Category: Pope Francis


Conflict

AMDG

When we were Jesuit novices we read the autobiography of St Ignatius together. It was explained to us that Ignatius had been badgered for years to write down about his life.  It was only when he life was coming to an end that he agreed to do so and dictated his memoirs to Luis Gonsalves de Camara, a young Portuguese Jesuit.  In an age of hagiographical writing, were saints lives were often written with an undue reverence, and sometimes it was difficult to get to the history underneath the exaggerations, Ignatius was keen that his autobiography would show young Jesuits how he had learned from his mistakes and how God had patiently accompanied him through times of excessive zeal and superficial outward displays of ‘holiness’ and ‘penance’.

It seems that the first Jesuit Pope wishes to follow in his footsteps.  Whether he is talking about his time of painful ‘inner purification‘ in Cordoba in 1991, or his period of ‘therapy’ after stepping down as Provincial in the 70’s.  In 2013 he sent a letter to a Brazilian priest, Fr Alexandre Awi, who had acted as his interpreter on his first foreign visit as pope, to Rio de Janeiro. Discussing the ‘culture of encounter’ which as Pope he is so eager to promote, he talks about the traumatic experience of his mother’s side of his family where there was a lot of conflicts,  “In my family there was a long history of disagreements: uncles, cousins, fought and separated. As a child, I cried a great deal in secret when these fights were talked about or when we could see a new one coming. Sometimes I offered a sacrifice or a penance to try to prevent them occurring. It hurt me a lot. Thank God that at home Dad, Mom and my five brothers lived in peace…. I think that this marked me a lot as a kid and created in my heart the desire that people stopped fighting, that they stay together. And at least if they fight they are friends…. I am bit embarrassed after rereading what I wrote, but I think that in this story there is a germ of what over the years and in a conceptual way I called “Culture of the encounter”. It’s a craving that I’ve been since I was a boy” You can read excerpts of the letter here on the website Portaluz (in Spanish) – Link.

Understanding conflict and turning it into a creative experience has been a life-long concern of Jorge Bergoglio before he became Pope Francis.  His unpublished PHD is on the Italian- German priest philosopher Romano Guardini and his 1925 work, ‘Der Gegensatz’ (Contrast).  For Guardini contrast did not necessarily mean contradiction. He was interested in the whole range of human life: art, politics, ethics, religion,  science, in particular, the emerging field of psychology. Guardini’s thinking lead him to a deeper type of wisdom about the mystery of Life. He had a vision that gives things space, where opposites are brought together, the same space from where they emanate and where they return – which he called God.  The younger Bergoglio was particularly interested in how individuals related to groups, especially after his difficult experience as provincial and was attracted to Guardini’s thinking.  Understanding conflict, not being threatened by it, wanting to engage creatively with it but also realising how destructive it could be – as he recently said in his meeting with the Schoenstatt movement.

AMDG

I came across something recently that has been fascinating me ever since – ‘Cardiognosis’ – which means knowledge of the heart.  It seems to have its roots in the Desert Fathers and describes the ability that certain holy people have of taking in the whole person who is in front of them, of understanding in a compassionate non-judgemental way what someone is trying to communicate.  It is more than an intuitive, sapiential way of knowing, it also appears to have a mystical element.  The ability to hear what is not being said, an unnerving ability to see right into you, a disconcerting knowledge of the secrets that can weigh heavily on one’s heart.

William James describes one of the marks of an authentic mystical experience as being ‘noetic’, giving access to some sort of state of knowledge.  In 1901 and 1902 he was invited to give the famous Gifford Lectures at Edinburgh University.  This lead to the publication of his classic book, ‘The Varieties of Religious Experience’.  In lecture 17 he talked about the insights that authentical mystical experiences gave,   “This is an insight into depths of truth unplumbed by the discursive intellect. They are illuminations, revelations, full of significance and importance, all inarticulate though they remain; and as a rule, they carry with them a curious sense of authority for after-time”.   He would later go on to talk about the transient nature of mystical experience whilst also being ‘timeless’.

Cardiognosis – seems less like a mystical experience and more like a mystical state. Its deeper than just the ability to read ‘between the lines’.    This level of sensitivity perhaps comes from years of formation and learning about your own heart.  Robin Daniels has written a little-known book called ‘Listening-Hearing the Heart’    which gives a taste of this.  If you haven’t got time to read his book, his widow Katherine hosted a fascinating webinar recently, and there is a beautiful section where she talks about what made him such an incredible listener – link– it lasts about 10mins  .  However ‘cardiognosis’ seems to be something beyond even the highest level of listening, At the end of his brilliant autobiography on St Ignatius – the Basque historian, Jose Ignacio Tellechea Idigoras,  creates a picture of Ignatius just before his death which includes this section….  

His complexion had become darker, weather-beaten, perhaps even yellowish because of his liver ailment? His countenance, serious and peaceful, was the image of circumspection and a life lived interiorly. Some found it particularly luminous and expressive. His eyes which at one time had been sparkling and bright were now blurred by work, old age and copious tears. They had lost their gaiety but not their penetrating force. He seldom looked at people straight on.  When he did, however, people said he took in the person from head to toe. His gaze seemed to have the power of seeing straight through a person right into his heart.

If we were to fast-forward 350 years Padre Pio had an awe-inspiring reputation in the confessional. It is claimed that he heard over 5 million confessions in his lifetime,  often displaying an uncanny knowledge of the penitents.  The famous sculptor Francesco Messina in 1949 went to visit Padre Pio. Padre Pio asked if he wanted to confess. He said maybe but I’m not prepared.  Padre Pio: “Don’t say anything to me. Just answer.” ‘Than he began to list my sins with incredible precision. This type of ‘knowledge’ that Pio had was repeated in many different accounts, and became public knowledge when  his life was investigated during the process of declaring him a Saint.  Then coming right up to the present day, a friend recounted a story that inspired this blog post. He spoke about having a conversation with a very famous Jesuit, who afterwards looked at him in silence for about a minute, and then gave him some pastoral advice – when recounting this story he said to me, ‘He even said things to me that I hadn’t told him about’.

AMDG

One of the most under-reported stories in the new year was a good-news-one,  surprise, surprise (we are not interested in good stories)!  2017 was the safest year in commercial air travel with no deaths reported, despite there being more flights than ever before. This is incredible considering 3.77bn people flew last year, it marks a consistent rise since 2010 which shows no signs of slowing down.  This amazing pace of growth creates all sorts of stresses on the industry, with Ryan Air struggling to recruit enough pilots, Easy Jet accused of over-scheduling, but it is quite a relief that it doesn’t seem to affect safety standards.

It made me think of a book I read a couple of years ago – ‘Black Box Thinking’ by the British author Matthew Syed. He suggests that the commercial airline industry can be held up as a model of continual and successful reform.  His basic thesis is that the air travel is becoming one of the safest ways of travelling because of the way the industry learns every time there is a terrible crash.  The Black Box in an aircraft typically contains a data recorder and a cockpit voice recorder.  The data recorder preserves the recent history of the flight through the recording of dozens of parameters collected several times per second,  the voice recorder preserves the recent history of the sounds in the cockpit, including the conversation of the pilots.  So it is a record of that complex interaction between technology and humans – and facilitates a post-disaster investigation. Syed basically argues this means that the airline industry has been able to constantly make reforms that make it safer for all of us to fly.  This is compared to the medical profession which is very resistant to reform because of consultants and surgeon’s tendency to cover up mistakes.

I think it is a fascinating book because it is about learning from failure, which Syed argues is the most powerful method of learning known to mankind. Black Box thinkers have a healthy relationship with failure he argues.  This is what makes Pope Francis such a compelling and authentic leader.  From 1990-1991 he was missioned by his provincial, to work for a year and a half in Cordoba, central Argentina.  He was sent there as a form of ‘internal exile’ because he was seen as being a divisive figure and they wanted him ‘out of the way’. There are interesting articles about this time in The Atlantic and also covered by CNN.  Since then Pope Francis has referred to that year and a half as an ‘inner purification’, certainly it was a time of honing his leadership skills and some of his writings from this time are real gems.   He often talks about a book that made a big impression on him by an American Jesuit, John Navone, called ‘Triumph through Failure‘, an interesting exposition of the ‘Theology of the Cross’.  Certainly, it was a time of enduring for Bergoglio, until  Cardinal Quaraccino, the then head of the church in Argentina, surprised by how he was being treated, went to Rome and asked Pope John Paul II to directly request that he become an auxiliary bishop in Buenos Aires.  The Pope’s intervention trumped the Jesuit vow against taking office in the church …. and the rest, they say, is history.