in order to have his feelings, his heart - in order to empty oneself of self. (2) The Pope has defined the Jesuit as someone "restless," difficult to satisfy - even more, who will never think it is enough, that all has been accomplished, that the thought is closed. The Pope defined Jesuits as persons with an "incomplete thought," "always open," in such a way that only in the consciousness of the incomplete can we find peace. (3) The third point is an extension of the second in terms of being "men of great desires," something that touches profoundly both St. Ignatius and St. Peter Favre. Upon great desires will depend audacity, bravery, and the capacity to take great risks for the good of people and of the Church. We will not always end up on our feet, but without risk there is no life, or as the Pope says, without desires one goes nowhere. (4) The fourth point is already a theme of Pope Francis, but it stands out in the context of this Mass with us. It deals with evangelization with kindness, fraternity, and love.
As can easily be seen, we stand before important challenges in which we must harmonize tension with interior peace, great desires with a manner that is fraternal and kindly in presenting the gospel. The Jesuit according to Pope Francis is a man in tension, conscious of being incomplete before Jesus and God, and as such longing for "something more." This tension, however, is interior and makes him always a "pilgrim for more," a man of desires difficult to satisfy. At the same time it makes him conscious of his interior lacunae, of his imperfection and his sin, of never being able to consider himself better than others, and for that reason he never sees himself as the perfect and demanding lover, but rather as being loved and forgiven "with the other."
Can you tell us something about how all this can be of influence in the celebration of the second Centenary of the restoration of the Society?
I can say with all truth that this is the style of the celebration. We want it to be a year of study and reflection. All the crises of history enclose a hidden wisdom that needs to be fathomed. For us, Jesuits, this is the commemoration of our greatest crisis. It is, therefore, important that we should learn from the events themselves, that we should discover the good and the bad in our behavior in order to revive those great desires the Pope spoke of and continue the work of Evangelization, refining our brotherhood and deepening our love.