Men in formation of the New Orleans province, including me
(Yes, that's sixty Jesuits in clerics! That's one preconception out the window!)
I was walking out of the Jesuit residence at Loyola University one day and a ran into a parent of a student. She asked, "Are you a Jesuit?" And I said, "Yes, I am." "Thank God!!" she said. It is these kind of reactions which help to give me confidence in my choice to serve God and the Church as a Jesuit priest.
But, as you might imagine, others are not always so supportive. One day, I went to the abortion clinic in town to pray with a group of my students. And one thing I didn't get from the people there was support. No "I'm so glad you are here," standing for the unborn. Rather, I got people making jokes about Jesuits teaching heresy and arguments about who Catholics must vote for in order to be good Catholics. So, if you ask me why I don't make regular trips to the abortion clinic--that's why. Who's going to go to some place where they are made to feel unwelcome by the people who they've come to stand in solidarity with? I'd rather find other ways to support the cause.
These are two extremes. It seems sometimes that when it comes to Jesuits, people either love us or they hate us. The difference I find is that the people who love us, in most cases, do so because they have had good, personal encounters with Jesuits. As for the people that hate us, some have had a bad experience with a Jesuit, but some have just jumped on the bandwagon. There seems to be a rule in some quarters that if you are striving to be an orthodox Catholic, you have to hate the Jesuits. There's a strange sense of solidarity that comes with having a common "enemy."
But as with any prejudice, there are many who will say mean-spirited things about the group as a whole, but when challenged they will allow, "I didn't really mean all
Jesuits. Hey, I even have friends who are Jesuits." This, then, serves as permission to continue to malign the group as a whole.
Thankfully, I have found that this is true of only a small minority of Catholics. The majority of my experiences with people are positive. People are very pleased to meet a young man who has chosen to serve God and the Church as a priest. Most don't care that I'm a Jesuit, some don't even know what a Jesuit is. They are very supportive, especially when I can share with them who I am and why I have chosen the life I have. I have not chosen this for myself, I'm not doing this to become famous or write books or whatever, I'm responding to the call of Christ who told me that he wanted me to serve him as a Jesuit. He also told me I'd be persecuted, so what am I whining about?
I'm convinced that God gives those of us in the Church many gifts that, in the grand scheme, which only God knows, complement each other, even if at times they seem to contradict each other. I have come to this realization largely through sharing my life with my brother Jesuits. Especially among younger Jesuits, there is such a great diversity of backgrounds, perspectives and ministerial gifts. Some are "conservatives," some "liberals," and most of us fall into neither category because frequently those categories make no sense to us. Like John Paul II, I would likely fall into the "conservative" category when it comes to ecclesial issues, but I would be more "liberal" in my views about social justice. Indeed, one of the things I find most bizarre in the Church these days is the tension between "pro-life" Catholics and "social justice" Catholics because, to me, that is all of a piece, not in tension but based in the same convictions about the sanctity of life, human dignity, justice and peace. Not all my Jesuit brothers agree with me on this score. But I will say that I don't know of a single Jesuit who is not opposed to abortion (contrary to the belief of some, among them one of my sister's college professors, who got an earful after that comment!).
It is true that many Jesuits who lived through the changes after Vatican II are apt to have something of a knee-jerk reaction to anything that suggests a return to a pre-Vatican II understanding of Church. In my early Jesuit years, this lead to some unfortunate arguments for me until I began to understand that this reaction was not because they were "intolerant liberals," but because these men were so personally invested in those changes. They were taking these things personally. Once I became sensitive to that, I found myself able to talk to them, and to suggest to them that the recovery of some parts of our tradition that were lost could be a good thing, and not some kind of regression to a pre-Vatican II Church. I have found this especially important in my work with young people in recent years, where there is a clear attraction to things traditional, but not a desire to "turn back the clock."
Avery Dulles described this well in a 2002 review of the book Passionate Uncertainty
:"The distinction, I believe, is not between older and younger Jesuits—the categories most often used by the authors—but rather between those whose attitudes were shaped by the ideological revolutions of the 1960s and the rest of the Society. For the most part, the Jesuits who had completed their formation before Vatican II have remained faithful to their previous vision of the Church and the Society, and were able to integrate Vatican II into that vision. But then came a group who belonged to the restless “baby–boom” generation. Like many of their contemporaries, they became wildly optimistic about secularization in the early 1960s, and then in the early 1970s deeply involved in protests against the Vietnam War and in fighting for various social causes. They interpreted Vatican II as a kind of “palace revolution” in which the bishops put limits on the papacy, decentralized the Church, and transferred to the laity many powers formerly reserved to priests . . . At the present moment members of this intermediate age group hold positions of greatest power and influence in the Society, but they no longer represent the cutting edge. A younger group is arising, much more committed to the Church and its traditions."
This, I think, gets closer to the reality of the Society of Jesus today than the common prejudices both against and for us (some of our biggest fans would likely find Dulles' observations a bad sign for the Jesuits). When I look around at my peers what I see is a group of men dedicated to the building up of the Church, not to tearing it down, as many believe. And even the "Baby Boom" generation of which Fr. Dulles speaks, while loath to let go of some of the prejudices born of the Vatican II "revolution," are exemplary servants of God and his people. While we may not hold all the same opinions, have the same talents, and be as charitable or forgiving as we might at times, we are all men formed in Saint Ignatius' Spiritual Exercises, dedicated to the help of souls, sharers in a noble history of saints and servants of God and the Church. I am proud to be a member of this company, and thankful for all those who support us, especially those in this community of bloggers (Maggie, Amy, Steve, Karen, etc. I couldn't possibly name you all
) who have promised their prayers for me and my brothers, so that we might, to the best of our abilities fulfill that vocation which God has given to each one of us.