Don’t worry, this is not yet another analysis of Pope Francis’ interview with Antonio Spadaro, S.J. which was translated by and published in America Magazine. That interview has been covered in-depth in a variety of news outlets and blogs.
One of the remarkable things about the election of Pope Francis is that he is the first Jesuit elected Pope, which was a huge surprise because I never thought that a Jesuit would be elected pope. I did not know what exactly the election of a Jesuit would mean for the Church but I knew that it would be interesting, which it certainly has been during the first six months. Although nothing has changed doctrinally and Pope Francis is in many ways more traditional than his predecessor, the perception of the Church in the mainstream media is certainly different.
One aspect of the interview that has received scant attention that has received little attention is his reference to Blessed Peter Faber, S.J. Here is that portion of the interview:
The Model: Peter Faber, ‘Reformed Priest’
I am wondering if there are figures among the Jesuits, from the origins of the Society to the present date, that have affected him in a particular way, so I ask the pope who they are and why. He begins by mentioning Ignatius Loyola [founder of the Jesuits] and Francis Xavier, but then focuses on a figure who is not as well known to the general public: Peter Faber (1506-46), from Savoy. He was one of the first companions of St. Ignatius, in fact the first, with whom he shared a room when the two were students at the University of Paris. The third roommate was Francis Xavier. Pius IX declared Faber blessed on Sept. 5, 1872, and the cause for his canonization is still open.
The pope cites an edition of Faber’s works, which he asked two Jesuit scholars, Miguel A. Fiorito and Jaime H. Amadeo, to edit and publish when he was provincial superior of the Jesuits in Argentina. An edition that he particularly likes is the one by Michel de Certeau. I ask the pope why he is so impressed by Faber.
“[His] dialogue with all,” the pope says, “even the most remote and even with his opponents; his simple piety, a certain naïveté perhaps, his being available straightaway, his careful interior discernment, the fact that he was a man capable of great and strong decisions but also capable of being so gentle and loving.”
Michel de Certeau characterized Faber simply as “the reformed priest,” for whom interior experience, dogmatic expression and structural reform are inseparable. The pope then continues with a reflection on the true face of the founder of the Society.
“Ignatius is a mystic, not an ascetic,” he says. “It irritates me when I hear that the Spiritual Exercises are ‘Ignatian’ only because they are done in silence. In fact, the Exercises can be perfectly Ignatian also in daily life and without the silence. An interpretation of the Spiritual Exercises that emphasizes asceticism, silence and penance is a distorted one that became widespread even in the Society, especially in the Society of Jesus in Spain. I am rather close to the mystical movement, that of Louis Lallement and Jean-Joseph Surin. And Faber was a mystic.” (emphasis added)
I previously wrote on Blessed Peter Faber, S.J. on his Feast day, August 2 and thought in light of the interview with Pope Francis it would be a great opportunity to highlight this great Jesuit. Attached here is a wonderful document on the life and spirituality of Peter Faber by Severin Leitner that was graciously provided by Claire Bangasser, of the great blog A Seat at the Table.
The article summarizes Peter Faber’s spiritual life and provides a clue into Pope Francis’ thinking. One passage particularly struck me as how Pope Francis, like other mystics such as Mother Teresa, use works and contemplative prayer together to deepen their relationship with God:
“I reflected on how to pray and work well, and how a genuine desire for prayer leads to good works and vice versa good works lead to a genuine desire for prayer I noticed and felt quite clearly, that a spiritual person who seeks God in his work finds him afterwards in prayer much better than a person who, as happens frequently, seeks Go d in prayer in order to find him afterwards in good deeds. So he w ho seeks and finds the spirit of God in good works makes more reliable pro gress than the one who only relies on prayer. To find God in the works compared to finding him in prayer is often like the actual execution compared to the mere desire.”