Preaching 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.