Thursday, 14 March 2013
Jesuit Pope and Life on Earth
Its too early to tell how Pope Francis will re-invigorate the Church but two things strike me , one - he is a Jesuit, and two - he chose the name Francis. I have long admired Jesuits, their intellectual rigour, the lack of pomp around their manner and dress, their belief in living and working in amongst the people, their use of the imagination as a powerful tool for prayer. Many seem to be able to walk with their head in the stars but their feet placed firmly on the ground. Some of the most impressive and "real" people I have ever met are Jesuits. I was honoured to be asked to address the Superior General of the Jesuits (Father Adolfo Nicolás) at a meeting of the British Province a year ago and found him to be a gentle, charismatic man who was at once humble but insightful. I wonder if Pope Francis will have the same qualities. He seemed to exude them from the pictures on the balcony.
The Jesuits as a a worldwide order have also made a commitment to place care for the natural world at the heart of Jesuit teaching and action. They have formulated plans and projects to promote careful, sensitive, respectful living in all their communities. See the EcoJesuit website.
St Francis is known for both his compassion for, and action on behalf of, the poor and for his love of nature. The legends that surround him are many, preaching to birds, talking to wolves, contemplating the stars, rescuing fish, calling an insect his sister and so on. He obviously had a deep passion for nature and one of his famous sayings is: "If you have men who will exclude any of God's creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow men." Now that is worth hearing time and again in our world today. When we see the cruelty, the disrespect and the utilitarian way much of the world treats not just animals but the whole of the natural world, then I wonder if we are just a few steps away from terrible atrocities everywhere. We are so good at de-sensitising ourselves to suffering.
He taught that all of the natural world, animate and inanimate, are our brothers and sisters. How forward thinking is that. We still are no where near accepting what Francis knew to be true 600 years ago. We still don't accept we are all in this together, all of us are related and interdependent, for many it is too challenging a thought. But if we accept we are 98% chimp then we are also 60% fruit fly and 50% cabbage. Truly we are not that different. In his book "A Short History of Nearly Everything" Bill Bryson writes: “Every living thing is an elaboration on a single original plan. As humans we are mere increments – each of us a musty archive of adjustments, adaptations, modifications and providential tinkerings stretching back 3.8 billion years. Remarkably we are even quite closely related to fruit and vegetables. About 1/2 the chemical functions that take place in a banana are fundamentally the same as the chemical functions that take place in you. It cannot be said too often: all of life is one. That is, and I suspect will for ever prove to be, the most profound true statement there is.” That is a wonderful statement arrived at through looking at the evidence and the conclusion is earth shattering. St Francis knew it way before DNA was even heard of.
I'm not sure we will see much of doctrinal change but we may see an awakening that some way down the road may lead to more open ground. Pope Francis seems to be someone who puts social justice (and that includes justice for all life) at the top of the agenda. The fact he uses public transport, not limos, lives in a flat not a palace etc are just wonderful ways to lead by example. Nothing will happen quickly in terms of changing the controversial teachings, but journeys are not always about speed. As long as we can rid the Church of the image of negativity, rejection, disapproval and arrogance and welcome everyone no matter who or what they are, then it will be a Church I will be proud of.
Pope Francis has the chance to change the mood for many people but he has to carry on doing what Francis said - "It is no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching."