Thursday, January 26, 2006

Meet the Family

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.


Blogger Gashwin said...

Mark beautifully said. Add me to the list of those praying for the SJs daily, and for your vocation in particular. [Return prayers most gratefully appreciated ... ]

2:44 AM  
Blogger DilexitPrior said...

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 know, that's a large quote, but I just found the whole thing so beautiful. For now, forget about the whole Jesuit issue, I am one who delights in hearing of young men who are attentive and responding to the call of God on their life. You certainly seem to have a clear grasp on the concept of vocation.

I am excited to hear about your journey through your blog. I respect your discernment to become a Jesuit, not that it matters what I think. Sure, there are some horror stories out there involving Jesuits, but there are likewise horrible tales involving Benedictines, Augustinians, Franciscans, etc... but these incidents we associate with the various orders do not describe the identity of the order, just as the identity of the Church is not found in the sins of her members.

If it's any consolation, while many people think of liberal theology when they think of Jesuits, the first thing that comes to my mind is the Canadian martyrs. As a Canadian, I owe a great deal to Jesuits such as Saints Isaacs Jogues, John de Brebeuf, Charles Garnier, Anthony Danile, Gabriel Lallemant, and Noel Chabanel. These are Jesuits who shed their blood for love of Christ and the furthering of His Kingdom. When contemplating the identity of the Jesuits look to the lives of saints, such as the Canadian Martyrs.

Perhaps it's naïve, but that is my personal reaction to this whole discussion. To know the beauty of the Society of Jesus look to its saints. I would do the same with any other order or lay movement.

Dear Mark, know that you, and your brothers in the Society of Jesus, are in my prayers.

3:39 AM  
Blogger Steve Bogner said...

I see this baby-boom generational split in the Jesuits I've met, and I see it reflected in my Jesuit parish, too. We younger folks just can't get all worked up about how Vatican 2 was/wasn't implemented and so on. Those boomer rally cries don't make much sense to us.

What bugs me the most about the sort of discussions that took place earlier this week is the angry, judgemental, spiteful tone that they often take. It's sad to see that happen among member of Christ's church. But if we truly desire and elect only those things that are more conducive to the end for which we are created, then even in the midst of all that hubris we can still raise some praise, reverence and service to God. It's all about God and saving souls, not about our own hangups, biases and so on. OK, I'm preaching now, I'd better bring this to a close!

8:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Very well said. The Society of Jesus is a microcosm of the Church. One should expect to find a variety of opinions and styles among so talented a group of men.

I have to say I don't agree with Dulles' assessment of the situation of Jesuits formed before or after Vatican II. The image of undisciplined wild eyed liberals engaged in a palace revolution is innacurate, as there were young Jesuits who disagreed with Vatican II also. He seems to forget how turbulent a year 1968 was in the Society of jesus. He, of course, is a bit of a hypocrite, since he seems also to forget the effect his book Models of the Church had on creating and spreading pluralism in the post Vatican II Church. He sanctioned the very things he condemns. It was quite convenient for him to swing to the right under John Paul II, since his ambiton to become a cardinal was fulfilled. And could there be anything more un-Jesuit than seeking hierarchical office? Did he forget the oath he swore in the sacristy after he pronounced his final vows?

8:45 AM  
Blogger Peter Nixon said...

Great post, Mark. I've met a number of Jesuits in formation at the JSTB and I have been extraordinarily impressed with them. They will make excellent priests.

10:50 AM  
Blogger Joe said...

Very well-put, Mark. Even though I've only been in the Society for a short time, your observations echo many of my own experiences. I can't hope to match your eloquence, but I put a few comments of my own on my blog. Pax,
Joe K nSJ

11:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Have you read the America editorial on the Instruction, in which they basically skirt the whole issue of the church's teaching on homosexuality?

This is all very nice, Mark, and the SJ's are a great religious order, but the problem with your commentary is that it has completely and totally neglected to meet the specific criticisms head on.

12:42 PM  
Blogger Kiwi Nomad 2006 said...

I am a very lapsed Catholic, just now looking at whether I want to be in or out. I have found several Jesuit websites really helpful. There is information and thought in them.
I don't think we even have Jesuits in my country (New Zealand), but their web presence is a gift I appreciate.

2:35 PM  
Blogger Mark Mossa, SJ said...


There are legitimate criticisms, I think, to be made of Cardinal Dulles' "turn to the right," especially in light of some of his previous work. Nevertheless, it has had its advantages, as I think he is one of the clearer, more honest and less ideological voices on the right. But still, your point is well taken.

Since I know Cardinal Dulles and did even before he was a Cardinal, I would have to dispute your suggestion that he was ambitioning to become a cardinal. Perhaps others might have been guilty of amibitioning for him, but I'm certain he would have been quite content to finish out his days without that honor. It seems to me that this is also supported by the fact that he was not made a bishop, per his request.

He, however, is not my most intimate friend, so perhaps you know better than I do. But it would seem uncharacteristic for him to ambition that way, and I'm certain that he wouldn't change his theological perspective solely for that reason, he has far more integrity than that.

2:49 PM  
Blogger JohnE said...

"A younger group is arising, much more committed to the Church and its traditions."


I enjoyed your post!

I do believe that Dulles is correct in the above quote, and that so are you as to your assessment of your fellow Jesuits in training.

Myself having spent two years of discernment in a diocesan seminary, I was blessed to live with a bunch of guys truly in love with the Church and with Christ. And yet, we shared many different opinions and perspectives but always mindful of Holy Mother the Church and her guidance.

My experience in the seminary, as well as in assisting in youth ministry over the years, has given me a great hope for the Church and her future.

I am glad to see that the Jesuits remain a viable option for young men to consider as a vocation. The vocation is truly a great one considering the responsibility of wisdom, knowledge, and understanding that you guys are formed in.

Please be assured of our family prayers for you and your brothers as you grow into your vocation!



2:51 PM  
Anonymous John Sawyer said...

Just some good news for the naysayers:

Australian Jesuit Fr. Gerald O'Collins SJ is such a universally popular figure in Rome it's possible to forget that beneath his avuncular exterior stirs the mind of one of the finest theologians of his era, arguably the best Christologist in the English-speaking world.

Fortunately, the Australian government has come along to remind us, by making O'Collins a "Companion in the General Division of the Order of Australia."

The honor is akin to a knighthood in England.

The announcement came on Thursday, Jan.y 26, citing O'Collins' "service to the Catholic church internationally and to scholarship as a renowned theologian, academic and influential contributor to ecumenical relations." Plans call for an investiture ceremony in Rome in April.

O'Collins told the Australian press that he will probably "pop around" to see the pope wearing his new medal.

(As a footnote, O'Collins is in the same crop of new Australian "companions" as actress Nicole Kidman.)

O'Collins' graciousness is of a piece with his theological method, which is unmistakably rooted in Roman Catholicism, but at the same time open to insights from other traditions. As one indication of O'Collins' ecumenical commitment, the foreword to a 2001 festschrift in honor of his 70th birthday was written by the then-Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey.

3:04 PM  
Blogger Susan Rose, CSJP said...

It's interesting. I admit I get the same "feel" from people who have opinions about what a "Good Sister" is and does. In their view, the "liberal" women's commnuities (read non habited and working on justice issues) are a dying breed and in some aspect wrong or sinful.

They may not have heard of my womens' religious community because we're small (unlike the Jesuits) but they have preconceptions about a broad categories of Sisters.

So I think I can feel your pain to a certain extent.

But as you say, I think God has some crazy plan that includes and needs ALL of us working together in the end.

I also just have to share what one Lutheran friend said to me when I told her that a church we were driving past was a Jesuit parish. .... "You mean Jesuits are Catholic?"!

3:57 PM  
Blogger Columcille said...

Hello Mark,

I've heard rumours that the New Orleans Province was the most orthodox within the Jesuits. Reading your post would confirm that to my mind.

I'm relieved that you guys are wearing clerics (why not be a bit more radical and don a casock?), and willing to show up at pro-life events.

As a product of Jesuit eduction in the baby-boomer mold, I can say that there is now hope for the Jesuits in America.

6:17 PM  
Anonymous preV2 said...

When I was a youngster and an altar boy in the 40s, the priest of our small but widely spread parish imported Jesuits from B.C. to assist during holidays and on special occasions. I remember them fondly as holy and special men, serious in their priesthood and at the same time enjoying it. It seems to me that my early impressions are continuing in your tradition and comments. Have anonymously enjoyed your blog for some time. Keep it up.

7:44 PM  
Anonymous john sawyer said...


Just so you know, the many of us Jesuit novices of the new orleans province will be at a Pro Life rosary and mass the basilica in san juan texas tomorrow.

mark, send this to the above guy in case he doesn't read it.

john nSJ

10:05 PM  
Blogger Deb said...

"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."

I am one of those people who have had a good, personal encounter with a Jesuit. He saved my life.

I'll be one of those praying for you.

12:11 PM  
Anonymous Frank Gibbons said...


As I have a daughter attending a Jesuit institution, it is my hope that the Society of Jesus that you know really exists.

I only knew two Jesuits on a personal level and they were both, to different degrees, confused men. One of them wound up in jail. This was man who I can say helped me on a a personal basis. I knew these guys during the late Seventies and I admit that one cannot judge an entire order on two men.

The biggest image problem that the Jesuits had (and still have, I guess) was their tolerance of Robert Drinan. Drinan, for many people, went beyond being pro-choice to being an advocate for abortion rights. I refer to his editorial that criticized Bush refusing to veto the ban on partial-birth abortion. I also site the cordial correspondence that passed between him and Planned Planned Parenthood. To this day, I don't understand why there was never a hue and cry from within the Jesuits regarding Drinan. People contrast this lack of response with the discipline meted out to Fr. Fessio, Fr. Buckley and others who were perceived as troublemakers. It is incidents such as these that cause some people to form negative opinions of the Jesuits.

But I take your word on it that the Jesuits are in good health and that a core of young men who love the Lord are now training to be Jesuits. If this is the case, then it is great news for the Church and God's Kingdom.


Frank Gibbons

12:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Spare us the histrionics. Did you conveniently forget that J2P2 made Drinan resign from Congress? That is persecution far beyond anything Fessio and Buckley had to face.

6:17 PM  
Anonymous antiaphrodite said...

"Men in formation of the New Orleans province, including me"

so where are you? :-)

9:47 PM  
Blogger Mark Mossa, SJ said...

If you must know, 2nd row, fourth from the right.

10:13 PM  
Anonymous Frank Gibbons said...


Drinan had no business being in politics. In that regard, his leaving politics left him like any other priest -- hence no persecution whatsoever. Drinan was, however, allowed to remain a priest and a Jesuit in good standing with plum assigments. There's no histrionics involved, anonymous, and nothing has been conveniently forgotten. Stick to the facts -- Drinan editorialized in favor of partial birth abortion. He exchanged cordial letters with Planned Parenthood. These things happened in the last several years, not thirty years ago. He is not only an embarrasment to the Jesuits but to
the whole Church.

Apparently you have forgotten, as Drinan has, that the Church has clear teachings about abortion. The bottom line is that the Jesuits have allowed Drinan to do his thing with impunity.

12:45 PM  
Blogger antiaphrodite said...

i think i'm psychic! :D

10:27 PM  
Blogger Karen said...

A Jesuit saved my life, and quite possibly my soul. And I have to constantly remind myself that he was and is a very liberal, unorthodox, kind of Jesuit that everyone (including me) rants about. At the time, I would have headed for the hills at any hint of orthodoxy. I grew to be where I am now. Mabybe the liberal Jesuit is where he is to save other people like I was back then. Maybe God can work with anyone, even liberal Jesuits. Maybe -- here's a radical thought -- God knows what He's doing.

10:11 AM  

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