Busted Halo
feature: religion & spirituality
March 20th, 2013

A Jesuit Named Francis — What the New Pope Will Mean for the Millennial Generation

A young man holds the U.S. flag as people wait for the first Angelus prayer of Pope Francis (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

A young man holds the U.S. flag as people wait for the first Angelus prayer of Pope Francis (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

A week in and it’s clear: Pope Francis is a man of surprises.

It started minutes after his election to the See of Saint Peter. He appeared on the loggia in a simple white cassock to greet the hundreds of thousands of people gathered in St. Peter’s Square. Before blessing the faithful and the merely curious in the traditional formula, Francis asked the crowd to bless him first in silent prayer. And for 30 seconds, they and hundreds of millions of people watching throughout the world joined in silent prayer for the new Holy Father.

That moment evidenced that Francis is clearly just that: holy. His closeness with all of us during these days of great trial and possibility is so clear. His predecessor, Benedict the Meek, was a brilliant theologian who taught the Church, especially young Catholics, who Jesus Christ was and continues to be. In his first encyclical, Benedict said that “being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.”

Benedict’s right. Our faith is more than an intellectual tradition or a school of philosophy. It is first and foremost the lived expression of a relationship with a very human person, Jesus Christ.

Francis, too, is very human. He’s had a girlfriend. He’s had his heart broken. He’s gone dancing. He’s made mistakes. He’s dealt with the annoyances of public transportation. He’s ministered to those who are oppressed. He’s one of us.

For weeks, the pundits in the media — some knowledgeable, others not — have told us what we needed in the next pope: a world-class CEO, a distinguished public orator and a rock star, among other qualities. I’m not sure yet Francis is any of those. But I do know this: he’s a man of God and a companion of Jesus. Benedict taught us about Jesus, and Francis will now show us his face.

I humbly suggest the most significant part of Francis’ papacy will be something even more subtle than his humility and his closeness to the ordinary people: his gift of silence to the world. Silence is the beginning of the remedy to this emerging dictatorship of superficiality — which is being fueled by life’s ever-increasing pace.

And how will he do this?

If Francis’ Jesuit (shorthand for the “Society of Jesus”) roots tell us anything, it will be through silence, prayer, and paying close attention to God laboring with us in all things of daily life. These were the tools of choice that Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of Pope Francis’ Jesuit order, used to form his men.

The Jesuit’s worldwide leader, Father Adolfo Nicolas, recently said that the Jesuits and their companions ought to “be the silence the world hates.” This lack of silence, Nicolas argues, is leading to a globalization of superficiality — an era in which depth of thought and the authenticity of human relationships is slowly being short-circuited by a combination of rapid social connectivity and a dizzying pluralism of choices and opportunities. Of this era, Nicolas says:

[When] one can ‘cut-and-paste’ without the need to think critically or write accurately or come to one’s own careful conclusions… [w]hen… the ugly or unpleasant sounds of the world can be shut out by one’s MP3 music player, then one’s vision, one’s perception of reality, one’s desiring can also remain shallow.

When one can become ‘friends’ so quickly and so painlessly with mere acquaintances or total strangers on one’s social networks — and if one can so easily ‘unfriend’ another without the hard work of encounter or, if need be, confrontation and then reconciliation — then relationships can also become superficial.

As a young priest for the Society of Jesus, Bergoglio fought against this emerging dictatorship of superficiality by leading hundreds of first-year Jesuits on a 30-day silent retreat, a retreat he himself has made at least two times in his life. This spirituality teaches us that if we’re quiet enough, engage in prayer, and start paying close attention we can start to experience God in all things, especially in the darkest places of our lives and of the world.

Francis’s motto in Latin expresses this: miserando atque eligendo — which loosely translates to “lowly, yet chosen.” For Jesuits — and in fact for all Christians — the God who created us is intimately caught up in the details of the world and is especially close to his children when they suffer or are oppressed. It is likely that Francis will be long remembered for his surprises, his humility and his closeness to the ordinary people of the Church, especially the young. (He already is).

But I humbly suggest the most significant part of his papacy will be something even more subtle: his gift of silence to the world. Silence is the beginning of the remedy to this emerging dictatorship of superficiality — which is being fueled by life’s ever-increasing pace.

In a world that leaves precious little room for religion or authentic human relationships, silence gives breathing room for God, for prayer, and for community. The silence that Francis called for last week was pregnant with meaning for me. In that intimate moment, I felt so clearly God’s closeness through our new Holy Father.

In these days of great fanfare where we once again celebrate the faith of the apostles, the faith that continues to touch lives throughout the world, Francis is showing us that the heart of this Church is an experience with Jesus and the Gospel he proclaimed.

As we seek what Francis has sought throughout his life — the face of Christ — I say we take a cue from our new pope and spend some time over the next few days in silence and try to become ever more aware of God’s closeness to the human family, especially in those who suffer and are marginalized. That way, we can stand together with Francis and people of all traditions to make of this blessed, but broken world something all the more blessed still.

The Author : Christopher Hale
Christopher Hale is executive director of Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good.
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  • http://www.facebook.com/vanessa.hayes.904 Vanessa Hayes

    Christopher, I found your article very insightful. However, I do feel a bit strange with the concept of ‘silence’ as I am able to read your article due to the social connectivity that has occurred due to the advances made in technology.

  • http://www.facebook.com/dapo.sobomehin Dapo Sobomehin

    I wasn’t fond of denominational churches. But, this man of God has something on me. I love him so much. I pray for him to be well, to be loved by our Lord. I know is in the hands of our Father. Pope Francis cares for humanity. That’s where my christianity goes. Love one another is a true religion, not church, not denominationa, but loving humnaity. Pope Francis loves us. God loves him too. Be blessed my dear brother–Pope Francis. I love you more!

  • http://www.facebook.com/vallecjb Jamie Vallecorsa

    Beautifully written and so helpful as we enter Holy Week.

  • http://www.facebook.com/razorman Vinnie Cialini

    Thank you so much for this wonderful insight! You should look into a documentary called THRIVE. Watch the entire documentary. I hope the world is really as close to positive change as i feel it is.

  • Veronica

    I’m not a millenial, but I have a few relatives who are. I truly hope and pray that Pope Francis’ papacy results in these young people finding their faith and meaning in life. Very good article!

  • http://www.facebook.com/podmandan Daniel Smrokowski

    Excellent article, Christopher. Thanks for this insight on our new Holy Father, Pope Francis.

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