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Tuesday, February 04, 2014

The Jesuits and John Dear

There's an article about John Dear leaving the Jesuits at NCR - John Dear and the Jesuits: Another view - in which Tom Roberts disagrees with Dear's assertion that the Jesuits are putting less emphasis on social justice.

I don't think the issues surrounding John Dear's dismissal are as simple of the article makes out, and I think there are some questions to ask ...

1) What was the vocation of the early Jesuits?
2) How did the resourcement of the Second Vatican Council and the leadership of Pedro Arrupe impact that?
3) How is the present diminishment in numbers of Jesuits affecting a Jesuit's discernment of his personal vocation in integration with the Society's vocation?

I'm just another outsider looking in, and I don't have answers to all the questions above, but I have a few thoughts ...

1) John O'Malley writes in The First Jesuits that ...

The Jesuits had an agenda of their own ... "to help souls." In the Autobiography, Constitutions, and his correspondence, Ignatius used it again and again to describe what motivated him and what was to motivate the Society ... By "soul" Jesuits meant the whole person. Thus they could help souls in a number of ways, for instance, by providing food for the body or learning for the mind. That is why their list of ministries was so long ... No doubt, however, the Jesuits primarily wanted to help the person achieve an ever better relationship with God. They sought to be mediators of an immediate experience of God that would lead to an inner change or a deepening of religious sensibilities already present. With varying degrees of clarity, that purpose shines through all they wrote and said as the ultimate goal they had in mind when they spoke of helping souls ... (pp. 17-19)

2) The Vatican II document, Perfectae Caritatis, called for ... renewal of the religious life ... both the constant return to the sources of all Christian life and to the original spirit of the institutes and their adaptation to the changed conditions of our time. - Vatican document.

How this was put into action by Pedro Arrupe, the Superior General of the Society from 1965 to 1983, has been a source of some contention - conservatives thought he was abandoning the Jesuits' vocation of "helping souls" for social justice, but most, including me, think differently. Kevin Burke SJ writes this of Arrupe in The Legacy of Fr. Pedro Arrupe, S.J., in Celebration of the 100th Centenary of his Birth ...

[...] I side with those who consider Pedro Arrupe a great man. He ranks with the three or four greatest Catholic leaders and saints of the 20th century, people like Oscar Romero, Mother Theresa and Pope John XXIII. He was, of course, a human being and, as such, a person of his times and his own training, with shortcomings of temperament and experience, with passions, biases, and even peculiarities. But his life itself serves as a parable of contemporary Christian discipleship. I believe his visionary leadership represents a gift to us who, a generation or two later, long to follow the path he followed out of love for Jesus Christ and a fidelity to his gospel ......

The Council met from 1962 to 1965 and ignited an extraordinary process of renovation in response to the signs of the times. Vatican II dramatically reshaped Catholic liturgy and devotions. It renewed the forms of religious life and rediscovered the role of the laity. It shifted its relationships with other Christian churches and redefined its relationship to other religions, to secular institutions, and to the world itself as “secular”.

Taking his cue from the Council, Fr. Arrupe urged Jesuits to rediscover their call to contemplation in action, to a spirituality of a profound engagement with God in the World. The first companions who founded the Jesuits understood this to mean a spirituality of “finding God in all things.” For Arrupe and the Society he led it meant finding God even in the tragedies and tensions of world history and personal history, finding God in a world marked and symbolized by Hiroshima and Auschwitz, a world fraught with division and oppression. And the real trick is finding God and not just our own images of God, our own projections of what we think a god should look like. This requires us to discern the signs of the times, an important biblical saying adopted by Vatican II in its Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World.

Fr. Arrupe helped the Society of Jesus rediscover its fundamental call to discernment, its call to read the signs of the times. Before the council Jesuits ran schools, sent missionaries to so-called ‘mission lands,’ and did retreat work and spiritual ministries. After Vatican II, with a renewed sense of discernment, Jesuits found they were not so much called to abandon their schools or missions or retreat work, but to do all these things in new ways. We serve the Church by being at the growing edge where the church is constantly running up against the world. In the early 1970s, at General Congregation 32, the Society of Jesus asked itself this question: What is it to be a companion of Jesus today? The answer it gave is memorable. It is to engage, under the standard of the Cross, in the crucial struggle of our time: the struggle for faith and that struggle for justice which it includes ....


3) The numbers of Jesuits is in decline. In the US ... Fewer Jesuit priests this Easter, but more people learning Jesuit ideals ... and in the UK ... Jesuits to hand South London parish over to diocese .... the Jesuit high schools, colleges, churches, and retreat houses are often staffed by an increasing number of lay people and they are sometimes closing as well.

Does this dearth of Jesuits mean that those like John Dear who feel unique vocational calls must give them up for the greater good of the Society? I don't know the answer, but I do know that while the majority of US Jesuits teach, there are lots of Jesuits who have other kinds of jobs .... Guy Consolmagno is an astronomer, Daniel Berrigan is a peace activist and poet, Greg Boyle works with gang members, William Barry is a spiritual director, James Martin is a writer, William Hart McNichols is an artist ... and though I could be wrong, I doubt any of them would be asked to give up their present jobs to instead teach high school, as Dear was.

So, I'm still confused as to why Fr. Dear was dismissed - it would be nice if some Jesuit spokesperson would clarify things.

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