Pope Francis is certainly full of surprises. His words on July 31, the Feast of St. Ignatius, are a good example.
Ignatius’s feast is an occasion to celebrate all things Ignatian. Jesuits recall their founder’s vision and the way the Society has sustained it for five centuries. They recommit themselves to their mission. They have parties. I had a notion that the first Jesuit pope would take the occasion of Ignatius’s feast to do something splashy to promote Ignatian spirituality.
But Francis doesn’t do splashy. Instead he celebrated a simple Mass with about 200 Jesuits at the Society’s mother church in Rome. He talked to them about the shame Jesuits feel before the crucified Christ: “we look at the wisdom of Christ and at our ignorance; at His omnipotence and our weakness; at His justice and our iniquity; at His goodness and our wickedness.” Francis said that Jesuits should ask for the grace of shame. This is language taken from the First Week of the Spiritual Exercises, where we experience the myriad ways we resist and ignore the love of God.
The point of it is humility: “Humility that makes us understand, each day, that it is not for us to build the Kingdom of God, but it is always the grace of God working within us; humility that pushes us to put our whole being not at the service of ourselves and our own ideas, but at the service of Christ and of the Church.”
This is a consistent message from Francis. When he’s speaking to the masses—at World Youth Day, in his general audiences, in St. Peter’s Square—he speaks of God’s mercy and love, and he urges his listeners to fearlessly take the gospel out into the world. But he strikes a different note when talking to church officials—and Jesuits. On these occasions he often talks about overcoming fear, about stepping out of comfortable roles, about the dangers of arrogance and triumphalism. And he talks about humility. As he told his brother Jesuits, we are “like clay pots, fragile, inadequate, insufficient, but having within them an immense treasure.”