Discerning the Papal Interview

by | Sep 20, 2013 | Papal Interview

This post is part of a series of reflections by TJP writers on Pope Francis’s recent interview.
Full Series List: The Papal Interview: Young Jesuits React and Reflect
The Original Interview: At America Magazine
America Magazine's exclusive interview with Pope Francis

America Magazine’s exclusive interview with Pope Francis

Breaking – Francis said something and most people are convinced it proves them right!

When America Magazine published the interview with Pope Francis on Thursday 1 the starter’s gun sounded and the news cycle was off to the races.  Instantly we needed summaries, context, and analysis.  Info! Info! Info!  Feed me Seymour, feed me.  The long and ranging interview was immediately soundbitten. (Is that a really a verb?  Does it leave a rash?) Taking a cue from Francis, I want to publically admit that I am a sinner 2.  I was one of those people demanding info, analysis and summaries, and now I’m one of the people offering it.  I help push that media cycle; I make it happen.

And yet, I also want to stress the importance of time and silence.  Yes, an associate editor of an online Jesuit media site is asking you to turn off the computer, put down your phone and stop reading what people are saying about the most famous Jesuit in the world.  Don’t tweet it, don’t pin it, don’t soundbite it, don’t share it (well at least for a few hours … then we’d appreciate you helping get the word out), sit down with it and think about it, pray about it, sit in silence with it.  I’ll be here when you get back, take your time.


#PopeCrush?  Who us?

#PopeCrush? Who… us?

It’s no secret that a large section of the media is deep in the throes of a massive #PopeCrush. This guy knows how to get the media to eat out of his hand.  They love him.  He talks openly and frankly and he is easily soundbitten. (Again, I’m concerned about the possibility of a rash.) Yet, the attractiveness of his messages can sometimes obscure the true depth and complexity of his vision for the Church.  Pope Francis is a Jesuit, trained in the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, and a man of deep discernment. But beyond the Jesuit buzzword of discernment, what does that actually mean for how we read this interview?

Well, the pope gives us a place to start exploring that.  Explaining discernment Pope Francis quoted a motto of St. Ignatius: non coerceri a maximo, sed contineri a minimo divinum est (not to be limited by the greatest and yet to be contained in the tiniest – this is divine). He notes that this motto “offers parameters to assume a correct position for discernment, in order to hear the things of God from God’s ‘point of view.’”

When I hit this quote in mid-tweet, I paused.  Did he just ask me to step outside of my concerns, my own ideologies and ecclesiologies?  Should I abandon my idols? Even if I’m idolizing him? 3 Did he ask me to abandon my own plans and schemes and consider for a moment that there is something so much greater than me? What does the world look like from God’s perspective? This is a powerful salve and perhaps the best way to avoid that pesky swelling associated with too many soundbites.


Discernment requires time, space and silence. This past summer, when I interviewed him on video from World Youth Day in Brazil, the Jesuit superior general noted that “Nothing important, and I think silence is important, is acquired in a short time.  There is no instant formula, there is no magic word for silence. And it’s not a question of effort, it will take a lot of time.”  Fr. Nicolás goes on to say that we need to develop a taste for silence.  We need to set aside time and space for silence.  This is crucial for understanding anything the Pope says.  

And it is so very critical to reading through this amazing interview with the Bishop of Rome.  React quickly, by all means; hit up the twitterverse; point out your favorite parts of the interview. But don’t let that quick reaction crowd out the time necessary to give prayerful attention to what he said and listen carefully for where God is at work — both in what resonates with you and what challenges you.

There is a real danger that we — both the TJP we and the “all of us” we — will soundbite this interview and use it to fit our headlines, our notions of what the Church can and should be, and what is wrong and/or right with the Church and perhaps even more broadly, religion and belief in God.  We can pull bits and pieces and say, see, I was right, the Church is finally waking up!  Or, oh no, he is destroying the Church! Or even, Aha! You are all wrong and the Pope said so.  That was day one.  We’ve already seen, and tweeted, and shared those pieces.  

That kind of point by point analysis and summary are crucial.  But they are not the only way to read this interview.  This is the first Jesuit Pope, so I don’t think it’s crazy to suggest that we might try and read this in a spirit of Ignatian discernment. Instead of only subjecting the interview to our own analysis, let’s see what happens when we let the Pope’s words — and the spirit which animates them — analyze us.

“The wisdom of discernment redeems the necessary ambiguity of life and helps us find the most appropriate means, which do not always coincide with what looks great and strong.”

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  1. Huge props to a bunch of my Jesuit brothers whose hard work made this interview happen.  Matt Malone, SJ and James Martin, SJ had a crazy idea one afternoon, but the idea became a reality thanks to the help of Antonio Spadaro, SJ and his work at Civiltà Cattolica in Rome.  Fr. Malone tells the whole “Story behind the Story” over at America Magazine.
  2. Asked to describe himself, Pope Francis said: “I ​​do not know what might be the most fitting description…. I am a sinner. This is the most accurate definition. It is not a figure of speech, a literary genre. I am a sinner.”
  3. I’ve begun to wonder if Elizabeth Scalia has tapped the phones in the Jesuit Curia, or maybe just here at TJP. Her excellent Washington Post piece on idolizing the pope perfectly captured much of our infatuation with Pope Francis, and helped get us thinking about what we may be missing by being so caught up in our own hype.

Eric Sundrup, SJ

esundrupsj@thejesuitpost.org   /   @sunnydsj   /   All posts by Eric