Friday, February 27, 2009

Jesuits, Legionaries, and Reform

As I was browsing around the other day, I came upon this post here: 
Something weird is happening. I keep hearing about the Jesuits. And it’s from completely random, completely unconnected sources. It started about a month ago I think, and has gradually picked up steam until this past week, when I started noticing like maybe 3-4 mentions of Jesuits per day. A lot of them are really weird. I’ve found quotes about how Hitler idealized them. I’ve found quotes about their complicity with the Croatian Nazi Ustasha faction (another word which has been coming up again and again). I’ve had people mention to me their Jesuit friend. I’ve had somebody ask me conspiratorially if I was an “ex-Jesuit.” Supposedly also the prophecies of Malachy may have been forged by them in the 1600’s. 

So the question I’d like to put before you all now is: What the hell is up with the Jesuits? I know very little about them, but I suspect that I ought to start finding out. Something doesn’t pop up that many times in such a freakin’ short span of time without there being a tremendously good reason. 
The author asks a good questions, especially in the current climate.  As I mentioned in a post earlier, because the Legionaries of Christ were often called the "New Jesuits," the fact that they are now receiving so much press means, interestingly enough, that the Jesuits are also getting a lot of press.  People want to know, who is this group that they were supposedly modeled on? And with that comes a certain amount of ridicule.  For instance, a comment a few weeks ago on this blog read:
You are a Jesuit for crying out loud. Your universities are the richest and most endowed in the world. The Jesuit residence at any school is a far cry from any option of the poor. You want a broken body, go live with some homeless guy that has been hit by a truck, now that is real blood and real body.....
I had written about simplicity of life, and this was the (legitimate?) response.  This should not be a time for Jesuits to begin gloating about what they have, taking the demise of the Legionaries as some kind of proof of the legitimacy of their own lifestyles.  Rather, especially with Lent coming on, this should be a time of serious introspection.  If the Legionaries of Christ need transparency and introspection to mark the next years of their existence, then so also do we.  

I remember before I entered the Jesuits having a conversation with Fr. Benedict Groeschel.  He was on the board of  directors of Franciscan University of Steubenville, and I chatted with him briefly after attending a meal with the board members.  When I told him that I was joining the Jesuits, he looked at me squarely, and said very seriously: "Don't join the Jesuits.  You'll lose your vocation."  He went on to inform me that there were only a couple of good Jesuits left -- men such as Fr. Fessio and Fr. Pacwa -- and that the rest were going to hell in a hand basket. I tried to convince him otherwise, to no effect.  He is a firm believer in new groups in the Church, in renewal groups such as the CFR's and, possibly, the Legion, who would do the primary work of renewing the Church.  And I did visit many of these groups.  I stayed with the CFR's in the Bronx and with the Companions of the Cross in Ottawa, to name a couple.  

But what is it that makes so many people count the Jesuits out?  I think that I could introduce many friends of mine now who are Jesuits who might change Groeschel's mind.  I think there is a tremendous renewal going on within the Jesuits, and renewal is something that must happen all the time, without stop in every group.  At the time I chalked Groeschel's attitude up to the fact that he was a Franciscan; that this is how Franciscans do renewal: they split off.  Jesuits do not operate this way, and John Paul II made that clear to a group of Jesuits who tried to do such a thing in Spain.  But I think there is more than that.  Many people -- primarily "conservatives" -- count the Jesuits out.  We are done, beyond redemption.  I have heard conservative traditional Catholics even declare that we should be suppressed again as we were from 1773-1814.  What a sentiment!  

And  yet who am I to just write that sentiment off?  What is it about us that many people find so deplorable, so in need of renewal?  I have quite a few ideas, and I think many of them revolve around the question of the structure of our daily life.  There is much we could change.  

For a first example, Fr. Peter Hans Kolvenbach, the previous Superior General, asked that every formed Jesuit pray for and hour and a half a day.  For me, that would work out to 20 minutes at mass in the morning; 30 minutes for my two daily examens (examinations of conscience that every Jesuit must do twice a day); 20 minutes for morning and evening prayer with the breviary, and then 20 minutes for a rosary.  I do like breaking up prayer like that, since I am a firm believer (with Ignatius I think) that small segments of prayer throughout the day are better than one long hour of prayer.  But for many, an hour and a half is almost nothing. It seems so short.  And none of it is done in common in a Jesuit house.  It is all done individually.  

Is this really religious life?  I think a lot of people doubt.  And have for a long time.  A Legionary would do a lot more prayer, they would say.  He would keep a very strict structure. He would have a set time for prayer; exercise; mass; meals; spiritual reading; study.  Yet this is not Jesuit life.  I am sitting in a coffee shop right now with shorts on.  Is this really religious life?

I do agree that many things need to be modified about our daily life, possibly to make it stricter.  Though Ignatius often quoted that a truly mortified man does not need more than the examen as his prayer.  But that just raises the question:  how does one become truly mortified? Does one require the extreme forms of living of the CFR's and the Legionaries?  They were certainly attractive to my romantic temperament when I was looking at groups.  

For a second example, I think many of us Jesuits watch too much TV.  Would a Legionary do that?  Probably not.  Could we cut out a lot to make more time for prayer?  Yes.  So I would recommend these two to ourselves as possibly ways of beginning renewal: increasing our prayer and cutting out television.  These are two things I offer to my brother Jesuits.  We are in desperate need of renewal.  This is no time for us to gloat at the Legion.  Instead, let us look deeply into ourselves and "rend our hearts, not our garments."  

But I would also like to hear from you, the readers, about how you observe the Society of Jesus. This is how transparency works.  The Legion was not able to self-criticize, and so this fed into their downfall.  So I think for me, Lent would be much more beneficial if I can hear some criticism about the Jesuits from you.  What do we need to change?  How do we need to reform? This is what I will ask in the next post.  

Nathan O'Halloran, SJ


Anonymous said...

In the same week that you suggested the Legionaries of Christ should be assigned permanently and exclusively to care for the victims of sexual abuse, the Oregon Province of the Jesuits declared bankruptcy because of all the pending sexual abuse lawsuits against them. The Jesuits have accepted homosexuality as a norm, with heterosexuality being an occasionally tolerated rarity. They have been plagued with sex abusers. They have been heretical, and are not recognizable as the inheritors of Ignatius's legacy. I can't imagine any healthy heterosexual with a vocation to the priesthood choosing to become a Jesuit.

Jesuit John said...

"I can't imagine any healthy heterosexual with a vocation to the priesthood choosing to become a Jesuit."

I like to think that it's God who chooses us for the Jesuits...

BCatholic said...

Anonymous, I'm going to have to agree with John. As someone who has from time to time considered the Jesuits but has instead applied to diocesan seminary, I can say that for me it had nothing to do with homosexuality in the Society. It had everything to do with where God was calling me.

Nathan O'Halloran, SJ / Mason Slidell said...

"The Jesuits have accepted homosexuality as a norm."

Not in her documents she hasn't. A significant difference between what has happened with the Legionaries and with the Jesuits is that Jesuit documents have remained consistent with their founding. There have been changes of emphasis, no doubt about that. And many did not think that GC 32 was a consistent development, but more of a radical departure from the tradition. But there are many such places in the Jesuit tradition where such an argument has been made. Many place lines of demarcation between Lainez and Borgia, claiming that Borgia introduced required devotions into Jesuit houses against the will of Father Ignatius. Others will place a line after the the Suppression, though with two results. Some claim that the re-formed society was actually precisely that -- a reform. Others claim that the reinstated society was essentially castrated and lacked what had made it so effective prior to the suppression. Finally, many place a line of demarcation at GC 32. All these, I believe, are artificial lines. Though it would be wrong to believe that the Holy Spirit guides religious orders in the same way it guides the Church, I do believe that the society has remained primarily faithful to her mission and charism, at least in her documents. The Legionaries, on the other hand, have inscribed in their very documents, inside the heart of their "charism," the entrepreneurial plottings of a fraud. That is very different than some men departing from the charism, as happens in the Jesuits.

Yes, there are many openly gay Jesuits. I am a happy heterosexual Jesuit. So are most of my class mates. I think I am healthy. Yes, we have been plagued with sexual abusers, as has the priesthood in general.

"The Jesuits have accepted homosexuality as a norm, with heterosexuality being an occasionally tolerated rarity."

That is not true. You need to meet more Jesuits.

Nathan O'Halloran, SJ

BCatholic said...


regarding whether Jesuit documents are consistent with the founding...

really? I remember getting into a discussion two years ago with a Jesuit on whether or not he had to accept a particular Church teaching. He handed me the documents from a Jesuit constitution to show me that he didn't. I forget which one, but it seemed to say that informed dissent was acceptable. Thoughts?

Sorry I can't be more specific about which GC it was from.

Nathan O'Halloran, SJ / Mason Slidell said...


I would be interested in knowing which GC he was referring to and which paragraph. Of course, a GC doesn't have the status of a Church Council, and GC's themselves can make revisions to the Constitutions, as they have. But I would be surprised if there was an article in a GC that expressed the possibility of informed dissent concerning a matter of Church dogma or doctrine. I would have to know the issue.

Nathan O'Halloran, SJ

Anonymous said...

I am very glad to hear that the Jesuits are still faithful and flourishing. I have met very few Jesuits, and only briefly. But in my early twenties, when going through a choppy phase, I stumbled across a copy of St. Ignatius' autobiography in the library. I fell in love. Next stop, from the same library, was an old copy of the Exercises, fleshed out with additional meditations from their Jesuit editor. These meditations brought order and sanity to my overemotional and troubled state. Ignatius put me straight.

Ten years later, when I met Opus Dei, I recognized in its spirit what I had earlier found in St. Ignatius -- the ability and willingness to find God in ordinary life, without fanfare and without fuss. Perhaps I read into St. I. something he did not put there, but in any case, that's how I saw it. It was a Jesuit, actually, who encouraged me to check out Opus Dei.

I remain convinced that we have much in common, and that the Jesuits have something of inestimable value to offer, which the world continues to need.

As a mother of four children, I have absolutely no idea what a religious order needs to do in order to renew itself, but I'm sure you guys will figure it out. I know it's worth doing, and I will drink a toast to all of you on July 31st.

rd said...

I come from a place which owes its Catholic faith from one Jesuit, who was killed for his work in spreading the Gospel. So it breaks my heart to hear of many Jesuit communities in moral and numerical decline. But like you, Nathan, I hope for a great renewal in the order.

At Seattle University, "social justice" for a long time has been more emphasized than "Society of JESUS." Therefore, my hope and prayer for the Jesuits is that they will:

1) renew their understanding of who Jesus really is, in the way that Ignatius knew Him;

2) re-encounter the mystery of the liturgy with Christ at its center; and

3) redirect their hearts away from vague worldly goals like 'justice,' and toward the only goal that counts: serving the Lord, who is just and merciful

Nathan O'Halloran, SJ / Mason Slidell said...

As a fellow scholastic once told me, unfortunately our catch phrase sounds something like: "faith and JUSTICE." Though the correct word is first, the second is emphasized sometimes.

Nathan O'Halloran, SJ

Anonymous said...

Actually, Nathan, Rd is not telling you that you overemphasize justice, he's telling you that you shouldn't have it as a goal at all. Reread his comments. Justice is a vague worldly goal in his post.

I had thought faith without works was dead?