Friday, October 25, 2013

Why Are They Afraid of Pope Francis? 4

Ignatius Loyola
In my last posting, I mentioned that his being a religious colors Pope Francis’ approach to Church in a way that makes some people nervous.  Some of the wing-nut blogs have complained about the Pope’s “brash statements,” or his “ill-considered remarks to the press.”  Others have rhetorically asked what can be done to “save the Church” before “this pope ruins it.”  Religious are used to more freedom of expression and less inclined to focus so exclusively on the institutional facet of the Church.  But we must remember that Francis is not only a religious—but a Jesuit.  The Jesuits are the Church’s  Marine Corps—the elite cadre with an unparalleled panache that sets them aside—and I believe a step above—the other religious.
When Ignatius Loyola founded the Society of Jesus he had a radically different vision of the sort of the religious they would be.  Ignatius didn’t want monastic costuming for his men, nor did he want them bound to the long hours of singing the Divine Office.  The new spirituality with which he endowed his new society was different from the monastic impulse that had shaped the Benedictines and Cistercians.  It wasn’t a spirituality which drew its strength from the reflective chanting of the psalms or the early morning pondering of the scriptural texts as one sat in a cloister for lectio divina.  Ignatius had undergone a profound conversion while living as a hermit in a cave above the Benedictine Abbey at Manresa.  He looked deep into his soul and radically confronted his own sinfulness and then, contemplating the Jesus of the Gospels, came to hear the call to follow him.  Then progressing through mediations on the Lord’s Passion and Death came to surrender his life to God in the surrender of his will.  The beautiful prayer of St. Ignatius sums it all up:

Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty,
my memory, my understandng
and my entire will,
All I have and call my own. 
You have given all to me.
To you, Lord, I return it.
Everything is yours; do with it what you will.
Give me only your love and your grace,
that is enough for me.

Ignatius’s thinking “outside the box” has radically colored the Society of Jesus and its mission.  While always at the disposal of the Pope for any particular mission he chooses for them, Jesuits have followed the most unusual career paths in their spread of the Gospel.   Jesuits have not only run premier universities and secondary schools and been zealous in the “foreign mission” of the Church, but have had careers as paleontologists, nuclear physicists, bio-chemists, linguists, members of Congress, economists, poets, artists, musicians, architects, lawyers, diplomats, and many other fields we do not usually associate with the clergy.
In their work Jesuits have long donned secular clothing when appropriate, lived in apartments, palaces, Quonset huts and RV’s. 
I attended both a Jesuit secondary school and a Jesuit university.  I was a freshman in High School when the Second Vatican Council opened.  The previous spring when I was an eighth-grader my parents and I sat with the guidance counselor for an interview before my acceptance.  “Your son,” the priest warned my parents, “will graduate from our school as an agnostic—even perhaps an atheist—or as a committed Catholic.  Our graduates are nothing in between—but whichever way he goes, he will think for himself.  We may not be happy with his choice, but he will know what he believes and why he believes it.”  I turned out a committed Catholic—through my whole live, without ever having one of those young adult crises of faith—though many of my classmates have long ago walked away from the Church.  I know why, and always have known why, I am a Catholic and they know why, and always have known why, they are not.  But I have also found in the fifty years since that interview that many people fear that power we were given to think critically and not accept blindly any alleged truths without demanding a satisfying and rational explanation. 
Now we have a Jesuit Pope and it seems that he, like my teachers, does not expect us to just fall in line and “believe” what others tell us to believe.  Some are frightened by this, but I, for one, say “hurrah—I am with you Pope Francis SJ.!”


  1. First sentence (only sentence) of third paragraph from the end of post, I believe the word 'Jesuits' should replace the word 'Jesus'.

  2. thanks Annie,--sometimes I need an editor to catch things like that