Inside the Jesuits: How Pope Francis Is Changing the Church and the World

By Gray, Howard | Theological Studies, June 2015 | Go to article overview

Inside the Jesuits: How Pope Francis Is Changing the Church and the World


Gray, Howard, Theological Studies


Inside the Jesuits: How Pope Francis Is Changing the Church and the World. By Robert Blair Kaiser. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2014. Pp. xiii + 224. $32.

Kaiser has written a largely affectionate narrative that interprets the character and papal leadership of Pope Francis in terms of his Jesuit culture, a culture he sees as one of "encounter," a term he borrows from American theologian John A. Dick. K.'s basic argument is that Francis "has been driven by his Jesuit DNA to make changes in the Church that have been up to now unthinkable" (xiii). K. unpacks his understanding of the "Jesuit DNA" largely through the narrative form, inspired by a suggestion by the pope that the Society of Jesus can be described only in narrative form (32). Consequently what we have in this volume is a collection of personal accounts of Jesuit life, profiles of Jesuits whom K. admires, and an overview of the spirituality, derived primarily from Ignatius's Spiritual Exercises, which informs and guides that Jesuit DNA.

K.'s admiration focuses on Jesuits who take risks for the kingdom of God, who choose creative paths that open up new apostolic terrain that could irritate authority both in and beyond the Society of Jesus. Such Jesuits, for K., either anticipated or implemented the retrievals and renewals that drove Vatican II and most authentically characterized its ideal future modus operandi. The highpoint in the self-refection and apostolic orientation from Vatican II is, for K., to be located in Gaudium et spes, the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, the "crowning document of Vatican II" (25).

K. sees Francis as a personality-in-process, relying in large part on the analysis offered by British journalist Paul Vallely. For K. the pope has morphed from an authoritarian provincial to a humbled spiritual father of young Jesuits; to a bishop of energy and risk; to a pope who will challenge the Church to live the gospel, especially in its championing of the poor.

K. concludes his analysis of Francis and his Jesuit DNA by quoting the words of Cardinal Oscar Andres Rodriguez Maradiaga: "Francis wants to take the Church in the direction he himself is being driven by the Holy Spirit: closer to the people, not ruling in splendor from above but a living part of them" (203). The implication is that the cardinal has described also the Jesuit DNA that animates Francis.

In his preface K. asserts, "I may know more Jesuits, and more about the Jesuits than almost anyone in the writing business today" (xii). …

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