In a curious turn of phrase, Pope Francis asked the participants in a meeting of alumni of Jesuit Institutions whether they still had the “Jesuit virus,” apparently referring to the distinctive characteristics of a Jesuit education.
In his video message delivered to the XVI Latin American Congress taking place in Guayaquil, Ecuador, Francis said it is very easy for Christians to be hypocrites and to live side-by-side with human misery without lifting a finger to alleviate it.
“If you have the ‘Jesuit virus,’ you ought to be careful what you say to God when you see this inequality, what you say to God when you see the exploitation of working children,” he said.
The Pope recalled a scene from Buenos Aires that he said had impressed him very much, where on a single street there were 36 expensive restaurants all in a row, which were often full of people. Not far from this street there was “misery village,” a “favela.” That’s an example, Francis said, of “seeing the tragedy that results from injustice and inequity. And among the people who were eating there many were Christians,” he said. “Many believed in Jesus Christ and professed to be Catholics, and maybe had even studied in Catholic schools,” he said.
The Pope asked the young people present: “How do you get out of yourselves? Are you closed up inside yourselves? Can you imagine the Virgin Mary closing the door to avoid welcoming God’s call? But if you are a Christian,” the Pope continued, “then do what she did.”
“How do you look at people? With what eyes? The eyes of your comfort, of your tranquility, of a person who doesn’t want problems, the eyes of your wallet?” he asked.
He then asked them to compare this to the way God sees things. “And how does God see?” he asked. “Face to face? Person to person?” And whom do you speak to when you pray, the Pope asked, “To an aerosol God, a mist? Or do you speak with a Father who is your father, a Son who is your son, the Holy Spirit whom you received when you were baptized?”
If they take with them the best of a Jesuit education, the Pope said to the alumni, they will live in a constant tension “between Heaven, the earth and themselves.”
“You can’t hide your head in the sand like an ostrich from the reality of your surroundings. You can’t build an isolated world, with a ‘light’ religion before the reality of God. And you can’t sell your own conscience to worldliness,” he said.
“It’s a tension,” Francis said, “that comes from asking yourself the following questions: How do I find myself before God? How am I before the world? What is my attitude toward the worldly spirit that is constantly offered to me?”
Depending on how you answer these three questions, he said, “You can evaluate how far you have assimilated the formation received from the Society of Jesus and how far it was stowed away in the closet.”
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome