George Weigel & the Jesuit Charism
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.