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