Pope to Jesuit editors: ‘Reality is superior to ideas’

June 14, 2022 in Featured News, News

In a recent audience with the editors of European Jesuit cultural journals, Pope Francis emphasised that human reality is much more important than abstract ideas. In relation to the war in Ukraine, as well as to other wars around the world, matters of social justice, spiritual renewal in the Church, and the synodal path, he repeatedly noted the danger of dealing in abstract ideas and neglecting human experience. This notion has laid at the heart of his teaching since the beginning of his pontificate.

Responding to a question about the war in Ukraine, the Pope began by saying that in that conflict “there are no metaphysical good guys and bad guys, in an abstract sense”. He noted the “brutality and ferocity with which this war is being carried out by the troops, generally mercenaries, used by the Russians”, but he warned against the danger of not seeing the larger drama unfolding behind the war, one in which the arms trade has a distinct vested interest. “It is very sad,” he added, “but at the end of the day that is what is at stake”.

He rejected any suggestion that because he was saying the war was not reducible to the good and the bad he must be pro-Putin:

No, I am not. It would be simplistic and wrong to say such a thing. I am simply against reducing complexity to the distinction between good guys and bad guys without reasoning about roots and interests, which are very complex. While we see the ferocity, the cruelty of Russian troops, we must not forget the real problems if we want them to be solved.

This same principle of paying close attention to the concrete realities behind abstract considerations was of great importance, the Pope believes, for the work on Jesuit cultural journals.

In general, of course, I believe that the mission of a cultural journal is to communicate. I would add, however, to communicate in the most embodied way possible, in a personal way, with the authenticity of a face-to-face engagement. By this I mean that it is not enough to communicate ideas. You have to communicate ideas that come from experience. This for me is very important. Ideas must come from experience.

In particular, the Pope saw this disposition as central to the Jesuit way of proceeding:

The Society of Jesus should not be interested in communicating abstract ideas. It is interested, instead, in communicating human experience through ideas and reasoning, through experience. Ideas are to be discussed. Discussion is a good thing, but for me it is not enough. It is human reality that is to be discerned. Discernment is what really counts. The mission of a Jesuit publication cannot be only to discuss, but it must be above all able to help discernment that leads to action.

Discernment, for Francis, is the key, especially for Jesuit works:

Ideas are discussed, reality is discerned. Discernment is the charism of the Society. In my opinion, it is the first charism of the Society and it is what the Society must continue to focus on, including in its cultural journals. They must be helpful and promote discernment.

This same sense of attending to concrete and lived experience as a way of discerning in all human situations is also of the first importance in regard to the life of the faithful in the Church. Pope Francis was critical of ‘restorers’ – effectively traditionalists and conservatives who have ‘come to gag the [Second Vatican] Council. He insisted that renewal in the Church would come from truly accepting the Council and helping it take root.

It is very difficult to see spiritual renewal using old-fashioned criteria. We need to renew our way of seeing reality, of evaluating it. In the European Church I see more renewal in the spontaneous things that are emerging: movements, groups, new bishops who remember that there is a Council behind them. Because the Council that some pastors remember best is that of Trent. What I’m saying is not nonsense.

The full text of the Pope’s conversation with Jesuit editors is available here »