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 In the selection from his unpublished writings chosen for the Office of Readings, he writes about his search for peace in God: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.