Follow by Email

Friday, October 10, 2014

Thinking Like a Jesuit

Classmate John Thissen sent an article from America which quotes Pope Francis as saying: "We should care more about Jesus than we do about the Church." He also said "I think like a Jesuit."

My late brother-in-law used to joke with me that he went to a Catholic University (Notre Dame) not a Jesuit one. And indeed I fell right into his humorous stereotype when I told him that I have left Christianity including the RC Church, but I shall always remain a Companion of Jesus.

Indeed I do not want to be known as "Christian" mainly because I do not want to confuse myself with many who do call themselves Christian. And I no longer participate in Roman Catholic ritual or language (hierarchical, sexist, dominating) because frankly I was tired of confronting it as a good reformer should and as do my Catholic friends admirably carrying on the spirit of Vatican II.

But like Pope Francis, I am still "a Jesuit at heart." And I wish him and those in communion with him godspeed.

They say it is the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius that forms Jesuit-think. I also believe that it is the long tradition of liberal education, the attempt to reconcile contemporary thinking (and especially the new science) to traditional beliefs, the focus on poverty and the poor, outreach to other cultures by going in through their ways of seeing the world, and appreciation for diversity in thought and behavior. Nevertheless, the Spiritual Exercises is a good place to start to understand thinking like a Jesuit.

A popular image of the Jesuits is that of great intellectuals. Yet the Spiritual Exercises do not focus on intellectual reasoning but on imagination and feeling. They consist of imagining walking with Jesus in his time, feeling his passion for justice, for the poor, for equity, for the earth and then making a decision regarding your own calling in walking with him in our time.

Ignatius and the early Jesuits did add "thinking with the Church" and "blind obedience" (two phrases I despise) to the Spiritual Exercise for they were in a time of Revolution and counter-revolution with the papacy and the Inquisition. To survive, many of them curried favor with powerful princes of the Catholic world. It is not all a happy history and one most of us like to forget or paper over. It carried on in the Irish Church as well exemplified by James Joyce. See his Jesuits in "Portrait."

But with the triumph of the Enlightenment, the final self-destruction of doctrinaire religions through the European Religious Wars, New World revolutions and the growth of secularism, and in the US Church link to immigrants, labor, and the poor, in France the priest-worker movement, and in the Philippines and Latin America liberation theology and the base community movement, contemporary Jesuits were liberated to be the best they could be. And I am proud to be associated with them as Companions of Jesus as they name themselves.

What attracted many of us young pre-Peace Corps Ghetto Catholics to become Jesuits were not so much the great theologians and philosophers but the Waterfront Priests (John Corridan), Youth Action Priests (Dan Lord), Labor Priests (Ed Boyle), Anti-war Priests (Dan Berrigan), and our young Jesuit scholastics promoting social justice and marching for Civil Rights.

My own developing imagination of Jesus in my ongoing spiritual exercises has been fired by a lot of scholars including the historical criticism of the New Testament and other early accounts of Jesus, the reconstruction of the history of the Church including the Fathers of the Church, the works and actions of other great spiritual leaders, the study of culture and religion in culture, sociology, social psychology, neuroscience, and yes lots of philosophy--which at its best is critical thinking, i.e. questioning, everything. And of course my imagination of Jesus grows as I carry out my own vocation.

I don't like the image of Jesus as the Prophet, the King, the Redeemer, the High Priest, the Savior, or God. And I don't think he thought of himself that way. Though clearly his biographers used those images.

I like the image of Jesus as a sort of an ancient cynic (the "hippies of the time) traveling around with his possessions on his back in tune with the earth and its bounty. I see him as a rebel confronting the patronage system of Rome, a revolutionary identifying with those who are excluded from or dominated by that system, and a prophet challenging the morality and the religious sanctification of that system. I image him as a peacenik who condemns violence even to the point of accepting it on himself, a humanist who sees that everyone is fundamentally worthwhile and blessed, a skeptic questioning all the truths of the mighty, and an organizer who gathers people together to question, confront, challenge, and live with him. I also imagine him as a secular here-and-now person, not a otherworldly wait-for-later person when/if he used the language of freedom, justice, and heaven or kingdom of God.

That's the Jesus I choose to walk with along with my other companions.

1 comment:

Rollie Smith said...

From All Fritsch:

Rollie, I made a comment on your "Thinking as a Jesuit" piece and don't think I made the publishing due to being unable to figure what to do to prove myself not be a robot. In essence I think your analysis of Jesus is quite faulty since you call him an organizer and then reject the organization he set up or even recognize that it comes from and through him. I seriously question your fidelity to the calling because it does not address the battle of the two Kingdoms and the existing struggle between good and evil, between the poor and the super rich, between the Kingdom of God and the materialism that surrounds and strangles us. Take courage and join the fight. We need you. Al Fritsch, SJ