Dr Michael O’Sullivan SJ, Director of the MA programme in Applied Spirituality, in All Hallows College, Dublin, was one of a panel of guests invited to speak about Pope Francis at a colloquium in St Andrew’s University, Scotland. The event marked the launch of Professor Mario Aguilar’s book entitled Pope Francis, His Life and Thought. In an interview for local radio he spoke to Pat Coyle about his paper and you can listen to that interview here.
Mario Aguilar is Chilean and fled the country whilst under threat from death squads operating during the Pinochet dictatorship.To mark the publication of his book he assembled a group of academic friends, all of whom had a connection with Chile and all of whom were asked to contribute their own reflections on Pope Francis and his pontificate.
Michael O’Sullivan spent some years in Chile as a Jesuit missionary, also during the Pinochet years, and his life too was threatened. In his talk he spoke about his time there and the insight it now gave him into the very real dilemmas the Pope would have faced in Argentina under the brutal military regime of Videla. He explained how working for justice and on behalf of the poor in Chile was something he felt impelled to do and he didn’t really worry about the cost to himself but then he had to also wrestle with the fact that his outspoken words and his actions might be endangering other innocent lives. He felt sure this would have been a real concern for the Pope too. This part of his talk was of significant interest to those present.
Michael also explained how he felt Borgoglio warmed gradually to a theology of liberation. “His heart was always with the poor but the question is – how do you live that out?” He believes the Pope’s initial reserve came from a fear that the spiritual message of the gospel might be eclipsed in liberation theology by its social justice dimension. “Of course that fear is not grounded in reality and I believe that gradually the Pope appreciated that more and more.”
In his talk he also spoke about what he called ‘the aesthetic experience’ that had transformed the Pope. “I believe Francis had a powerful experience of the love and goodness of God. He sensed the beauty of God and that was a draw, an attraction for him’. Michael believes that it is this experiential draw rather than any philosophical or ethical principle that underpins the Pope’s actions.
In this regard he says the Pope is very like the founder of the Jesuits, Ignatius of Loyola whose autobiography, he believes, has influenced Francis greatly. “The Pope is a Jesuit through and through. He says that himself. He is steeped in the Ignatian spirituality that sees God everywhere and in everything.” As an example of this he quotes the story of the young woman who came to Francis saying she thought she had a vocation to be a nun that she wanted to discern. He brought her out to where the pigs were feeding and told her that would be a good place to pray!
In the final stages of his interview he also explores the Pope’s reflections to date on the role of women in the Church and says he’s optimistic that if this Pope really listens to women then he will hear their voices and lay down the stepping stones for change.