I only just read the extensive Jesuit-published interview of Pope Francis after the print edition of America magazine arrived in my mail box the other day. Perhaps due to its length, I just didn’t feel like reading the article online, so I waited. Though many are effusive in praising Pope Francis, I’m trying for a balanced view, to listen to what he says with an open mind but without falling into blind enthusiasm. As I read the interview, I found myself searching for a pen to mark certain statements for further consideration, starting with: “I was always struck by a saying that describes the vision of Ignatius: non coerceri a maximo, sed contineri a minimo divinum est (“not to be limited by the greatest and yet to be contained in the tiniest – that is the divine”).
I had not heard this saying before, and immediately I connected it with two images of creation that have been part of my ongoing reflections on the spirituality of childbirth. From the “greatest” perspective, it made me think of the big bang theory (in science, not on TV) –that mysterious moment, it is supposed, when something infinitesimally small, infinitely hot and infinitely dense, burst outward and set in motion the cosmos. A continuing process of expansion and cooling brought into being galaxies, planets, stars, atmosphere and eventually, life on earth. Yet God is not limited by this understanding of vastness.
On the opposite scale, the second image this saying conjured is the conception and gestation of a human being, another mystery in which something incredibly tiny suddenly expands outward. Two cells join, and life begins; surely God is contained here too. But the suggestion of vastness is also present as the emerging cells of the new little being form of elements that resulted from the big bang and its subsequent processes — oxygen, hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen, calcium, etc. Eventually, as the time for birth draws near, it’s striking that the woman’s body comes to resemble the earth in its roundness, an analogy depicted regularly in art.
In the article, Pope Francis made this statement about the large and the small in the context of describing the importance to him of discernment as an element of Ignatian spirituality that assists him in his ministry. The pope relates it to being in church governance and sees “this virtue of large and small” as magnanimity, being able to appreciate large and small horizons as the kingdom of God, illustrating God’s point of view even by providing the parameters of discernment. Characteristically, the pope brings these ideas to a practical level as well when goes on to say, “You can have large projects and implement them by means of a few of the smallest things.”