Francis’ vision of God’s relationship with humankind both with individuals, communities and eventually the international community is based on what he learned from Jesus of the gospels, his Jesuit spirituality, and confirmed by his experience as an intensely compassionate pastor of souls. His contemplative experience of how God operates in all men’s life (link: Francis’ quotes) appears to impel him to promote this mode of prayer to all men even those actively engaged in public life. Contemplation which has an ageless tradition across the world’s religious cultures is proving itself to be an efficacious method for experiencing how the creator/father God wants to be part of men’s lives, including non-Christians in the work of his kingdom (link: new monasticism).
From the study of the gospels we can find in Jesus’ message an abundance of clues to the importance of contemplation in his life with the creator/father God. According to the experts’ opinion Jesus began his public life only two to three years before his death somewhere between 30 and 33 years old. We know, therefore, that it was a mature, spiritual person that left John the Baptist’s followers to give witness to his father’s call to the kingdom encapsulated in the Our Father (link: Our Father) and instruct his followers in his spiritual way needed to live for the kingdom.
From the Quellen source (link: Lost Gospel) before Jesus had gone up to Jerusalem he lays out lessons basic for beginning a process of metanoia or change of direction to begin one’s life with the creator/father God. First on leaving John the Baptist he retreats into the desert for a lesson in discernment where he points out how three basic human drives, desire for wealth, success and power can turn into spiritual pitfalls. However, he counters that recourse to God and his word can expose the impotence of wealth (bread) to make us happy; the futility of expecting success beyond our endowed qualities, in other words, not being satisfied with who we are; finally how even political power must bow before God.
Jesus’ experience in the desert exemplifying a profound familiarity with God who in turn brings light to know one’s weaknesses is done in solitude. In the gospel of Matthew Jesus encourages his followers to seek silence using the simile of entering the inner room and closing the door to be alone with God. Several mentions of his long nights stolen away from his followers manifest a habit of prolonged prayer in solitude. Jesus’ life though full of respect for the habits of worship of his community faith shows us rather how to seek God’s presence in creation within himself or finding God everywhere, in birds in flight or for sale in the marketplace, in the portents of the weather, and nature’s beauty in flowers. These habits are kept alive by longer periods of communion with the creator/father God always with you to allay anxieties and cares. As Jesus familiarly notes God’s children are much more to be loved than the birds of the air. Note how lessons in contemplative prayer differ from formally recognized community prayers, such as the Jewish liturgy with guided readings and the singing of hymns.
Through his example of seeking out the marginalized, the sick (lepers considered sinners), the poor, the rejected public sinners, the impure etc. Jesus identified the preferred of his creator/father. He was able to reinforce that identification through parables of his father’s kingdom, in the traditional story of the Great Banquet where the riffraff, the rejected, homeless in the alleys and ditches are brought in to be seated. Similarly as a metaphor the kingdom is likened to leaven, in Jewish culture a common symbol for corruption, added to three pecks of flour an obvious necessity of life. The kingdom that Jesus works in is not just for the perfect.
No one can doubt that Jesus’ message of the creator/father God’s love overtures was meant to be inclusive of all humankind here on earth despite any repulsive or sinful condition. This ran counter to the strong exclusivist religious interpretation up to our own day of God’s covenant with the Jewish nation. Paul after his conversion gradually began his successful struggle to open Jesus’ message to include the gentiles. However, after Paul and the gospels the prevailing Jewish cultural quickly took hold on early Christianity and turned baptism into a similar exclusivist religious symbol which continues to this day in the Catholic Church.
- IGNATIUS AND FINDING GOD IN ACTION
As a Jesuit religious Francis learned from Ignatian spirituality that with your change in direction in life you begin to integrate who you are with your unique path traced out to God. Knowing and falling in love with Jesus opens the way to the father until you mature to a deep contemplative awareness of God’s action in yourself, then in all things, to finally discover your created reality. This awareness is fostered in the daily activity of the Jesuits in the world.
After the testimony of martyrdom in the early church, in a cultural milieu that divided man into a soul and an inferior material body, full time God seekers fled the snares of the world into the desert looking for God. A subsequent stage developed the monastic tradition that looked for God in silent work and prayer, followed by the early religious orders and medieval mystics from the 12th to the l6th centuries. St. Ignatius, a soldier by profession and organizing his non-traditional form of religious life for the Protestant rebellion, developed a spirituality modeled on Jesus’s active public ministry where he sensed his father everywhere through a contemplative intimacy.
St. Ignatius’ approach to contemplation can be looked on as a paradigmatic development in Christian spirituality. It was the first time that a recognized religious order joined the contemplative presence of God with the activities of everyday life. Ignatius’ approach to contemplation has paved the way for imitation by the lay members of the Christian churches, a phenomenon previously only witnessed in the breach. And finally it has spread to God seekers without any denominational affiliation (link: new monasticism).
We can witness in his interviews and through example that Francis learned from Jesus’ how to focus on and find God in created reality, above all in people, no matter how apparently lost or broken, to discern how each had been created with a unique path to relate to God the father through some service in the kingdom no matter how insignificant. “He [God] does not want anyone to be lost. His mercy is infinitely greater than our sins, his medicine is infinitely stronger than our illnesses that he has to heal.”(Pope Francis, The Name of God is Mercy, Random House, Kindle Edition)
Francis has been a model for contemplative prayer in an active life from the moment of his election to the Papacy when he requested to retire to a small space to clear his mind of all thought. In his interview with the Jesuits he stated that his favorite prayer was an hour in the evening before the Blessed Sacrament for contemplation. His address to the American Congress held up Thomas Merton as an American model to emphasize the need for contemplative prayer to face their political responsibility. His willingness to answer questions from interviewers without a script insinuates a confidence based on a close union with and ensuing confidence in God’s guidance. His impatient exhortations to the Vatican bureaucratic cardinals who are responsible for the day by day governance of a global institution of more than a billion members, suppose a an intimate confidence in God to discern spiritual needs. According to the supposition in Vatican II a la contemplative teaching of Thomas Keating (Keating) Francis finds God working in all people. And although the extension of a contemplative vision of church to my knowledge has not been a promoted by church leadership since perhaps early centuries, it appears to have become a significant component of Francis’ reform for all members of the Vatican II universal church.