Reading the wonderful interview that Pope Francis gave to Thinking Faith and other Jesuit journals last week – what comes across is the great freedom with which he speaks and also the humility with which he looks back on his past. There is an interesting parallel between him and St Ignatius the founder of the Jesuits. When we were Jesuit novices we had seminars on what is referred to as the ‘autobiography’ of Ignatius. This was written towards the end of his life, somewhat reluctantly, Ignatius was wary of vainglory. He had been urged by the young members of his new order to leave them an account of his life before he died, he seem to avoid it, but eventually he submitted and dictated his memories to a young Jesuit – Goncalves de Camara.
At a time when saint’s lives where often written after their death by their adoring followers, the literary style was usually hagiographic. Emphasising their virtues, downplaying or ignoring their vices, often from a desire to inspire devotion – the result was that the Saints lives didn’t seem very human, or distant from what many of experience in normal life. Ignatius is determined in his autobiography to do the opposite – he wants to show young Jesuits and also those who read about his life, about his mistakes and how God has worked through them and transformed him. Some historians even think that de Camara ‘toned’ down some of the passages, particularly of Ignatius as a young man in order not to cause a scandal.
Pope Francis’s interview comes across in a similar tone. He speaks frankly, and without excuses or self pity about the mistakes he made as a young Jesuit. He was put in as a provincial in his thirties, a very young age, and in his own words ‘My authoritarian and quick manner of making decisions led me to have serious problems’ How refreshing it is to hear the Pope talk in such ways. Francis talks about a period of ‘great interior crisis’ in Cordoba– – again mirroring Ignatius who went through great spiritual turmoil in Manresa after his initial conversion and overly zealous ways. I am convinced that in life we often learn more about ourselves through failure than success – as long as we are supported through our failures in a loving environment. Both Francis and Ignatius give testament to this, and theirs is the ultimate loving environment – an regular, deep and intimate prayer life. This is how grace works through weakness. This is easy to forget when we have an education system that is obsessed with measurable success.
If you have a bit of time – read the Pope’s interview – and if you are too busy, make time!!