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A Jesuit Franciscan.
What can we make of the Argentine Jesuit pope who has chosen the name Francis?
Jesuits and Franciscans are both Catholic, but they do represent different forms of Catholic spirituality. In times past, the Jesuits and Franciscans have also had their share of disagreements—over mission territory, over involvement in secular affairs and over the finer points of theology.
Jesuits are celebrated for their complexity; Franciscans are admired for their simplicity.
Jesuit spirituality values discernment and decision-making, and a prayerful consideration of possibilities and choices. It is a way that emphasizes detachment from the passions.
Franciscan spirituality embraces an ethos of sharing, a sharing not just of possessions, but also of love and experience. It is a way recognizes our reliance on the mercy of God.
Jesuits, of course, have a well-deserved reputation as the intellectuals of the church—a quality that finds expression not just through teaching and research, but also through organizing and institution building. Franciscans are accustomed to expressing themselves in less discursive ways: through labor, through charity, and through other examples of what Catholics call corporal and spiritual works of mercy.
It’s easy to make too much of these differences. Many Jesuits have embraced poverty and lives of hidden service; and many Franciscans are keen theologians and brilliant thinkers.
But most importantly, Jesuit and Franciscan spiritualities converge on the person of Jesus Christ.
St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus, often meditated on the prayer Amina Christi that says, “O Jesus, hide me in Thy wounds so that I may never be separated from Thee.” St. Francis of Assisi, the founder of the Order of Friars Minor, kissed and washed the sores of lepers. For him, Christ was not just revealed in the leper, Jesus was a leper: despised, humiliated, and outcast.
For both Ignatius and Francis, for both Jesuits and Franciscans, it is the person of Christ who reveals the divine and transforms our humanity.
Pope Francis will bring a Jesuit intellectualism into the papacy. After all, he was trained in Germany and taught theology himself. But by choosing the name Francis, he is also affirming the power of humility and simplicity. Pope Francis, the Argentine Jesuit, is not simply attesting to the complementarity of the Ignatian and Franciscan paths. He is pointing to how the mind and heart meet in the love of Jesus Christ.
Both St. Ignatius and St. Francis often received “the gift of tears.” And I know many people—myself included—who were moved to tears when Pope Francis recited the Our Father and the Hail Mary with the assembled crowd and then asked for their silent prayers. It was an act that combined simplicity with a powerful openness to divine and human love. It was a scene that was both Jesuit and Franciscan because it was so deeply Christian. It was a moment when Pope Francis reminded us how much we need Jesus, and also how much we need one another.
Mathew Schmalz teaches and writes on global Catholicism at the College of the Holy Cross, Worcester, Mass.