The Saint of the Contemporary Society of Jesus

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St. Alberto

St. Alberto

People often ask me why I joined the Society of Jesus.  I usually reply, in one fashion or another, that I fell in love with her saints.  I remember how my heart would burn as I read about Xavier’s journeys to the Orient, St. Jean de Brebeuf’s martyrdom among the Iroquois, and St. Edmund Campion’s stirring “brag.”  Such examples abound.  And, although I myself have never verified the claim, it is said among Jesuits that there has never been a time when the Society did not have a saint in her ranks.

 Because of the accelerating pace of cultural change, however, I have often keenly felt the gulf separating me from those models.  How would St. Ignatius have responded to globalization?  Would St. Peter Canisius have used a cell phone?  How would St. Isaac Jogues have related to his college professors?  It is easy to doubt that sanctity is possible in modern conditions.  Even Mother Teresa, who died only recently, seems to provide few clues.  Documentaries record her fumbling endearingly with gadgets as commonplace as cameras; and her collection of letters, Come, Be My Light, would be hard to date to the 20th Century if not for the occasional mention of a plane flight. 

 St. Alberto Hurtado Cruchaga (1901-1952), the Chilean Jesuit whose feast the Church celebrates today, begins to fill in this hagiographical gap.  Though he died before the sexual revolution and Vatican II, there is something refreshingly familiar in his struggles and sanctity.  In the selection from his unpublished writings chosen for the Office of Readings, he writes about his search for peace in God:

 You ask me how I manage to put some balance in to my life.  This is a question I ask myself, as each day I am swallowed up by my work—letters, telephone calls, articles, visits: the wearing routine of business—congresses, study sessions, conferences agreed to out of weakness, because I could not say no, or because I did not want to miss an opportunity to do good; bills to be paid, decisions to be made in the stress of unforeseen circumstances.  Then there is some pressing apostolate, the urgency to arrive before materialism gains a complete victory.  So often I feel I am on a rock, battered from all sides by rising waves.  The only escape route is heavenwards.  For an hour or a day, I let the waves beat upon the rock; I stop looking out to the horizon and only look upwards towards God.

 For some reason, I take great comfort in knowing that saints were swamped with clerical work, made telephone calls, and confronted—at least in the form of materialism—the collective and structural dimensions of sin.

On this last point, St. Alberto’s canonization was perhaps received so joyfully by the Society—not just because he was ours—but because he seemed to integrate most successfully the contemporary formulation of the Society’s purpose: “the service faith and the promotion of justice.”  With respect of faith, Alberto followed the classical form.  He devoted long hours to prayer before the blessed sacrament, and learned to put on the mind of Christ through the assiduous contemplation of the Gospels.  Nevertheless, as Fr. Kolvenbach (Superior General at the time of Alberto’s canonization) observed in his letter to the Society, “Hurtado’s relationship with the Lord … did not have anything to do with a spiritualist intimacy divorced from reality.”  This impulse toward reality led him to embrace the world in its present contours: founding cultural journals, writing books on the Christian social order, and establishing the Hogar de Cristo for youth living in the streets of Santiago.

Perhaps most of all, St. Alberto’s sanctity suggests the possibility of integrating elements of the faith that rarely merge—at least in the United States.  He evidenced profound conviction regarding the Christian requirement of a just social order.  Yet, this conviction was nourished, not on mere altruism or human optimism, but on the Eucharist and Christian hope.  Hic est digitus Dei.

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6 Responses to The Saint of the Contemporary Society of Jesus

  1. Denise says:

    I just recently learned of St. Alberto, and I thank you for your contribution to my learning about this saint. I agree that there is comfort in knowing the saints felt work stress too.

  2. Glenn J. Bergeron II says:

    Brothers,

    Many thanks for your thoughtful efforts in this fine blog. I do not usually subscribe to blogs (or even read them very much), but I must admit that ever since subscribing to “Whosoever Desires” I eagerly await each update. May your work continue to be blessed.

    In Christo Jesu,
    Glenn J. Bergeron II

    Embalmer / Funeral Director
    Thibodaux, Louisiana

  3. Jason says:

    I love San Alberto and find him immensely inspiring. I read the compilation of his writings and talks entitled Un fuego que enciende otros fuegos (A Fire that Enkindles Other Fires) published by the Padre Hurtado Foundation of the University of Chile. The experience of reading it was like having someone reach out from the pages, grab you by the lapels, shake you, and plead with you to love God and your fellowman with all your heart and to be holy. Reading about his life, there are a few things that especially touched me. He was noted for taking extreme care in cleaning the vessels after communion. Knowing how busy and active he was, I am touched that he always kept his priorities in order and had such reverence for the real presence. Also, he never went to bed without saying his rosary no matter how late or how tired he was. He would kneel down by his bed in the early hours of the morning after an exhausting day of apostolic labor and dutifully and lovingly recite his rosary. Finally, he was fervently devoted to the Sacred Heart and the promotion of this devotion, especially to young people.

    I don’t know if the book Un fuego que enciende otros fuegos is available in English, but I did find this biography which is excerpted from that book at the Hurtado foundation web site:
    http://www.padrealbertohurtado.cl/english/index.php?pp=san_alberto&qq=biografia&rr=fuego

  4. Regina says:

    I am also deeply inspired by and devoted to Saint Alberto, or Padre Alberto as I call him. What a holy man for our times, and in this, the year of the Priest, who more available and lovable in both personality and spiritual life than him.
    Thank you for this wonderful post about Padre Alberto! Would you happen to know where I could get some holy cards of Saint Alberto- I have some of his beatification and am looking for those after his canonization- thank you!

  5. […] No deep thoughts today.  This is something akin to a public service announcement regarding the activity of the Jesuits of Chile in the wake of the recent earthquake.  I have it on good authority that the earthquake struck when the entire Chilean province were assembled for their annual silent retreat.  Perhaps fittingly, they were entering into the Third Week of St. Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises, the contemplation of the passion of the Lord.  And ever since the earth shook, they have been one of the most prominent forces for organized com-passion in their country.  In fact, two of the three domestic organizations designated by the Chilean government to coordinate relief efforts are Jesuit charities: Hogar de Cristo and Un Techo Para Chile.  (If you are inclined to contribute to the relief effort in Chile, please follow the links above).  Both the great trust of the Chilean people in the Jesuits and the significant investment of the Jesuits in charitable works seem to be the enduring legacy of the most recently canonized Jesuit saint, Fr. Alberto Hurtado. […]

  6. […] the close of the feast of St. Alberto Hurtado, SJ (about whose life I wrote this time last year), I thought I would simply relay a small reflection that the Chilean Saint gave on the last morning […]

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