Wednesday, March 26, 2008

George Weigel & the Jesuit Charism

I had this to say in response to George Weigel's column for the week of February 20, "Questions for Father General":

And, yes, the 'broad brush' approach of Weigel and Neuhaus suggest that they are not really interested in seeing what is good in the Society of Jesus. And the fact that they keep trotting out the same tired examples of what they take to be indications of overall Jesuit failure says to me that they are not really interested in looking any deeper.

While I expect that George Weigel cares little about my opinion, I am happy to stand corrected, to an extent, by his latest column, "The Ignatian Possibility Today." In it he offers, while not wholly uncritical, a refreshingly positive view of the Society of Jesus and what the Society has to offer the Church.

In my ten years as a Jesuit I have become convinced that we find ourselves at a time when the life and spirituality inspired by Saint Ignatius' Spiritual Exercises are needed more than ever. This is a gift to the Church and the world that the Society of Jesus is uniquely qualified to offer. I think this is something of what Weigel is trying to get at it when he suggests that the Jesuit religious charism might be seen as something permanent. However, from my perspective, the question of whether it is permanent isn't as important as my conviction of its necessity now, and that is why the stakes are so high for the future of the Society of Jesus (a future that I am much more optimistic about than some).

Indeed, I am not saddened by the anecdote with which Weigel begins his article, surprised and saddened as he was by the fact that a few Jesuit interlocutors were not convinced of the permanence of the Jesuit charism. For me, it represents the very humility which Ignatius himself had and encouraged in his companions. Ignatius encourages us not to be passionless about the future or the permanence of the Society, but to be indifferent about it. Ignatius expressed his awareness of the possibility that there might come a time when God no longer had use for the Society and, if that time should come, that Jesuits should recognize it as sure a sign of God's will as was his institution of the Society. I am happy to agree with Weigel that this time has not come, and is unlikely to come soon (as much as our detractors would like it to be so). The Pope, in his gracious and encouraging words to our recent General Congregation, affirmed that the Church is still very much in need of what we Jesuits have to offer.

Still questions about what shape this future contribution will take certainly remain. Both the Pope and Cardinal Rode spoke of the need for Jesuits to continue to engage the "frontiers" of the Church and the world, despite the attendant risks. Their challenge was also clear for us to further our understanding of all aspects of our charism, including the sentir cum ecclesiae ('thinking with the Church') and our fourth vow of obedience to the Pope with regard to mission. These are as much aspects of our charism as the service of faith and the promotion of justice, aspects deserving of more reflection.

Pope Benedict also pointed to the enduring nature of our charism by affirming the words of Paul VI: "Wherever in the Church, even in the most difficult and extreme fields, at the crossroads of ideologies, in the social trenches, there has been and there is confrontation between the burning exigencies of man and the perennial message of the Gospel, here also there have been, and there are, Jesuits." If our charism is indeed to be permanent, I believe that Paul VI also aptly expressed here what must be one of its enduring characteristics.

I have said more than Weigel does in his column, but I hope it to be in the same spirit. Obviously, I am a Jesuit and he is not, so there is a bit of difference in perspective. But, nevertheless, I am happy to say that I share in his concluding conviction:

Like my column, my work with Jesuits has been an expression of my conviction that the Ignatian charism ought to be a permanent one— and my hope that the community which gave the Church such heroes as Francis Xavier, Edmund Campion, Robert Southwell, Isaac Jogues, Miguel Pro, and Alfred Delp might be renewed in the image of their radical fidelity.

A.M.D.G., indeed.


Blogger Kiwi Nomad 2008 said...

I have never met a 'real life' Jesuit, but I have seen Jesuits on the internet reaching out in various ways to help the spiritual life of others. One of the sites I have found most helpful is one by British Jesuits, "pray as you go" - and I try to use their 'review of the day'. After thinking about the events of the day, the 'voice' helps you think about places where God's light and energy were present. Then to think about any difficulties and place them before God. Somehow the whole approach of this review helps me appreciate where God is active in my life. But it also helps me think about how to 'mend' what needs mending, without being racked by guilt over it. So I am grateful for this Jesuit ministry, which has flowered among the diversity of approaches that Jesuits seem to be able to foster.

4:17 AM  
Blogger Alan C. Mitchell said...


As you subtly indicate in your post, Weigel's dismay over the remarks of his luncheon hosts on whether the Ignatian charism will be permanently embodied in the Society of Jesus, as a religious order, shows his ignorance of Ignatius himself, Ignatian spirituality, and the history of the Society of Jesus. As you know, Ignatius subordinated all things to the will of God, even if that meant that there would no longer be a Society of Jesus. He said it would take him fifteen minutes to accept this fate, were it truly from God.

As you indicate, the need for the Ignatian charism is evident in the Church today. The good news is that it takes shape in ways other than those found only in the formal Society of Jesus. The Society has been very creative in sharing the Ignatian charism with non-Jesuits. Just witness the continued interest in the Spiritual Exercises, especially in Annotation 19 retreats. The more the Society helps others to appropriate its charism, the longer will that charism have its role and influence in the Church. As you note, however, there is nothing inherent in the charism itself that guarantees its permanence; Ignatian indifference would dictate otherwise.

It is this understanding of the Ignatian charism that Weigel missed. One has to account also for the fact that he was called to accountability for his erroneous and irresponsible remarks in an earlier article, where he accused individual Jesuits, including one who is deceased. In this article, Weigel seems to be trying to save face after Fr. Steve Privett took him to task on what he had written. Weigel does not do shame well, and rather than do what he should have done, i.e. offer an apology and a retraction, he tries to cover his tracks by justifying what he wrote on the basis of his "concern" for what he heard at lunch that day in Rome. He seems to have forgotten even the most basic conventions of etiquette. True to form, however, instead of offering an apology, he calls attention to himself and his efforts on behalf of the Society.

Truly bizarre is the catalogue of all that he has done for the Society of Jesus, chief among which is the "rescue" of John Courtney Murray from "theological oblivion". It would be more accurate to say that he joined a band wagon of notable Jesuits, who were recovering Murray's thought. Murray had not fallen into oblivion, and needed no one to rescue him. Weigel's claim in itself is telling about his self-perception and helps his readers to understand why he writes the kind of stuff he writes. It is always about him.

8:52 AM  
Blogger Lisa said...

So then what was the purpose of Wiegel's earlier piece?

6:51 PM  

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