A patient volcano

pope francis thumbs up

Pope Francis is, as we know, a Jesuit. In his book My Door is Always Open, he summarises his, and the Jesuit philosophy, in three words: dialogue, frontier, and discernment. The last word is something of a moderating influence. He says in the book that his natural inclination is to rush into things (the interviewer with whom he collaborates describes Francis as a volcano), but he describes a need for patience. This may not please those who assume that Francis is going to rush into shaking the Catholic Church to the core. But being discerning does not exactly go against the grain of our image of Francis as a warm character.

His emphasis on dialogue is interesting. He tends to lean towards learning from different points of view, interestingly for a leader of what is usually thought of as a rather dogmatic institution.

His emphasis on frontier is somewhat counter-intuitive too. He says that Christians often assume the Church should be in the centre of our society, and that has literally been the case in ages past. But he rightly points out that the Gospel runs contrary to the overriding ethos of our modern era. By this he doesn’t just mean that the Church is conservative in an age of radicalism. He means that care for the poor and meek runs counter to our society’s obsession with fame and power. And it is up to the Church to take the radical message of love and acceptance out to those who haven’t heard it. Which means that one must prioritise, hence his insistence that grace should be proclaimed first before we get into arguments about doctrine or morality. Not only this, but his Jesuit background (and time teaching literature) has given him a love of literature and the arts and he has a more open attitude to how Christians engage with them. All this conjures a view of the Church not as a rock in the midst of the stormy seas of postmodernity, but as a community on the fringes of society that, as his book title suggests, is always inviting.

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