America Magazine published the highlights of an interview with Pope Francis from August 2013. The answers reveal a lot about our current Pope and his approach to our world. Though I plan to go back and read a few more times, my first reading helped me identify seven important insights from his statements.
We have a “journey faith”
Francis describes the life of faith in terms of action: a Christian must be fruitful, must seek God, must walk together. He refers to faith not as “a ‘lab faith’ but a ‘journey faith’, a historical faith. God has revealed himself as history, not as a compendium of abstract truths.” Because of this “we must enter into the adventure of the quest for meeting God; we must let God search and encounter us.”
This is dangerous. It puts us in uncomfortable places. But we can’t sit still, convinced of our own sanctity and trying not to move so that we won’t lose it.
As it turns out, Papa Francesco and I like a lot of the same writers, artists, and composers! Dostoevsky, Caravaggio, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Mozart, Bach…this is definitely a sign that we will be best friends. Francis is able to make reference to works of art with familiarity and ease, something I also noticed in Lumen Fidei, his first encyclical.
The interviewer mentions an earlier interview in which then-Jorge Bergoglio remarked that art makes the tough aspects of life into something beautiful. The favorite pieces that he offers in this interview are all examples of this maxim. (He claims he “loves tragic artists”.) This is indicates that he is my favorite type of realist: one who sees the messy truth of life and insists it can be beautiful anyway.
God is always mercy-ing
Charmingly, Francis explains that he plays “Create-Your-Own-Gerund” with the word misericordia when translating the Latin in his motto Miserando atque Eligendo (“by having mercy and choosing him” – a reference to the calling of Matthew). To make up for the gap in the Italian and Spanish languages, he has invented misericordiando, which we would read as “mercy-ing”.
I like the idea of mercying (not only because it reminds me of Hopkins’ statement that “the just man justices“). God is actively “mercy-ing”, all the time.
Sin happens, and we go on
Why does God need to be mercy-ing? Because sin is real. Hat tip to Br Matt for isolating this acknowledgment in the papal interview. When asked who he was Pope Francis replied “I am a sinner”.
Again, I think this demonstrates healthy realism. Of course he is a sinner, we are all sinners. We all fall short of who we are supposed to be, we all damage relationships and have to repair them. But instead of falling prey to the temptation to write life off because of this reality, the Pope (like most healthy people) acknowledges his brokenness and gets back to the work of being a disciple.
I suspect he is able to do this because of his conviction that he is “looked upon by God”, to use his words. That’s a lot to live up to, but is a transformative blessing. So we fail, but we keep doing our best, and know that God’s always mercy-ing us.
People can grow
My favorite section of the interview was Francis’ reflection on his time as Provincial, why he was seen as a hardliner and didn’t please many of his brother Jesuits. He claims that having been appointed at the young age of 36 was “crazy”, and that his leadership style was poor.
He goes on to explain that this style has developed, and that he now knows more about how to be a leader and avoid authoritarianism. To me, this sounds a lot like growing up, and gives me hope that even if my youthful mistakes follow me around the rest of my life, I will still know that I have grown beyond them. It also reminds me that often reputations are built on things that happened a long time ago and don’t always reflect who a person has become.
The Church is the People of God
Another thing the Pope and I have in common is our fondness for the conciliar image of the Church as People of God. He speaks warmly in a number of places about people. In fact, he mentions that his choice of living quarters outside the papal apartments was due to his need for community. These comments are worth noting:
Belonging to a people has a strong theological value. In the history of salvation, God has saved a people. There is no full identity without belonging to a people. No one is saved alone, as an isolated individual, but God attracts us looking at the complex web of relationships that take place in the human community. God enters into this dynamic, this participation in the web of human relationships.
Can I get an amen?
The images he uses are strong. Instead of just leaving our doors open, we must go out and engage the world. Instead of being small chapel or a “nest protecting our mediocrity” we should see the Church as the home of all.
This might be the point that takes the longest to set in.
Faith begins with the saving love of God
Pope Francis’ identifies this truth as where all preaching should begin. It weaves its way through many of his answers: why he won’t judge homosexuals, why we should live a journeying faith, why he accepted his election as Pontiff. God’s presence, which is a presence of love, is constantly with us, and that makes all the difference.
There was much more that struck me about this interview, but I’m trying to limit my scope. Two topics in particular, confession and discernment, caught my eye, in part because they were the themes of my masters thesis. What struck you about these interviews?
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