In a prior blog a long time ago I wrote about Jesuit reform and what it should look like. I offered a couple of suggestions in a post entitled “Jesuits, Legionaries, and Reform”:
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.
I have studied under and worked with Jesuits in the U.S. for about thirty years. Many Jesuits number among my closest friends, most trusted confidants, most admired Christians. One thing that has struck me about the order over these decades is that no order in the Church puts greater spiritual and intellectual resources at the disposal of its members, especially its members in training, than the Jesuits. While so many orders and dioceses have adjusted their training regimens in reaction to decreasing personnel numbers and un-amended apostolic commitments, the Jesuits stay committed to a luxurious training program. What diocese sends their priests for doctorates in theology or philosophy anymore? How many religious from teaching congregations are doing advanced studies in the humanities or social sciences anymore. 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, still the Church’s largest religious order, seems to have made and that returns to the Church, and to the world, a gift of immeasurable price … and one that is profoundly “traditional” (once upon a time, “Matts,” the Church didn’t fear advanced study in non-theological fields: from Gregory of Tours to Hubert Jedin, I wonder how the great priest historians of our Church would react to your derogation of historical studies).
That said, I know more than a few Jesuits (but let me insist, less than the majority by my reckoning) who (a) don’t appreciate the luxury of what their own order and the Church make available to them and (b) become neglectful that these resources are put at their disposal in service to the Church. As to (a), 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. (When I was studying with Jesuit scholastics in Boston and became aware of how much time and money was made available to them for their formation, I began reminding them – good-naturedly, I hoped – that that was the widow’s mite they were spending.) Furthermore, there’s something about the system that lets Jesuits, especially younger Jesuits, acquire a very solipsistic attitude about their training. I don’t have a problem with Jesuit “individualism” per se: it’s precisely a respect for individualism that let’s genuine talents rise to the surface and be cultivated. But the shadow side of this anthropology lets pride get cultivated as well … and so we find Jesuits making headlines by doing and saying things that cause pain among fellow Christians, even fellow Jesuits, certainly friends of Jesuits; that aren’t in the service of the Church; and that in certain instances with certain Jesuits are not simply, as the new father general explained to the pope, occasional mistakes or accidents of individuals.
I suppose there’s really nothing new about accusing Jesuits of being prideful or of exhorting them to be more humble. Pride and self-serving ambition – albeit of a very different sort than we see today – played a big part in the order’s suppression in the late eighteenth century. I find the blogged tirades against “the Society” rarely well-informed. Even given the sins and weaknesses of Jesuits – individually and corporately – their service to the faithful, even if it looks differently now to how it looked in the 1950s, is unique and profound. The Church would be a poorer place without the order as it exists today, perhaps that is why Christ chooses to continue sustaining it.