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Francis’ Government: What is the driving force of his pontificate?

Antonio Spadaro, SJ - La Civiltà Cattolica - Tue, Jan 4th 2022


After seven years of this pontificate, what is its driving force? Some commentators and analysts have wondered if Francis’ drive still exists; others have tried to reflect on its substance. The question could be re-phrased as follows: What kind of government does Francis exercise, and how do we interpret it in the light of these seven years? I intend to address this question here, examining the meaning of his way of governing, which comes from his personality, his own life and formation.[1]

Let us take a step back to the time of the Council of Trent. Some Jesuits were present at its very beginning as theological experts: Frs. Diego Laìnez and Alfonso Salmerón were designated to attend by Ignatius at the request of Pope Paul III. Claude Le Jay, the procurator of the Bishop of Augsburg, joined them. The founder of the Society of Jesus, St. Ignatius of Loyola, instructed his confreres on how to behave.[2]

The interesting thing is that he did not go into doctrinal and theological questions at all. He was more concerned with the testimony of life that the Jesuits were to give. This already gives an initial indication of how Ignatius understood the reform of the Church, and in a context as singular and important as that of  a General Council. For him it was primarily a matter of reforming people from within.

This is the guarantee of a conversion of structure for Ignatius. The Spiritual Exercises are for the reform of people and the Church. It is this reform that makes Francis’ agenda understandable. Ignatius, for example, recommends, according to his way of life, visiting the sick in hospitals, “confessing and consoling the poor, bringing something as well, and leading them to prayer.”[3] And so Francis, faithful to this teaching, inaugurated the journeys of his pontificate with one to Lampedusa and he has greatly valued the “Fridays of Mercy.”

Francis is a Jesuit. His idea of reforming the Church corresponds to the Ignatian vision. Clearly the styles of government – at various levels – of the Jesuits have also been very different in the history of the Society and the Church. Francis embodies a distinctive situation, becoming for the first time in history a Jesuit who has been elected as Pope.

For this reason, apart from any other reflection on this situation, one thing is clear and derives from the spiritual charisma that shaped Jorge Mario Bergoglio. Those who want to theorize, in Francis’ pontificate, an opposition between spiritual, pastoral and structural conversion show that they do not understand its core. Reform is a truly spiritual process, which changes – now slowly and now quickly – even the forms, what we call “structures.” But it changes them by “connaturality”, as litmus paper changes color naturally, because the level of acidity or alkalinity changes in the liquid in which it is immersed. So aiming at conversion is not an ineffective spiritually pious project, but an act of radical government.

If the models of spiritual governance in the Society of Jesus are more than one, Bergoglio’s great inspiring model is that of the Jesuit St. Peter Faber (1506-46), whom Michel de Certeau simply describes as the “reformed priest.” For him inner experience, dogmatic expression and structural reform are intimately linked. Just like prayer for St. Ignatius, it involves the heart and mind, but also the body, which is called to take a suitable role. The one that emphasizes “asceticism, silence and penance,” said the pope in the interview he gave me for La Civiltà Cattolica in August 2013, “is a deformed current that even spread in the Society, especially in the Spanish context. Instead, I am close to the mystical current, that of Louis Lallemant and Jean-Joseph Surin. And Faber was a mystic.”[4] It is to this kind of reform that Pope Francis aspires.[5]

The reformer as ‘emptied’

If we read what the pontiff said about the Jesuits, we will understand better the heart of his reform and his radical attitude. In his homily in the Church of the Gesù, January 3, 2014, he said: “The heart of Christ is the heart of a God who, out of love, ‘emptied’ himself. Each one of us, as Jesuits, who follow Jesus should be ready to empty himself. We are called to this humility: to be ‘emptied’ beings, to be men who are not centered on themselves because the center of the Society is Christ and his Church.” For Francis the reform is rooted in this emptiness of self, which he recognizes in one of the New Testament passages he loves most and quotes often: Philippians 2:6-11. There is the true reform. If it were not so, if it were only an idea, an ideal project, the fruit of one’s own desires, even good ones, it would become yet another ideology of change.

The reform would be an ideology with a vaguely zealous character. And yes, like all ideologies it would have to be feared by those who do not support it. It would be at the mercy of the disillusionment of those who have their own agenda in mind. The reform that Francis has in mind works if “emptied” of such worldly reasoning. It is the opposite of the ideology of change. The driving force of the pontificate is not the ability to do things or to institutionalize change always and in every case, but to discern times and moments of an emptying so that the mission lets Christ be seen more clearly. It is discernment itself that is the systematic structure of reform, which takes the shape of an institutional order.

“The Church is an institution,” stated Francis in an interview with Austen Ivereigh,[6] to prevent people from imagining – or even dreaming about – an abstract Church of beautiful, Gnostic souls. But what makes the Church an institution is the Holy Spirit[7], who “causes disorder with charisms, but in that disorder creates harmony.” The Church is “a pilgrim and evangelizing people, always transcending every institutional expression, however necessary” (Evangelii Gaudium [EG], No. 111). Spirit and institution for Francis never deny each other. The Church is institutionalized by the Holy Spirit, and this avoids “ecclesial introversion” (EG 27), thanks to a “tension between disorder and harmony caused by the Holy Spirit.” This means that there is a fluid process of institutionalization and deinstitutionalization: what is needed remains, not what is no longer needed. The future of the Church is neither static nor rigid.

Therefore it takes patience, as we read in the Gospel, to let wheat and weeds grow together, lest – as the master of the field says, – “in gathering the weeds you uproot the wheat along with them. Instead, let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, ‘Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn’” (Matt 13:29-30).

Non-ideological discernment

The spirituality of Ignatius of Loyola is a historical spirituality, linked to the dynamics of history. Indeed, it is leaven for history and organizes and structures an institution. Ignatius’ spiritual ministry is institutionalized in the service of the Church, shaping the Society of Jesus and its capacity for dialogue with culture and history.

In fact, this is the background against which a more complex portrait may be painted, which is of paramount importance for understanding Bergoglio’s way of proceeding in his pontificate. He notes that in Ignatius’ life we find the internal coherence of his project. But what is Ignatius’ “project,” as Bergoglio reads it? A theoretical vision ready to be applied to reality to force it within its limits? An abstraction to be put into practice? In reality, neither of this.

Francis’ Ignatian project “is not a planning of functions, it is not an assortment of possibilities. His project consists in making explicit and concrete what he had lived through his inner experience.”[8] Thus the question “What is the program of Pope Francis?” actually makes no sense. The pope has neither pre-packaged ideas to apply to reality, nor an ideological plan of ready-to-wear reforms, but he advances on the basis of a spiritual experience and prayer that he shares step by step in dialogue, in consultation, in a concrete response to the vulnerable human situation. Francis creates the structural conditions for a real and open dialogue, not pre-packaged and strategically studied. He had no qualms in saying in his homily at Pentecost 2020 on the experience of the Upper Room: “The Apostles go: unprepared, they get involved, they go out.”

Clearly this vision implies that the pastor lives fully among God’s people, belongs to his people. As a concrete example, let us think about what happened in Chile. In his Letter of April 8, 2018, addressed to the bishops of Chile following the report delivered by Archbishop Charles Scicluna on the abuses committed by the clergy, Francis wrote: “With regard to myself, I recognize, and I would like you to convey this faithfully, that I have made serious errors in the assessment and perception of the situation, in particular through the lack of reliable and balanced information. I now beg the forgiveness of all those whom I have offended and I hope to be able to do so personally, in the coming weeks, in the meetings that I will have with representatives of the people interviewed.”

From these words it is well understood that only by “immersing himself” in the people and their sufferings did the pope realize the facts. But this, as we can see, is a form of government, it touches in a structural way the government of the Church; it is not only a question of style. Pre-packaged ideas are of no use and information may not be balanced and truthful: only encounter and immersion allow wise government.

This is a reform of institutional style that perhaps still needs to be understood and studied, especially if put in relation to the times we live in, the present ecclesial situation and the future of Christianity. One of its most effective images is perhaps that of a pontiff who, in the midst of a pandemic, alone, in an empty St. Peter’s Square, launched a message Urbi et Orbi and  eucharistically blessed the world.

This way of proceeding is called “discernment.”  It is the discernment of God’s will in life and history. Although it is done in the realm of the heart, of interiority, its raw material is always the echo of reality that reverberates in inner space. It is an interior attitude that urges us to be open to dialogue, to encounter, to find God wherever He is found, and not only in predetermined, well-defined and fenced-in perimeters.

And above all, there is no discernment regarding ideas, even ideas of reform, but on the real, on stories, on the concrete history of the Church, because reality is always superior to the idea.[9] For this reason the starting point is always historical and consists primarily in recognizing that “God works and labors for me in all things created on the face of the earth.”[10] Actions and decisions, therefore, must be accompanied by a careful, meditative, prayerful reading of experience. And the life of the spirit has its own criteria. For example, when a proposal for reform is made, for Francis it is not only the proposal itself that is important, but also the spirit – good or bad – that carries it forward. This emerges not only from what is proposed, but also from the way, the language in which that proposal is expressed. The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, after all – as the semiotician Roland Barthes[11] had well understood – generate a language that gives priority to discernment note from the pope shared with La Civiltà Cattolica

For example, the General Congregation of a Synod is for the pope a time of “spiritual exercise” in which consolations and desolations are experienced, where the good spirit and the bad spirit speak and where temptations under the guise of the good are also common. A personal note that the Holy Father shared with La Civiltà Cattolica refers precisely to this situation. In it we read reflections that help us to understand. Francis writes that sometimes the “bad spirit” ends up “conditioning discernment, favoring ideological positions (on one side and the other), favoring exhausting conflicts between sectors and, what is worse, weakening the freedom of spirit that is so important for a synodal journey.”

In this case there is “an atmosphere that ends up distorting, reducing and dividing the synod hall into dialectical and antagonistic positions that in no way help the mission of the Church. Because everyone entrenched in ‘his truth’ ends up becoming a prisoner of himself and his positions, projecting his own confusions and dissatisfactions onto many situations. Thus, walking together becomes impossible.”

Referring to the Synod for the Amazon, regarding the priestly ordination of viri probati, Francis wrote: “There was a discussion… a rich discussion… a well-founded discussion, but no discernment, which is something different from arriving at a good and justified consensus or relative majority.” He continued: “We must understand that the Synod is more than a   parliament; and in this specific case it could not escape this dynamic. On this subject it has been a rich, productive and even necessary parliament; but no more than that. For me this was decisive in the final discernment, when I thought about how to shape the exhortation.”

It is not a question here of resolving the question between who is right and who is wrong, let alone whether or not the pope agrees with the theme of the priestly ordination of viri probati. Here the question arises of how a decision is made, the forma mentis and the need for discernment that is truly free.

So, “one of the riches and originality of synodal pedagogy lies precisely in leaving aside parliamentary logic to learn to listen, in community, to what the Spirit says to the Church; for this reason I always propose to remain silent after a certain number of interventions. To walk together means to dedicate time to honest listening, capable of making us reveal and unmask (or at least to be sincere) the apparent purity of our positions and to help us discern the wheat that – until the Parousia – always grows in the midst of weeds. Those who have not understood this evangelical vision of reality expose themselves to unnecessary bitterness. Sincere and prayerful listening shows us the ‘hidden agendas’ called to conversion. What sense would the synodal assembly have if it were not to listen together to what the Spirit is saying to the Church?”

The note concludes as follows: “I like to think that, in a certain sense, the Synod is not finished. This time of welcoming the whole process that we have lived through challenges us to continue to walk together and to put this experience into practice.”

The Synod, therefore, is a place of discernment in which proposals emerge. The pontifical magisterium that emerges with the apostolic exhortations is one of listening to proposals, but also of discernment of the spirit that expresses them, beyond any media pressure or referendum majority. It also evaluates whether the discernment was really such or rather a dispute. And then it assesses whether or not it is able to make a decision. If the conditions are not met, the pope simply does not proceed, without however denying the validity of the proposals. Instead, he asks that the discernment continue and leaves the discussion open.[12]

An open and historical process

For Francis, the interior disposition in making decisions is clearly expressed in the Spiritual Exercises: “Do not want anything that is not moved solely by the service of God Our Lord” (No. 155), so that one thing or another is done according to a single criterion: “if it corresponds to the service and praise of His divine goodness” (No. 157), which is understood mystically, not functionally.

The pope’s decisions in governing “are linked to a spiritual discernment,” which “redeems the necessary ambiguity of life and makes one find the most appropriate means, which do not always identify with what seems great or strong.”[13] He therefore listens to consolations and desolations, tries to understand where they lead him and makes his decisions in accordance with this spiritual process.

All this Francis learned from St. Peter Faber, who in his Memoriale distinguishes “all the good that I can do” and “the mediation of the good and holy Spirit” with which it can be done or not. Therefore, even in the process of reforming the Church there is a good that could be accomplished without the mediation of the Spirit. Or there are “true things” that can be said not with the “spirit of truth” (Memoriale, No. 51). Faber’s spiritual wisdom was clearly present in the teaching of Fr. Miguel Ángel Fiorito, who was the spiritual father of the pope.[14]

As has already been said, St. Peter Faber is for Francis the “reformed priest.” The task of the reformer is to begin or accompany the historical processes. This is one of the fundamental principles of the Bergolian vision: time is superior to space. To reform means to start to open processes and not “cut off heads” or “conquer spaces” of power. It is precisely with this spirit of discernment that Ignatius and his first companions faced the challenge of the Protestant Reformation.

The pope is well aware of the context, the starting situation; he is informed, he listens to opinions; he firmly adheres to the present. However, the road he intends to take is really open for him, there is no theoretical road map; the path is opened by walking. Therefore, his “project” is, in reality, a lived spiritual experience, which takes shape in stages and is translated into concrete terms, into action. It is not a plan that refers to ideas and concepts that he aspires to realize, but an experience that refers to “times, places and people,” to use a typical Ignatian expression; therefore, not to ideological abstractions, to a theoretical look at things. So that inner vision does not impose itself on history, trying to organize it according to its own framework, but it dialogues with reality, it is part of the history – sometimes marshy or muddy – of people and the Church, it takes place in time.

Francis is the pope of “exercises,” like the superior who – in his vision – must be “the guide of processes and not a mere administrator.”[15] This is, in his view, the form of true “spiritual government.”[16] Bergoglio’s pontificate and his desire for reform are not and will not be only of an administrative order, but are an initiation and accompaniment of processes, some rapid and bewildering, others extremely slow. And they never fall into that form of pragmatism that identifies reform in itself with the document that launches it.

In written reflections when he was a Jesuit priest and during his tenure as provincial of the Argentine Jesuits, Bergoglio explained this dynamic of the process with spiritual and practical intelligence. He used a very effective image of evangelical origin: “We are encouraged to build the city, but perhaps it will be necessary to tear down the model we had drawn in our heads. We must take courage and let God’s chisel depict our face, even if the blows erase some tics that we thought were gestures.”[17]

The pars destruens, which consists in knocking down the model, is functional by leaving the chisel in God’s hands. Here is another interesting quotation which helps us to understand Francis’ action: “In processes, waiting means believing that God is greater than ourselves, that it is the Spirit who governs us.”[18] The pope lives a constant dynamic of discernment, which opens him to the future, even to that of the reform of the Church, which is not a project, but an exercise of the spirit that sees not only black and white, as perceived by those who always want to engage in conflict. Bergoglio sees nuances and a gradual approach,  He tries to recognize the presence of the Spirit and the seed of his presence already planted in ecclesial paths.

A process careful to find the maximum in the minimum

The principle that synthesizes this evolutionary vision is the motto: Non coerceri a maximo, contineri tamen a minimo, divinum est, which could be translated as: “Do not be constrained by what is greater, be contained in what is smaller, this is divine.”[19]

This thought has accompanied Bergoglio at least from the years in which he was provincial, as documented in an essay of his, Conducir en lo grande y en lo pequeño. It is perhaps his most important.[20] In this essay he stated that there is nothing that is great or small in itself: “St. Ignatius does not consider what is small or great, weak or strong in the context of a functionalist vision of the world, but rather in the spiritual conception of life.”[21]

What does the pope mean? That the great project of reform can be realized in the smallest gesture, in the small step, even in the encounter with a person, for example, or in attention to a particular situation of need. This is also the reason why Francis addresses himself not only and generically to authorities, rulers or special categories of people, but often directly to those who are victims of negative situations or exploitation. He looks to the small, to the concrete situation, which, however, has within itself the seed of evangelical reform.

But this also means that the “forms” of his magisterium become flexible. A note in a document can be worth more than a paragraph; a homily at Santa Marta can be more evangelically dense than an official discourse; an occasional message can be as incisive as an apostolic exhortation.[22] The theological density of Francis’ Magisterium does not functionally respect the conventional forms, but adapts to the times and moments.

A process that addresses limits, conflicts and problems

Bergoglio never speaks of a heroic and sublime desire. He is not a “maximalist.” He does not believe in rigid idealism, neither in “ethicism” nor in “spiritualist abstractionism.”[23] Limits, conflicts and problems are an integral part of the spiritual path. Within growth it is necessary, indeed, “not to mistreat the limits.”[24] By this expression Bergoglio intends to warn again against the aggression of idealism, “which always lies open to the temptation to project the ideal scheme onto reality, without taking into account the limits of that reality (whatever it may be). This danger can also appear at the ascetic level: mistreating the limits, thus leading to excess (claiming in an absolutist way) or to defect (giving in, not fixing positions that should be set).”[25]

One should not fear conflicts, which sometimes shake and scare. Francis used a beautiful image when speaking to the superiors of the male religious orders in November 2013: “caress the conflicts.” But for Bergoglio the very characteristic of the Society of Jesus is “to make it possible to harmonize contradictions.”[26] This is certainly not favored by rigidity, of which the pope often asks us to be careful. Contradictions are part of a fertile history, as are the problems. This is true to such an extent that it is not always appropriate to resolve them, Bergoglio has written. It is not necessarily the case that a problem is always to be solved immediately. There is a discernment that implies history and verifies the times and moments.[27] Sometimes a problem is solved without wanting to face it immediately. It is therefore necessary to understand the processes in progress, even giving up the things of the moment. These are important words in helping us to understand Francis’ attitude toward the timing of the reform process.

A process that faces temptations

Temptation often lurks in institutions, especially in the high, holy sublime ones. “The evil spirit,” writes Bergoglio, “is cunning enough to know that his battle becomes really difficult and has little chance of victory when he has to face men and communities where the dominant trait is the wisdom of the Spirit.”

In this case it acts trying to tempt under the appearance of good. The finesse of the Enemy’s argument becomes extreme, because those who are tempted believe they must act for the good of the Church. The greatest subtlety consists in “making us believe that the Church is distorting itself and trying to convince us that, therefore, we must save it, perhaps even despite itself. It is a constant temptation that is present under an infinity of different masks that ultimately all have something in common: the lack of faith in the power of God who always dwells in His Church.”[28]

From here come also “the fruitless clashes with the hierarchy, the devastating conflicts between ‘wings’ (for example, progressive or reactionary) within the Church … in short, all those things in which we ‘absolutize’ what is secondary.”[29] Francis, after all, is not tied to political wings. Instead, he appreciates honesty, which can be proper to progressives as well as conservatives. His judgment is also independent of open-mindedness or mental closure: he is attracted by the honesty of judgment.

Instead, the ideologue     (of right or left) often yields to the temptation under the appearance of good, which has the effect of detaching the Church from reality, from history.       This      is one of its most disastrous and pervasive results. We experience this, for example, when figures emerge who seem to want to take the place of the pope in the defense of doctrine or true reform, or when they sow uncertainty and confusion, even letting us imagine dangers to orthodoxy or to change.[30] This is particularly so when, in assuming such attitudes, hypocrisy leads one to openly profess “filial devotion” to the Holy Father and a spirit of respectful “fraternal correction.”

* * *

Today the temptation into which some commentators and analysts risk falling is to imagine a pope who builds a roadmap of institutional reforms, elaborated with a planning, functionalistic and organizational spirit. As against the temptation to project the contents of this map on the progress of the pontificate, and finally to judge it in the light of these criteria, Francis has in his discernment the key to the development and drive – currently very strong – of his Petrine ministry.

There is no abstract plan of reform to apply to reality. Therefore, “the Apostles do not prepare a strategy; when they were closed in there, in the Upper Room, they did not make the strategy, no, they did not prepare a pastoral plan.”[31] It is not at this level that one finds the yardstick for the dynamism of the pontificate. Instead, there is a spiritual dialectic that observes and listens not only to the thoughts and proposals for the Church’s journey, but also to what spirit (good or bad) they come from, beyond their very validity in and for themselves.

We understand, therefore, that the risk of bending the will to reform to “spiritual worldliness” must be avoided. We give in to this worldliness every time we do good, and yet we do it to achieve our goals, our “ideas” of the Church as it should be, not inspired by the discernment of faith in Jesus.

Worldly logic remains the last and deepest temptation – even of a structural nature – against which there is a need to struggle ceaselessly in the Church. In his homily at the Pentecost Mass in 2020 Francis declared it openly: “The worldly gaze sees structures to be made more efficient; the spiritual gaze sees brothers and sisters begging for mercy.”[32] It is precisely this gaze that knows how to see in the Church a “field hospital,” an effective image of its true structure. “I see clearly,” the pope told La Civiltà Cattolica in his first interview in 2013, “that the thing the Church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and warm the hearts of the faithful, the closeness, the nearness. I see the Church as a field hospital after a battle. It is useless to ask a seriously wounded person if he has high cholesterol and high sugar levels! His wounds must be treated. Then we can talk about everything else. Heal the wounds, heal the wounds…”[33]

DOI: La Civiltà Cattolica, En. Ed. Vol. 4, no. 09 art. 9, 0920: 10.32009/22072446.0920.9

[1].    See, for example, A. Ivereigh, The Great Reformer: Francis and the Making of a Radical Pope, New York, Henry Holt, 2014.

[2].    Gli scritti di Ignazio di Loyola, Rome, AdP, 2007, 1017-1019.

[3].    Ibid., 1019.

[4].    A. Spadaro, “Internist a Papa Francesco”, in Civ. Catt. 2013 III 457.

[5].    The edition that Michel de Certeau edited is: P. Favre, Memorial, Paris, Cerf, 1960. Our journal has published several articles dedicated to him: S. Madrigal, “Pietro Favre, il Pellegrino”, in Civ. Catt. 2013 IV 371-383; B. O’Leary, “Il vocabolario spirituale di Pietro Favre. ‘Desiderium’, ‘affectus’, ‘devotio’, ‘cor’”, ibid. 459-472; R. García Mateo, “Pietro Favre, il luteranesimo e l’unità dei cristiani”, ibid. 543-556. They have been collected, along with other contributions, in the volume: A. Spadaro (ed.), Pietro Favre.      della consolazione, Milan, Àncora, 2013.

[6].    See A. Spadaro, “The Confined Pope. Interview with Pope Francis”, in

[7].    See M. Á. Fiorito, Escritos III, 1972-1975, Rome, La Civiltà Cattolica, 2019, 338-341.

[8].    Pope Francis, Cambiamo!, Milan, Solferino, 2020, 252.

[9] .   See EG 231-233.

[10].   Ignatius of Loyola, Spiritual Exercises, No. 236.

[11].   See R. Barthes, Sade, Fourier, Loyola. La scrittura come eccesso, Turin, Einaudi, 1977.

[12].   See A. Spadaro, “‘Querida Amazonia’. Commentary on the Apostolic Exhortation of Pope Francis”, in Civ. Catt. En., February, 2020

[13].   Id., “Intervista a Papa Francesco”, op. cit., 454.

[14].   For Fr. Fiorito, nature and grace propose their reasons. Finally, the will, after having fought for a certain time, relies on nature or grace following a force that moves it. It is precisely this final and decisive motion or force that linguistically presents itself through formulas, phrases that push for action: a “motivating phrase,” as Fiorito calls it, which reveals its origin. Cf. M. Á. Fiorito, Buscar y hallar la voluntad de Dios. Comentario prático de los Ejercicios Espirituales de San Ignacio de Loyola, Bilbao, Paulinas – Mensajero, 2013, 248-252. See also the source of these arguments: C. Judde, Œuvres spirituelles, Lyon, Perisses, 1883, II, 313-319.

[15].   J. M. Bergoglio, Nel cuore di ogni padre. Alle radici della mia spiritualità, Milan, Rizzoli, 2014, 88.

[16].   Ibid., 90.

[17].   Ibid., 274.

[18].   Ibid., 96.

[19]. The sentence is part of a long literary epitaph, composed by an anonymous Jesuit in honor of Ignatius of Loyola. Hölderlin liked it so much that he used it as a motto for his Hyperion. Francis, however, closely links it to what St. Thomas Aquinas writes in Summa Theologiae III, q. 1, art. 1, ad 4um: “Let us respond with the same words as St. Augustine to Volussian [Epist. 137, 2]: ‘Christian doctrine does not teach that God, by descending into human flesh, has abandoned or lost the government of the universe, or has it as if it were restricted in that tiny body: this is the imagination of men capable of thinking only of material realities. Now, God is great not for the bulk, but for the power: therefore his greatness, gathering in small things, does not feel uneasiness (Deus autem non mole, sed virtute magnus est, unde magnitudo virtutis eius nullas in angusto sentit angustias). Just as our fleeting speech is heard at the same time by many and arrives at each one in its entirety, so it is not incredible that the eternal divine Word is simultaneously all in one place.’ And so no inconvenience derives from the incarnation of God.”

[20].   Cf. J. M. Bergoglio, Nel cuore di ogni padre…, op. cit., 91-102.

[21].   Ibid., 94.

[22].   See, for example, the recent Message of Francis to the Pontifical Mission Societies: cf. A. Spadaro, “‘Rompete tutti gli specchi di casa!’. Francesco scrive alle Pontificie Opere Missionarie”, in Civ. Catt. 2020 II 471-479.

[23].   J. M. Bergoglio, Nel cuore di ogni padre… , op. cit., 37.

[24].   Ibid., 97.

[25].   Ibid., 95.

[26].   Ibid., 83. The pope makes a quick list of contradictions, which it is useful to read: “We Jesuits would have been contemplatives and men of action; men of discernment and men of obedience; men of consolidated works and of missions that almost seem like raids; men who dedicate themselves to what they do with total affection and, on the other hand, with a great willingness (men who were equally Jesuits when they educated people  and when their home was reduced to a cart: that is how our missionaries were)” (ibid. 84).

[27].   Ibid.

[28].   Ibid., 22.

[29].   Ibid., 36.

[30].   See ibid., 107. Subtle temptations sub specie boni “generate obfuscation, because truly blinded is the almost superstitious adherence of many sectors of the Church to certain scientific instruments of analysis of reality; because the claim to possess the spirit in many charismatic movements is blind, as too is the need to place oneself in the narrowness of critical doubt, and blind is the opium of memories, so characteristic of the traditionalists, which distracts us from the creativity of faithful memory; blind also the individualism of those who trace out a program of ideal ethics without having the courage to embrace the reality that proceeds with its possibilities” (our italics).

[31].   Francis, Homily on the Solemnity of Pentecost, May 31, 2020.

[32].   Francis then affirmed that the Apostles “could have divided the people into groups according to the various peoples, speaking first to the neighbors and then to the distant ones, all in order…. They could also have waited a little while to announce and in the meantime to deepen the teachings of Jesus, in order to avoid risks…. No, the Spirit does not want the memory of the Master to be cultivated in closed groups, in cenacles where one takes pleasure in ‘nesting.’ And this is a bad disease that can come to the Church,  the Church, not community, not family, not mother, but nest. He opens, he raises, he pushes beyond the already said and done; he pushes beyond the fences of a shy and watchful faith. In the world, without a compact structure and a calculated strategy, we go to pieces. In the Church, instead, the Spirit guarantees unity to those who proclaim. And the Apostles go: unprepared, they put themselves on the line, they go out. A single desire animates them: to give what they have received. Then there is that beautiful beginning  of the First Letter of John: ‘What we have received and have seen, we give to you’ (cf. 1.3)”.

[33].   A. Spadaro, “Intervista a Papa Francesco”, op. cit., 461 f.

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