Thursday, March 12, 2009

Your Comments, With de Lubac as Model

Well, again I am thankful for many of the comments sent. I know that at least some of us Jesuits have read them and welcome the transparency that they generate among ourselves and those who work with us and know us.

What I am doing in this post is putting together some of the more helpful comments that you sent so that they can be read all together. I want to begin with an e-mail I received and have permission to post here in part. This is from a Jesuit Father in the Philippines, and I was profoundly moved by his e-mail. He informed me first that he knew Fr. de Lubac from his time in Paris, and so I asked him to relate some of his stories from the last days of de Lubac. As you all may know, for both Mason and myself, de Lubac is a model and example of what it means to be a good priest and academic. This e-mail puts us in a position I think to look very seriously at the question of reform and what it means to be a holy priest of God. Thanks to the Jesuit who sent this to me:
Be very demanding with yourself for your intellectual (and spiritual) formation. The Church needs very well trained priests because the secular world is very serious about the formation given to all professions. Read by yourself, it is the best way, since many courses are not consistent or orthodox.
Father de Lubac was indeed a very humble and wonderful man. I started to visit him when I was a young philosophy student at La Sorbonne. At the time, he was not cardinal and had been put aside by the French jesuits who were so liberal, because he was critical about the way the clergy was using wrongly Vatican II to cover up their infidelities. For many years I visited him at least once a week. One of the most touching and impressive memories is when I publicaly defended my doctoral dissertation at La Sorbonne in 1981, just before entering the novitiate. I had informed him about it but I was not expecting him to attend. The defense is a difficult moment, lasting for several hours, under the fire of an agressive jury of professors. It is part of the game. The room was packed. Father de Lubac, suddenly , made his entrance, being late. He was very well known and it impressed the jury in my favour! Such a kind and friendly gesture from this old father, just to show his support to the young lay man I was.

I was not able to attend the ceremony when he was created cardinal since I was a scholastic in the US. For my ordination as a priest, he would have liked to be present, in France, but he just had a stroke from which he never recovered. Little by little he lost his ability to write and to speak. Terrible trial for such a man.

And then, I accompanied him during his last days on earth. He was staying at the Little Sisters of the Poor in Paris. I was a young priest, teaching philosophy at the Seminary of Paray le Monial. When his secretary told me it was the end, I went to Paris to stay with him. He died so peacefully, so well prepared. The funeral was beautiful at Notre Dame, presided by Cardinal Lustiger. He was buried in one of the Jesuit tombs in one of the cemeteries of Paris, near his good friend Cardinal Danielou SJ. I received many items from him after his death : his latin breviary (the one I am using every day), his latin Missal ( I use it to celebrate Holy Mass), his red baretta... I lost a real father. It was one of the greatest friendships I ever experienced in my life. The superiors disliked the fact I was closed to him but it did not, does not affect me. It was such a grace to be close to him.

Real friendship, the one in which you can share your very soul, your spiritual and intellectual interests, is very precious and it can be a gift you will find in the Society of Jesus. I pray that you will have such a grace.
This sent chills down my spine when I first read it. I do have real friendship in the Society, and it is a tremendous gift. But I have also had the very similar experience of being with a close Jesuit friend and mentor, Fr. Rick Thomas, as he was approaching death. The opportunity for us to be taught by our elders in the Society is tremendous. To be that close to such a holy man (de Lubac), a man who was silenced by the Church for a time before he was reinstated as one of the preeminent theologians at Vatican II, what a gift. This was the man who wrote "The Splendor of the Church" while he was silenced. Such an attitude of obedience is something I believe the Jesuits must return to.

Yet let us not forget that first he was silenced. De Lubac was not afraid to do theology, to pursue the truth even when it got him into trouble. These are the "frontiers" that Benedict XVI referred to. Many Jesuits at that time: Danielou, de Lubac, both Rahners, Lonergan, von Balthasar, often vehemently disagreed with one another. Yet at what other time since our founding have we had such intellectual powerhouses? And at what other time have we done such good for the Church, in large part responsible for the aggiornamento of Vatican II. There was a Spirit at work there that was not afraid of disagreement, yet (at least in the case of de Lubac) was willing also to listen to the cautionary words of the Holy Father, even when it was clear that various forms of politics were at play. Such is the human and divine aspect of the Church, the paradox, that he wrote so often about.

Now, to some of your comments:
Let me start with the positive: most Jesuits are not the ideologues that the majority of orthodox Catholics think. Most seem to be fairly middle of the road men, who are happily Catholic, but maybe a little lukewarm. Others, those in love with the Exercises and who promote Ignatian spirituality, are on fire. It's contagious. I mean here Ignatian spirituality in the original sense, ie not reducing the examen to my day's "high and low.
Jesuits are painted in a number of ways, and often it is the most well known ones who give us our reputation, for good or bad. Sadly, this ignores the incredible number of men in this very large order who are serving Christ humbly and faithfully.
Most Jesuits I know do not celebrate Mass daily. They attend one, without even concelebrating. In the biographies of saints, many times it stresses the fact that out of his great devotion he celebrated Mass daily.
I think if the Jesuits put Christ and Eucharist back at the center of things, the rest will follow.
The Mass; the Eucharist. These must be the center of our lives. No one questions that, I don't think. It is a matter of following and applying.
Don't water things down..speak the TRUTH! America makes excuses all the time for behavior...enough! Jesuits are so well educated and are so equipped to teach on Catholic teachings, scripture, etc. To whom much has been given, much will be expected.
We are well equipped, but I think this comment raises a good point. Unfortunately, sometimes this education is used to deconstruct belief rather than to build it up, especially in our institutions of higher education. Deconstruction is at the service of belief, in order to strengthen belief, not to render the poor student with nothing to fall back upon. We can advocate searching in our classrooms without destroying the foundations of faith.
What I think the Jesuits need is a return to the roots of the order, a simplification and a revitalization.

For too many liturgical abuse, decent from church teaching, hostility to the Church and the hierarchy is the norm rather then the exception. Now I am not saying the society as a whole is like this.
Liturgical abuse is rather prevalent in the Society. This was a frequent comment, and the fact that it is widespread is no secret. Without being liturgical nazis, it is important for many Jesuits to realize that most people, at least young people, are not going to mass for a performance. The personality of the priest is not important. Before the reforms in the liturgy, who ever heard of going to this mass or that mass because of the personality of the priest? The liturgy has its own rhythm to it, and that rhythm should drive the priest, not the priest the rhythm.

Sadly, the attitude of hostility toward the hierarchy is also found in the Society. But I do believe that dialogue is possible without dissent, and many of you point to this need in the Jesuits. We must stop appearing as a rival magisterium, and more as an Order of service to the mission of the Church.
From my own experience: most Jesuits are straight and usually we are too busy being Jesuits to be having long discussions of what people's sexual preferences are. The focus on this issue doesn't relate to my lived experience.
Enough of the silliness about the "gay mafia" running the Jesuits. Let's get on with the work of the Gospel.
Later, although I did not believe in Christ, I picked up a used copy of Ignatius exercises to give to my mother given that it accorded with her beliefs. Yet I was compelled to read it. Could not wait to get home. It was then, when I opned it and started reading, that Christ unequivocably manifested himself. I was not expecting this.
The Spiritual Exercises are the heart and soul of the Jesuits. Proficiency by each and every Jesuit in offering the spirituality of the Exercises is a must.
Jesuit bashing is often a favourite pasttime of some diocesan seminarians and priests. It is unfortuate, precisely because there are just so many good Jesuits.
Please, all you diocesan seminarians out there. I know you love bashing Jesuits. But please, keep it good humored. Otherwise people believe you and think we are evil. Let's work together to humbly build up the Church. I don't mind good-humored bashing, but much that I got at Steubenville and now from diocesan seminarians is not good-humored.
For the new Jesuits, the best thing that you can do for your community and the church is to perservere, striving to be the best Jesuit you possibly can be.
Once upon a time, the “learned clergy” was a cornerstone of the Church and could be found throughout the US. Nowadays because of the crunch to get priests into parishes, if a bishop can afford to send his priests for anything beyond the M.Div. (a professional degree, not an academic one), he sends his brightest to get canon law degrees (likewise professional and not intellectual) so that they can serve on tribunals. I don’t mean to cast aspersions on congregations or dioceses, I just mean to highlight an important commitment that the Society of Jesus.
I’ve been disheartened too many times by Jesuits who dabble in this and dabble in that and who developed a kind of entitlement about what they deserve and what they ought to be allowed to do. This sense of entitlement comes off very poorly among lay people who don’t have the straightforward resources like money and time at their disposal the way Jesuits do.
Self-entitlement is a great problem among those who consider themselves elite, and sadly, that spirit is still found in the ranks of Jesuits, especially toward the hierarchy. Many of you mentioned this as well. We must be the humble, poor men that the Exercises call us to be.
I think the Jesuits need to reform in the same way the Redemptorist (my Congregation) and many others need to reform: by returning to our charisms as expressed by our founders in our individual original rules. We were all founded for a particular reason and we fulfilled that reason, more or less, until the chaos of the 60's of which the changes in the Church are only a part.
Let's get to our task of combatting atheism and building bridges of dialogue around the world.
There is a culture of abuse in our Church, and by that I don't just mean 'only' sexual abuse. It comes from the left and the right, takes on various forms and postures and infects from many sides, attacks the Spirit, attempts to fragment and push Christians and non Christians away from Jesus Christ.
This culture of abuse, from both the Left and the Right, results in a lot of hard feelings among Catholics. Just as Republicans and Democrats are increasingly forming into ghettoes around the U.S., so too Catholics. Less and less I feel are people who disagree talking with one another about their differences, accepting criticism, and trying hard to enter into the perspective, the skin, of the other, as Atticus tells us in "To Kill a Mockingbird." With this attitude, the Church will remain visibly fragmented, even if ontologically One.
Not only the Jesuits need to return to the personal encounter with Christ in the Eucharist and to approach Him with absolute humility, sincerity and the willingness to place Him and the ALL of the mandates of his gospel above all things, if we are to remain the salt of the earth.

Jesuits are great when the faith is strong and they have a legitimate target to attack. But like any great weapon if they develop a fault in their guidance system they can be incredibly self-destructive. In my opinion their greatest fault lies in their unwillingness to take criticism and criticise each other.
Our target is not one another or certain kinds of Catholics. Our target is not human persons, but rather one person, the devil and his angels, and the ideas they disseminate.
In my part of the world, at times the Jesuits appeared to be more interested in creating assembly lines for the production of a Catholic middle class than in the salvation of their charges. Never mind the heavy stuff like the mystical nature of the Eucharist; the basics like knowing the difference between right and wrong seemed less valuable than being proficient in the game of Rugby Union. As Chesterton wrote, we Christians have known all along that a duke might be damned - at times, it felt as if you would be damned if you didn't achieve good exam results, or perform well in the Glasgow University Bursary Competition. This was the priority.
This is another criticism I have heard from many corners. It is not always justified, but may often be. There is a great story told about Father Rick Thomas when he was a Regent. He took one of his classes of students to the race track to look at how the race horses were cared for. They had their stables cleaned out several times daily, were groomed regularly, and extremely well fed. Then he took them to some projects to see how people there lived. The lesson was not lost. With that kind of education we can't go wrong. At least if we keep churning out lawyers and doctors, they will have the option for the poor at heart.
I think that the Jesuits are victims of a dissonance (largely of their own making) between public expectations and the reality of their vocations. To many American Catholics, even (or perhaps particularly) among those with no personal experience with members of the order, the perception of the Society of Jesus is still that of an elite cadre, the "Navy Seals" of the religious. They train for decades to become black belts in theology, philosophy, and science; they have profound mystical insights derived from intense spiritual exercises; they mold children into men; and they are zealous in their defense of Mother Church. Of course, even the most casual acquaintance of an actual Jesuit priest knows that this is a grossly inadequate caricature.
We are just men trying to serve Christ according to our charism. At this time, there is still a lot of recovery taking place. But the above comment is a common experience that many Jesuits resent and others foster.
So, the crisis is not one of the Jesuits failing absolutely at their mission -- although the astute comments here reveal places where improvements can be made. If the church is semper reformanda, then so are the orders of religious.
Nathan O'Halloran, SJ

1 comment:

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

As a diocesan seminarian, may I also call for my brethren in diocesan life to cool down. While the strongest heat is directed toward the Jesuits, there is a general lack of respect for religious life among diocesan seminarians. Critique should be given when needed, but I often find the reasoning to be frivolous.

The mission of clergy and religious in the Church is one: to preach Christ and His Cross. In that mission, working together is the only way to remove the stumbling blocks.

Mason Slidell