A Man for Our Times, The Anchor, October 4, 2013

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Putting into the Deep
The Anchor
October 4, 2013

There has been a lot of commentary concerning some of the ideas Pope Francis expressed in his now famous Sept. 17 interview with Jesuit journals. But the interview allows us not only to examine the Holy Father’s ideas but to get a real glimpse of his life and personality.

Insofar as the Pope teaches not just by his words but by his example, these personal disclosures may be among the most helpful takeaways of all.

We can focus on ten of them.

First, we glimpse his life of simplicity. The interview reveals that in his study, there is a tiny desk, a few plain chairs and only four objects: a Crucifix; an icon of St. Francis of Assisi; a statue of Our Lady of Luján, the patroness of Argentina; and an image of a sleeping St. Joseph. People in Buenos Aires always mentioned how simple his personal quarters were, but his austerity has become even more striking as Pope.

Second, we learn how he prays. He said he recites the breviary early every morning, celebrates Mass at 7 in the Vatican workers residence where he lives, prays the Rosary, seeks to pray mentally throughout the day, and then each night at 7 pm makes a holy hour in front of the Blessed Sacrament. Sometimes he said he falls asleep praying in front of Jesus in the Eucharist.

He described his prayer in this way: “Prayer for me is always a prayer full of memory, of recollection. … For me it is the memory of which St. Ignatius speaks in the First Week of the Exercises in the encounter with the merciful Christ crucified. And I ask myself: ‘What have I done for Christ? What am I doing for Christ? What should I do for Christ?’ It is the memory of which [we]… recall the gifts we have received. But above all, I also know that the Lord remembers me. I can forget about him, but I know that he never, ever forgets me.”

Third, he describes how his prayer aids his discernment, which he defines as “to hear the things of God from God’s point of view.” It involves “in the presence of the Lord, looking at things, listening to the things that happen, the feeling of the people, especially the poor.” This is how he seeks to make decisions.

That discernment has led him to distrust his initial instincts. “I am always wary of the first decision, that is, the first thing that comes to my mind if I have to make a decision. This is usually the wrong thing. I have to wait and assess, looking deep into myself, taking the necessary time.”

Fourth, he readily admits his shortcomings and mistakes.. “I am a really, really undisciplined person,” he says. When he was made a Jesuit provincial at the age of 36, he said, “My style of government … had many faults. … My authoritarian and quick manner of making decisions led me to have serious problems. … The Lord has allowed this growth in knowledge of government through my faults and my sins.”

Fifth, we see that one of his most prominent leadership traits, for good or ill, is loyalty. “When I entrust something to someone, I totally trust that person,” he said. “He or she must make a really big mistake before I rebuke that person.” This partially explains his attitude toward some recent appointments of those who appear to have had checkered pasts. It is also likely a prism with which to look at future personnel decisions.

Sixth, see behold his hunger for community. It’s what led to his decision not to live in the papal apartment. But it’s also what led him to become a Jesuit rather than a diocesan priest. “I am always looking for a community. I did not see myself as a priest on my own. I need a community.” All Christians need community.

Seventh, we learn who one of his greatest heroes is, Blessed Peter Faber, the 16th century Jesuit missionary to Protestant Germany. What he admires about him, he said, is his “dialogue with all, even the most remote and even with his opponents; his simple piety, a certain naïveté perhaps, his being available straightaway, his careful interior discernment, the fact that he was a man capable of great and strong decisions but also capable of being so gentle and loving.” In Faber, we see a papal self-portrait.

Eighth, he believes all religious need to be prophets.  “Being prophets may sometimes imply making waves, … some say ‘a mess.’” He has been proving he’s a Jesuit not afraid to make some noise.

Ninth, he’s a man of culture who loves literature (especially Dostoevsky, Manzoni and Gerard Manley Hopkins), music (Mozart, Bach, Beethoven and Wagner), art (Caravaggio and Chagall) and movies (mainly Italian masterpieces). “In general I love tragic artists,” he said, “especially classical ones.” His preference for tragic art makes him unfraid to confront tragic realities.

Lastly, he reveals what he looks for and sees in others. Among those whom others easily write off, he still recognizes that God is present. “I have a dogmatic certainty: God is in every person’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. …There is always a space in which the good seed can grow.”

And in so many ordinary people he sees a hidden “daily sanctity.” He singled out the example of his grandmother Rosa, whose will he keeps in his breviary, and treats it like a prayer.

In all, we see an honest, humble, prayerful man of simple pleasures, a prophet unafraid to make waves, who tries to see God in others and enter into an encounter with all. He’s in short, a man for our times.