Thinking with the Church–Some reflections on the Pope’s Interview

The internet and Christianity are abuzz with the interview Pope Francis gave with Jesuit publications.

What surprised me most was not the soundbytes pulled out by reporters about the hot-button issues but rather the thoroughly Ignatian tone of the entire piece. Pope Francis is not just remaking the Church and the Papacy, he is bringing to the fore the Jesuit mode of proceeding. His talk of discernment, his humility and simplicity, his approach to spirituality and prayer, his demeanor all point to his Jesuit background.

But at the same time as he is revolutionizing the Church, he is also revolutionizing the Ignatian tradition. There is no better example of that than in the section of the interview “Thinking with the Church.” James Martin, SJ says that what Pope Francis said here has “immense ramifications” for the Church.

Pope Francis is referring to a section appended to the Spiritual Exercises: “Rules for thinking with the Church.” Most famously, Rule 13 which reads:

To be right in everything, we ought always to hold that the white which I see, is black, if the Hierarchical Church so decides it, believing that between Christ our Lord, the Bridegroom, and the Church, His Bride, there is the same Spirit which governs and directs us for the salvation of our souls. Because by the same Spirit and our Lord Who gave the ten Commandments, our holy Mother the Church is directed and governed.

Pope Francis rewrites this rule, emphasizing that the Church is the whole people of God, not just the hierarchy, and that it is as the whole people of God that one needs to “think with the Church.”

Pope Francis:

“This is how it is with Mary: If you want to know who she is, you ask theologians; if you want to know how to love her, you have to ask the people. In turn, Mary loved Jesus with the heart of the people, as we read in the Magnificat. We should not even think, therefore, that ‘thinking with the church’ means only thinking with the hierarchy of the church.”


“This church with which we should be thinking is the home of all, not a small chapel that can hold only a small group of selected people. We must not reduce the bosom of the universal church to a nest protecting our mediocrity.”

As an aside, having taught Ignatius many times over the years, requiring students to read both the Autobiography and The Spiritual Exercises, I always struggled with students’ preconceptions about the Jesuits (“The shock troops of the Counter Reformation) and more broadly Roman Catholics. It was always a challenge to try to get them to understand the flexibility, adaptability, and moderation of the Jesuits, all of which were keys to their success in the 16th and 17th centuries.

The “Rules for Thinking with the Church” were in part Ignatius’ attempt to help later Jesuits learn from his experience. When we read, we should think white is black if that’s what the Church says, we assume the worst of the Jesuits and the Roman Catholic Church. A more charitable reading would be that we should submit our own reason and perspective to the long perspective and wider vision of the Church. Pope Francis, by taking “hierarchical” out of the equation, broadens the perspective still further.

The back story on how the interview came about is here.

From James Martin’s commentary:

But there is one thing of which Pope Francis is sure.  In the best Jesuit tradition, which asks us to “find God in all things,” the pope speaks movingly of his commitment to finding God in every human being.  That is his certainty.  For me, this was the most moving part of the entire interview: “I have a dogmatic certainty: God is in every person’s life.  God is in everyone’s life…Even if the life of a person has been a disaster, even if it is destroyed by vices, drugs or anything else—God is in this person’s life. You can, you must try to seek God in every human life.”

“Discerning the Papal Interview” (From Eric Sundrup, SJ in The Jesuit Post)

There is much for all of us to ponder here. Pope Francis has had an enormous impact on the Roman Catholic Church in the few months of his papacy; he is also challenging all Christians to a more humble, careful, and discerning approach in the world.

Initial reflections on the death of Osama bin Laden

After turning in early last night, I learned the news this morning. Like many, I was troubled by the celebrations that broke out spontaneously. Many of those most affected, whose loved ones were killed directly or indirectly bin Laden or Al Qaida had a natural emotional response to news of his death. But I wonder why a celebration of this sort turned into what one commentator called a “Frat Party.” And there were other comments and actions that put this event on the level of a sports team’s national championship. We haven’t won by any stretch of the imagination. The wars that were unleashed in response to bin Laden’s actions continue; terrorists continue to plot attacks, and our freedoms diminished in the name of these wars.

About rejoicing over the death of one’s enemies:

Susanna Brooks has some brief comments

Rabbi Schmuel Herzfeld asks: “Is it wrong to feel joy at Bin Laden’s death?” and points to the talmudic story that God rebuked the angels for excessive joy when Pharaoh’s army was destroyed while the Israelites crossed the Red Sea.

My Facebook newsfeed was filled with friends posting verses from scripture about loving one’s enemy or Proverbs 24:17: “Do not gloat when your enemy falls; when they stumble, do not let your heart rejoice.” There were also prayers for peace and prayers for our enemies.

I’ve been thinking again about just war theory–Nato’s actions in Libya have raised the issue again. The use of drone aircraft raise significant questions about the exercise of war. Paul Zahl asked whether their use was just in the context of Afghanistan; that they are now being used in Libya as well is perhaps more troubling.

Osama’s death will overshadow the news that Nato made a targeted attack on a site where members of Muammar Qaddafi’s family were staying, resulting in the death of family members. As numerous commentators have pointed out, this is a significant step beyond the original UN mandate.

One of the things that concerns me most, both about the bin Laden attack and the events in Libya is that we continue to abrogate human rights and the rule of law.

An appropriate, Christian (or even human) response to bin Laden’s death is difficult to gauge in light of our competing loyalties to family, friends, nation and Jesus Christ, and the real emotional responses we have to the news. James Martin, SJ, writes on America’s In all Things:

So the question is whether the Christian can forgive a murderer, a mass murderer, even–as in the case of Osama bin Laden–a coordinator of mass murder across the globe.  I’m not sure I would be able to do this, particularly if I had lost a loved one.  But as with other “life” issues, we cannot overlook what Jesus asks of us, hard as it is to comprehend.  Or to do.

For this is a “life” issue as surely as any other.  The Christian is not simply in favor of life for the unborn, for the innocent, for those we care for, for our families and friends, for our fellow citizens, for our fellow church members or even for those whom we consider good, but for all.  All life is sacred because God created all life.  This is what lies behind Jesus’s most difficult command: “I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

The whole thing is well worth the read.