Well—back to Pope Francis and his interview with La Civilta Cattolica/America and the reasons he is engendering fear in certain segments of the Church. Now, keep in mind that my prejudices are with the Holy Father and my sympathies are not with those who are alarmed over the direction in which he is taking the Church. As I keep hearing people say “now that the shoe is on the other foot,” meaning that those of us who were fearful that we saw the future eroding under John Paul II and Benedict XVI but stayed loyal to the Church now find a certain morose delectation (as the old manuals called it) or schadenfreude as Pope Benedict would say, in the discomfort of those who find their hopes for a more triumphalist Church to be dashed on the Rock of Peter. But take a look at this remark in the famous interview:
“The Society of Jesus is an institution in tension,” the pope replied, “always fundamentally in tension. A Jesuit is a person who is not centered in himself. The Society itself also looks to a center outside itself; its center is Christ and his church. So if the Society centers itself in Christ and the church, it has two fundamental points of reference for its balance and for being able to live on the margins, on the frontier. If it looks too much in upon itself, it puts itself at the center as a very solid, very well ‘armed’ structure, but then it runs the risk of feeling safe and self-sufficient. The Society must always have before itself the Deus semper maior, the always-greater God, and the pursuit of the ever greater glory of God, the church as true bride of Christ our Lord, Christ the king who conquers us and to whom we offer our whole person and all our hard work, even if we are clay pots, inadequate. This tension takes us out of ourselves continuously. The tool that makes the Society of Jesus not centered in itself, really strong, is, then, the account of conscience, which is at the same time paternal and fraternal, because it helps the Society to fulfill its mission better.”
Notice the Jesuit is not centered in himself and the Society of Jesus also looks to a center outside itself—to the Greater Glory of God (Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam) and to the Church as the true bride of Christ. Great! So now that you have a man with this spiritual principle guiding the Church, you have a man who looks not to the person of the pope, or the institution of the papacy, or even to the institutional Church—but seeks only the Greater Glory of God and of his Church—not his Church as the powerful institution, but as the poor bride of Christ. You have, as Francis speaks so well of, the image of the Church as poor and vulnerable as was her Lord. This is a very different ecclesiology than that of John Paul II and even more of Benedict XVI who sought to build up and strengthen the Institutional aspects of the Church. Now we have a Pope who places little faith and less interest in that institutionalism.
This brings me back to the writings of one of my heroes, Avery Dulles, whose remarks on the Church in his books Models of the Church and Catholicity of the Church make it clear that it is high time to move away from the models of power, legalism, and institutionalism which have characterized the Catholic Church for the last thousand years. So: you go, Francis. This is the Shepherd we need to lead us into the Church’s third millennium.