Franciscan Mysticism (Update)

In a reflection for America, I remarked upon an aspect of the Pope's conversation with Father Spadaro to which I do not think sufficient attention has been paid.

[O]ne appreciates the pope’s striking evocation of the mystical dimension of Christian life. Like Benedict XVI, Francis insists that Christianity cannot be reduced to a moral code. It is preeminently about relationship with a person: the person of Jesus Christ. Thus, his contention that Ignatius of Loyola (who figures prominently in this conversation between two Jesuits) is not in the first instance an ascetic, but a mystic. And that the much-praised Ignatian practice of discernment is not a technique mechanically applied, but “an instrument of struggle in order to know the Lord and to follow him more closely.” 

Here too we can situate the pope’s challenging presentation of Blessed Peter Faber as model. What is compelling about Faber is his ability to join “interior experience, dogmatic expression and structural reform” in an inseparable unity. As with Faber, so with Francis.

As with his namesake, the poor man of Assisi, at the heart of Pope Francis's mysticism is the cross. He had already affirmed this in his very first homily to the Cardinals the morning after his election. And he reaffirmed it this morning in his homily at Santa Marta:

The Holy Father spoke of the different attitudes that a Christian can take: who follows him to a certain point and who follows him to the end. The danger you run, he warned, is that of giving in to “the temptation of spiritual well-being”, of thinking that we have everything already: the Church, Jesus Christ, the sacraments, Our Lady and thus, no need to search for anything. But this “is not enough. Spiritual well-being,” the Pope explained, “is fine to a certain point”.  What is missing is “the anointing of the cross, the anointing of humiliation. He humiliated himself unto his own death and a death on the Cross. This is the touchstone, the measure of our Christian reality.  Am I a Christian of the culture of well-being or am I Christian who accompanies the Lord unto the Cross?”


In this morning's homily at Santa Marta, Pope Francis continues his meditation on the cross. In what follows I have corrected an inaccurate translation:

The Cross causes fear even in the work of evangelization. Pope Francis observes: There is the “rule” according to which, “the disciple is not greater than the Master. There is the rule according to which there is no redemption without the effusion of blood.” There is no fruitful apostolic work without the Cross.

“Perhaps we think – each one of us can wonder: ‘And to me, what shall happen? How will my Cross be?’ We do not know. We do not know, but there will be one. We must pray for the grace not to fly from the Cross when it comes: with fear, eh! That is true. That scares us. Nevertheless, that is where following Jesus leads. The last words that Jesus spoke to Peter come to mind – in that Pontifical incoronation at Tiberias: ‘Do you love me? Feed ...! Do you love me? Feed...!’…but the final words were these: ‘They shall take you where you do not want to go!’ The promise of the Cross.”

Robert P. Imbelli, a long-time Commonweal contributor, is a priest of the Archdiocese of New York. A book of essays in his honor, The Center Is Jesus Christ Himself, edited by Andrew Meszaros, was published this year by The Catholic University of America Press.

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