March 14th, 2013
09:07 AM ET

My Take: What it means for one of my brothers to become pope

Editor's Note: Father James Martin is a Jesuit priest, editor at large of America magazine and author of the The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything

By Father James Martin, special to CNN

(CNN) - Pope Francis is the first Jesuit pope in history.  When I heard his name announced, after shouting aloud, my first thought was how improbable it all was.  But why?  Why was a Jesuit pope so hard for people (including me) to imagine?  And what would St. Ignatius Loyola, the 16th-century founder of the Jesuit Order (more formally known as the Society of Jesus), have thought?

Let’s take that first question first.  Why was it so improbable?  For two reasons.

First, most cardinals come from the ranks of the diocesan clergy.  That is, most study in diocesan seminaries and are trained to work in the more familiar Catholic settings of parishes - celebrating Masses, baptizing children, presiding at marriages and working closely with families in their parish.  Their lives are perhaps more easily understood by the public at large.  They begin as parish priests, and later are appointed bishops and archbishops and, later, are named cardinals by the pope.

Members of religious orders, like the Franciscans, Dominicans and Jesuits, live a different life.  We take vows of poverty, chastity and obedience and live in communities with one another.  (By contrast, parish priests receive salaries.)  We are also not as focused on parish life.  In this country, for example, the Jesuits are known mainly for their educational institutions: middle schools, high schools and colleges and universities like Boston College, Georgetown, Fordham and all the schools named “Loyola.”  So our lives are different from those of the diocesan clergy; not better or worse, just different.  So members of religious orders may seem more “unfamiliar” to cardinals. Thus, not many popes in recent history have been from religious orders.  When choosing a leader, then, the cardinals naturally prefer someone from their “world.”

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But not this time. Perhaps they felt it was time for a change.  A big one.

Also, the Jesuits were sometimes viewed with suspicion in a few quarters of the Vatican. There are a number of reasons for that, some of them complex.  The first is, as I mentioned, our “differentness.”  Second, our work with the poor and people on the margins sometimes struck some as too experimental, radical and even dangerous.  “When you work on the margins,” an old Jesuit said, “you sometimes step out of bounds.”

In the early 1980s, because of tensions between the Jesuits and the Vatican, Pope John Paul II “intervened” in our internal governance.  After a stroke felled our superior general, the pope appointed his own representative as our leader (rather than allowing the normal procedure, which was for us to elect a successor).  That was his right as pope, but it still discouraged many Jesuits.  A few years later, we elected a new superior general and the warm relations were restored.  Still, the cloud persisted in some quarters of the Vatican, which meant that a Jesuit pope was too far-fetched to even imagine.

With a Jesuit pope, that cloud has been if not removed then lifted much higher.

What does it mean to have a Jesuit pope?  Several things.

First, the new vicar of Christ is thoroughly steeped in the spirituality of St. Ignatius Loyola, who founded the Jesuits in 1540.  Pope Francis has twice in his life, as all “fully formed” Jesuits do, participated in the Spiritual Exercises, the monthlong silent retreat that focuses on the life of Jesus Christ.  The Exercises call on you to use your imagination to enter into the life of Jesus in prayer.  So Pope Francis, we can assume, is an intensely spiritual man who has plumbed the depths of the life of Christ in a particularly Jesuit way.  Since his election Wednesday, I have heard at least a dozen Jesuits say, “Well, I don’t know much about him, but I know he made the Exercises.”

Second, Jesuit training is extremely long.  Pope Francis entered the Jesuit novitiate in 1958, at the age of 22, and was not ordained until in 1969.  (That’s about the average length of time of training for a Jesuit priest. I entered in 1988 and was ordained in 1999.)  So the new pope is an educated man who also has experience in a variety of ministries, which he would have been assigned to during his long training.  Typically, a Jesuit in training is asked to do work with the poor, tend to patients in hospitals, teach in schools, and all the while perform what St. Ignatius called “low and humble tasks,” for example, like scrubbing out toilets and mopping floors.

Third, the new supreme pontiff knows poverty.  Jesuits are supposed to take our vows of poverty seriously.  This means in the novitiate living on a pittance, working with the poor and having nothing to call your own.  The already-famous stories of Cardinal Bergoglio using public transportation and cooking for himself may find their foundations in St. Ignatius Loyola, who said we should love poverty “as a mother.”  We Jesuits are asked to follow “Christ poor” - that is, to emulate Christ in his poverty on earth - and live as simply as possible.  Some of us do that better than others, and once he was appointed bishop and archbishop, he was released from his vow of poverty, but it is an essential goal in the life of a Jesuit, and most likely deeply embedded in his spiritual life.

Pope Francis’ name has been remarked on, and I was overjoyed that he chose to honor  St. Francis of Assisi, perhaps the world’s most beloved saint.  It signals a great desire to help the poor.  But I couldn’t help wondering if as devoted as he was to Francis, his first experiences of ministering to the poor came when he was, as Jesuits say, a “Son of Ignatius.”

Fourth, Jesuits are asked to be, in St. Ignatius' Spanish tongue, disponible: available, open, free, ready to go anywhere.  The Jesuit ideal is to be free enough to go where God wants you to, from the favela in Latin America to the Papal Palace in Vatican City. We are also, likewise, to be “indifferent”; that is, free enough to flourish in either place;  to do anything at all that is ad majorem Dei gloriam, for the greater glory of God.

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Fifth, we are not supposed to be “climbers.”  Now here’s a terrific irony.  When Jesuit priests and brothers complete their training, they make vows of poverty, chastity, obedience and a special vow to the pope “with regard to missions”; that is, with regard to places the pope wishes to send us.  But we also make an unusual promise, alone among religious orders as far as I know, not to “strive or ambition” for high office.

St. Ignatius was appalled by the clerical climbing that he saw around him in the late Renaissance, so he required us to make that unique promise against “climbing.” Sometimes, the pope will ask a Jesuit, as he did with Jorge Bergoglio, to assume the role of bishop or archbishop.  But this is not the norm.  Now, however, a Jesuit who had once promised not to “strive or ambition” for high office holds the highest office in the church.

On that second question: What would St. Ignatius Loyola have thought?

St. Ignatius famously did not want his men to become bishops and even resisted the Vatican at times to prevent that from happening.  On the other hand, he was disponible enough to know that rigid rules needed to be broken.  Plus he was also devoted to doing anything he could for the church, and to ask his Jesuits to do the same.  In one of the founding documents of the Jesuits, Ignatius announces his intention to “serve the Lord alone and the Church, his spouse, under the Roman Pontiff, the Vicar of Christ on earth.”

Anything for the “Greater Glory of God,” as our motto goes, and for the service of the church, Ignatius would say.  So, frankly, I think St. Ignatius would be smiling at one of his Sons not only serving the Roman Pontiff, but being one. 

I sure am.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of James Martin.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Catholic Church • Pope

soundoff (168 Responses)
  1. kevobx

    The most high God hid Esau in the word, all his scriptures with the words red written therein. *Exodus 15:15 Then the dukes of Edom shall be amazed; *Luke 9:43 And they were all amazed at the mighty power of God. But while they wondered every one at all things which Jesus did, he said unto his disciples. *Exodus 15:16 Fear and dread shall fall upon them; by the greatness of thine arm they shall be as still as a stone; till thy people pass over, O Lord, till the people pass over, which thou hast purchased. *Luke 9:44 Let these sayings sink down into your ears: for the Son of man shall be delivered into the hands of men. *Acts 5:29-30 Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree.

    March 19, 2013 at 1:16 pm |
  2. kevobx

    The passover is coming (Luke 24:44) *Psalm 78:1-72 got the entire world afraid of grace and truth. They all hide behind the word honesty, and charity to cover up their sins. *Jeremiah 13:26 Therefore will I discover thy skirts upon thy face, that thy shame may appear.

    March 19, 2013 at 12:36 pm |
  3. kevobx

    WARNING! All the tares are in the religious churches worshipping Him Satan, even those abroad is destruction. *Job 39:11 Wilt thou believe him, that he will bring home thy seed, and gather it into thy barn? *Matthew 13:30 Let them grow together, until the harvest: and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn. *Jeremiah 8:20-21 The harvest is past, the summer ended, and we are not saved. For the hurt of the daughter of my people am I hurt; I am black; astonishment hath taken hold on me. *John 4:35 Say not ye, There are yet four months, and then cometh harvest? behold, I say unto you, Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest. *Matthew 13:38-39 The field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom; but the tares are the children of the wicked one; The enemy that sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the world; and the reapers are the angels.

    March 19, 2013 at 12:17 pm |
  4. EX catholic

    An Idolater, an Educated Idolater yes, but still just another Idolater none the less!

    March 18, 2013 at 6:36 pm |
  5. EX catholic

    IDOLATRY is a Very Serious Sin, an aberrant and abhorrent SIN.

    The Son of God is Jesus the Christ and HE does NOT need a Vicar.

    March 17, 2013 at 8:15 pm |
  6. kevobx

    Exodus 16:30 So the people rested on the seventh day. *Hebrews 4:9 There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God.

    March 17, 2013 at 1:05 pm |
  7. kevobx

    What did Christ tell you about the potter? *Matthew 27:7-8 And they took counsel, and bought with them the potter's field, to bury strangers in. Wherefore that field was called, The field of blood, unto this day. (*Romans 9:21*) The world created Harry Potter full of wizards *Isaiah 8:19*

    March 17, 2013 at 12:26 pm |
  8. tony

    Blessed are the Biblical posters, for their wailing and denial of the truth shall cause incur the wrath of the more righteous ungodly and cause them to go forth and multiply and cover the Earth with their fruit.

    March 16, 2013 at 4:46 pm |
  9. kevobx

    Who is wise, Christ was sold for thirty pieces of silver. Joseph was sold for twenty pieces of silver? *Genesis 37:28 Then there passed by Midianites merchantmen; and they drew and lifted up Joseph out of the pit, and sold Joseph to the Ishmeelites for twenty pieces of silver: and they brought Joseph into Egypt. *Psalm 83:6 The tabernacles of Edom, and the Ishmaelites; of Moab, and the Hagarenes; *Exodus 15:15 Then the dukes of Edom shall be amazed; the mighty men of Moab, trembling shall take hold upon them; all the inhabitants of Canaan shall melt away. *Isaiah 24:17 Fear, and the pit, and the snare, are upon thee, O inhabitant of the earth. *Luke 21:35 For as a snare shall it come on all them that dwell on the face of the whole earth. *Matthew 12:42 for she came from the uttermost parts of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and behold, a greater than Solomon is here. *Ezekiel 28:3 Behold, thou art wiser than Daniel; there is no secret that they can hide from thee: *Isaiah 43:20 The beasts of the field shall honour me, the dragons and the owls:

    March 16, 2013 at 3:08 pm |
    • tony

      Or factually, probably not.

      March 16, 2013 at 4:28 pm |
    • clarity

      Let's be thankfully the flight attendant is not saying this once we're getting ready for takeoff.

      March 16, 2013 at 4:43 pm |
  10. kevobx

    Deny the truth, and thy Father denies you. King David and King Solomon worshipped other gods. Wake up my people, Jacob and Joseph is our salvation the 144,000 (Psalm 77:15) Every church on the planet is satanic! No man has the heart to read the entire *Psalm 78:1-72

    March 16, 2013 at 2:13 pm |
    • tony

      Wake up!!!! None of God's other creatures never needed priests or collection plates for the entire history of the bible. But man in god's image does??? Boy, are you missing something!

      March 16, 2013 at 4:31 pm |
  11. kevobx

    Grace and truth is Christ. But the man who hides behind honesty must prove all things, the world is honestly lying to you because they have their things. Let God be the I, my and we and you shall see the truth in his good book. It's the twelve tribes against the world, find your tribe in Revelation 7 of the 144,000 and the new Jerusalem is in Revelation 21:12 God is love, do you love grace and truth.

    March 15, 2013 at 2:34 pm |
    • clarity

      John of Patmos was clearly a substance abuser. The mess called Revelation proves it.

      March 15, 2013 at 2:36 pm |
    • sam stone

      I love truth. I don't think your iron age comic book contains it

      March 15, 2013 at 4:23 pm |
    • Reality

      "Nineteenth-century agnostic Robert G. Ingersoll branded Revelation "the insanest of all books".[30] Thomas Jefferson omitted it along with most of the Biblical canon, from the Jefferson Bible, and wrote that at one time, he "considered it as merely the ravings of a maniac, no more worthy nor capable of explanation than the incoherences of our own nightly dreams." [31]

      Martin Luther once "found it an offensive piece of work" and John Calvin "had grave doubts about its value."[32]

      March 15, 2013 at 4:41 pm |
    • Larry of Nazareth

      You do know that "apocalypse literature" was an established and popular genre by the time Revelation came along. There are lots of various apocalypse stories. It was popular at the time, and one got added to the Bible.

      Sorry to burst your bubble, but it was just a popular fictional genre back then, like science fiction now. It wasn't the first, and it probably wasn't even the best.

      March 15, 2013 at 9:29 pm |
  12. kevobx

    The more one denies the truth, the world become weaker because of pride. The world loves things, remember money answers all things. (Numbers 18:15)

    March 15, 2013 at 1:56 pm |
    • End Religion

      Heya retard, how's it going today? Still talking to imaginary sky fairies?

      March 15, 2013 at 9:13 pm |
  13. Over 40,000 denominations of insanity

    Some believe that celibacy is appropriate for certain people, or for certain positions. It's ridiculous. Celibacy is unnatural and will continue to cause problems for the religious institutions that employ it.

    Many of the people from these same institutions advocate against abortion, but don't understand the realistic benefit of the morning after pill or even basic contraception; their unrealistic wishful thinking is causing the death of many at the hands of disease. Realistically, many abortions could be avoided if a morning-after pill were not viewed as such an evil option. Many of these same people bring children into the world at a high pace, and then would prefer that the rest of society take over and educate their children in their particular brand of religion when they don't plan well.

    In the U.S. recently we learned of the head of LCMS chastising a minister of that church for participating in a joint service for the victims of the Newtown school shooting.

    One sect calls homosexuality an abomination while the next one in the same denomination is already performing gay marriage.

    One sect, the Westboro Baptist Church believes Americans are being killed at war because America is too kind to "fags".

    One sect believes that Jesus and Satan were brothers and that Christ will return to Jerusalem AND Jackson County, Missouri.

    One sect believes women to be subservient, while another sect in the same denomination promotes equality between the sexes.

    Conflicted right from the very beginning, Christianity continues to splinter and create divisions and more extremism as it goes.

    Has anything improved with Christianity since 200+ years ago?

    Thomas Jefferson, POTUS #3 (from Notes on the State of Virginia):

    Millions of innocent men, women, and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined, imprisoned; yet we have not advanced one inch towards uniformity. What has been the effect of coercion? To make one half the world fools, and the other half hypocrites. To support roguery and error all over the earth.

    James Madison, POTUS #4, chief architect of the U.S. Constitution & the Bill of Rights (from A Memorial and Remonstrance delivered to the Virginia General Assembly in 1785):

    During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What has been its fruits? More or less in all places, pride and indolence in the clergy; ignorance and servility in the laity; in both, superstition, bigotry, and persecution.

    John Adams, POTUS #2 (in a letter to Thomas Jefferson, 09/03/1816):

    I almost shudder at the thought of alluding to the most fatal example of the abuses of grief which the history of mankind has preserved – the Cross. Consider what calamities that engine of grief has produced! With the rational respect that is due to it, knavish priests have added prostitutions of it, that fill or might fill the blackest and bloodiest pages of human history.

    Ben Franklin (from a letter to The London Packet, 3 June 1772):

    If we look back into history for the character of present sects in Christianity, we shall find few that have not in their turns been persecutors, and complainers of persecution. The primitive Christians thought persecution extremely wrong in the Pagans, but practised it on one another. The first Protestants of the Church of England, blamed persecution in the Roman church, but practised it against the Puritans: these found it wrong in the Bishops, but fell into the same practice themselves both here and in New England.

    Thomas Paine (from The Age of Reason):

    All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions, set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit.

    March 15, 2013 at 1:46 pm |

    • ..

      March 15, 2013 at 1:46 pm |
    • liz

      Are you proud of yourself? You know nothing about Pope Francis or the Jesuits, yet you speak and blast every religion. Great another elite speaking!

      March 16, 2013 at 9:45 am |
  14. kevobx

    I dream of Jennie (Nasa) and Bewitched (warlocks) is that not witchcraft? Is that unfounded

    March 15, 2013 at 1:46 pm |
  15. kevobx

    Gay people are sodomists and the people in the world are Gomorrah (Isaiah 1:10) Gay clothing is treated one way and the poor are treated another way *James 2:3*

    March 15, 2013 at 1:42 pm |
    • sam stone

      Straight people do the same stuff that gay people do, kev...

      March 15, 2013 at 4:25 pm |
  16. kevobx

    Did Christ ever hang out with Sodomists, those who love ass? Asses & mules is a lineage of people (Genesis 36:24) Idolatry and witchcraft is the world. The media is interviewing themselves, what further witnesses do you need. *Matthew 26:65*

    March 15, 2013 at 1:29 pm |
    • Science

      Hot box is back must be hard sitting on your face,

      March 15, 2013 at 1:36 pm |
  17. kevobx

    God is on time, and mankind is on real time *Rev 1:3* (Paul) *1st Corithians 3:21 Therefore let no man glory in men. For all things are yours; (Christians) *Nehemiah 8:6 and the bowed their heads, and worshipped the Lord with their faces to the ground. (Muslims) *Ezekiel 8:16 and they worshipped the sun toward the east. (Dukes) *Genesis 36:19 These are the sons of Esau, who is Edom, and these are their dukes. (Gentiles) *Galatians 3:14 That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. (Israel) *Romans 11:25 For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in. (144,000 the new Jerusalem) *Revelation 3:12 and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God: (Revelation 21:12) And it shall come to pass in the last days *Isaiah 2:3 And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. *Matthew 26:45 Then cometh he to his disciples, and saith unto them, Sleep on now, and take your rest: *John 11:13 Howbeit Jesus spake of his death: but they thought that he had spoken of taking of rest in sleep. *Matthew 26:31 for it is written, I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered abroad. (Idolatry) *Zechariah 11:17 Woe to the idol shepherd that leaveth the flock! the sword shall be upon his arm, and upon his right eye: his arm shall be clean dried up, and his right eye shall be utterly darkened. (Peace to the holy people, for they shall be destroyed) *Daniel 8:24-25

    March 15, 2013 at 12:25 pm |
    • hal 9001

      I'm sorry "kevobx", but all that is unfounded.

      March 15, 2013 at 1:33 pm |
    • sam stone

      jesus is waiting for you, kev. do you not have a tall building in your town, or a sidearm?

      March 15, 2013 at 4:26 pm |
  18. Fredric

    Any pope who pays his own hotel bill in person...and eschews red loafers...is off to a flying start!!

    March 15, 2013 at 11:52 am |
    • Harvey D. Rabbit

      Apparently popes skip out on their bill so much that to have one actually pay it is newsworthy.

      March 15, 2013 at 12:29 pm |
  19. Doc Vestibule

    @Arvn Huac

    So what exactly do you believe in ? How come you're not able to explain ?

    March 15, 2013 at 11:18 am |
    • Arvn Huac

      Since you are a sleazy troll pretending to be Doc, I really don't have to explain anything to you other that what a scumbag you are.

      March 15, 2013 at 12:28 pm |
  20. Reality

    Do you love all that text I put in to distract you ? The reality is that I am unable to tell you what I believe in. I will tell you all day long that christianity is flawed or is wrong. But I can't tell you what I believe in because I really have nothing better. I criticize. That's all I do. But I have no moral teachings to share with you. Nothing. Zero.

    March 15, 2013 at 11:12 am |
    • Reality

      From the original Reality:

      The Apostles'/Agnostics’ Creed 2013: (updated by the original Reality based on the studies of historians and theologians of the past 200 years)

      Should I believe in a god whose existence cannot be proven
      and said god if he/she/it exists resides in an unproven,
      human-created, spirit state of bliss called heaven??

      I believe there was a 1st century CE, Jewish, simple,
      preacher-man who was conceived by a Jewish carpenter
      named Joseph living in Nazareth and born of a young Jewish
      girl named Mary. (Some say he was a mamzer.)

      Jesus was summarily crucified for being a temple rabble-rouser by
      the Roman troops in Jerusalem serving under Pontius Pilate,

      He was buried in an unmarked grave and still lies
      a-mouldering in the ground somewhere outside of

      Said Jesus' story was embellished and "mythicized" by
      many semi-fiction writers. A descent into Hell, a bodily resurrection
      and ascension stories were promulgated to compete with the
      Caesar myths. Said stories were so popular that they
      grew into a religion known today as Catholicism/Christianity
      and featuring dark-age, daily wine to blood and bread to body rituals
      called the eucharistic sacrifice of the non-atoning Jesus.

      (references used are available upon request)

      March 15, 2013 at 12:31 am | Report abuse |


      The morals of the ancients serve us well today:

      Many OT, NT and koran thu-mpers are actually thu-mping the rules and codes of the ancients like King Hammurabi and the Egyptians who wrote the Book of the Dead and who did NOT need revelations from angels or mountain voices to develop needed rules of conduct for us h-o-minids.

      "Hail to thee, great God, Lord of the Two Truths. I have come unto thee, my Lord, that thou mayest bring me to see thy beauty. I know thee, I know thy name, I know the names of the 42 Gods who are with thee in this broad hall of the Two Truths . . . Behold, I am come unto thee. I have brought thee truth; I have done away with sin for thee. I have not sinned against anyone. I have not mistreated people. I have not done evil instead of righteousness . . .
      I have not reviled the God.
      I have not laid violent hands on an orphan.
      I have not done what the God abominates . . .
      I have not killed; I have not turned anyone over to a killer.
      I have not caused anyone's suffering . . .
      I have not copulated (illicitly); I have not been unchaste.
      I have not increased nor diminished the measure, I have not diminished the palm; I have not encroached upon the fields.
      I have not added to the balance weights; I have not tempered with the plumb bob of the balance.
      I have not taken milk from a child's mouth; I have not driven small cattle from their herbage...
      I have not stopped (the flow of) water in its seasons; I have not built a dam against flowing water.
      I have not quenched a fire in its time . . .
      I have not kept cattle away from the God's property.
      I have not blocked the God at his processions."

      "The Book of the Dead was written circa 1800 BCE. 2 The Schofield Reference Bible estimates that the Hebrew Exodus from Egypt and the provision of the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai occurred in 1491 BCE., some three centuries later. Many religious liberals, historians, and secularists have concluded that the Hebrew Scripture's Ten Commandments were based on this earlier docu-ment, rather than vice-versa."

      March 15, 2013 at 12:34 am | Report abuse

      March 15, 2013 at 4:40 pm |
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