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Tuesday, January 07, 2014

John Dear SJ is leaving the Jesuits

Update: a more recent post on this here

I was very sad to see that peace activist Fr. John Dear has been dismissed from the Jesuit order. He writes about it here - Leaving the Jesuits after 32 years. There's a follow-up story at NCR: John Dear, Jesuit known for peace witness, dismissed from order. Another NCR post on this is Jesuits made a mistake in letting John Dear go. And there's this from US Catholic: Jesuits dismiss peace activist John Dear from Society. Here's a bit from the US Catholic post ...

[...] If Dear's account is accurate--and I have no reason to doubt him--it reflects a general contraction in U.S. religious life that focuses more on a congregation's institutional ministries than on the individual ministries of members. Numbers are too few, and many communities are counting on the fact that their institutional ministries will funnel new members into their ranks. That was my experience in my own brief time in religious life back in the mid-1990s. But it is too bad that at least a "tithe" of a community's members can't be free to be the prophets the church so desperately needs. Dear's no-compromise attitude to miltary service is a necessary voice in the wildnerness in our culture of military glorification, especially in a country that dumps hundreds of billions each year into the military. Sure, Dear is irritating and alienating sometimes, especially to Catholics who make their livings in the military--and so was Isaiah and Jeremiah and John the Baptist--and for that matter, Jesus himself ...

It's strange that Fr. Dear could be a Jesuit for over thirty years and that few of his fellow Jesuits have made any comment on his leaving the order .... I've seen nothing from either James Martin SJ or Thomas Reese SJ, who usually tackle Jesuit issues in the news. America Magazine does have a news bite on this from the Catholic News Service but it contains no commentary or new information. But two Jesuits, George Murphy SJ and Edward Glynn SJ, *did* comment on the situation in the above mentioned NCR article ...

[...] Jesuit Fr. George Murphy, who as the rector of the order's community in Berkeley, Calif., from 1985 to 1991 oversaw Dear while he attended the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley, said he thought Dear was "a fine man."

"I think he was a little impulsive and I suspect he's still got a bit of that of him -- but he's just got a keen sense of justice and a desire for peace in the world," said Murphy, who recalled attending a protest with Dear in San Francisco in 1989 following the killing of several Jesuits by U.S.-trained soldiers at the order's Central American University in El Salvador.

"I know he's had trouble with superiors at different points in his life," said Murphy, the director of spiritual formation at Jesuit-run Santa Clara University. "And I suspect he always will. He's the kind of guy that I would like to give leeway to."

Jesuit Fr. Edward Glynn, who oversaw Dear as provincial of the Maryland province from 1990 to 1996, said while he was not privy to the conversations leading to the priest's dismissal by his successor as provincial, he had the "highest respect" for Dear.

Glynn recalled a visit from Dear when Dear was considering joining a protest at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in Goldsboro, N.C., in 1993.

Called a Plowshares action, one of a series against nuclear weapons taken by Catholic activists in the last three decades in reference to the biblical exhortation found to turn swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks, the action saw Dear and three others symbolically hammer on a U.S. fighter jet before being arrested.

"He came to see me, and I went through the whole thing with him -- he has to live with the consequences, is he willing to spend time in jail, and what could happen to you in jail -- and he was willing, so I gave him permission to do it," Glynn said.

"Of course, I was thinking in the back of my head that after we have our first nuclear war, we're going to say, 'Where were we when John Dear and all these people were objecting to nuclear weapons?' " he said. "But John did what Jesuits should do -- he got permission, approval from me -- and then I visited him in jail." ...

I like Fr. Dear - I've mentioned articles by him on the blog before (John Dear SJ on being a vegetarian) and I've read a couple of his books: Living Peace: A Spirituality of Contemplation and Action and The Questions of Jesus: Challenging Ourselves to Discover Life's Great Answers. I have to wonder if he's getting a fair shake.

Here's one of his talks - - he tells some good jokes ;) ....

And here's a bit from his book, The Questions of Jesus, on "Who touched my clothes?" (Luke 8:45 / Mark 5:30). It's a little long, but I think it's worth the read ...

* * * * * *

Who Touched Me? (p. 66)

There was a woman who had been hemorrhaging for a dozen years. Doctors had been no help; in fact, they had made her condition worse. She had spent all her money on remedies, to no avail. As a result, the woman was declared unclean by society. When Jesus passed by on some important business with a wealthy synagogue official, and the crowd presses in on him, the woman comes up behind him and touches the tassel hanging from his cloak. "If I just touch him," she thinks, "I will be cured."

Instantly, the woman knows she has been cured. But she does not expect what happens next. Jesus stops in his tracks, turns around, and asks, "Who touched me? Who has touched my clothes?"

"You see how the crowd is pressing upon you," his disciples point out, "yet you ask 'Who touched me?' Everyone's touching you!" But Jesus feels the power go out from him. "Who touched me?" he asks, looking around.

The woman is caught. She hoped to be healed anonymously, without interrupting Jesus, without causing a scene, without anyone finding out. She knows she is an "unclean woman", ostracized by righteous holy men. If Jesus knows she has touched him, he might yell at her, like every other man, for making him unclean too.

But it's too late. The woman has broken the law and must face the consequences. So she approaches Jesus "in fear and trembling, falls down before him, and tells the whole truth."

What happens next is as astonishing as the miraculous cure. Jesus looks at the woman and, rather than scolding her, he affirms her, loves her, and gives her back her dignity. "Daughter, your faith has saved you. Go in peace and be cured of your affliction."

Jesus feels the power go out of him, but he does not want to be a magician. Rather, he desires a personal relationship with each one of us, with every human being who ever lived. He is not some magic impersonal god, a healing machine. He is a human being who wants to look us in the eye, love us, and be loved by us. He wants to know us as his daughters and sons. He wants to save each one of us individually, with his own personal touch, so that we might live with him intimately in peace forever.

Jesus practiced what Dorothy Day called gospel personalism. In light of his radical personalism, his question makes sense. In asking "Who touched me?" he wants to know who is close to him, who wants him, who is being healed by him. Over time, Jesus turns away from the crowds and moves closer toward each one of us individually, calling each of us by name, announcing that we are his friends. He is learning the hard lesson that crowds can quickly turn into mobs, and mobs can cause riots. Here, in this moment, Jesus sees that the crowd will eventually turn on him and shout out "Crucify him, crucify him!" So, aware of his own impending death, he looks for the touch of faith, hope, and love from us. He looks for our individual response, and he intends to heal and save us, one person at a time.

Jesus' question leads us to ask some of our own: Have I ever touched Jesus? Do I want to touch him with the same determination as the woman with the hemorrhage? Dare I touch Jesus, risk having him find out, and turn toward me in my brokenness and weakness? Do I want Jesus to know that I touched him? Am I willing to enter that intimate relationship with him that he desires with me?

At some point, each one of us has touched Jesus. Mother Teresa says we touch Jesus in the poor and the homeless. Martin Luther King Jr. says we touch Jesus in the struggle for justice and racial equality. Philip Berrigan says we touch Jesus in the pursuit of nuclear disarmament. Don Helder Camara says we touch Jesus in every act of compassion. Mahatma Gandhi says we touch Jesus in the life of nonviolence. Thomas Merton says we touch Jesus in our contemplative prayer and solitude. Dorothy Day says we touch Jesus when we welcome and house the homeless. Oscar Romero says we touch Jesus when we liberate the oppressed. Henri Nouwen says we touch Jesus in one another whenever we recognize each other as a beloved daughter or son of God.

When we touch Jesus, he turns around and asks us to identify ourselves, tell him our stories, and get to know him. He heals us - but he wants more. He needs our companionship, our presence, our love. He wants to be our brother, our companion, our friend.

The gospel invites us to tell him, as did the heroic woman, when we touch him, how he is healing us, and who we are. If we dare, we will not be disappointed.

* * * * * * *


Anonymous Henry said...

You realize, Crystal, that he freely took a “vow of obedience” right?

Of course, we don’t know all the facts but keeping that fact in mind, these two paragraphs from the NCR article jumped out at me:

“Dear says he decided to stop living at the Jesuits' community in Baltimore, choosing to return to living at a previous assignment in New Mexico because the provincial of the Maryland province, Jesuit Fr. James Shea, did not arrange an appropriate assignment for him in the Baltimore area.”


"The process was initiated in the fall of 2012 after John declined to return to his Province to live in a Jesuit community while continuing his ministry of peace and social justice, including lecturing and writing," Shea wrote.

Perhaps his dismissal is simply an acknowledgment that it is better for him to leave since “obedience” does not means "I will obey if I like it".

2:16 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Yes, but from what little I know of the Jesuit order, members are allowed to disagree with what Provincials decide, they're allowed to discern for themselves what their calling is ... I mean, it's not just a situation of having to follow orders no matter what. A couple of the Jesuits quoted in the article say as much - that they would have let him decide for himself if they had been his Provincial.

I see how bad the priest shortage is and then I see how outstanding guys like Fr. Roy Bourgeois and Fr. Dear are just cut loose by their orders and the Vatican ... it's nuts.

3:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In his book "The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything" Fr. Martin talks about the vow of obedience in chapter 11 and especialy for Jesuits on page 271 onward. And he starts that section by asking "How does obedience play out in the everyday life of a Jesuit?" Do you have that book? If yes, please take a look at those pages.

Again, we don't know the details but I would like to believe that this was not a decision that the Provincial wanted to make but, in a sense, had to make.

I am not sure about "outstanding guys" - but that seems to be the sore point for you - isn't it?

Anyway, I suggest we both pray for all concerned.

4:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey, it did not accept my name. I wrote that comment Crystal - Henry

4:50 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Sorry - sometimes Blogger's spam thing decides comments. I only see them because I still get emails of the comments too. Then I can take them from the spam place and bring them back :)

I don't have that book but maybe I can read that part at Amazon of Google books. Certainly Fr. Martin should know. It is sad, though. I was looking at Twiiter comments on Fr. Dear getting dismissed and most everyone was very disturbed about it ...

6:05 PM  
Anonymous Henry said...

Crystal - I had turned off my Java because of the security vulnerabilities I've been reading about and it did weird things so I had to turn it back on. : (

Why did I do that? Well, a few days ago, when I came home and turned on my Mac the background image had completely changed to an image I don't even know. So, my paranoid nature flared up and said WTF - did someone break in, do I have malware, was I hacked, etc.

I still don't now the answer and no one else seems to know either.

Things like that really disturb me though! Sometimes the internet is no help at all!

6:41 PM  
Anonymous Henry said...

I see massive typos in my last comment - time for me to go to bed! Talk to you tomorrow my friend.

6:43 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

It would be enlightening if there was any comment from the Jesuits ... James Martin, Thomas Reese, America Magazine, In All Things, The Jesuit Post ... but I've not seen a word about this from them so far.

2:13 PM  
Anonymous Henry said...

Based on what I read in Fr. Martin's book, I am not sure they will say anything since Fr. Dear seems to be in the wrong.

If you do fine anything, please let me know.

2:58 PM  
Anonymous Henry said...

BTW Crystal - the excerpt you posted is quite beautiful - is the rest of the book like this?

5:24 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Yes, that's from his book here ...

5:36 PM  
Anonymous Richard said...

I'm not a pacifist but I deeply admire the passion and courageous activism of those that are. They are a different breed. I don't think it's unusual for them to need time apart, a walk in the wilderness. How do you know what voice to be obedient to. Maybe you feel God is calling you down a certain path. Maybe you believe your institution has lost its way. Maybe you're wrong, but how do you find out? Isn't there some integrity in walking away.

8:39 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

9:06 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Good questions.

We'll probably not ever know the details of the situation unless one of the Jesuit publications addresses what's happened.

12:14 AM  
Anonymous Richard said...

In the book Fr Martin does acknowledge that Jesuits must ultimately be obedient to God but seek and demonstrate that through obedience to the order by virtue of their vow. I get that but question if God is also at all times bound by that vow. If you are radical in your pacificism and nonviolent civil disobedience is your mode of operation it is easy to see the potential for conflict in an era of rising acceptance of a new militarism in your country and perhaps in the organization you are closely tied to. He's supposed to be in Sacramento in February, maybe I'll go see him speak.

Hope all is well with you and Mr Scruffy and pals are behaving :)

3:17 AM  
Anonymous Henry said...

Hi Crystal – I am going to ask one of my friends to give me the book as a birthday gift, I write to you after I have read it.

Richard – you’ve raised some very important thought provoking questions and I’d like to explore your last one with you – Is God also, at all times, bound by that vow?

Although it is we human beings that make vows to God, your question made me wonder: Can’t God choose (since He has freedom) to be bound by a vow as well?

For example, if I think of a covenant as a “vow” that God makes to His people, wouldn’t it be integral to His nature that He would be bound by it?

What do you think?

8:45 AM  
Blogger Sharon said...

I learned years ago that the Vow of Obedience is saying "Yes" but also an obligation to say "No" if one discerns that the call violents one's soul.

10:08 AM  
Anonymous Henry said...

It sounds like Fr. Dear did precisely what you suggested Sharon – and, as Richard states, there is a lot to be said for that kind of integrity.

Speaking exclusively about my experience, looking back over past decisions, I now clearly see how I often persuaded myself that I “was following God’s will” when, in reality, I was following my will and justifying it with “pietistic and devotional phrases.” And herein, IMO, lies the danger.

From what I have read, St. Ignatius was concerned precisely about this dynamic and that’s why he proposed rules for discernment.

Also, with time I have come to see that a “benefit” of being part of a community is that it makes it difficult to delude yourself in this way, especially if the other people in the community are different than you, which generates the temptation to run away. Perhaps that is why St. Benedict wanted those who become part of his community to also make a vow of stability – which I would find hard to accept even though I intellectually see its value.

What do you think?

10:50 AM  
Blogger crystal said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

11:03 AM  
Blogger crystal said...

Remembering something Philip Endean SJ once wrote about obedience in a comment (#17) to a post at Pray Tell on a different subject ... Obedience to human authority is not a virtue, but a conditional means to an end: obedience to God and to the truth.

11:39 AM  
Blogger Frederick Froth said...

His dismissal was of course very much in keeping with the kind of applied politics that both of the previous Pope's promoted, especially JPII.And which all right-wing "catholic" theocrats promoted on a 24/7 basis.
See for instance;
The Power and the Glory - The Dark Heart of JPII's Vatican by David Yallop

American Fascists - The Religious Right and the War on America by Chris Hedges

The Popes War Against the Church by Matthew Fox

Also re an outfit which was fully supported by right-wing "catholic"

8:56 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

It does seem like a number of priests and theologians were silenced or dismissed from their religious orders during the times B16 was head of the CDF and then pope - a couple that come to mind ... James Alison and Matthew Fox.

9:31 PM  
Blogger George Waite said...

The Jesuits are disproportionately gay.

2:15 PM  

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