Pope Francis is awesome.
He can be terrifying to more traditionally minded Christians, frustrating to left-leaning Christians who want him to change the Church at the root, and often bewildering and exhilarating to the world. A lot of that is because he's a Jesuit, the very first Jesuit pope in the history of the Catholic Church.
What does that mean? Check out The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything by Fr. James Martin, SJ, for a fair overview, and the talk by Fr. Robert Spitzer, SJ, delivered at Franciscan University of Steubenville, if you really want to understand.
But at the very root of it, to be Jesuit is to be a companion of Jesus. That's where the name comes from, after all--the name of the order was originally the Society (or the Company) of Jesus, modeled off of St. Ignatius of Loyola's experience of military companies, as well as the comradery and brotherly love of soldiers.
Now that doesn't just mean that a Jesuit or those formed by the Jesuits are supposed to be Christians. That's part of it.
No. See, here's the thing: If we do it properly, to love God is to love neighbor, and to love neighbor is to love God. Why? Because whatever we do to the least of our brethren, we do to Jesus. Jesus is present in those on the margins, those outside of respectable society and inside respectable society, the lonely rich and the desperately poor, the ordinary and the extraordinary, all. Why? Because He's the New Adam, the Man through whom divinity comes to share in humanity, and humanity in divinity. Through Him, the doorway to Heaven is open, and through Him, Heaven finds a path into the created order.
So to be Jesuit is to accompany Jesus in all His presences, all His ways of communicating His life and love, of showing His face of mercy to the world. To be Jesuit is to go out to the furthest reaches of the earth, to bring Jesus out to others and to meet Jesus in them, to discover the seeds of the Word in all cultures, all religions, and to know that we are meant to find Jesus shining through the created order, through every tree and river, every rock and star. We are to see the Logos' touch on every scrap of matter, see the image of Jesus in every human being, see God in all things.
Part of all that is the sort of self discipline, self mastery that you would expect of a soldier, because you can only practice absolute love if you can make an absolute gift, and an absolute gift is only possible if you have mastered yourself, if you are able to give everything to God.
That's what's going on with Pope Francis. He's calling the Church to leave the sheepfold to go after the one lost sheep, summoning the 99 sheep to follow the Good Shepherd on His quest for the wandering, the lost. Indeed, any number of the 99 may be far more lost than they think, even though they're in the sheepfold. The goal of the Christian life is to be with the God Shepherd, after all, not to live safely without Him, nor to sit smugly at home, secure in our own rightness, while there are lost sheep wandering far from home, exposed to the wolves and the weather.
So Pope Francis calls us to go out, to prioritize being with people, to prioritize loving people before preaching to them, to know them. He calls us to seek Jesus where He's at, whether that be in the confessional and the Eucharist, the Word of God and the Church, or that be in the poor, in the people outside the visible bounds of the Church, those far from home and those who know Jesus far better than we do, Catholic though we may be, church-going Christians though we may be. He calls on us to se the Creator in His creation, to find the seeds of the Word in the cultures and religions across the globe, to serve Jesus in those around us, in our neighbors and our enemies, in our respectable neighbors and disreputable neighbors alike.
Nowhere in all of that is the slightest suggestion of surrendering the teachings of the faith; rather, it's a call to trust that it's not up to us to make converts, or to make sure the Church maintains her teaching. Rather, it's a call to trust, a call to surrender to the Holy Spirit, the One who makes converts and is the life of the Church, the safeguard of her teaching. Oh, yes, we are to defend the Church, to explain her teaching, to discern truth and be wise as serpents and innocent as doves, yes. We are to fight the world, the flesh, and the devil, but we are to do it like Jesus did. We are to so love the world that we give ourselves for love of God and neighbor. We are to feast and to fast, to be all things to all people like Jesus did (hey, the Incarnation was the greatest example of inculturation we'll ever see!), and to so love our neighbors that they can see it and feel it, to walk beside them so that they come to know us, and to be so deeply steeped in the Holy Spirit that, coming to know us, they'll come to know Jesus, and find their way to share in eternal life.