Tuesday, October 02, 2007

On the Need for Reform, or Getting What You Pray For

I just had a look at a blog whose purpose avowedly is to promote the reformation of the Jesuits. But, from what I can tell, what it is up to is basically dishing out gossip about the Jesuits—taken out of context, of course. Worse yet, the blog’s author pretends to be a great Jesuit Saint who would be appalled at what his name is being attached to. Perhaps the author has good intentions, but reading the blog one does not see them to be in evidence.

Now I’ll be the first to admit that I am a “company man” when it comes to attacks on the Jesuits. Not that I can claim to support everything that individual brother Jesuits say and do. But I do, as Saint Ignatius instructed, always try to give the best interpretation possible to those actions and words. I also recognize that while it may not be the way that I might have done it or said it, it may be inspired by the same Spirit as my actions and words, as Saint Ignatius also recognized. Plus, in humility I must recognize that my actions and words may not always be right or commendable.

After more than ten years of formation as a Jesuit, I think I can confidently say that I know more about the Society of Jesus than most of those who criticize our least Society. I can tell you with confidence that from my perspective the Society does not need to be reformed, at least not in the image of most of those who are calling for it to be. The problem is that they read Jesuit documents and come up with some mythic image of what they think the Society once was and think that is what it was meant to be. But Saint Ignatius’ image of the Jesuits was not of some static organization, but rather of one that would respond to the challenges of each era in the Church’s history. If Saint Ignatius had insisted on sticking to his initial vision of the Society, Jesuit schools would have never existed. They weren’t in the original plan.

What the Society of Jesus has always been good at is responding to the signs of the times. The Society has also always been good at attracting men of great passion. So, there will always be those among us who, in their enthusiasm, go a bit too far in responding to the signs of the times. And there will always be those who do not go far enough. Leaving most of the rest of us somewhere in the middle. And it is that middle, the heart of the Society, that many our critics (and even some of our fans) never take sufficient notice of. The Society of Jesus is made up of men who, for the most part, never attract much notice beyond their immediate apostolate. These are the men who faithfully go about the work of God day by day without pretension, touching lives in big and small ways, but in ways that generally don’t make headlines. They are the true "Good Old-Fashioned Saint Ignatius Jesuits." These are the men who also, I think, are most hurt by those who attack the Society.

I pray constantly that I can live up to the example of the men whose names you do not know.

The Society of Jesus is changing, the Holy Spirit is taking care of that in ways disseminating Jesuit gossip will never achieve. The signs of the times demand it, as they have before. Each subsequent generation of Jesuits has been different, made up of a different mix of men focused on different things. This generation will be no different. And each generation of Jesuits has had its detractors and critics. If we are living up to our mission and our spirituality, that’s the way it must be. In the Spiritual Exercises, every Jesuit is invited to pray for persecution. And we always seem to get our share. And so, perhaps, the existence of a blog like the one I described isn’t such a bad thing. Though I think it misguided, it may finally serve as evidence that we Jesuits are not so far off the mark after all. We’re getting what we prayed for.


Blogger Jason nSJ said...

Of course, if St. Ignatius had really stuck to his original idea, the Society would never have been created, and Ignatius and his companions would have died monastics in the Holy Land.

2:25 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

I don't get the criticisms of the Society of Jesus. I think the direction taken with Pedro Arrupe was courageous and idealistic, and all the Jesuits I've met have been great representatives of their order.

5:31 PM  
Blogger Joe said...

While I do get much of the criticism, I do think that those of us who have concerns -- and sometimes seriou concerns -- ought remember that "passion never governs wisely" no matter how genuine and legitimate that passion may be.



4:18 AM  
Blogger Karen said...

That's why you'll never see my name on a bumper sticker.

7:25 PM  
Blogger Peter Nixon said...

From my perspective as a layman studying with Jesuits who are close to ordination, I would say the future of your order is in good hands.

And congratulations on your ordination, BTW...:-)

8:04 PM  

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