Bernd Hagenkord on Pope Francis

Messa di Papa Francesco in chiesa dei Gesuiti

from the blog of the German editor at Vatican Radio

"The Society of the Restless”. That was the headline L’Osservatore Romano put over its report about the Pope’s mass last Friday (January 3 2014) with the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits. For once, the headline was appropriate, because the Pope was touching on some sensitive spots. More than once during the homily, I felt challenged. Am I really the kind of person the Pope is talking about? Does my Jesuit life fit the Pope’s description?
Intellectually, I could go along with everything—it was all just fine. But this Pope’s strength is precisely that he establishes a personal connection with you, and confronts not just your head but your heart. That was why the sermon had made me restless and uncomfortable—I couldn’t but recognise this as I stood in the queue to greet him. And a good thing too.
Being restless may well be something that is important for Jesuits, but we are far from having a monopoly on it. Just read Benedict XVI’s sermon from exactly a year ago, on the feast of the Epiphany 2013. The idea of restlessness runs through all his thinking about the quest for God too. This isn’t, then, something just for Jesuits, nor just for Pope Francis. It does, however, have something to do with consecrated life.
On the same day as he celebrated the feast of the Name of Jesus with the Jesuits, La civiltà cattolica published, with Pope Francis’s permission, the record of a meeting he had held with male religious superiors. During the questioning, the Pope stated that he himself was a religious. He wasn’t making a point about his canonical status, but saying something very personal. As the US Americans put it, ‘you can get the boy out of the Jesuits, but you can never get the Jesuit out of the boy’. And it was as a religious that he was telling the superiors what he was expecting from religious orders. The witness of a way of life, for starters. It’s wrong to think of consecrated religious as better Christians. But they are meant to be visible. For my part, I’d add that this visibility needs to be something you can notice.
But the Pope put it differently. Though there’s nothing particularly radical about religious life, it’s meant to be prophetic. Here is where the restlessness comes in. Religious life is meant to be sounding alarm bells, waking the world up. Not that this has anything to do with activism. Just look at the contemplative orders. They too are waking the world up—perhaps indeed more than anyone else. “Wake the world up”: Francis’s challenge.
And then there was one of Francis’s favourite ideas. You understand reality only if you look at it from the margins, from the ‘periphery’. You need to leave the centre, the places where things are rolling along quite nicely. This isn’t an attack on holidays or on the wish we all have sometimes just to do nothing. Nor is it a push for fussy activism. It describes, rather, an inner attitude of restlessness, of not settling for too little. If you are saying to yourself that everything just needs to stay the way it is, if you are just sitting back and enjoying the view—this attitude clouds your vision. For all you’ll be able to see is what makes you comfortable.
One of the examples the Pope chose—youth work—warmed my heart. I’ve done this work myself for eight years. A large part of me is still in that ministry, and what the Pope said about it is still echoing within me. We need to change our language if we want to be understood. We must become different if we want to be heard. And we’ve got to want to be heard. For the Pope, being heard is what religious life, the prophetic proclamation of God’s Kingdom, is all about--"a non-negotiable".
To be a prophet is to make a noise—the editor of the report here footnotes a sentence from the pope’s interview with La civiltà cattolica. We need to go back to that old-time discomfort and restlessness that is essential to Christianity. And we should note that the pope had already told the young people in Rio at World Youth Day that they should be making a noise and causing trouble (lío). Trouble. Confusion. Discomfort. Restlessness.
There are indeed contemplative orders. Normally disturbance is the last thing we associate with them. But they probably give us the best idea of what the Pope is actually on about. A contemplative community lives in silence. Everything follows a well-defined routine, with little variety. At the same time the individuals concerned that I know don’t live lives of peacefulness and detachment. They’ve got more than their share of inner conflict, and of wondering how on earth they should be living this way of life today. For the whole point is that this way of life is not “useful” to anyone else. It’s “just” prayer.
But to say just that much is to evoke a restlessness: not just in the monk’s or the nun’s own self, but also in us who are living outside the cloister. How on earth can they stand it? Might it be that I’m too busy? Shouldn’t life just be a lot more simple?
This silent life’s prophetic witness ends up provoking quite a lot of noise. d71df056-f9c5-417a-ab62-d6e207f659e0-2