Finding a spiritual connection in Francis’ conversations

Finding a spiritual connection in Francis’ conversations

Dec 23, 2017

By Michael Sean Winters
Thank you, Holy Father, for being with us. We all live in Myanmar and you understand the situation in our  country. We share the same spiritu- ality, that of the Spiritual Exercises.  Our spirituality contemplates the In- carnation which pushes us forward;  it moves us to mission. We are here, and therefore we are on a mission. Contemplating the actual situation in Myanmar, what do you expect from us?

Pope Francis: I believe we cannot think of a mission — I say this not only as a Jesuit but as a Christian — without the mystery of the Incarnation.  The mystery of the Incarnation illumi- nates our approach to reality and the  world completely, all our closeness to people, to culture. Christian closeness is always incarnated. It is a closeness like that of the Word, who comes to be  with us.

I remind you of the synkata- basis, the being with ... The Jesuit is  one who must always get closer, as the Word made flesh came close. To look,  to listen without prejudices, but mys- tically. To look without fear and look  mystically: this is fundamental for the way we look at reality.

Inculturation begins with this way of looking. Inculturation is not a fashion, no. It is the very essence of the Word which became flesh, took our culture, our language, our flesh, our life, and died. Inculturation is to take on board the culture of the people I am sent to.

And for this reason the Jesuit prayer  — I mean mainly in relation to incul- turation — is the prayer of interces- sion. It is necessary to pray to the Lord  precisely for those realities in which I am immersed.

There have been many failures in the Society’s life of prayer. At first  some Jesuits gave St Ignatius a head- ache because they wanted the Jesuits  to remain closed away and to dedicate two or three hours to prayer ... And St  Ignatius said: “No, contemplate in ac- tion!” And in 1974 it was my turn to  experience this. There was — as you know — a movement of the so-called “Discalced Jesuits,” who wanted a rigid, almost cloistered observance of the rules. A contrary reform, against the spirit of St Ignatius. True prayer  and true Jesuit observance do not fol- low that route. It is not a restorationist  observance. Our observance is always to look forward with the inspiration of the past, but always looking forward. The challenges are not behind, they lie ahead.

For this, Blessed Pope Paul VI  helped the Society greatly, and on De- cember 3, 1974, he addressed us with  a speech that remains entirely relevant. I recommend you read it. He says, for example, a phrase: Wherever, at the crossroads of history, there are Jesuits. Paul VI said it! He did not say, “Be locked up in a convent,” but he tells the Jesuits, “Go to the crossroads!”  And to go to the crossroads of his- tory, my dear friends, we must pray!  We must be men of prayer alive in the crossroads of history!

The relationship of Incarnation to our ecclesial mission and missionary  inculturation is the very heart of Christ- mas, no? The Word became flesh and  dwelt among us. The Word still wants to take on flesh. It is we, the body of  Christ, who must undertake that en- fleshing. And, while we in the laity do  not have the same exact duties and ob- ligations as a Jesuit would have, this  call to root our lives in the Incarnation and thence to go to the crossroads of history belongs to us as well. We also are called to immerse ourselves in the culture so that we can discern Christ’s presence there. That is Christmas, the in-breaking of the divine into human  history and culture, and that Incarna- tion becomes the very lens through  which we approach the world. 

I am a Jesuit in formation as a teach- er and I work in a slum. People are  very poor, but people there want to help each other. A girl asked me: How can I help those in need if I need help  myself? I tried to give her an intellec- tual answer, but it did not convince  me. Then someone advised me to ask the Holy Father the question.

Pope Francis:
Intellectual answers  don’t help. I am not an anti-intellectu- al, be clear! We need to study a lot, but  the intellectual and abstract response in this case does not help. For a mother who has lost her son, for a man who has lost his wife, a child, a sick man ... what can words do? Just a look ... a smile, shaking hands, arms, touch ... and perhaps at that point the Lord will inspire a word in us. But do not  give explanations. And the question  the girl asked was an existential ques- tion: “How can I, who have nothing,  help others?” Come closer! And think about how that person can help you. Come closer. Accompany. Stay close. And the Holy Spirit — let us not forget that we have the Spirit inside — will inspire in you what you can do, what you can say. Because to speak is the  last thing. First, do. Be silent, accom- pany, stay close. Proximity, nearness.  It is the mystery of the Word made flesh. Nearness. Maybe you can tell  the girl: “Be closer!” She needs close- ness. And you need closeness too. And  let God do the rest.

God chose to be close to us, to be near to us, even taking on human flesh  to enter into solidarity with us and, ul- timately to redeem us. This is not ab- stract: He came, as did we all, through  the birth canal of a woman. He came into poverty of flesh as do the children born into the slums these Jesuits serve. Jesus was born into poverty but he was also born into the richness of the promises made to Israel. Our readings  from the Hebrew Scriptures in this Ad- vent season speak of longing, of shame  (which Pope Francis elsewhere in that  talk explains is a grace!), of incom- pleteness, of preparation. The promise  of a saviour, of someone who fulfills the longing of God’s people, this is  what we cultivate in ourselves this Ad- vent. 

This year, despite all the distractions, the Holy Father’s cheerful interactions with the Jesuits in Myanmar are a good place to start in preparing our hearts to welcome the Word made flesh.

(This article first appeared on, the Website of National Catholic Reporter, and is being used with permission)

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