John Paul II’s “Totus tuus” (Entirely yours), as well as the composition of his stemma papale (a large “M” beneath a gold cross on a blue field), spoke volumes about his Marian piety and his conviction that his life was guided and protected by the Mother of the Church. Benedict XVI’s rather complex coat of arms was a nightmare for the Vatican gardeners who maintain a floral representation of the reigning pontiff’s stemma just behind St Peter’s Basilica; but his motto, “Cooperatores veritatis” (Coworkers of the truth), signaled that his would be a pontificate of clear teaching rooted in deep and broad scholarship.
What, then, shall we make of the episcopal motto that Pope Francis, the former Jorge Mario Cardinal Bergoglio, SJ, took during his service as archbishop of Buenos Aires – “Miserando atque eligendo” (by having mercy, by choosing him) — and will retain as pope?
Foremost, expect an evangelical humility. In the first days of his pontificate, “humble” was the adjective most frequently applied to the new bishop of Rome, and rightly so. It’s important to recognise, however, that Pope Francis’s humility has a distinctive character. It is evangelical humility, a Gospel-centered and Christ-centered humility. And it has been shaped over the course of his life by classic Jesuit (or Ignatian) spirituality: the rigorously disciplined commitment to selflessness-in-Christian-mission that was inculcated in members of the Society of Jesus before Jesuit formation became one of the victims of the Catholic Revolution That Never Was.
Jorge Mario Bergoglio, SJ, became a sign of contradiction — a persecuted sign of contradiction — within his own religious order, as too many of his Jesuit brethren were seduced by the solipsistic zeitgeist of the late 20th and early 21st centuries.
Pope Francis’s approach to the spiritual life and his understanding of Christian discipleship is, by contrast, the polar opposite of this faux spirituality of self-absorption, in which self-esteem displaces selflessness, and commitments to both ecclesial obedience and mission crumble as a result. The new pope’s more authentically Ignatian approach to the interior life is nicely captured in a famous prayer, the Suscipe, of Saint Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus — a prayer that also offers an interpretive key to Jorge Mario Bergoglio’s self-abasing episcopal motto.
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