Making Sense of Pope Francis | Carrie Gress, Ph.D. | Catholic World Report
Austen Ivereigh’s The Great Reformer: Francis and the Making of a Radical Pope offers many insights into Francis, but does have a serious weakness
“Who can figure this pope out?” was the question raised by friends at a recent lunch. The nine of us spent a lot of time voicing fear, concern, confusion, and speculating about what he is up to. (And as mothers to a collective 62 children, we had to discuss the pope’s “rabbit” quote.) A quick look around the blogosphere makes it clear we are not the only ones having this discussion.
Pope Francis is quite a mystery. After the long pontificate of John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI was a familiar successor. We knew who he was—or at least a little bit, if not his whole life story. And though Benedict brought his own ideas to the papacy, widespread confusion about the future of the Church didn’t set in.
When the former Cardinal Bergoglio stepped out to face the world as Pope Francis, he was a complete unknown. It took the news service I was watching several minutes to announce who the new pope was even after his name had been announced from the loggia. Resources are slim when trying to get a clear picture of this man who became pope.
Austen Ivereigh has done a great service for the Church universal in writing The Great Reformer: Francis and the Making of Radical Pope, (Henry Holt, 2014). Ivereigh unfolds the life of Pope Francis, revealing how his life in Argentina has prepared him, in much the same way Karol Wojtyla was prepared by Krakow, to be the leader of the Church for our times.
The book brings to light several major themes in the life of Jorge Bergoglio that are crucial to understanding this pope and his papacy.
He is a son of Ignatius: Ivereigh makes clear that Bergoglio, through and through, is a Jesuit with the heart of St. Ignatius. His seminary formation, which took place before the chaos of Vatican II, instilled in him the deep treasury of Ignatian prayer and the discernment of spirits, which he has used as a guide throughout his life. Even today, the Argentine pope gets up at 4:00 am to pray and prepare for the day.
After Vatican II, the Jesuit Order in Argentina attempted to scuttle much of its theological traditions and practices (along with many other segments of the Church). Bergoglio, as provincial (who faced the added drama of Liberation Theology that affected so much of South and Central America), was able to hold onto many of the Society of Jesus’s treasures, ensuring that the province not only remained intact theologically, despite a percentage of Jesuits who disagreed with him among the ranks, but flourished under his leadership.
One Argentine leader speaking of Bergoglio, quoted in The Great Reformer, said: “Bergoglio was completely different from the Third World priests. … While they went into politics to make up for what was lacking in their faith, he stayed close to his faith and from there sought to enrich politics. He said what mattered was not ideology but witness.” (105)
Bergoglio expanded the Jesuits’ ministry to the poor, while also increasing the number of seminarians and priests who entered the society. Meanwhile, other provinces that abandoned the older traditions and teachings of St. Ignatius saw their ministries and numbers decimated.
Francis has the heart of Saint Francis: