I don’t know what I expected from Pope Francis but his homily at the Peace Vigil in St. Peter’s Square is full of surprises, though it is also very traditional
He starts his homily with a short reflection on the goodness of creation. His first words, from Genesis 1, were “And God saw that it was good.”
…this, our world, in the heart and mind of God, is the “house of harmony and peace”, and that it is the space in which everyone is able to find their proper place and feel “at home”, because it is “good”.
Is this the place to start at a homily at a vigil for peace? Not with a strident critique, but a call to vision, a call to return to the beginnings, to the vision of a world of peace.
As I reflect on the homily, I think this reveals the deep Ignatian identity of Pope Francis and, I believe, reflects Examen promoted by St. Ignatius of Loyola. (A good summary is in James Martin’s The Jesuit Guide to [Almost] Everything.)
The first step of the Examen is to ask for God’s grace. In gratitude, we recall the good things that God has done for us during the day.
Pope Francis, after recalling this “house of harmony and peace,” asks:
Is this really the world that I desire? Is this really the world that we all carry in our hearts? Is the world that we want really a world of harmony and peace, in ourselves, in our relations with others, in families, in cities, in and between nations? And does not true freedom mean choosing ways in this world that lead to the good of all and are guided by love?
Only after this does the pope asks us to question whether this is the world we experience:
Is this the world in which we are living? Creation retains its beauty which fills us with awe and it remains a good work. But there is also “violence, division, disagreement, war.”
The second step in the Examen is to ask for the grace to know one’s sins.
Using the Genesis account of Cain and Abel, the pope asks:
We too are asked this question, it would be good for us to ask ourselves as well: Am I really my brother’s keeper? Yes, you are your brother’s keeper! To be human means to care for one another!
He then goes on to identify the sin of war and violence and their causes, perhaps reflecting the third step of the Examen: reviewing one’s day.
Even today, we let ourselves be guided by idols, by selfishness, by our own interests, and this attitude persists. We have perfected our weapons, our conscience has fallen asleep, and we have sharpened our ideas to justify ourselves. As if it were normal, we continue to sow destruction, pain, death!
Pope Francis’s third point is centered on conversion:
“Can we learn once again to walk and live in the ways of peace?”
The fourth step of the Examen is to ask God’s forgiveness for one’s sinfulness. The fifth is to resolve to change.
In the midst of this final section, Pope Francis makes a plea to put the Cross at the center of our meditation:
My Christian faith urges me to look to the Cross. How I wish that all men and women of good will would look to the Cross if only for a moment! There, we can see God’s reply: violence is not answered with violence, death is not answered with the language of death. In the silence of the Cross, the uproar of weapons ceases and the language of reconciliation, forgiveness, dialogue, and peace is spoken. This evening, I ask the Lord that we Christians, and our brothers and sisters of other religions, and every man and woman of good will, cry out forcefully: violence and war are never the way to peace!
This very much reflects the importance of the Crucified Lord for St. Ignatius.
In his Spiritual Exercises, Ignatius urges the person making the exercises to look upon the crucified Lord and reflect on three questions: What have I done for Christ? What am I doing for Christ? What ought I do for Christ?
Recalling the remarks of Ignacio Ellacuría, the martyred rector of the Jesuit university in El Salvador, Father Jon Sobrino wrote:
Concluding his meditation on sin, Ignatius Loyola asks us to look at the crucified Christ and ask ourselves what have we done for him, what are we doing for him, and what are we going to do for him. Ignacio Ellacuría, also crucified, asks us to place ourselves before the crucified people and answer the same three questions: What have I done to crucify them? What am I doing to take them down from their cross? What should I do to ensure their resurrection?
Pope Francis is, I believe, also asking us to look upon the crucified, but not merely as a victim of the violence of the world. He is calling on us to look upon the Crucified Lord as providing a way out of the spiral of violence.
Though he does not use these words, I think Pope Francis is asking us to follow the nonviolent crucified Lord.
How very Christian, how very Jesuit, how very Francis – and how very human.