Virtually everyone in the Catholic blogosphere – and in the secular media – has been talking about Pope Francis’ interview with Antonio Spadaro, SJ, which was published last week in 16 Jesuit journals around the world. The best comment I have heard, and which I repeat myself is – read the actual interview, all of it, multiple times. It’s beautiful. It’s challenging. It’s refreshing. It’s enlightening. It’s insightful. It’s theological profound. It’s pastorally rejuvenating. It gives us much to reflect on and much to do in living as disciples of Jesus Christ. Read it, all of it, multiple times.
For my part, just two reflections from the interview that build on my ministry as a vocation director. Last week, I attended the annual convention of the National Conference of Diocesan Vocation Directors. It was my first time attending this convention, and I was greatly uplifted by the support, vision, and perspective of vocation directors from around the US and beyond. Over and over during the week, we were reminded of the importance of relationships – growing in a personal relationship with God and with fellow human beings – as the fundamental locus of vocations ministry. Throughout his interview, Pope Francis talks about the critical importance of these relationships as well, and he situates the conversation in two important characteristics of his religious order, the Society of Jesus: discernment and community.
Pope Francis defines discernment as “an instrument of struggle in order to know the Lord and follow him more closely.” On community, Pope Francis says, “I cannot live without people. I need to live my life with others.” Discernment and community – hallmarks of the Society of Jesus, fundamental in the life of our Holy Father, and instrumental for all of us who strive to lives as disciples of Jesus Christ. For those of us who work in vocations ministry, we are called to constantly live in discernment – growing in our own relationship with God so that we can help speak on behalf of the Church in response to men who present themselves for consideration as priests, and helping provide environments in which the young people of the Church can discern God’s call in their lives. We are also called to live in community – being visible and present in all the various communities of the Church as minister of the call of Jesus Christ. I think you can understand the entirety of vocations ministry in terms of discernment and community. And I think you can understand Pope Francis and his shepherding of the universal Church by understanding discernment and community.
There’s much more to the interview – read it, all of it, multiple times. Pope Francis uses the wonderful image of a field hospital to talk about the Church, and reading his humble description of himself as a sinner looked upon by God is quite moving. I hope and pray that we can put behind us the commentaries and controversies that both the secular media and some prominent Catholics have voiced in response to the interview, and instead let the profound words of our Holy Father inspire and challenge us in our lives as disciples, striving to follow Jesus Christ through discernment and community.