Faber or Canisius?

by | Jun 17, 2019 | Global Catholicism, Pope Francis, Spirituality, The Jesuits

La Civiltà Cattolica has released an English-language translation of the conversation between Pope Francis and local Jesuits in his recent visit to Romania. Francis often meets with Jesuits in his global travels, and the conversation are always worth reading.

In this conversation, Pope Francis responds to a question that many of us could ask: “How should we behave in difficult times? How can we serve everyone in turbulent times?”

How can we serve, in other words, even those who disagree with and criticize us?

Pope Francis offered a memorable response, in part because he invokes two famous Jesuits as exemplars of Christian witness: Saint Peter Faber and Saint Peter Canisius.

Today is a time more for Faber than for Canisius, who was the man of the dispute. In times of criticism and tension we must do as Faber did, working with the help of the angels: he begged his angel to speak to the angels of others so that they might do with them what we cannot do. And then you really need proximity, a meek proximity. We must first of all be close to the Lord with prayer, with time spent in front of the tabernacle. And then the closeness to the people of God in daily life with works of charity to heal the wounds.

The intelligent, highly-read Canisius was “the man of dispute” who tangled intellectually with Reformers. Faber was the kind, gentle spiritual man who converted many souls through the Exercises and his godly, meek presence.

Which one are we? Some of us are more naturally drawn to be Canisius, and I don’t think the Pope is asking us or expecting us to change our stripes. Indeed, we still need intellectual formation and debate. But it is not the only thing we need. This is why Francis calls for more Faber in our time.

What can we learn from Faber about how to be more effective witness to Christianity in a world already full of argument?

Faber embodies many of Francis’ favorite ideals. For one, Faber trusted in God’s slow work over time, rather than in his own ability to master “spaces” of culture and politics. For another, Faber sought unity over conflict: he spoke with anyone who “has a sincere doubt,” as Francis said in Romania, but he didn’t try to “respond to the attacks.” He sought unity at a deeper level. Faber also valued reality over ideals, seeking in his ministry to respond directly to the lived experiences of the people whom he served.

“Today is a time more for Faber than for Canisius.”

Something we can all learn from Faber is the need not just to give witness to faith in Christ Jesus, but to be such a witness. Faber was an attractive figure not just because of what he did, but because of who he was. Like Jesus, he drew in people searching for the beauty and goodness of his example. And that beauty and goodness leads to all truth. In the Scripture-laden words of Pope Benedict: Deus caritas est, and He is caritas in veritate.

This is where Faber and Canisius agree: the truth is a person, and that person is love itself. But many who would seek to imitate Canisius in our time do not see that. They need the witness of Faber to remind them.

Such witness to truth only comes from being “close to the Lord”. If we learn nothing else from Saint Peter Faber, let us never mistake anything else, or rather anyone else, for our end.


Image courtesy La Civiltà Cattolica.

Read the rest of the dialogue here.


Bill McCormick, SJ

bmccormicksj@thejesuitpost.org   /   All posts by Bill