Jesuits: Why Do They Hate Us? Why Do They Love Us?

Jesuits LincolnPreaching to fellow Jesuits can always be a challenge, especially when the Gospel reading begins, “Jesus said to his disciples: ‘If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first . . . ‘”  I did just that today, and received some good feedback.  And though the intended audience was primarily Jesuits, other friends were also interested in what I came up with.  There are insights here that I think both Jesuits and non-jesuits can appreciate it.  So, here it is:

Shortly after the election of Pope Francis, columnist George Weigel wrote in The National Review:

The first Jesuit pope? [in bold, with a question mark] Well, yes, in a manner of speaking.  Bergoglio is an old-school Jesuit, formed by classic Ignatian spirituality and deeply committed to an intelligent, sophisticated appropriation and proclamation of the full symphony of Catholic truth—qualities not notable for their prevalence among members of the Society of Jesus in the early 21st century.”

Not a wholly unexpected observation from Weigel who is not known for being shy in expressing his lack of affection for the Society of Jesus.  He and others are well-known for making broad, sweeping statements about the perceived failings of most Jesuits today.  We might ask: Why do they hate us?  I once elicited a response from Richard John Neuhaus on this very question when I accused him of mischaracterizing the Society in a similar way.  His response was almost literally: “I don’t hate Jesuits.  Some of my best friends are Jesuits.”

We often don’t ask, “Why do they hate us?”  Instead, we wear it is a badge of honor.  Insisting, in the spirit of today’s Gospel, that it must be an indication that we are doing something right.  And, rather than lament the fact that some are so easily inclined to criticize us so, we point to such persecution as an example of getting what we prayed for in the Spiritual Exercises.  Though we might find some justification for this, perhaps we might hesitate to be too self-congratulatory.

I have made something of a hobby analyzing the various forms of “hate” leveled at the Society.  In the case of most of those who are generous and far too quick with their criticism, I think relatively few of them can truly be characterized as “hating” us, even perhaps George Weigel.  Strangely enough, many of them even claim a great love for the Society, but they love an idealized, romanticized version of the Society that likely never existed.  And since they rightly recognize that we are not that Society, they will be perpetually unsatisfied.  Yet, still I think we do well to listen to what they have to say.  Indeed, hasn’t George Weigel described the new Pope in precisely the way we would hope to describe ourselves, as men “formed by classic Ignatian spirituality and deeply committed to an intelligent, sophisticated appropriation and proclamation of the full symphony of Catholic truth.”  It seems to me that this is far more prevalent than he recognizes, but also indeed an ideal that we sometimes fail to live up to.  We might wonder instead: Why is it that he and others fail to see this?  I have many theories, but I won’t ply you with them now.

But the strange truth, I have found, is that those who heap praise upon us are just as likely not to see who we really are.  They, too, often imagine us to be something we are not.  So, we might, with equal vigor and introspection ask the question: “Why do they love us?”  And we may be equally displeased with the answer.

As we mull all these things over, Jesus invites us in the Gospel to consider a further question: If people do in fact hate us, do they hate us for the right reasons?  Do they hate us for the same reason that people hated Jesus?  Do they hate us because we are like Jesus?  This is the deeper reality to which any response to our critics—whether they love or hate us—must penetrate.  After all, the Spiritual Exercises invite us to pray for persecution not so that we can engage in lively debate or because we are masochistic, but because we want to be like Christ, “to desire and choose poverty with Christ poor rather than wealth; contempt with Christ laden with it rather than honors, and to be regarded as a useless fool for Christ, who before me was regarded as such, rather than a wise and prudent person in this world.”  If we can discover that this is, at least in part, why people hate us, then we can rejoice that we are not greater than our master.

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One of My Favorite Easter Moments

PeterJohnTombI preached and presided at all the Triduum masses this weekend for the Visitation Sisters and their neighbors in Brooklyn.  Since their house was a place of limited technological sophistication, my homilies were given with mostly just some notes scratched down on paper, the old-fashioned way.  I’ll try to post some of my reflections later, but in the meantime, here’s part of my Easter message from today.

I’ve told this story before,but it’s always good for me to remember that one of my favorite Easter moments came during what was probably my most difficult year as a Jesuit.

Each year when Easter rolls around, I remember Mayo Kikel.

Mayo was one of the first teachers I met when I visited Jesuit High in Tampa the Spring prior to starting work there in 2002. She impressed me with her conviction that God wanted her there. She could easily have worked at a school closer to where she lived, but instead she made the extra long trek to our school each day. I have only met a few teachers like her, so convinced that they were fulfilling a mission. When I began work at the school the next Fall, she quickly became one of my favorite colleagues.

This made it all the more difficult when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. We were already to chip in and fill in for her wherever needed. But, amazingly, even after she started the cancer treatments, she never missed a single day of work. It was what she lived for. And though it left her with little energy to do much else, she came back day after day. None of us would have faulted her for taking a day off, much less complaining, but she rarely did.

As Easter approached, she came to ask me a favor. I was the Director of Campus Ministry and was in charge of the program for our once-a-week morning convocations, when the whole school gathered in the chapel to begin the day. She told me how good the boys at the school had been to her, and she wanted to use the convocation just before the Easter break to thank them. What she wanted to do, she explained, was to sing a song, an Easter song. Now this was not without its risks. Such an endeavor at a school of some 650 boys was just as likely to invite ridicule, as it was reverence. We talked about this, but she was determined. So we made plans.

When the day came, I stood up at the podium and said, “Mrs. Kikel has told me how wonderful you all have been to her during her illness, and she asked if she could do something to thank you.” The music began.

The song she sang was told from the perspective of Peter, beginning with a Peter all too aware of how he had failed Jesus. And, now that Jesus was dead, there would be no opportunity to make amends. Then it took up where our Easter Gospel reading began, with Mary come to announce that Jesus had been taken from the tomb. Peter runs to the tomb, John running up ahead. They find the burial cloths set aside, and Jesus missing, and they begin to realize what has happened. In the song Peter exclaims, “He’s alive!” “He’s alive!” “He’s alive and I’m forgiven. Heaven’s gates are open wide!” “He’s alive!” “He’s alive!” The song built until Mayo sang out the final, “He’s aaaalive!” And then something happened which even now when I think about it inspires tears. Immediately and without hesitation, every boy in that chapel stood up and applauded.

We speak a lot in our Jesuit boys’ schools about being “men for others,” and I have yet to see a better example of that than I did on that day. When we speak about Easter, we speak about everything being made new because of what Jesus did for us, and because God raised him from the dead. Things were made new for me that day. No matter what they did after that day, I could never quite see those boys in the same way again. They had stepped up when it was most important. And I can never think of Easter without thinking of Mayo Kikel who because of her humility, faith and courage was able to inspire such a moment.

Mayo beat the cancer, but was stricken just a couple years later with a rare disease which took her from us. But I will never forget her. Few people in my life have exemplified as well as her what Easter is all about.

A Palpable Papal Silence

Was the Pope’s silence a sign?

Much, of course, can be made of nothing.  But, in this case, that’s the point.

One of the first acts of the new Pope Francis was to invite the crowd gathered in Saint Peter’s square to silence, and prayer.

Monks are more known for their silence, and Jesuits for their bluster.  Yet, truth be told, if there was one moment where the new Pope’s Jesuit-ness shone through the most, it was this one.  In Saint Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises, one retreats from the noise of the world to encounter Jesus in silence.

We live in a world of ever-increasing noise, and information overload.  If we are to deepen our spiritual lives then, we need silence more than ever.  And so the Jesuit Francis may have given us a sign, and an invitation, by his early silence.

True, the new Pope might still go on Tweeting.  But I suspect he might also, as Saint Ignatius would, urge us to unplug and go retreating, meeting God in prayer, and silence.

The New Pope’s a Jesuit: How Do You Feel?

Since the election of Pope Francis I the first yesterday, I can already predict what the number one topic of my conversations will be in the coming days, weeks, months perhaps.  It will begin something like this: “How do you feel about having a Jesuit Pope?”  Though at this point we are only a day into this new reality, I find that my reactions fall into at least four categories.  First, I was—and still am—surprised.  Second, I feel delight, and a sense of pride.  Third, I find myself conflicted.  Finally, I am apprehensive.  I can’t speak for all Jesuits, but my sense is that many of my Jesuit brothers are experiencing similar reactions, to varying degrees.

Why am I surprised?

“They would never elect a Jesuit Pope!”  We Jesuits have always taken it as something of a maxim that a Jesuit would never be elected Pope.  I said as much to several people who asked me recently whether I thought the new Pope might be a Jesuit (they have been quick to point out that I was wrong).  There were many reasons for this presumption.  Most obviously: In the more than 400 years that it had been possible, a Jesuit had never been elected Pope.  It was also thought that since the Jesuits are and have long been the largest single religious order of men in the Church (though the different Franciscan families, if added together, would be larger in number), that having a Jesuit Pope would skew a presumed balance of power between the “white Pope” and the “black pope,” as the Jesuit superior general is sometimes called.  Such a vision, however, seems to be the product of a bygone age when the papacy was understood differently.  Nevertheless, we know that in the Church former ways of thinking sometimes die hard, and many of us presumed that this way of thinking was still alive and kicking.  So, give the current college of Cardinals—and the Holy Spirit—credit for overcoming a long-standing prejudice!

Why delighted and proud?

The new Pope is a Jesuit!  Members of a religious community, no matter how different they may be individually (and individual Jesuits can be very different), share a unique kinship founded in their order’s charism (that is, unique characteristics), traditions, mission and spirituality.  We speak the same language.  We understand each other.  Also, our shared identity as a community of men devoted to a common mission in service of Christ and the Church results in a collective sense of pride in our accomplishments, and sorrow over our failures.  What one Jesuit does, for good or ill, somehow reflects upon all of us.  So, just as I feel proud when I see I Jesuit I live with act heroically in support of someone in need, I also find myself feeling proud to be a Jesuit when one of my brother Jesuits becomes Pope.

Why conflicted?

A Jesuit is not supposed to be Pope!  Here, I’m not repeating myself, but saying something about Jesuit legislation, tradition, and self-understanding, as well as the intentions of our founder, Saint Ignatius of Loyola.  Dismayed by the distasteful actions by many Catholic clerics of his day in pursuit of advancement, power and prestige, Ignatius was determined that such ambition not infect the Society of Jesus.  Therefore, it was clearly specified in the founding documents of the Jesuits that Jesuits were not to become bishops.  Indeed, it is even forbidden for Jesuits to aspire to most positions of authority within the Society of Jesus itself.  Should a Jesuit mount a campaign to be a Provincial or the General Superior of the Jesuits or even express a desire to hold such a position, that very act would disqualify him!  Being a bishop also makes it essentially impossible for one to be fully a Jesuit, in a sense.  Integral to Jesuit identity is apostolic availability, meaning that a Jesuit should always be prepared to go at a moment’s notice to answer the greatest apostolic need, anywhere in the world, especially if the Pope asks!  Being a bishop doesn’t allow for that kind of availability.  So, I suspect that Saint Ignatius would be strongly opposed—if not horrified—at the election of a Jesuit as Pope!  However, this all also points to a question within the Society of Jesus as to how Jesuits are to understand availability, and their vow of obedience to the Pope.  Shouldn’t a Jesuit’s availability also include being available to serve the Church as a Bishop?  And, a matter of some dispute among Jesuits, given that we have a specific vow of obedience to the Pope, does this include a Pope’s request that one become a bishop?  This question came up during Ignatius’ lifetime when some in the Church wanted to make the Jesuit Francis Borgia a cardinal.  Ignatius made known his strong opposition to the proposal (especially because in this case it was about giving honor to a member of a prominent family), but he also acknowledged that should the Church insist, and Borgia accept, he would have to respect the Church’s decision.  Borgia was never made a cardinal, and instead became the third general superior of the Jesuits.

Why apprehensive?

A Jesuit Pope surely spells disaster for the Church!  Or so many might say.  While many in the Church have no idea what a Jesuit is, or that there are priests of a different sort than the ones that they know, those more in the know have strong opinions about religious orders like the Jesuits.  There are those that love the Jesuits with great passion, and those who hate the Jesuits with equal passion.  Both these camps are likely to harbor unreasonable expectations for a Jesuit Pope, both positive and negative.  Pope Francis will most certainly disappoint both, not being as progressive as some would expect of a Jesuit, and not being as disastrous as others might expect.  One of the main problems is that the most commonly held view on both sides is that the Jesuits are liberal.  The fact that this isn’t an accurate representation of the diversity of the 19,000 Jesuits around the world, doesn’t stop our lovers or haters from seeing us that way.  So, those who hate the Jesuits, but love the Church will make peace with themselves by saying things like, “but he’s a good Jesuit,” or “the right kind of Jesuit,” to distinguish him from the vast majority of Jesuits who are “bad Jesuits.”  I can’t tell you how maddening, and I must say ignorant, such comments are.  When he’s not progressive enough, Jesuit lovers will accuse him of not being Jesuit enough, or of betraying the Jesuits, or the Jesuit spirit.  And though we certainly prefer the criticisms of those who love us, such comments will also be rooted in a similar ignorance of the expansive richness, diversity and fidelity to the Church that the Society of Jesus represents.  When the Pope fails, as he certainly will from time to time, you might hear expressions of contempt such as “what do you expect from a Jesuit.”  But I pray that both Jesuit lovers and haters can see beyond their expectations and find the wisdom of the Church and the will of the Holy Spirit in this surprising choice.Image

An Early Review

Ignatius Loyola–The Spiritual Writings has been out about 4 weeks, and “Prints of Grace” has been kind enough to offer a review.  Here’s an excerpt:

“I didn’t realize how much of modern day spirituality and prayer practices came from this particular saint and his prescribed methods of growing closer to the Lord.  Now that I have read excerpts from his memoir as well as his letters within the context of explaining certain passages of The Spiritual Exercises, I have a far greater appreciation of the wealth of wisdom he provided through his writing.”

Read the rest here.

Saint Ignatius: What Have I Done For Christ?

“Imagining Christ our Lord present and placed on the Cross, let me make a Colloquy, how from Creator He is come to making Himself man, and from life eternal is come to temporal death, and so to die for my sins.

Likewise, looking at myself, [ask]:

What I have done for Christ? What I am doing for Christ? What I ought to do for Christ?

And so, seeing Him such, and so nailed on the Cross, to go over that which will present itself.

The Colloquy is made, properly speaking, as one friend speaks to another, or as a servant to his master; now asking some grace, now blaming oneself for some misdeed, now communicating one’s affairs, and asking advice in them.”

How do I use imagination in prayer?  What’s a colloquy?

Saint Ignatius: On Dealing With Distractions In Prayer

“Even very devout servants of God complain about wanderings and instability of the mind, and we read that St. John occasionally relaxed his contemplations by lowering his attention to a bird he held in his hand, saying to a follower of his who was disedified that, just as the bow cannot remain always bent, so neither could the understanding, etc.  It is true that sometimes, even many times, numerous servants of God have a great and vivid awareness, quite certain and stable, of his eternal truths; but for them to remain permanently in this state is impossible to believe.”

Letter to Francis Borgia

Looking for more advice from Saint Ignatius?  Image

Order Saint Ignatius Loyola–The Spiritual Writings: Annotated & Explained Today!

Find Answers to the questions: Who was Francis Borgia?  And, was he related to that awful family on TV?

Happy Feast of St. Ignatius Loyola!

Today Jesuits worldwide and our many friends and collaborators celebrate the feast day of the saint who inspires how we live, and much of what we do for the people of God.  On this day, we pray especially for Saint Ignatius’ intercession for blessings on our work and for the gifts of grace we need in our lives.

Here’s one of my favorite quotes from his letters, one which I find especially relevant today:

“To sum up my meaning in a few words: If you thought carefully about how deeply you are bound to defend the honor of Jesus Christ and the salvation of your neighbor, you would see how much you are obliged to dispose yourselves for every toil and labor to make yourself apt instruments of God’s grace for this purpose, particularly nowadays, when there are so few real laborers, so few persons who seek ‘not the things that are their own but the things that are Jesus Christ’s’ [Phil. 2:21]; you need to strive all the harder to make up for what others fail to do, since God is giving you such a special grace in this vocation and resolve.”

Happy Feast!

The Reviews Are In!

I was excited recently to find myself pictured on the cover of America magazine (see photo).  How that happened I’m still not quite sure.  But I’m even more excited by the latest issue of America!

Emilie Griffin has offered a very kind review of two books by Fathers named Mark, Fr. Mark Thibodeaux’s book, God’s Voice Within, and my own book, Already There.  It’s a nice commentary on our similarly-themed, but very different books.  Here’s how she starts:

“Ignatian wisdom is universal and has blessed many (including me). No question, St. Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus, meant this practical spirituality to speak in all times, places, cultures and all life’s seasons. That original vision is fine-tuned and fresh in the hands of two very different Jesuit spiritual masters. Mark Mossa and Mark Thibodeaux, both Jesuit priests who are creative teachers, directors and ministers, bring life to the ancient path. And it is good; we who were once formed by it have reason to welcome these new treatments of spiritual life in all its depth and surprise. Each author pins down for the reader a yearning, a sometimes disturbing voice, coming out of real stories, personal pitfalls and God’s sometimes puzzling response.

Mark Mossa, long a minister for young adults, now teaches theology at Fordham University. He seems to have spent most of his life growing up; he wants to help others through the same self-doubt, darkness and blundering. With chapters like “Living in Palookaville,” “Taking the Scary Bits Out of the Freezer,” and “Who Told You That You Were Naked?” Mossa buttonholes the reader. After stumbling through most everything in life (that’s his version of the story), he puts his practical insight to work for us. “Already there” is the seemingly casual phrase he uses—insists on—to tell us how he eventually learned (and has to keep relearning) that the Lord was with him through every dilemma, every pratfall . . . “

Enjoy the rest of the review here.

With Friends Like These . . . or the Tango Maureen

One of the interesting things about being a Jesuit is that we get dragged into a lot of fights, whether we are involved or not, whether it is merited or not.  People are especially eager to believe things about the Jesuits, especially if it seems to confirm their prejudices about us, both good and bad.  Someone years ago tried to speak to me about support for abortion among Jesuits, for example.  The assumption was that since Jesuits are “liberal” (another questionable prejudice), that there must be widespread support for abortion among Jesuits.  I told her—and it’s true—that I don’t know a single Jesuit whom I would consider anything but pro-life on the abortion issue.  Still such mistaken perceptions endure.  My most commented-on blog post ever was when I called out the author of a Catholic magazine article for a spurious claim that the Jesuits were at the “vanguard” of the opposition to a Vatican document when, in truth, the vast majority of Jesuits had expressed no opinion about the document one way or another.  If that logic held, then, there were any number of organizations that could have joined us in the “vanguard.”  But it’s much more sexy to blame the Jesuits.

Recently I’ve been thinking about the fact though that it’s not just our critics who love to drag us into their fights.  It’s our friends too.  People, often with little thought, are sometimes quick to presume that we are on their side in a given matter.  Or, short of saying that we are on their side, they somehow implicate us in what they are saying.  Again, this is either because it’s more sexy to include the Jesuits, or because they are using “Jesuits” to refer to an amorphous constituency within the Church that includes some Jesuits, as well as many people who are not Jesuits.  It’s more akin to a pop culture phenomenon than an assertion of the truth about the Society of Jesus.

What prompted me to think about this in particular this week was Maureen Dowd’s column in last weekend’s New York Times entitled, “Hold the Halo,” about the beatification of John Paul II.  In it, she cites John Paul II’s support of Maciel, the founder of the Legionaries of Christ, as evidence against his beatification and eventual canonization.  And, she makes a valid criticism, as few would deny that for all his virtues, John Paul II had something of a blind spot when it came to Maciel.  He refused to believe that Maciel might be guilty of the things that we now know he was indeed guilty of.  Now perhaps I’m naïve, but I’ve always believed, contrary to the assertions of Dowd and others, that this was not a case of deliberate concealment of Maciel’s crimes, but a certain naivete on the part of an aging Pope.  But here I’m not really entering into the debate about whether John Paul should be canonized or not, because what bothered me more was where she goes next.

“The ultra-orthodox Legion of Christ and Opus Dei,” she continues, “were the shock troops in John Paul’s war on Jesuits and other progressive theologians.”  Now I presume from this statement that Dowd would consider herself as, at the very least, positively inclined toward the Jesuits (whether she is our ‘friend’ or not, I don’t want to presume to say), but there are so many problems with this statement that I hardly know where to begin.  First among them is, of course, the fact that she equates Jesuits with “progressive theologians,” as if every Jesuit can be presumed to be a progressive theologian.  Only a small percentage of Jesuits, of course, are theologians, and not all of them could be said to be progressive.  Nor can this be said of all Jesuits, as people often presume.  The joke among Jesuits is that if you poll four Jesuits about some matter, you’ll get five different opinions.  It’s funny, because it’s not far from the truth.  And the Jesuits were never at war with John Paul II!  The pope did intervene in Jesuit governance at the beginning of his papacy, because he was led to believe that he had reason to be concerned about the Jesuits.  If there was going to be a war, it was then.  But what surprised many—including the pope—was that the Jesuits did not rebel, but obediently accepted the situation (even if they weren’t so happy about it).  There never was a war.  Among Jesuits you’ll find as many men many who are ardent supporters of John Paul II and his papacy as you’ll find detractors.  And you’ll find many, frankly, who don’t find it necessary to have an opinion or stance toward any pope, because the main focus of their lives is their ministry to the people of God.  Indeed, belief in the importance and primacy of their ministry is the thing that you’ll find most Jesuits in agreement on.

There is much more I could say about the implications of the above statement and the ways in which it distorts the truth.  But, again, my main goal is to point to it as an example of how “friends” of the Jesuits sometimes misrepresent us as much as our critics, and anyone who might believe themselves to be “at war” with us, might.  So, thanks Maureen for liking us, but if you want to speak of a war on “progressive theologians,” leave it at that, and keep us out of the equation.  Sure, there are some Jesuits who share your concerns about John Paul’s beatification, but there are also plenty of Jesuits, even some “progressive theologians” among them, who will also be celebrating the beatification this weekend of a flawed but holy man and pope, even if he wasn’t always our biggest fan.