The highest form of thought is one that grows in openness and, in this sense, is unfinished or incomplete. Pope Francis said this in his interview with La Civiltà Cattolica: “The style of the Society is not shaped by discussion, but by discernment, which, of course, presupposes discussion as part of the process. The mystical dimension of discernment never defines its edges and does not complete the thought. The Jesuit must be a person whose thought is incomplete, in the sense of being engaged in open-ended thinking.”
What is incomplete thought? How can it be described? Pope Francis, speaking of the discernment he learned while reading Romano Guardini, says: “I learned this way of thinking from Romano Guardini. It was his style that captivated me, first of all in his book Il Signore (The Lord). Guardini showed me the importance of incomplete thought. He develops a thought to a certain point, but then invites you to stop to gain space in order to contemplate. He creates room for you to encounter the truth. A fruitful thought should always be unfinished in order to allow space for subsequent development. With Guardini I learned not to expect absolute certainties about everything, which is a symptom of an anxious spirit. His wisdom has allowed me to confront complex problems that cannot be resolved simply following norms, but using instead a kind of thinking that allows you to navigate conflicts without being trapped in them.”
In the apostolic constitution Veritatis Gaudium Francis states that today it is becoming increasingly evident that “there is a need for a true evangelical hermeneutic in order to better understand life, the world and humanity, not a synthesis but a spiritual atmosphere of research and certainty based on the truths of reason and faith. Philosophy and theology permit one to acquire the convictions that structure and fortify the intelligence and enlighten the will… but all this is fruitful only if one does it with an open mind and on one’s knees. The theologians who are satisfied with their complete and conclusive thought are mediocre. The good theologian and philosopher has a thought that is open, that is, incomplete, always open to the maius of God and of the truth, always developing, according to that law which Saint Vincent of Lérins describes in this way: annis consolidetur, dilatetur tempore, sublimetur aetate (consolidated by years, enlarged by time, refined by age) (Commonitorium primum, 23: PL 50,668).”
We will now highlight some aspects of incomplete thinking, which is the opposite of triumphalist thinking: dialogical mentality, inclusiveness, attentive and responsible openness to the other, openness to challenges.
The thought we define as “incomplete” is eminently dialogical, that is, not self-referential, not engaged in monologues, not abstract. Meeting with Brazil’s leaders on July 27, 2013, the pope said, “When leaders from different sectors ask me for advice, my answer is always the same: dialogue, dialogue, dialogue. The only way to grow for a person, a family, a society, the only way to advance the lives of peoples is the culture of encounter, a culture in which everyone has something good to give and everyone can receive something good in return. The other always has something to give us, if we know how to approach them with an open and available attitude, without prejudice. This open, helpful and unprejudiced attitude I would define as ‘social humility,’ which is what fosters dialogue. […] Today, either we bet on dialogue, or we bet on the culture of encounter, or we all lose, we all lose. This is where the fruitful path leads.”
In dialogue, what matters are the people, the very people involved in decisions, who decide on the issues. They are more important than the content of the dialogue. Francis shows us two types of persons who do not engage in dialogue, because they are closed in on themselves: the first reduce their own being to their knowledge or feelings (the pope calls this “Gnosticism”); the second reduce it instead to their own strengths (the pope calls this “neo-Pelagianism”).
Dialogue implies the conviction of us as social beings, of our individual incompleteness, which is essentially positive, because it prevents us from being closed subjects.
Francis insists on the idea that “the people are all of us.” Today, in fact, we do not deny the importance of differing sets of knowledge and of group work, but the prevailing tendency is individualistic, with elitist sectarianism. Instead, for establishing the culture of dialogue, the inclusion of everyone, including the less intelligent and the weakest, is essential.
“It is time to devise, in a culture that privileges dialogue as a form of encounter, a means for building consensus and agreement, but without separating it from the concern for a just society, capable of memory and without exclusions. The principal author, the historic subject of this process, is the people as a whole and their culture, not a single class, minority or elite group. We do not need plans drawn up by a few for the few, or an enlightened or outspoken minority that claims to speak for everyone. It is about agreeing to live together, a social and cultural pact” (EG 239).
Affirming that the subjects involved are all of us does not mean considering a mere sum of all individuals: rather, it means considering the totality, understood as a people. The pope explicitly invites us to reflect on the Church as God’s faithful people.
What is the mindset we need to change? After telling us that being a disciple of Christ entails a continual disposition to bring the Lord’s love to others everywhere and through personal dialogue (cf. EG 127-128), the pope points out that “if the Gospel has become incarnate in a culture, it is no longer transmitted solely from person to person” (EG 129).
Our proclamation of the Gospel must involve the cultural aspect. For example, in the family we need to look for ways to make the faith a family tradition, just as in the family we experience good times, celebrations, outings and daily conversation. In the workplace each person must be concerned to compare the values of the Gospel with those expressed by their colleagues. This will enable preaching not to be disconnected, or something merely spiritual, but rather preaching of an incarnational Gospel that takes up the challenges of the world and responds to its concerns with effective proposals.
Speaking of “people we help” is not the same as calling them “guests and table companions.” The latter terms have an evangelical meaning. Considering a person as a “guest” causes our attitude toward them to change: it puts us in a welcoming dynamic, makes us feel how good it is to honor a guest.
On the other hand, there are terms in use in the world of social care that are preferable to others. “User” may seem more impersonal than “beneficiary.” However, it seems preferable to consider the other person to be a full user of our services – just as we are users of running water, electricity, and gas – and not a beneficiary, as if they were services offered out of charity. One does not feel like a “beneficiary” of essential services, and one has every right to be indignant when the electricity is cut off.
The inculturation of the Gospel leads us to reflect on who it is that evangelizes – it is the whole people of God who proclaim the Gospel – and to contrast a new mentality with an individualistic mentality.
A mindset that focuses on inclusion
The new mentality that the pope invites us to acquire has an eminently social character. An analysis of current political and economic life shows that, despite its important achievements, it generates widespread exclusion and inequality. And this produces violence, with tragic consequences for every kind of person. Therefore, the remedy lies on the side of inclusion. The new mentality requires, first of all, an inclusive approach.
Inclusion is not an obvious approach . In some forms of philosophical reflection there are those who affirm as necessary “the renunciation of grasping, with thought, the totality of reality” (Theodor Adorno). If this happens on a philosophical level, it is not surprising if the economy thinks of a country of 20 million people – instead of the 50 that we, in Italy are – or if 46 percent of wealth is in the hands of 1 percent of the people. There is a reductive mentality, which is harmful, because it is false.
As a reason for reflection, we then pose two questions. One is theoretical: our thought cannot grasp the totality of reality, but it can open itself to it, and in fact there is such an opening. Another question is practical: it is not possible to exclude anyone. The excluded include themselves with good manners or, sooner or later, they exclude us with bad manners. This is another way of saying that “exclusion produces violence.”
The excluded include themselves. First, we must believe in the possibility of grasping this truth. We must assume that if certain sciences do not possess the appropriate means to grasp something so complex, this does not mean that they cannot find it or that other perspectives cannot be attempted.
On the first day of a parish camp, the young people were fascinated by the landscape and took pictures of everything with their cell phones. In the evening, when the stars came out, as only happens in the mountains where there is no smog, one of the girls, intent on photographing the sky, exclaimed at a certain point: “This doesn’t fit on a cell phone!” and began to contemplate it only with her eyes. This observation is significant, and we can transfer it from the starry sky to the humanity of the multitudes: we need to look at them with our own eyes, enlarged by those of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, who looks at people with compassion. Only this gaze can allow an inclusive approach.
We are talking about looking as human beings, not through scientific or technical mediation, which influences and modifies reality when observing it with its own instruments. Romano Guardini tells us that the human eye is not like a camera. “The human eye ‘mistakes and corrects itself.’ It orients, chooses and discards; the camera does not. There are things that we do not see or that we falsify because of the intensity of our desire or aversion. This cannot be done by the camera, which photographs objectively what is in front of it. Photographs are not wrong, because they freeze reality in an instant (and, if it is a film, in several frames per second). But the human eye captures infinitely more, because it is modified at the same time as the being in front of it is modified and expresses itself. For this reason we are more excited to see someone live rather than see them on television. Although we do not realize it, the amount of information – subjective and objective – that we exchange in a real meeting is infinitely greater than what we can capture through the TV.”
A mindset that allows itself to be challenged
Incomplete thinking is authenticated by its allowing itself to be dramatically challenged by the other. This transcendent vision is so important that the pope, even before defining it, poses it as a dramatic challenge to which he opens himself: “I am aware that these words are strong, even dramatic.” In Evangelii Gaudium he says: “If anyone feels offended by my words, I would respond that I express them with affection and with the best of intentions, quite apart from any personal interest or political ideology. My words are not those of an enemy or an opponent. I am interested only in ensuring that those who are slaves to an individualistic, indifferent and selfish mentality may be freed from those unworthy chains and achieve a more human, more noble and more fruitful way of living and thinking, which will give dignity to their passage on this earth” (EG 208).
The dramatic character of this challenge lies in the essence of the “new mentality.” There are approaches that we make only when someone asks us for help, when we hear the cry of the other: this causes us to turn our gaze and discover what was hidden, what could not be seen. This attentiveness is opposed to the globalization of indifference. This gaze demands attention and indicates responsibility, attention that must be translated into political and economic decisions rather than mere rhetoric, and into a precise responsibility, because the good tends to become real.
It is necessary to pay attention to the cries of the poor, to listen carefully to their appeals; knowing how to read them “without ideology” is part of the shape of this new mentality: “Every Christian and every community is called to be God’s instrument for the liberation and promotion of the poor, so that they can be fully integrated into society. This presupposes that we are docile and attentive in listening to the cry of the poor and helping them. […] To remain deaf to that cry, when we are God’s instruments for listening to the poor, puts us outside the Father’s will and his plan” (EG 187).
The need to hear this cry comes from the very liberating work of grace in each of us.
A mentality that challenges us
Incomplete thought is elaborated by going out into the peripheries, touching the borders, placing oneself at the limits of one’s own knowledge and power. The transcendence Pope Francis speaks of is not only that toward God, as we are accustomed to thinking, nor even that toward ethical values: it includes both realities, but its challenge is to go out toward the existential peripheries, where one cannot tolerate that thousands of people die every day of hunger, even though huge quantities of food are available, which are often simply wasted.
Whoever steps out of their environment and their own self will change their mindset. Reality is better seen from the peripheries than from the center. Francis further affirms: “I am convinced of one thing: the great changes in history took place when reality was seen not from the center, but from the periphery. It is a hermeneutical question: we understand reality only if we look at it from the periphery, and not if our gaze is focused on a center that is equidistant from everything. To truly understand reality, we must move from the central position of calm and tranquility and head toward the periphery. […] In order to understand, we have to ‘unplug,’ seeing reality from several different points of view.”
Always affirming the limitation of our thinking paradoxically unlocks it and makes it sharper and more creative. “Entering into discernment means resisting the temptation to find false relief in an immediate decision and, instead, being willing to humbly set different options before the Lord, waiting for that overflow.” This “false relief,” found in an immediate decision, is a feature of triumphalist thinking. When it opens the way to love – which is always love for the other and transcendence of the self – thought becomes capable of overcoming the ideological pitfalls in which it constantly finds itself entrapped. The new formulas with which Francis surprises us every day arise from his love for God and for his neighbor. The simple of heart understand this very well.
DOI: La Civiltà Cattolica, En. Ed. Vol. 6, no.2 art. 1O, 0222: 10.32009/22072446.0222.10
 Cf. A. Spadaro, “Interview with Pope Francis”. Francis said in his homily at the Church of the Gesù on January 3, 2014: “Each one of us, Jesuits, who follows Jesus should be willing to empty himself. We are called to this lowering: to be ‘emptied’ people; to be men who do not have to live centered on ourselves, because the center of the Society is Christ and his Church. And God is the Deus semper maior, the God who always surprises us. And if the God of surprises is not at the center, the Society becomes disoriented. For this reason, being a Jesuit means being a person of incomplete thinking, of open thinking: because he always thinks, looking at the horizon that is the glory of God ever greater, who surprises us without ceasing. And this is the restlessness of our charism . This holy and beautiful restlessness!” (Francis, Homily at the Church of the Gesù, January 3, 2014).
 Pope Francis, Let Us Dream, New York, Simon & Schuster, 2020, 55-56.
 Francis, Veritatis Gaudium, No. 3. Cf. Id., Address to the Community of the Pontifical Gregorian University and to the Associates of the Pontifical Biblical Institute and the Pontifical Oriental Institute, April 10, 2014.
 Id., Address at the Meeting with the Ruling Class of Brazil, Rio de Janeiro, July 27, 2013.
 D. Fares, “Gli occhi della fede”, in Civ. Catt. 2013 IV 530f. Cf. R. Guardini, “L’occhio e la conoscenza religiosa”, in Id., Scritti filosofici, vol. 2, Milan, Fabbri, 1964, 141-155.
 Pope Francis, Let Us Dream, op. cit.