A Big Heart Open To God | Notes

Posted on April 23, 2014


Pope Francis. A Big Heart Open To God: A Conversation with Pope Francis. HarperOne, 2013. (150 pages)


Part One: A Big Heart Open to God

The Exclusive Interview with Pope Francis

The wisdom of discernment redeems the necessary ambiguity of life and helps us find the most appropriate means, which do not always coincide with what looks great and strong. (14)

The Society of Jesus is an institution in tension. … A Jesuit is a person who is not centered in himself. The Society itself also looks to a center outside itself; its center is Christ and his church. So if the Society centers itself in Christ and the church, it has two fundamental points of reference for its balance and for being able to live on the margins on the frontier. If it looks too much in upon itself, it puts itself at the center as a very solid, very well ‘armed’ structure, but then it runs the risk of feeling safe and self-sufficient. The Society must always have before itself the Deus temper maior, the always greater God, and the pursuit of the every greater glory of God, the church as true bride of Christ our Lord, Christ the king who conquers us and to whom we offer our whole person and all our hard work, even if we are clay pots, inadequate. This tension takes us out of ourselves continuously. The tool that makes the Society of Jesus not centered in itself, really strong, is then, the account of conscience, which is at the same time paternal and fraternal, because it helps the Society to fulfill its mission better. (15-16)

the Jesuit always thinks, again and again, looking at the horizon toward which he must go, with Christ at the center. This is his real strength. And that pushes the Society to be searching, creative, and generous. So now, more than ever, the Society of Jesus must be contemplative in action, must live a profound closeness to the whole church as both the ‘people of God’ and ‘holy mother the hierarchical church.’ This requires much humility, sacrifice, and courage, especially when you are misunderstood or you are the subject of misunderstandings and slanders, but that its he most fruitful attitude. (17)

An interpretation of the Spiritual Exercises that emphasizes asceticism, silence, and penance is a distorted one… (20-21)

When I entrust something to someone, I totally trust that person. He or she must make a really big mistake before I rebuke that person. But despite this, eventually people get tired of authoritarianism. (23)

But now I hear some people tell me: ‘Do not consult too much, and decide by yourself.’ Instead, I believe that consultation is very important. (23) I do not want token consultations, but real consultations. … And I want to see that this is a real, not ceremonial consultation. (24)

Belonging to a people has strong theological value. In the history of salvation, God has saved a people. There is no full identity without belonging to a people. No one is saved alone, as an isolated individual, but God attracts us looking at the complex web of relationships that take place in the human community. God enters into this dynamic, this participation in the web of human relationships. (25)

The people itself constitutes a subject. And the church is the people of God on the journey through history, with joys and sorrows. Thinking with the church, therefore, is my way of being a part of this people. (25-26)

This is how it is with Mary: if you want to know who she is, you ask theologians; if you want to know how to love her, you have to ask the people. In turn, Mary loved jesus with the heart of the people, as we read in the Magnificat. We should not even think, therefore, that ‘thinking with the church’ means only thinking with the hierarchy of the church. (26)

I see holiness in the patience of the people of God: a woman who is raising children, a man who works to bring home the bread, the sick, the elderly priests who have so many wounds but have a smile on their faces because they serve the Lord, the sisters who work hard and live a hidden sanctity. This is for me the common sanctity. I often associate sanctity with patience: not only patience as hypogene [the New Testament Greek word], taking charge of the events and circumstances of life, but also as a constancy in going forward, day by day. (27)

I see clearly that the thing the church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity. I see the church as a field hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars! You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else. Heal the wounds, heal the wounds… And you have to start from the ground up. (31)

The most important thing is the first proclamation: Jesus Christ has saved you. And the ministers of the church must be minsters of mercy above all. The confessor, for example, is always in danger of being either too much of a rigorist or too lax. Neither is merciful, because neither of them really takes responsibility for the person. The regrets washes his hands so that he leaves it to the commandment. The loose minister washes his hands by simply saying, ‘This is not a sin’ or something like that. In pastoral ministry we must accompany people, and we must heal their wounds. (31)

How are we treating the people of God? I dream of a church that is a mother and shepherdess. The church’s ministers must be merciful, take responsibility for the people, and accompany them like the good Samaritan, who washes, cleans, and raises up his neighbor. This is pure gospel. God is greater than sin. The structural and organizational reforms are secondary–that is, they come afterward. The first reform must be the attitude. The ministers of the gospel must be people who can warm the hearts of the people, who walk through the dark night with them, who know how to dialogue and to descend themselves into their people’s night, into the darkness, but without getting lost. The people of God want pastors, not clergy acting like bureaucrats or government officials. (31-32)

Instead of being just a church that welcomes and receives by keeping the doors open, let us try also to be a church that finds new roads, that is able to step outside itself and go to those who do not attend Mass, to those who have quit or are indifferent. (32)

During the return flight from Rio de Janeiro I said that if a homosexual person is of goodwill and is in search of God, I am no one to judge. By saying this, I said what the catechism says. Religion has the right to express its opinion in the service of the people, but God in creation has set us free: it is not possible to interfere spiritually in the life of a person. (33)

A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality. I replied with another question: ‘Tell me, when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?’ We must always consider the person. Here we enter into the mystery of the human being. In life, God accompanies persons, and we must accompany them, starting from their situation. It is necessary to accompany them with mercy. When that happens, the Holy Spirit inspires the priest to say the right thing. (33)

The confessional is not a torture chamber, but the place in which the Lord’s mercy motivates us to do better. (34)

We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage, and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible. I have not spoken much about these things, and I was reprimanded for that. But when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context. The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear, and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time. (34)

The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent. The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently. Proclamation in a missionary style focuses on the essentials, not he necessary things: this is also what fascinates and attracts more, what makes the heart burn, as it did for the disciples at Emmaus. We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the gospel. The proposal of the gospel must be more simple, profound, radiant. It is from this proposition that the moral consequences then flow. (34-35)

A beautiful homily, a genuine sermon must begin with the first proclamation, with the proclamation of salvation. There is nothing more solid, deep, and sure than this proclamation. Then you have to do catechesis. Then you can draw even a moral consequence. But the proclamation of the saving love of God comes before moral and religious imperatives. (35)

The message of the gospel, therefore, is not to be reduced to some aspects that, although relevant, on their own do not show the heart of the message of Jesus Christ. (35)

Religious men and women are prophets. They are those who have chosen a following of Jesus that imitates his life in obedience to the Father, poverty, community life, and chastity. (36)

Being prophets may sometimes imply making waves. I do not know how to put it…Prophecy makes noise, uproar, some say ‘a mess.’ But in reality, the charism of religious people is like yeast: the prophecy announces the spirit of the gospel. (37)

We must walk united with our differences: there is no other way to become one. This is the way of Jesus. (40)

The feminine genius is needed wherever we make important decisions. (42)

Vatican II was a rereading of the Gospels in light of contemporary culture. (43)

…in order to see reality, one must look with a gaze of faith. (45)

Finding God in all things is not an empirical ‘Eureka!’ When we desire to encounter God, we would like to verify him immediately by an empirical method. But you cannot meet God this way. God is found in the gentle breeze perceived by Elijah. The senses that find God are the ones St. Ignatius called spiritual senses. Ignatius asks us to open our spiritual sensitivity to encounter God beyond a purely empirical approach. A contemplative attitude is necessary: it is the feeling that you are moving along the good path of understanding and affection toward things and situations. Profound peace, spiritual consolation, love of God, and love of all things in God–this is the sign that you are on this right path. (46-47)

If a person says that he met God with total certainty and is not touched by a margin of uncertainty, then this is not good. For me, this is an important key. If one has the answers to all the questions–that is the proof that God is not with him. It means that he is a false prophet using religion for himself. The great leaders of the people of God, like Moses, have always left room for doubt. You must leave room for the Lord, not for our certainties; we must be humble. Uncertainty is in every true discernment that is open to finding confirmation in spiritual consolation. (48)

We must enter into the adventure of the quest for meeting God; we must let God search and encounter us. (49)

God is always a surprise, so you never know where and how you will find him. You are not setting the time and place of the encounter with him. You must, therefore, discern the encounter. Discernment is essential. (49)

If the Christian is a restorationist, a legalist, if he wants everything clear and safe, then he will find nothing. Tradition and memory of the past must help us to have the courage to open up new areas to God. (50)

I do not like to use the word optimism, because that is about a psychological attitude. I like to use the word hope instead. (51)

God has revealed himself as history, not as compendium of abstract truths. (59)

The doctor, who really was a good one, lived in his laboratory; the sister lived on the frontier and was in dialogue with it every day. Domesticating the frontier means just talking from a remote location, locking yourself up in a laboratory. Laboratories are useful, but reflection for us must always start from experience. (60)

The view of the church’s teaching as a monolith to defend without nuance or different understanding is wrong. (62)

In thinking of the human being, therefore, the church should strive for genius and not for decadence. (63)

The thinking of the church must recover genius and better understand how human beings understand themselves today, in order to develop and deepen the church’s teaching. (63)

Memory has a fundamental role for the heart of a Jesuit: memory of grace, the memory mentioned in Deuteronomy, the memory of God’s works that are the basis of the covenant between God and the people. It is the memory that makes me his son and that makes me a father too. (65)

Part Two: Responses

Tell me, when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?

If we dare to really see people, in their dignity and humanity, then we shall discover the right words to say. Who knows where this will take us? – Timothy Radcliffe (69)

…this papacy could mark the most fundamental change in the governance of the church in centuries, from monarchy to collegiality. – Timothy Radcliffe (72)

Like Francis, the beloved saint, Pope Francis seems truly to love the people of this world. He embodies the compassion of Jesus, which attracts followers, not just fans, and changes lives. This pope wants to walk with us, says he needs us to be his “community.” And this same pope who relishes great art, books, films, and music has an ear attuned to the cry of the poor and wants to serve them. History will remember that. – Karen Sue Smith (75)

Pope Francis is probably frustrated that all the attention is on him, his interview, his statements. He wants the attention on Jesus. – Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan (83)

My friend Father Bob Barron observes that, when he helps a foreign visitor who wants to understand baseball, he doesn’t start with a technicality like the infield fly rule. Start with the beauty, majesty, poetry, legend of the drama of the game! That’s what the Holy Father is suggesting: Start with Jesus, the way, the truth, the life. Start with the truth, not the consequences! – Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan (84)

A God who can enter into the depths of our suffering is not repulsed by our roundedness or disfigurements, but who meets us wherever and whoever we are, heals us by bringing us ever closer to himself. – James Hanvey (90)

As a teacher of contemplative prayer and the contemplative mind, I have come to believe that the Western church has put far too much effort and fight into metaphysics (“what certainly is”) and not nearly enough energy into practical epistemology (“How do you know what you think you know about what certainly is?”) This has made most of us victims of our own temperament, prejudices, culture, and prior agendas, while presuming we are speaking for the truly catholic. I have always felt that Roman and catholic were a bit of an oxymoron. – Richard Rohr (93)

…it is Pope Francis’s ability to critique his own mind (“discernment”) that enables him to trust his own experience, while also balancing it with Scripture and Tradition. – Richard Rohr (94)

Pope Francis appears to be the work of art that emerges after a whole Christian lifetime. The world loves to look at it. – Richard Rohr (94)

A radical element of Catholicism, as Thomas Aquinas noted, is that we are called by God for union with God, for friendship with God, and that friendship with God requires loving our neighbor. – Meghan J. Clark (103)

To recognize Jesus, though, you need an encounter, and for that you need an introduction. Mercy seems like a good way to introduce people to Jesus. – John W. Martens (122)

Part Three: Praying With a Big Heart

Spiritual Reflections on the Papal Interview

James Martin

Truly holy men and women fully understand their limitations and their sinfulness–in a word, their humanity. So do popes. (130)

There is always the danger, however, that the Christian faith can tempt us into thinking that we know all there is not know about religion, spirituality, and God. But as much as we can know about God–through experience, through church tradition, through the Scriptures, and most of all through Jesus Christ–God remains essentially unknowable. If you can define it and categorize it, then what you have defined and categorized is not God. (143)

God is, not a problem to be solved, but a mystery to be lived. (145)

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