By choosing the name Francis, our Pope Bergoglio has extended an unprecedented bridge (in choosing their names, Pontiffs s extend a symbolical bridge to a predecessor). John Paul II, reverberating the intuition of John Paul I, combined the names of the two Popes of the Council – John XXIII and Paul VI – in his name. Benedict XVI extended his hand to Benedict XV, whom he defined: “a prophet of peace”. He was lesser known, as he was a Pope called to govern the Church in the years of the First World War.
Francis, non having a predecessor in his name, extends a bridge ahead, seeking with his gaze all those who in the future will be tasked with continuing the irreversible journey of a Church that goes forth.
As when children make a run-up to jump over a puddle, Francis sought momentum in a solid foundation that dates back to as many as eight hundred years ago, to the first quarter of the XIII century, when St. Francis embraced the Joy of the Gospel and went forth to proclaim it in poverty and with a simple heart to all human creatures. The distance of the run-up for the start of his ministry is the gauge of his horizon of yearning and hope.
“Men with desires” is the title given to a speech delivered by Bergoglio in his capacities as provincial Father of the Jesuits at the end of the 1970s. On that occasion he said, inter alia:
“Some apostolic works have the special feature of making us feel in a particular way the vastness and unfathomable depths of God’s plan of redemption, enabling us to perceive the short-sightedness of all our plans and efforts to live up to it. Precisely when we feel powerless, when we feel that we can do only little more of what done so far, that is precisely when the possibility to desire starts to take shape. It’s as if at the very moment when we acknowledge the limits of our actions we made yet another effort, extending beyond our own limits, by means of the good will enshrined in our desires” (“Reflexiones espirituales sobre la vida apostólica”, Bilbao, Mensajero, 2013, 63-64).
Bergoglio also mentioned Saint Ignatius’ letter to the students of Coimbra, which says: “during your studies you can help others with holy desires and prayers.” And although the prayers may not be very long, “they can compensate time with desires.”
This is Francis
Those reflections on desire are expressions of his grace and of his nature. There is probably a certain degree of naiveness, as not all of us, when we reach a limit and “feel powerless, when we feel there is little that we can do in addition to what we have done so far”, wish to experience “the yearning for desire.” We give free rein to our imagination and to the possibility of desire only when we are truly in love. If not, if it is just a question of fulfilling a duty, in most cases the impossibility to act and the decision to avoid the obstacle prevails, thereby diverting our attention to something else.
“Desires are revelatory of our hearts”, Bergoglio said: “Tell me your desires and I will read your heart…” namely, your treasure. In fact “the desires of our hearts are tantamount to breathing, each of those desires is like a secret heartbeat. The heart is expressed in its desires.” (“Reflexiones espirituales sobre la vida apostólica”, Bilbao, Mensajero, 2013, 63-64). Francis thus made a fundamental distinction: “Our desires, as well as the regret for what we failed to achieve, pre-empt what we will achieve. Our desires can be illusions, but they can also be revelations; revelations of what God wants us to ask Him precisely because that is what He has already granted us. Then the content of our desires is transformed into symbols (…) that conceal realities, while at the same time heralding them” (“Reflexiones espirituales sobre la vida apostólica”, Bilbao, Mensajero, 2013, 63-64).
Let us dwell on the words “what He has already granted us.”
The faithful People of God – that makes the experience of the pilgrim in all peoples – knows how to read, in Pope Francis’ symbolic gestures, the deepness of its desires.
Hence it carries out the right discernment when interpreting them, not by using the many imaginative categories of the scribes and Pharisees of our times (whom God leads to stumble on their very ruses), but through answers – simple, earnest answers – to the graces that the Spirit has granted to the Church in our present time. These graces are incessantly poured onto us since the times of the Council – within the ever ancient and ever new fountainhead that is the Church – and which just as the concealed treasure mentioned by Jesus in the Gospel, needed a man that would discover it and that by appealing to the joy bestowed upon everyone by such treasure, would exhort us, as Francis of Assisi had done, to surrender it as a whole in order to gain the field.