Jesuit Reform

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 did subsequently ask for suggestions in the post “So, In Your Opinion, What Reform  do the Jesuits Need?” and I received 76 responses.  In a spirit of Ignatian repetition, I was looking over some of those, and this particular response stood out to me.  I would recommend, particularly for Jesuits, that they go back and look at those comments, and I also welcome any further thoughts:


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.

4 Responses to Jesuit Reform

  1. crystal says:

    I just read your earlier post in which you asked readers what reforms they thought the Jesuits needed – interesting.

    From what I’ve experienced of the Jesuits … books and articles, a retreat, meeting some individual Jesuits …. I don’t really think the order needs reform. The spirituality and the interaction with and empowering of lay people – it all seems good to me 🙂

  2. crystal says:

    Sorry – I did think of one concern after I’d already posted my comment. That is that many of the places where Jesuits work – retreat houses, colleges, high schools – are pretty expensive to attend. Are there accomodations made for the poor and people without much money so they can attend too?

  3. In a time long long ago, Ignatius gathered companions together to follow in the shoes of single celebate men imitating Christ as He strove to lead is followers to a better state in life. today we live different social and culture liveliehoods far advanced from the days of mid-evil times. the Jesuits could become real intuned with the nuances of society 5 centuries advanced from Ignatian days of old. Start with opening the society to all sexes and all commitments of life, marriage, single, and those in changine states, Men and women whose life expectancies were in 30’s and 40’s in 16th century are now facing life time well exceeding a century or more. Also its time that Jesuits come to realize we are in a time and place of a Major centralized world church and admit to Jesuit lifestyle and practice peoples of all faiths, especially from Catholic churches not necessary or Roman persuasion.

  4. Rosemary says:

    It’s not easy for an order known for having members with capacious intellects to mix easily with average lay people. I don’t mean that as a criticism or an excuse but that’s just the way it is. Most members of academia can be like that, and I understand it. But the Jesuits are different because they also are supposed to be at the vanguard of theology and teaching the faith. One might hope that after four hundred years of Jesuit education, most Catholics would have assimilated the faith by now but, sadly, we have not.

    Never have Catholics been so well educated in anything but their faith! For all the talent God has generously bestowed on the Jesuits, there is little to show for it that is oriented toward the benefit of their students’ relationship with Christ. Why are the Jesuit seminaries not full? Where is the passion that defended the Church against Islam and Protestantism centuries ago? Is passion for Christ no longer seemly?

    To paraphrase the old maxim – those to whom much is given, much is expected. Maybe that’s why the Jesuits get picked on. But it seems to me that we have instead evidence of the law of diminishing returns. If I could help the Jesuits see how much they are needed, I would but I don’t they are too interested in a lay person’s opinion.

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