Monday, March 20, 2006

Jesuit Brainwashing, Silence or Fear of Change?

Saint Ignatius’ Autobiography, part 52

During those days in Venice he spent some time giving the Exercises and in other spiritual associations. The more important people to whom he gave them were Masters Peter Contarini and Gaspar De Doctis, and a Spaniard called Rojas. There was also another Spaniard who was called the Bachelor Hocez, who had a good deal to do with the pilgrim and also with the bishop of Ceuta. Although he had some desire to make the Exercises he never carried it into execution. Finally, however, he made up his mind to make them, and after the third or fourth day, opened his mind to the pilgrim to tell him that he had been afraid that some wicked doctrine was taught in the Exercises. Someone in fact had told him as much. It was this reason that he had brought with him certain books which he could use as protection, if he happened to want to impose these doctrines on him. He found great help in the Exercises, and when they were over he resolved to follow the pilgrim’s way of life. He was also the first to die.

In Venice also another persecution was begun against the pilgrim. There were many who said that his likeness had been burned in Spain and in Paris. Matters came to such a pass that a trial was held and sentenced rendered in favor of the pilgrim.

When I read this, I can’t help thinking: Things haven’t changed much in 470 years! The Jesuits haven’t even been founded yet, and already the conspiracy theories have begun. I really do wonder what makes people so afraid sometimes that they would rather put their trust in the “warnings” people give them, instead of finding out for themselves.

I am convinced that people need to know about and experience Saint Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises now more than ever. Yet, my fear is that many people, like Hocez, avoid the Exercises out of some fear of Jesuit “brainwashing” or something (though often for many people I talk to, it’s often rather a fear of silence!). Though it’s fair to say that I am biased, I know of no more powerful way to encounter Christ than to spend 5, 8 or 30 days (if you’re lucky) in prayer, conversation and companionship with him in the Exercises. But we Jesuits are fortunate also in that though the Exercises were “ours” first, so many other religious communities and even lay Catholic movements have adopted Ignatian spirituality and the Exercises as their own. A few years ago I directed two women in the “19th annotation” version of the Exercises as part of their training as spiritual directors at the House of Prayer in Clearwater, FL. What a privilege it was to journey with these women through the course of almost a year! As in my own experience of The Exercises, their lives were transformed.

Though fears of “Jesuit brainwashing,” and silence are things that do indeed keep people from the Exercises, I expect that what such excuses often mask is the fear of being significantly changed by the experience. Let’s face it, the thing that many of us fear the most is change. I suspect that despite his confession to Ignatius, that this may very well have been operative in Hocez’s reluctance to carry his desire to do the Exercises “to execution.” The course of his life was indeed changed, and he adopted Ignatius’ way of life. But he also took a great risk. So, we might find it a bit sobering when Ignatius tells us “He was also the first to die.” But I also can’t help but be inspired by his example of trust in Christ’s power to work in him and through him, even risking death.


Blogger Jeff Pioquinto,SJ said...

nice article

6:49 AM  
Blogger GRT said...

Brainwashing?? No.

Aren't Jesuits teachers of a sort of dialectical investigation? I always thought you guys were after truth through intellectual discipline. Not so?

12:34 AM  
Blogger Mitzie said...

Hi. I read your profile and noticed that one of your favorite books is A Prayer for Owen Meany. What's with the book? I have a friend who's a Jesuit novice and it's his favorite book as well.

I tried reading it before but I wasn't able to finish it. So I'm just a bit curious. =)

2:11 AM  
Blogger ShadowMayhem said...

mmmm... brainwashing. Can't get enough of that jesuit "brainwashing". Did I mention I now work for the Jesuits... see going to college at a Jesuit University wasn't enough for me oh no...

11:02 AM  
Blogger Mark Mossa, SJ said...


Owen Meany is a fantastic book. It's probably about 100 pages too long, and has a subplot about Ronald Reagan that's kind of annoying, but those are the quirks of John Irving. The basic story is a brilliant story of faith and vocation, well worth persevering through. Good luck!


Where ya working?

1:17 AM  
Blogger Pedro Juan Yegros said...

Let’s face it, the thing that many of us fear the most is change.

It's not change people fear, it's contradicting magisterial teachings. I've known Jesuits who support "abortion rights" and dissent from Humanae Vitae. Some things don't change--magisterial teaching is one of those things. This is what Neuhaus is worried about--not "change", just the safeguarding of the 2,000 year old deposit of faith, which has faced the most trouble since the sixties than it has since the 14th century.

5:48 PM  

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