A Little About Those Jesuits & Pope Francis’ First Days

As promised the last time I want to give tell you a little more about what I have found about the Jesuit order of the Catholic church. Of course, that is Pope Francis’ roots.

Jesuits are for the most part very much into dealing with the current times. To many of the conservative wing of the church the Jesuits seem heretical, as they are seen as willing to cast off some of the traditions that the conservatives see as unrefutable. They are very much more mission oriented compared to the rest of the church.

Plainly speaking, Jesuits want to make the church better fit the habits and customs of the mission area. That approach is very threatening to those who consider tradition as the core of the church. Jesuits meld into the community instead of trying to change the community.

With all that in mind, Pope Francis’ reign started out very different than that of Pope John Paul, or Pope Benedict who were much more aligned with the conservative traditionalist part of the church.

The first day of Pope Francis’ reign he chose to ride in a Fiat instead of the black Mercedes of his predecessors. He chose to live in the Vatican guest house instead of the papal palace. He dressed simply in papal white without capes and hats and red shoes. He very early in his time made the statement

“if someone is gay and is searching for the Lord and has good will, then who am I to judge him?

That sentence struck horror in some of the established hierarchy in Rome and around the world. Plain and simple Pope Francis intended to be a reformer who will move the church out of its scandal ridden recent past. Some say he is intent of correcting the pendulum that had swung too far the the right with their Benedictine vision of the church.

His recent stands that clergy who have been accused of sexual abuse should face the full brunt of civil laws and that they would no longer be protected by the siege mentality of the past. Much of the Vatican inner circle which was all about protecting tradition at all costs, was about to go to war with the new Pope’s message of the Father’s forgiving warmth. The battle for the meaning of the church had begun in those first few days.

Next time I will delve deeper into the face that Pope Francis hopes to put on the Roman Catholic Church and the battles that will certainly ensue as a result.

Pope Francis – The Surprising Choice For the New Pope

I am about half way through the book that I mentioned the last time. I want to report to you what I found so far.

But before I do that I want to put out one major criticism of the book. The average word length of a sentence probably exceeded fifty words, and I swear some exceed a full page in length! That makes it difficult for me to read as he just doesn’t seem to want to come to the point in his thoughts. I checked out some of his columns in the New York Times and found them to be the same. Since it is very contrary to my “get to the point” style of writing I often find myself running out of proverbial breath before getting to the end of a sentence. Regardless of that I am committed to finishing the book and to try to hash it down to it’s basics. 🙂

The biggest revelation so far from the book is that the Catholic church, like the US in general, is in the middle of a pretty dramatic struggle for control. The progressive and conservative type agendas pretty much mirror what we find in our current political processes. It seems that each side is convinced that the other side will mean the doom of the church.

What lies at the deepest level of this divide is on fundamental disagreements about the purpose of the church, the authority of the Bible, the nature of the sacraments, the definition of sin, the means of redemption, the true identity of Jesus, and finally the very nature of God. In other words, almost everything. The conservatives are primairily about preserving the traditions and practices of the past at all costs and the liberal wing was primarily about helping the poor and the downtrodden and putting the words of Jesus into practice in today’s world. The liberal wing sees the conservative wing as more ready to exclude than to include and the conservative wing sees the other as “throwing the baby out with the bath water. That sounds kind of familiar doesn’t it?

The part of the book about the ordination of Pope Francis was very interesting. Those of you who were around in the 1960s probably remember how the US political conventions used to be. No one was the inevitable nominee going into the convention, but eventually the field was eventually weaned down to one person. The way of Francis was apparently chosen very much mirrored those conventions.

Remember this papal conclave took place in 2013 when the church was going through the sexual predator scandal. The conservatives tried to handle the scandal by turning inward in a protection mode and of course that proved to only make the situation worse. During this papal conclave it seems they saw that things had to change to prevent a dramatic meltdown. It took five ballots before they selected a Francis by the required two-thirds majority of 203 cardinals voting. I’m sure there was a lot of hand-wringing going on during those sessions.

Since Francis was the first pope to be chosen from outside of Europe and outside the inner circle there must of been a serious level of panic among the conservatives about the very future of the church. Almost all the cardinals who voted in that election were installed into office by very conservative popes, so the conservatives assuredly held the majority in the conclave and could have selected one of their own. But they, I think wisely, didn’t.

Next time I will talk a little about the general view of the Jesuit and Franciscan orders and how the conservatives viewed them and then I will finally get to the first days of Pope Francis.

About Pope Francis

One of the primary reasons for looking into the Jesuit order is that I am fascinated about how different the Pope Francis is from those who proceeded him. That is, at least those in my lifetime. He just seems so focused on Jesus, and I wonder why? Since he is the first Jesuit to become pope, I thought I might gain insight into him by studying the order he came from.

One of the first things I discovered from other sources is how massive the Roman Catholic Church organization is. I never dreamed that the hierarchy was so complicated. They call organizations like the Jesuits, orders. Different orders are for purposes of being. The below chart gives you an idea of the complexity. If you look down the list you will find the Jesuits among the “Clerics Regular” with an identifier of “S.J.” .

I googled about everything imaginable to try to find just how big the hierarchy is, but to no avail. I suspect it rivals our federal government in size and complexity. I know there are around 1.2 billion Roman Catholics in the world, that is second only to Islam. About 20% of US citizens are Catholics.

They call the unique purposes of each order their “spirituality”. They see orders as different ways of living in a relationship with God. All spiritualities within the Christian tradition have the same primary focus of a personal union with God. Each order has an emphasis on love and charity, and a belief in Jesus as the Son of God. It’s too bad that this type of tradition was not carried over to the Protestant Reformation. But that is another story. The reason for the different orders, as shown above, is that each emphasize a different aspect of service.

To finally come to the point of this post, it ended up that the book I chose to start out this discovery did not provide the evidence I was looking for. Instead it was mostly an invitation to join the church. There was info about the Jesuit’s founder but not that much about the order in general.

So, moving forward I have decided to do a direct study of Pope Francis to try to determine what he is about. The main thing I have learned so far is the he has got a lot of conservative Catholics upset with his non-conventional ways. There are a lot of books out there about that. I did finally find one that is more balanced than the others and that is where I will start the next time. The book is entitled To Change the Church – Pope Francis and the future of Catholicism by Ross Douthat. The author is a columnist for The New York Times. More about him on the next post in this series.

Moving Forward on RLL

I have been struggling lately with how I will approach my study of the Red Letters on this site. One of the primary causes for putting it into a four-year hiatus was that I was just tired of lamenting how so many versions of Christianity strayed, sometimes very severely, from the path of Jesus’ words and teachings. Starting it up again I seemed to be heading down that same route and that is not where I wanted to go. It is time for CHANGE.

Yes, there are around 40,000 different versions of Christianity, but focusing on that fact is not very productive in my mind. So, I have decided to take a different path going forward at least for the time being. Instead of lamenting what Jesus’ church has become, I will focus on what I think are some the best examples of those who live by his teachings. For me, the first example of that is the Jesuits in the Roman Catholic Church. This series might widen to include the Franciscan order because right now I don’t understand the significant difference between the two.

What instigated this new direction was Pope Francis. When I study his words and particularly his actions I began to see how closely my spiritual beliefs aligned with his. He is the first Jesuit Pope and that has brought out some strong opposition especially among some here in the US. I just read in Sojourners Magazine (March 2019) issue how US right-wing billionaires are attempting a takeover of the US Catholic Church primarily because of Pope Francis’ emphasis on Jesus’ words. They believe he is just too hostile to our version of capitalism and that is very threatening to them.

For this series, I will be posting about what I am learning about the Jesuit order and their teachings.

The second prong of my new approach for this site is to look at those who have serious concerns about religion in general.

When I spent a couple of decades in an Evangelical church I was strenuously told to just believe on faith what they told me to believe. Don’t ask questions. Of course, questioning everything is a core part of my nature so there were several conflicts over the years. The last one resulted in the clergyman telling me I was no longer welcomed. They just couldn’t handle my questions, so as not to pollute the other members with doubt I was told to I need to leave.

I think that the words of Jesus can stand up to any questions brought up about them. So, as well as studying Jesuits, I will also be looking at the philosophy of religion. It will be an interesting series I think.

I hope anyone who comes by here in the next few months might want to learn along with me. I will be open to your thoughts as long as they conform to my “Code of Conduct” as shown in the header above.

Where we will be heading at the completion of this series, I have no idea. I suspect what we find in this series will naturally grow into something else. But who knows?

A Quakerish Pope?

Pope FrancisWorth reading is a recent interview with Pope Francis conducted by Eugenio Scalfari of La Repubblica.  Scalfari, an atheist, had written to request an interview, and was floored when the Pope himself called to schedule a time.

The whole interview is worth reading and pondering. I was especially struck by one interchange in which Pope Francis says something very akin to something George Fox said.   Said Pope Francis,

“From my point of view, God is the light that illuminates the darkness, even if it does not dissolve it, and a spark of divine light is within each of us. In the letter I wrote to you, you will remember I said that our species will end but the light of God will not end and at that point it will invade all souls and it will all be in everyone.\”

Scalfari then asks whether this isn’t more an image of immanence than of transcendence. And Pope Francis responds:

“Transcendence remains because that light, all in everything, transcends the universe and the species it inhabits at that stage.”

For comparison, here is George Fox, in Chapter One of his Journal:

“I saw, also, that there was an ocean of darkness and death; but an infinite ocean of light and love, which flowed over the ocean of darkness. In that also I saw the infinite love of God, and I had great openings.”

SOURCE:  A Quakerish Pope?.

As this source article says the pope’s words about the light of God being within us is very Quakerish. It is also very much aligned with scientific discovery (as opposed to creationism). I have high hopes that this pope will continue where John Paul left off and put the Catholic church into a 21st century timeframe.  I can only then pray that the evangelicals will someday follow suit.