Recognize, interpret, and choose – the Jesuits and Francis’ Vision – 7 years of his pontificate

Excerpt from La Civilta Cattolica, Rome, March 2020

Putting care of the spiritual life at the center, according to the charism we have received, means reactivating processes, generating hope, allowing us to see the world in the way God looks at it. The gestures, words and choices of Francis’ pontificate should be read with this universal gaze in mind, which recomposes tensions, misunderstandings and particular interests.

The Way to God through the Spiritual Exercises and Discernment

“Discernment” is one of the words that characterize this pontificate. But one must understand it well, so as not to distort it in the sense of doing what I want and making excuses for behaving in this way.

Some tendencies in contemporary cultures seem to empty discernment of its anthropological meaning, that is, of the sense of obligation to the imperatives of conscience, of responsibility toward the poor who suffer and, finally, of obedience to God’s will.[3] To integrate truth and freedom, law and responsibility, authority and obedience – from the Latin ob-audire meaning “listening before the other” – we need discernment.

Desire and the will to discern are not to be taken for granted. It is generally not a spontaneous or reflex attitude. Discernment is not simple, but rather a complex process that involves all the people and groups that practice it. So the question must be asked: is there a real willingness to discern? The stages of this process are summarized by the pope in Evangelii Gaudium when he quotes three significant  verbs: “recognize,” “interpret,” “choose.”

Since Ignatius of Loyola systematized the rules of discernment in 1523 they have become a common mode of proceeding offered to all people of good will. The experience of the Spiritual Exercises leads one to understand the vocation to which we are called in order to serve Christ, and thus to choose freely to do so. Through discernment we are able to distinguish the seductions of evil – including when they appear to be good – from the signs of the presence of God working in human history. Discernment thus leads one to make choices about the meaning of one’s life.

It is in discernment that the great questions of personal life and of the Christian and human community take shape: Who am I called to be? What decision is useful to make as a community of believers for the good of all? How can we avoid social evil and build the common good?

In personal life, as in social and political life, discernment helps to build the common good. Whoever does it receives as a gift “courage, strength, consolations and peace,” writes Ignatius of Loyola in the Spiritual Exercises.

Through discernment one no longer distinguishes between believers and non-believers, but between moral men and women and those who promote the good of all and, on the other hand, those who sow fear and division. But there is more. In community discernment, the limits of personal and social crises can leave room for life after death and the new signs of the times.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is an example of how peoples and nations have discerned maturely, putting the dignity of the person at the center. Unfortunately, in recent years we have seen a contraction in the universality of human rights; we see the relationship between law and power changing. There are many examples that we could give: from immigrants on the Mexican border to journeys of hope over the Mediterranean Sea, from the silent exodus of the peoples of Africa to the persecution of ethnic minorities in Asia and Latin America. It is political power that decides on each occasion whether those people who do not have the right of citizenship can also enjoy human rights.

Secular society challenges us. To proclaim the Gospel we must overcome both secularism and nostalgia for cultural expressions of the past. Secular society is also a sign of the times that offers us the opportunity to forge our faith in history. It is the place where new spaces are opened for human freedom and, in it, for religious freedom. It is in secular society that the conditions are born for a renewed adherence to the following of Jesus in the social, economic, cultural and political environments of our time.

Walking with the poor, in a mission of reconciliation and justice

For Pope Francis, the future of humanity envisages the social inclusion of the poor, peace-building and social dialogue.[4] The inclusion of the poor cannot occur from outside; it is possible only if the poor want it. The condition for building inclusion, justice and peace is “walking together.” Francis gives an example of this. There are no theoretical recipes; it is necessary to walk together. To do this, however, we must truly approach the poor as people, know their life and acquire their approach to life. In this way we can continue on the path followed by Jesus of Nazareth when he became “poor among the poor.” Only in this way can we see the world from the point of view of the poor.

Injustices must be recognized and called by name, and their causes must be studied to promote change in the economic, political and social structures that generate them. We must admit that it is not an easy intellectual task to fully understand the structural causes of injustice and the inhuman conditions in which the majority of human beings find themselves. Both the complexity of reality and the conditions of those who live in it require an original and systematic effort on our part.

Justice can be nurtured by the practice of revenge or the practice of reconciliation. Justice, as the fruit of reconciliation, is to put right relationships previously built on the wrong basis: those between individuals, between peoples and their cultures, with nature and with God. Pope Francis writes in Evangelii Gaudium: “To the extent that Jesus succeeds in reigning among us, social life will be a space of fraternity, justice, peace, dignity for all. Therefore, both the proclamation and the Christian experience tend to provoke social consequences. Let us seek his Kingdom: ‘Strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well’ (Matt 6:33). Jesus’ plan is to establish the Kingdom of his Father; he asks his disciples to proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ (Matt 10:7)” (EG 180).  (He told us to pray: “on earth as it is in heaven”.)

The political dimension remains of primary importance in promoting justice and reconciliation. A just and democratically governed world requires that we are genuine citizens. Investing in citizenship education will help us to strengthen political democracy, to promote social organizations committed to the common good and to stem the harmful consequences of the various forms of neoliberalism, fundamentalism and populism. Every person is called to be responsible for his or her citizenship and to educate himself or herself in it.

We need people who govern by placing the common good above special, albeit legitimate, interests. From the Christian point of view, becoming a politician means listening and responding to a call from the Lord. It is part of the mission of reconciliation and justice to discover, promote and form vocations to public service. This is the politics with a capital “P” of which Francis speaks.

For the Society of Jesus, the mission of justice and reconciliation means walking in the style of Jesus, together with the poor, helping migrants and victims of human trafficking, contributing to the elimination of all kinds of abuse, inside and outside the Church. There is no shadow of a doubt that  structural injustice is linked to abuses of power, sexuality and conscience. Promoting justice therefore means effectively contributing to the eradication of all forms of abuse.

Fr. Pedro Arrupe, missionary in Japan and Superior General of the Society of Jesus from 1965 to 1983, taught us that the service of faith and the promotion of justice are two lungs of the one body: Without the dimension of faith, action would become ideological; without the promotion of justice, Christian witness would be limited to the management of worship. It is also under this “faith-justice” combination that the pontificate of Francis must be understood. 

Accompanying young people in creating a future of hope

The Ignatian educational network accompanies about one million students around the world each year, if we include the schools of Fe y Alegría. For the Society, it is a great responsibility to form “men and women with and for others.” The younger generations change quickly. Half a century has passed since 1968, and the young people of the third millennium – for fear of losing the little they have achieved on their own – have only recently begun to claim their social rights together again. Their generation poses questions to the whole educational and social system: Toward which goal are they oriented? How can we accompany them? What dialogue is possible?

Our mission is to prepare with them a future of hope. The poor and the young have become the “theological places,” the crucified of the present world from which new life can spring forth. The Holy Spirit speaks to us today through the young people. It seems a provocation, knowing that the majority of them are poor. He speaks to us when we accompany them in their vital contexts, when we immerse ourselves in their anxieties and dreams. We are all called to draw closer to their vital worlds.

The Church, led by Francis, is setting its hopes on the “education” of young people, and this in the highest sense of e-ducere, “drawing out” resources, innovations and values from them.

Shared experience is a high form of accompaniment of the young person. In the Ignatian tradition, it requires continuous, personalized formation, with the help of spiritual readings or chosen studies, the creation of places of listening, commitment to the service of society and days of prayer and silence to be lived during the year in order to have the opportunity to re-examine one’s own life.

The Society of Jesus has chosen to listen to young people. It asks them to help understand its mission through an update, an upgrade, to be provoked by their search for faith, their language, their affections and their new practices, to create a new sense of community belonging that includes and does not end in what young people experience on their own and in the network. The challenge is to create together “existential spaces” where young people can be true protagonists, learn to make decisions and guide personal and community processes.


Collaborate in the care of the common home

Pope Francis has repeatedly stated that Laudato Si’ (LS) is a social encyclical. There are not, in fact, two separate crises, one environmental and one social, but a social-environmental crisis. The encyclical invites us to promote a new model of integral human development, because “everything in the world is intimately connected” (LS 16).

This challenge calls us to propose alternative models of sustainable life that are based on respect for creation and capable of producing and distributing goods with justice, so that everyone is guaranteed a dignified existence. Each of us is called to face a double challenge: On the one hand, to help create alternatives to the existing model that puts the life of the planet at risk and, on the other, to witness to a lifestyle in which harmony with the environment emerges. Of course, we need our commitment to structural changes, but there are also urgent changes we can make in other areas (reducing travel, changing our transport, what we eat, not buying new clothes, etc.).

Integral ecology thus becomes the paradigm capable of holding together environmental phenomena and problems (global warming, pollution, depletion of resources, deforestation, etc.) with all life’s other issues, such as the livability and beauty of urban spaces, virtuous behavior, good governance of cities. Even more so, attention to links and relationships makes it possible to find in integral ecology a key to reading life at all levels, from the relationship with one’s own body (cf. LS 155) to social and institutional dynamics. “If everything is related, the state of health of the institutions of a society also has consequences for the environment and for the quality of human life […]. In this sense, social ecology is necessarily institutional and progressively reaches the different dimensions, ranging from the primary social group, the family, to international life, passing through the local community and the Nation” (LS 142).

For the Society of Jesus, caring for now fragile ecosystems, such as life in the Amazon, India and Indonesia and in the Congo Basin, is a way of making authentic worship of God’s creative work.

Universal citizenship is built through a supranational policy that privileges cooperation over division, so that goods such as water, air, soil and climate are entrusted, not to the management of individual nations, but to the care of the universal human community.

Since its inception, the Society of Jesus, despite having been formed by Jesuits of different cultures and nations, by people who belonged to states at war with each other achieved a universal outlook, which goes beyond divisions and comes from three experiences: a deep friendship with the Lord Jesus, study, and service to the most needy. We explain this with two images that remain valid for us today.

In the square of the Collegio Romano, in Rome, opposite the ancient Roman College founded by Saint Ignatius for the training of clergy from all over the world, there was a small house called “Santa Marta,” where prostitutes were welcomed and recovered. So one can understand what mission meant for Saint Ignatius.

Second image. When Pope Paul III asked Saint Ignatius to send two Jesuit theologians to the Council of Trent, Fathers Laínez and Salmerón stood out not only for the intelligence of their theological contributions, but also for their testimony of life (with the poor): they participated in the sessions of the Council while staying in a hospital to assist the sick in their free time.

The four universal apostolic preferences of the Society are like seeds that, in order to germinate, require care, prayer, study, service, personal witness and the witness of the whole Society. This is a way of being Church that Pope Francis knows, because he too belongs to this spiritual experience of ours. It is a journey to be made in collaboration and sharing with other Orders and Congregations of religious, with the laity and movements associated with them, using dialogue in a constant dynamic process and in close connection with each other.

We are required to have the ability to make communion prevail over our differences, and to always move to geographical and intellectual “frontiers.” Like two legs, the spiritual and intellectual dimensions will sustain us along the way. The rest will be done through collaboration between us, in fidelity to the Gospel and to the teachings of the Magisterium.

“God, who calls us to generous commitment and to give him our all,” writes the pope in Laudato Si’, “offers us the light and the strength needed to continue on our way. In the heart of this world, the Lord of life, who loves us so much, is always present. He does not abandon us, he does not leave us alone, for he has united himself definitively to our earth, and his love constantly impels us to find new ways forward. Praise be to Him!” (LS 245).

[1].    At the beginning of 2019 there were 15,586 Jesuits: 11,208 priests, 1,031 brothers, 2,609 scholastics and 738 novices.

[2].    Ignatius of Loyola, Spiritual Exercises, No. 104.

[3].    In the Our Father we pray: “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”


In looking for the original link with LA CIVILTÀ CATTOLICA, I found:

And inspired by Pope Francis’ three areas in the first article, I’m passing on this on “three tenets”, sent by another friend today:

The Three Tenets of the Zen Peacemakers were first developed and articulated by Roshi Bernie Glassman in 1994. Since then, they have been studied and practiced by many people, including non-Zen Buddhists, and presented by many Zen Teachers. Below is an article on the Three Tenets by Roshi Egyoku Nakao, Abbot of the Zen Center of Los Angeles, as well as other talks and reflections on the Three Tenets by other contributors.


letting go of fixed ideas about yourself, others, and the universe.

With regular application, the practice of the Three Tenets can become a way of living from the center at all times. Although the tenets are taken in order when you study them, the practice is not necessarily linear. Each tenet reflects the others; they are seamlessly embedded in each other, flowing as center, circumstance, and action in an ever-unfolding and endlessly varied circle of life.

Difficult circumstances—political upheaval, the sudden loss of a loved one, or the unexpected termination of your job—can make life feel suddenly unstable. But actually, according to the Buddha, things are always unstable. It’s just that we have a tendency to live life from a set of unquestioned beliefs that make our lives feel solid. How can you know what will happen next? You can’t—because the universe, from its tiniest particles to its largest forms, is continually in flux.

In Three Tenets practice, not-knowing trains you to continually set aside fixed points of view. I describe not-knowing as a flash of openness or a sudden shift to being present in the moment. This dropping away of the things you have relied upon for a sense of stability may lead you to examine what you believe is your center, to take shelter in the place before anything arises, a place of emptiness and profound silence, a place of the deepest rest where self-interest has not yet entered. This is not a void, but rather a darkness where things are not yet differentiated or seen. You yourself can go to the darkness and become like an empty vessel, empty of points of view and preferences. An empty vessel refuses nothing and receives everything that is coming at it from all directions. By practicing in this way, you can create more space to accommodate your own reactivity and the points of view of others.

It should be said that the not-favoring-of-viewpoints that arises when one practices not-knowing does not demonstrate a lack of caring. Rather, not favoring any one thing over another allows you to center yourself within a boundless net of interconnection and to expand your circle of caring. In this way, the practice of not-knowing can align you with the ever-changing interconnected reality called Life. Practicing not-knowing may seem impossible to do, and yet, when you realize that life itself excludes nothing, practicing not-knowing over time will enable you to become more aware of what you choose to let in and open to what you had previously excluded.


to the joy and suffering of the world

The practice of bearing witness is to see all of the aspects of a situation including your attachments and judgments. You cannot live solely in a state of not- knowing, because life also asks that you face the conditions that are coming at you by being present to them. When you bear witness you open to the uniqueness of whatever is arising and meet it just as it is. When combined with not-knowing, bearing witness can strengthen your capacity for spaciousness, thus enabling you to be present to the very things that make you feel as if you have lost your center. It can strengthen your capacity to listen to other points of view, thus allowing a more nuanced picture of a situation to emerge.

Buddhist meditation trains you to bear witness by strengthening your awareness of thoughts, feelings, and sensations as they arise and pass. As your awareness strengthens, you begin to experience spaciousness and stability and see that you have a choice in your response to what is arising. Over time, you learn to bear witness to all the elements that are arising with a curious and compassionate attitude. This does not mean repressing the strong emotions that arise or stopping the escape into story drama, but rather being aware of what you are choosing to feed. A wise old tale often attributed to the Cherokee warns that when many demons are struggling inside you, the one that you feed is the one that will become the strongest. You alone are responsible for what you feed.

Bearing witness can allow you to eventually come to terms with the most difficult life circumstances. The practice is always available to you regardless of the time, place, situation, or people involved. There is nothing that you cannot bear witness to, from dusting the lint off your sweater to living in a pit for two years. In bearing witness, you are actively engaged and embodied, even struggling, with whatever is arising. Sometimes spiritual practices can have a neutralizing effect, flattening feelings rather than stimulating them. To hold to the center is not about becoming a spiritual zombie; it is about living the fullness of your own humanity. You are alive, so be fully alive.


that arises from Not-Knowing and Bearing Witness

The third tenet is Taking Action. It is impossible to predict what the action in any situation will be, or the timetable for when it will arise or what might result from it. The underlying intention is that the action that arises be a caring action, which serves everyone and everything, including yourself, in the whole situation.

Sometimes the action is as simple as continuing on with the practice of the first two tenets of not-knowing and bearing witness; the very practice of the Three Tenets is itself a caring action. And though the action that arises from the engagement of not-knowing and bearing witness is spontaneous and often surprising, it always fits the situation perfectly.

Training with the tenets is a matter of taking a backward step again and again and continually discerning your internal processes in the midst of acknowledging what is happening around you.  An effect of ongoing and consistent practice of the Three Tenets is that when you lose your sense of center and fall into reactivity, you also regain your center more quickly. And when you continually perform this practice in the midst of all the activities of your daily life, the practice will be readily accessible to you during the most challenging circumstances.

Training with the tenets brings about resiliency of the spiritual muscles and an ever-deepening sense of reality. As life unfolds around you, the Three Tenets are active inside of you, always directing you back to the center.

Wendy Egyoku Nakao Roshi is the abbot of the Zen Center of Los Angeles, a successor of Roshi Bernie Glassman, and a founding teacher of the Zen Peacemaker Order.

For the complete article, originally published in Tricycle: The Buddhist Review, Summer 2017, vol. xxvi, no. 4. follow this link:

[4].    Cf. Francis, Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (EG), No. 185.

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