by Gerard O’Connell, American Magazine
Pope Francis spoke freely about his own “experience of God” since becoming pope, the importance of working for reconciliation in a polarized country, his belief that clericalism is “a real perversion” in the church, the difference between evangelization and proselytism and other important topics when he engaged in stimulating question-and-answer sessions with Jesuits during his recent visit to Africa.
The journey to Mozambique, Madagascar and Mauritius represented the pope’s 31st foreign trip, and during each of them he has carved out time to meet the local Jesuits in most of the 47 countries he has visited. Antonio Spadaro, S.J., the editor of La Civiltà Cattolica, present at these encounters, has recorded and published the transcripts in that review and did so again this time at a meeting with 20 Jesuits from Mozambique, three from Zimbabwe and one from Portugal. (Two of the pope’s interesting responses are described below, but the full transcript of the encounter can be found online.)
In Maputo, Mozambique, on Sept. 5, when asked if and how his experience of God has changed since becoming pope, Francis reflected for a moment and then confessed: “I guess my experience of God hasn’t fundamentally changed. I remain the same as before.
“Yes, I feel a sense of greater responsibility, no doubt. My prayer of intercession has become much wider than before. But even beforehand I lived the prayer of intercession and felt pastoral responsibility. I keep walking, but there’s not really been any radical change.”
He added: “I speak to the Lord as before. I feel God gives me the grace I need for the present time. But the Lord gave it to me before. And I commit the same sins as before.
“My election as pope did not convert me suddenly,” Pope Francis said, “so as to make me less sinful than before. I am and I remain a sinner. That’s why I confess every two weeks.”
He said he had never been asked this question before and thanked the questioner “because it makes me think about my spiritual life.”
He added: “My relationship with the Lord has not changed, apart from a greater sense of responsibility and a prayer of intercession that has spread to the world and to the whole church. But the temptations are the same and so are the sins. The mere fact that I now dress all in white has not made me any less sinful or holier than before.”
He told them: “It comforts me a lot to know that Peter, the last time he appears in the Gospels, is still as insecure as he was before. At the Sea of Galilee, Jesus asked him if he loved him more than the others and asked him to tend to his sheep and then confirmed him.
“But Peter remains the same person he was: stubborn, impetuous. Paul will have to confront and fight with his stubbornness about the Christians who came from paganism and not from Judaism.”
He recalled that “at the beginning Peter in Antioch lived the freedom that God gave him and sat at the table with the pagans and ate with them quietly, putting aside the Jewish food rules. But then some came there from Jerusalem, and Peter, out of fear, withdrew from the table of the pagans and ate only with the circumcised.
“In short: from freedom he passed again to the slavery of fear,” the pope said. “There he is, Peter the hypocrite, the man of compromise!”
Francis concluded: “Reading about Peter’s hypocrisy comforts me so much and warns me. Above all, this helps me to understand that there is no magic in being elected pope. The conclave doesn’t work by magic.”
Mozambique is still a largely divided, polarized society because of the civil war that lasted from 1977 to 1992. When asked how Jesuits there should live the apostolic preferences of the Society in this situation, Francis responded: “It is not easy to rebuild a divided society. You live in a country that has experienced civil strife, with Mozambicans fighting one another.”
He suggested that “the apostolic preference regarding the Spiritual Exercises can help a lot in this context. They can be given to people engaged in different sectors of society and thus make them more able to carry out their task of uniting and reconciling. The experience of spiritual discernment can guide action.”
He told the assembled Jesuits that “it is appropriate to accompany all parties, especially where there is a need for unity and reconciliation in society and in the nation.”
But, he acknowledged, “we know that sometimes the best is the enemy of the good, and at a time of reconciliation bitter pills must be swallowed. In this process you have to teach yourself to be patient. It takes the patience of discernment to reach what is essential and put aside the accidental. It takes a lot of patience sometimes!”
At the same time, he said, “it is necessary to share our wisdom, that is the social doctrine of the church. But be careful: Jesuits must not divide. There is a need for reconciliation in the society of Mozambique: unite, unite, unite, unite, unite, have patience, wait. Never take a step to divide. We are men of the whole, not of the part.”
Emphasizing the importance of “the educational apostolate” among the young, he said, “It is necessary to be close to the young people, to give them space so that they can discern what is happening in their hearts.” He explained that “formation considers ideas and feelings together. To act well, you always have to consider your ideas and feelings.”
He insisted moreover, “we need spiritual discernment, of accompaniment for the good of society.”
Another Jesuit asked about the old Jesuit-staffed Apostleship of Prayer, which is now known as the Pope's Worldwide Prayer Network. Catholics, Pope Francis said, need to learn the art of the “the prayer of intercession,” courageously and boldly holding up someone else’s needs to God and asking God to intervene.
As for the global network that encourages people to pray for the pope's intentions, specifying a new intention each month, Pope Francis said: “It is important that people pray for the pope and his intentions. The pope is tempted, he is very besieged: Only the prayer of his people can free him, as we read in the Acts of the Apostles. When Peter was imprisoned, the church prayed incessantly for him.
“If the church prays for the pope, this is a grace,” he said. “I really do feel the need to beg for prayer all the time. The prayer of the people is sustaining.”
Republished from American Magazine