Are Jesuits Too Worldly?

Many Jesuits these days have found themselves challenged and made slightly uncomfortable by the lifestyle of Pope Francis.  I feel free to mention this fact because it includes myself.  His practice as cardinal of not going out to eat at expensive restaurants but only soup kitchens is a challenge not only to any university president or high school president, but also to any well-like scholastic in regency.  He will find himself wined and dined by doting and appreciative parents, and it seems the natural thing to accept such offers.  Yet because Jesuits so often accept these kinds of offers, they appear to many to be “worldly.”  It would be impossible to count how many times I have heard comments about: how much Jesuits like to drink; Jesuit comfortable living quarters; Jesuit poverty, “If this is poverty, bring on chastity!” and the list goes on.  People are simultaneously grateful that Jesuits are look and act like them and critical of such behavior and lifestyle.

And let’s be honest: From the beginning, Jesuit Jerome Nadal told us that “the world is our monastery.”  We are by definition a “worldly” order.  And as a result, Jesuits in the United States usually dress like middle-class white men.  We wear North Face and Patagonia and Keens and Chacos.  We wear suits and ties and sometimes drive quite nice cars.  We have flat screen TV’s and drink middle shelf scotch to relax.  Our own Father General, Father Adolfo Nicolas, recently told us: “We work hard, but sometimes our style of life remains middle-class, or even privileged.”  He also expresses concern that “in some places, secular, “worldly” values (such as consumerism, careerism, individualism, tribalism) have entered our mentalities and weakened our Jesuit spirit.”  Where does this danger come from?

It comes in large part from the challenge by Pope Benedict to the Jesuits to be “on the frontiers.”  It comes from Pope Francis’ challenge to priests to be on the “fringes” of society, on the “existential outskirts” of culture, working at the “margins.”  Such work is not easy.  The result will often be that we appear to be too “worldly.”  And sometimes we do become too worldly.  Ignatius himself told Jesuits both to “dress in a way that is characteristic of the poor” and to dress in a way that is “ordinary and not different.”  His constant goal was that of St. Paul, and Jesuit poverty can be adequately summarized as “becoming all things to all men” (1 Cor 9:22).  And that means often looking middle-class.

But is there a threshold of dress or behavior or lifestyle that should never be crossed?  Pope Francis seems to think so.  Or maybe that threshold is primarily restricted to our own houses where we learn never to grow too comfortable, as Nicolas encourages us.  If we live un-worldly lives at home, then our attitudes may not be taken so easily to be worldly to those with whom we work.

So what do you think?  Are Jesuits too “worldly?”  I would love to hear your input.

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  • mary martha

    In my experience … yes, Jesuits are too “worldly”

    I attended a Jesuit HS. My parents scraped and saved to afford the tuition. We were not ‘well off’ by any means. The Jesuits there dressed better than anyone in my family, drove a car better than anyone in my family and then said that they were living in ‘poverty’. Ha!

    One Jesuit was quite honest about it. In our theology class he said that he took a vow of poverty but knew that as a Jesuit he would never live poor.

    It was somewhat frustrating that the Jesuits there were far more interested in the students from more well off families and CLEARLY identified with them. It was clear that the interest of the Jesuits was always in the students and families who were rich and or powerful and could make the big donations to keep the Jesuits in the style to which they have become accustomed.

    Senior year it was striking how the president of the school treated my richer friends very, very differently than he treated me. He knew their names, went out of his way to talk to them and ask about their college plans. I, on the other hand was ignored completely.

    It is fascinating to me to watch Pope Francis. I never thought it was possible that there would be a modern Jesuit who would care for or identify with the poor. That has not been my experience with Jesuits.

    • Nathan O'Halloran, SJ

      Thank you for the honest response. Although I didn’t see the preferential treatment you refer to at the high school that I taught at, your observation is frequent enough that it must be a problem. I’m sorry you experienced that.

    • jono113

      In fairness, I would point out that the Jesuits have been pioneers in providing excellent education to inner-city kids tuition free through the network of Nativity and Christo Rey schools. As with so many things Catholic, it’s probably a case of “both-and.”

      • mary martha

        In fairness I received a top notch education. There was a good reason that my family sacrificed to send me there. I learned some great things about Ignatian spirituality and the importance of being a person for others.

        I also learned that if my family didn’t have money or influence I was not nearly as valuable of a human being to the Jesuits who were there. That is a lesson that holds true in lots of places in life so it was a good lesson to learn in it’s way.

  • Peter Paul Fuchs

    Yes, indeed, Nathan, I remember that funny quote “if this is poverty, bring on chastity.” And in my experience most had about the same requirements for the latter as the former. I actually think a more realistic goal for religious people would just be to live lives like ordinary people nowadays. I want to be perfectly clear. I have no such desideratum myself. I think I live a more unstressed and comfy life, with lots of little luxuries perhaps many do not have. But, then I have questions about the whole set-up of the “poverty” notions to vein with. Anyways, I just want to make that clear, to avoid simple mutual exclusion on the basis of hypocrisy.

    It is quite another question if one is going to, as the RC Church, have a whole Weltanschauung (and that is no exaggeration it is so all encompassing!) based on these notions of “suffering” and “poverty”. I could write paragraphs unlimited almost on this topic historically, as it interests me greater. But to abbreviate: the matter is simply so vexed in Catholic history as to have no simple resolution. For there have indeed been some who have drawn great insights on human life and our spiritual destiny from the actual living of poverty. And yet of course there is vast evidence of the opposite.

    I think that for a lot of reasons many like that it is insoluble. It is hard to say anything really clear about the matter — how convenient.

    That is why I would rather just look at it sociologically. To wit, would a person with roughly the same skill set be living the way religious people live.

    The answer is simply, not a chance. How hard is it to have a “nice life” in today’s world. The amount of leisure, ease, and non-worrry about their security in the future, is basically unknown to most of humanity. To say nothing of going off to “study’ for degrees, which most can never afford to do, because it would put them into debt.

    The simple fact is, though the RC Church does a lot of charity, it does nothing commensurate with its wealth. Not even close. To me it is a scandal,And the reason it continues is , at least in part, because this whole “poverty” issue is so hard to limn historically. thus it becomes a shell game.

    So just compare apples to apples sociologically and you will have the real premise, and answer to your question. I see the Pope’s attempt to live differently just as a way of trying to be a bit more consistent. And baby steps are good. Bravo.

  • Ronald King

    I think I am too worldly because I know how much I lack in sacrificial love. It does not matter if one is a Jesuit or some other religious order when it comes to being worldly. What matters is if we are willing to give up everything for Christ and that includes what is internal which separates us from Christ.

  • John ODonnell

    I don’t think Jesuits or any other religious order members, male and female, are too “worldly.” It seems to me that what is important is that religious do not acquire “stuff” or accolades for their own sake. If they come as a result of their work, accept it, say “thank you” and move on. I admire Jesuits and other religious who give so freely and completely of themselves that it doesn’t bother me if you put your feet up at the end of the day and have a middle-shelf scotch. I prefer a good Irish (Jameson); hope that isn’t too top shelf.

  • John Donaghy

    It’s also a challenge to us who live and work in poor countries. The house where I live is nice; my car usually works (and I have enough money to fix it); I can eat out; I have internet access; and so on. I feel all too comfortable.
    What to do? Perhaps move out to a village – which I’m considering. But most of all make myself more “available” and “present” to those I work with, respect them, involve them.
    And, most of all, love them.
    It’s more complicated, and I need to consider this much more closely. Your remarks and the challenge of Pope Francis are spurring me to do this and be honest. thanks.

  • Mark VA

    If there are at least ten Jesuits today who have the guts of Robert Southwell, then perhaps God will overlook all the nice cars, clothes, “middle of the shelf” scotch, and the “America” magazine:

    I think our new Pope is one of the ten.

    I commend you, Mr. O’Halloran, for having the guts to even ask such a question.

    • Kerberos

      It was well asked – it needed to be asked. The question should not even be an issue. A lot of questions like that need to be asked; about the forms of worldliness mentioned or hinted at, and about worldliness in the Church’s self-understanding and governance. And there is no way, judging by its past record, that the corporate ego of the Church will tolerate that. It has no objection to poverty of spirit, or to evangelical poverty, or to even to reform, as long as these things are under its control, & don’t cut too deep for its liking – what it can’t handle is any kind of poverty that takes it out of its comfort zone. If it to be truly converted from worldliness, it is going to have to change, a lot – and that is going to be very painful and very challenging. I don’t think the corporate ego of the Church has that sort of courage – it’s terrified of the unknown, but at home in the world.

      So it will muddle along unhappily, semi-reformed, semi-converted, a foot in each camp, serving both God & Mammon, its heart divided between them; while Christians with greater faith than it has do “great things for God” outside it. It is trying to be two different kinds of Church, and it doesn’t want to choose between them. So it makes a hash of both. Maybe, in 500 years’ time, it will have chosen. If that much time is given it.

      • Mark VA

        It seems, Kerberos, that you have a privileged insight into the “corporate ego of the Church”, and the zeal of a compulsive reformer.

        The Catholic Church is vast – I’m sure you’ll keep busy “reforming” it, for as long as you remain interested in that activity.

        • trellis smith

          Mark VA
          Clearly you aren’t up on your critical mass or chaos theory that might suggest Kerberos’ “zealous compulsion” could have already accomplished its goal. So daunted by numerical vastness of a billion faithful that one could never believe a shot heard round the world or a still small voice or a mustard seed could ever have had a defining impact. I mean after all “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”

  • Jordan

    Most of the the Fordham Jesuits strike me as at the very least “plain living” or even self-effacing. I often repeat that the great respect I held for Cdl. Dulles resided not only in his awe-inspiring preaching but also in his insistence in wearing the clerical suit common to most in his community. GIven Cdl. Dulles’ mobility challenges later in life, he sometimes drove a Toyota around campus. I doubt he would care if the vehicle was a Yugo or a Mercedes limo — whatever got him where he needed to go. Other eminent professors likewise prefer the simple suit, and the vestments for Mass are not baroquetastic by any means.

    My brother went to a smaller Jesuit college. The president drove an Audi. My brother and I considered this as, well, incongruous. We know that Jesuits don’t take a vow of poverty. Still, rocking the German luxury sedan isn’t exactly shouting “preferential option for the poor”. Whatever, no judging.

    • Nathan O'Halloran, SJ

      Thanks Jordan. In the recently translated interview with then Cardinal Bergoglio “On Heaven and Earth,” he approvingly cited de Lubac that being worldly is “the worst that can happen to a priest.” It is a real dangerous especially for Jesuits who don’t live a strictly regulated external life.

  • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

    Nate, I completely understand your discomfort, and if it is any consolation, I share it with you. The Franciscan tradition has wrestled with these questions since its foundation. Our Seraphic Father practiced such radical poverty, such close identification with the poor, that he not only changed the meaning of religious poverty, but he helped reshape the ontological category of the poor themselves. And yet, his own confreres, within a few years of his death, were building not only a basilica in Assisi, but also a grand friary in which to live.

    My own rule charges me to purify my heart of every yearning for possession and power; as a comfortably middle-class academic I must constantly question my commitment to that injunction. My tastes in wine and food are definitely “top shelf”. Though I indulge them less than I want, perhaps indulge them more than I should. In dress I part company with the stereotypical Jesuit described above: still dress as I did in high school in jeans and t-shirts. Here perhaps I stand as a sign of contradiction to my students, the majority of whom come from affluent if not extremely wealthy families. (My school costs $58K a year, and two-thirds of the students receive no financial aid.)

    In the end, I am grateful that Pope Francis makes me uncomfortable: the Gospels should make us uncomfortable, and it is only fitting that the Pope should convey this so clearly. Jesuits, Franciscans—indeed, all Catholics, lay, religious or cleric—need to be goaded into re-examining their relationship to the world.

  • Joseph Lanzone

    Dear Nate,

    I first want to take this opportunity to thank you for your theological work as reflected on this website. I have found it to be awe inspiring and liberating to my attempts at “understanding”. As an adjunct at Fordham GSSS, I have limited contact with Jesuit religious. However, in my contacts, I have felt an intuitive disonnance which now makes sense, as most. but not all, have reminded me of the diocesan priests I knew in my youth: certainly powerful role models of gregariousness and fellowship, but , for me, lacking in a preference for “the poor”, or even more to the point, the average sinner. They could always be found in their parish rectory, usually upscale compared to the majority of their working class parishioners, or socializing with the local “upper echelon”. What I always felt lacking, was a presence of Jesus, just the priest. Yes, I am taking inventory, and yes, this may be my own lack of charity. The presentation was always religious, but the spirituality always seemed hollow at best.

    As I stated, I have little contact with actual Fordham religious, although I would love the opportunity to actually have coffe and TALK. I am, however, reading and practicing Ignatian spirituality via the Excercises, and am drawn more and more to this wisdom. I am humbled to be in my 12th year of teaching at a Jesuit school truly directed by a preference for all in need of social justice, and proud to teach my students through this Jesuit lens.

    Joseph Lanzone, LCSWR, CASAC

    • Nathan O'Halloran, SJ


      I appreciate your kind words. I also appreciate you sharing the “intuitive dissonance” you’ve experienced at times. My sense is that this “dissonance” may be mostly a North American/European phenomenon that we need to target as we continue to look at the integrity of our life and mission here in the United States I hope you get a chance soon to talk to some of the great Jesuits at Fordham! Peace

    • Jordan

      Joseph: a good way to participate with the Fordham Jesuit community in liturgy is to go to daily Mass at around 5:30 pm at Spellman Hall (residence) on the Rose Hill campus. It’s the end of the teaching day for many of the priests. Mass is less rushed, longer homilies, more quiet time. Mass in Spellman was always my favorite.

      My undergrad degree is from Fordham (2005). I have very fond memories of the school. That’s why I tend to talk it up.

  • Peter Paul Fuchs


    “My tastes in wine and food are definitely “top shelf”. And have you considered that not having to wear jacket and tie is itself a subtle sign of wealth and diffidence. These are the markers cultural analysis mavens look for. An btw, you are my kind of Franciscan. Reminds me of the Carmelites I went to live with in Cuernavaca with two other seminarians. We all discovered that “living with families” which our language school set us up with was none too pleasant in the smog chocked neighborhoods of Mexico’s supposed garden city. And we heard of a virtual paradise atop a nearby mountain, in the are that all the rich people lived. This paradise was otherwise known as the Carmelite Monastery on “Cielito Lindo”. We high tailed it up there and inquired of the dear Sisters, and moved in asap. They cooked the most delicious food, and we had lovely drinks all the time. There was a a “favela” atop the other less favored mountain which was part of the view from the monastery. But fortunately, our rooms faced a lovely garden tended by the sisters, so we did not have to looks at it often and could concentrate on our prayers and rosaries.

    Ah lady poverty what life lessons I learned from thee.

  • Chris Sullivan

    We don’t have Jesuits here in New Zealand. The only Jesuits I have ever met, from Bolivia and from India, struck me as the most unworldy men I have ever met. In Bolivia, some of them gave their lives in the struggle for the poor and for social justice.

    I suspect that the problems of some Jesuits in the imperial center pretty much mirror the problems of the imperial Church.

    God Bless

  • dismasdolben

    The Jesuit order has ALWAYS been about evangelizing from the top down, and they have often succeeded in changing the hearts of the privileged and, especially, the aristocratic. I think that the world is about to endure eco-disaster and financial catastrophes, and that at least some of the “movers and shakers” of the dominant societies HAD better turn out to be on the side of the poor and oppressed. Real evangelical poverty is a state of mind, an attitude of non-attachment to ANY of the riches and privileges of the world. During my lifetime, I have seen Jesuit fathers and brothers be able to leave corporate and national cabinet meetings or expense account luncheons and go directly to inner-city slums, to deliver a sermon. It doesn’t matter to me whether they went to the slum in a taxi or a chauffeured limousine. I remember the martyred Jesuits of Latin America and guess that they had good Scotch in their liquor cabinets, too–and shared it, sometimes, with campesinos. If I can’t trust those men, I guess I can’t trust the Church. I was delighted when the cardinals elected the first Jesuit pope, and thus gave a historic rebuke to the reactionary papacies of Wojtylwa and Ratzinger, who so deeply distrusted the Church’s most creative and scholarly order.

  • Peter Paul Fuchs

    it took me a few readings on this post to really get that people actually think there is something bespoke or special about the Jesuit Order in Catholic history, Is that because it was suppressed or banned at one point? Dream on. They might be a bit more intellectual, but Lordy, there is not a bit of difference to be found. Same old , same old. nothing new under the sun. i guess Pombal was successful if people think there was an ounce of difference. Amazing. how history counts in ways we don’t even know!

    • dismasdolben

      Peter Paul, ever heard of a book of literary criticism called The History the Poets Make? In fact, ALL history is probably a matter of competing “stories,” although I’m not always so cynical as to believe Napoleon’s line, “History is the lie the winners tell about the losers.” Apparently you choose to believe what Voltaire wrote in Candide about the Jesuit reducciones in Paraguay, and I choose to believe the narrative of the film The Mission. Truth must be somewhere in between, but I’ll opt for the “half a glass full” version.

  • elialuz

    I’ll start by stating that I believe in stewardship which means that I will give of my first fruits to God Who is the Source of all I have and trust that the Spirit will use my donations well. Yet, I am human and most of the Jesuits I come in contact with live better than I do( I am a senior citizen on a fixed income and give 1/4 of my income to charity;FYI only)accepting my dinner invitations, etc. Stewardship calls to trust God and St. Ignatius has been so instrumental in my spiritual growth that I will leave it to the Spirit to make criticism on how worldly Jesuits are. Thanks for the question and for your willingness to engage in such a frank a discussion, Nathan.

  • trellis smith

    I am not sure a true and miserable poverty of want and deprivation is an estate to be sought out. Anyone who finds themselves there are desperate to escape from it. Showy displays of poverty are as incongruous as proud ones of humility. While personal choices are important, systemic issues are of more serious concern and more impervious to reform. These systemic issues encompass our very outmoded theologies that fail to reflect the exigencies of our time and the new paradigms of our place in the universe.

    To live simply so that others may simply live is a familiar and concrete motto related to our ecological interdependence. Add to that the learning to spend on the highs and save on the lows and one will discover a prescription for living a life open to true abundance and ironically more enriched.

    The measure of one’s true poverty of spirit might be found in one’s carbon footprint. Driving an audi or a ford may be of less concern than why aren’t you commuting by bike or bus? Eating a plant based diet is an example that has overwhelming significance not only in terms of one’s health and wellness but on the impact on overall healthcare costs and the environment where animal food industries account for the single largest impact on global warming. On this the pontiff ranks comparatively high in personal choices

    However the true significance of this Jesuit’s pontificate will be whether it can unleash the creative energies of Catholics who by definition would embrace the holistic paradigms or remain stuck in the theological concerns and irrelevancies of its predecessors. For that to occur Francis would have to embrace much what the previous popes discarded.

    • Peter Paul Fuchs

      trellis smith,

      I like your general point of view, if I understand it correctly. But I would say that some of the desirable facts of a more simple life are there as obvious NOT for necessarily vaunted spiritual reasons for just for being a good custodian of one’s own well-being. And in my book that jibes with the truest sense of the philosophy of the Beatitudes. This came to me when I read what you wrote about owning different kind of cars. Well, as an adult of almost 50 I have never owned a car in my life. We bought a house in the middle of the city many years ago, when people thought we were crazy. We bought it because I could walk everywhere and because we don’t like the suburbs. For most of my young adulthood I walked everywhere, long distances across the expanse of the city, and occasionally took the subway in between. Did I do that because of evangelical poverty. Hardly. We saved a whole lot of money that way. True, my husband has a car, and I could go out with him on the weekends in the car, but most of the week, it was just the ten toe team.

      Now that I am older, and not in such great shape anymore, I just take cabs. Is it because of evangelical poverty. No. It is still cheaper for us to have just one car, and for me to just take a cab when needed. My knee hurts me these days, a result of so much walking when young combined with waistline expansion. I still am probably better off for having done all that walking for years cardio-vascuslarly, as I have known a number of other people with more problems that myself. By my anecdotal evidence would suggest a larger truth. Being “simple” in various ways is good for you generally, and need not be part of some grand theme of “poverty”.

      I cannot leave this topic without this final comment. I know many fine and fascinating people who live in suburban areas in their chosen locus. But when one considers all the stress of commuting, and wasted money, and even environmental issues per se, I think the following advice is justified. That if, for instance they are Catholics, and live and attend a suburban parish, and thus own (probably) two cars for husband and wife, and yet still find themselves talking about the “evangelical meaning of poverty” etc, they should probably just stop talking, for they make now sense, spiritually or even financially, when they say they are such “family oriented people.” Spare me, really.

      • trellis smith

        Very true Peter Paul Fuchs. For obvious reasons the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience are for the exceptional few (and as you point out probably fewer than those who profess vows) I suppose how the many can draw inspiration from such lives to live more freely in our daily contexts is where I was heading. Thanks for pointing out the pitfalls of where that may lead. Sometimes Church teachings themselves seem not to draw the right inspiration from such lives and would want to impose the counsels on all.

        However, being one of those dreaded incarnationists who has yet to encounter a disembodied soul and not well disposed to concepts as “too worldly” i generally think virtue should be good for you, in a utilitarian sense that tends to add to your and others well being.
        In the context of freedom, the lesson of evangelical poverty is to own but not be owned by ones’ possessions: the lesson of obedience is to submit to the better idea no matter the source: and most radical and ironic of all, the lesson of chastity is to love promiscuously and wastefully.
        For some reason this reminds me of the dialectical correctives between
        cataphatic and apophatic theologies.

        if I may be so bold (as I know little of your daily life) to suggest to you a more whole food, plant based diet. It may return you to the long traverses you once enjoyed. One of the benefits and trials for me on this regime was learning how to cook as I was once as that hilarious fast food ad states, one of those guys who without them would starve.

        • Peter Paul Fuchs


          Well put, a lot of it! My spiritual experience has led me to this conclusion. That it is impossible to possess every virtue. The best we can hope is to not be too far in the skew we naturally favor. I know this does not jibe with a certain sort of Catholic “heroic” thinking, and I have a lot to say on that (don’t ask) but the more basic fact is we just should admire and praise virtue in others, even if we can’t achieve it. Plus people hate perfect people anyways, so you have more friends if you are not so perfect.

          Plus I never really liked being a handsome man, to the extent I was. It seems to me that men especially are misunderstood in that respect in ways that women are not. It is easier and more fun actually not to have that issue so much to deal with, It gives me a perspective.

          Speaking of vegetables, one of our great discoveries over the years is all the wonderful “vegetable spreads” you can buy at Russian Food Stores
          which are mostly made in Bulgaria. I know the creed is “fresh vegetables” but trust me, the vegetables from Bulgaria are tastier than anything we get in the States. And by happenstance I went on a work-related trip to Bulgaria not too long ago, and vegetables you eat in every restaurant are so much better than what we feed on here, as if there were a giant “abyss of God’s mercy” between them. Check out the veggy spreads, no sugar, just veggie.

  • Peter Paul Fuchs


    That’s it, I am calling the Holy Office to get you tried for the postmodern heresy! You’ll get the rack for this!

    Look, seriously, I accept that history is interpretative. But where I part company with more extreme postmodern sorts is in this. History must be based on generally accepted facts. There must be something go work with. Letters, pamphlets, tomes, diaries, written recollections, medical records, financial accounts. These, not stories, are the stuff of history. the stories become important when we try to make a theory based on those facts.

    A lot of modern theorists have turned this on its head. They imagine that documentary facts are not really subject to Ockham’s Razor, but unlimited in meanings, even ones that those involved would have recoiled from. Then of course, anything can mean anything. And my favorite example of this was from art history, when some “art historian” opined that the real meaning of Sargent’s famous painting “The Daughters of Darbey Boit” (in the MFA Boston, and one of my favorites paintings) had not to do with the actual history of how it was commissioned and the personatlities of the darling little girls, but instead with Sargent’s subliminal sense that his client’s name “Boit” was similar to the French word for the female sexual organ! Oy vey!

    That movie The Mission is nothing so pernicious. And btw I remember going to see that with other seminarians. It was only later when I read a lot of church history, that I saw that movie for what it was— “feel good” entertainment. Those Jesuit missions had a pretty grim and unflattering history for the Jesuits. And you can read Jesuit historians who make that quite clear themselves. So, no, it is not just alternative stories.

    Where this connects with our theme is this. There was no difference with the Jesuits. They were essentially the same. That is, the whole conquering vibe of the church was certainly continued by the Battalion of Jesus , battalion being the actual translation of Ignatius’ meaning for Compania. And btw in order to make my conscience clear and not bear false witness, I got that idea about Batallion from watching a funny old movie on EWTN one day, dubbed into English. Ignatius is standing around with his early followers, and they are discussing what they should call themselves, and just then outside the window he sees a military phalanx marching down the street, and he says (lightbulb!) “Compania!” Coming full circle to getting our ideas from movies. Not putting on airs is a virtue in my book.

    • Nathan O'Halloran, SJ

      “Battalion” is not a historically faithful translation of “compania.”

      • Peter Paul Fuchs

        Well, maybe not Nathan, but it had screen presence.

    • dismasdolben

      I want to tell you a little story about Francis Xavier, and I want you to ponder it, Peter Paul.

      It is recorded that Xavier, while he was preaching to the people of the Malay Coast here in India, about Jesus and His promise of an afterlife in a beautiful place called “Heaven,” was directly asked by his listeners, “What about our ancestors? Where are they?” and Xavier responded–truthfully, according to the Counter Reformation belief conventions of his time–by saying, “I regret to tell you that they are burning in Hell.”

      However, it is reported, by one of the saint’s servants or followers, that he then went into his little make-shift oratory and berated his God, in much the same angry tone that Teresa of Avila once used, when she couldn’t cross a flooding stream, saying, “No wonder it is that you have no friends, since you treat those you have got so badly!”

      Xavier, it is reported, yelled his prayer out, “Lord, it is to your eternal disgrace that you waited so many centuries to send succor to these noble people.”

      What is the sense of such a story? To me, it is that the actual MEANING of the teachings of Jesus Christ in the New Testament was DEVELOPING, and that it had not been “developed” sufficiently, in the time of Xavier or Loyola for them to understand that their LITERAL interpretations of Sacred Scripture or Church Tradition were OPPOSED to and actually CONFOUNDED their “spirit.”

      • Peter Paul Fuchs


        I absolutely love that story! I put that together with elements I like from Kabbalistic thought, especially Tiqqun, that God needs some help improving. Thank you that was great, and I have never heard it. And it makes he double mad at myself that I somehow lost those relics of the five Jesuit Blesseds from India, with a gorgeous Bishop’s certificate to go along with it. If I left it at TC, and somebody got it out of that storage room in the rear, I want it back!!!!

        That story puts me in mind of something quite apposite I saw online today, in the site of priest, Fr. Mark White whose blog “Devil, does Your Do Bite” I keep an eye on. Fr. Mark, who once wanted to be jesuit apparently, has a potentially cryptic post recently. After a meditation on how often he goes to confession, and mortal sins and all that, he posts without explanation a interesting video. I leave it to the discerning eye to decipher in terms of sin and its meaning and “the abyss of God’s mercy” as Pope Francis said in a sermon in a local Church in Rome. To wit, he seems to be offering a subtle critique of the Jesuits and their one-time running of large pulque farms in Mexico, pulque being the precursor to Tequila. AS I found online at Wikipedia, with a solid looking endnote: ” At the end of the 17th century, the Jesuits began large-scale production of the drink [pulque] to finance its educational institutions. In this way, the making of pulque passed from being a home-made brew to one commercially produced.[3]” Of course it was not the Jesuits out there in the hot pulque fields, but those same “noble people” you mention Dismas, only this time mexico whose ancestors were supposedly damned in hell, but now must work to harvest pulque. Anyways, I leave it to you if I have read Fr. Mark’s reference to sin in his own life with this cryptic video. I think he must be critiquing his own socially radical tendencies vis-a-vis the agricultural social inequities of the past.

        Ciao bello!

  • Sam Rodgers

    As testimony to my experience, I almost entered the Society this past fall and might still in a year or two. I went to a Jesuit university, and have both read about the Jesuit way of proceeding and known a number of Jesuits. My impression is that Jesuit poverty is genuine and does lead to interior freedom, especially coupled with chastity and obedience. Even with middle-shelf bourbon, comfortable meals, and opportunities for leisure, Jesuits can be detached from them and be free to be missioned. But the perception of authenticity is important, and unless you get to know Jesuits and spend time learning how they can live comfortably while keeping a vow of poverty, it is easy to scoff. I don’t think that Jesuit poverty has been evangelically effective for anyone I know

  • Kerberos

    “He also expresses concern that “in some places, secular, “worldly” values (such as consumerism, careerism, individualism, tribalism) have entered our mentalities and weakened our Jesuit spirit.” Where does this danger come from?”

    ## At least in the US: Cardinal Gibbons, maybe ? If he hadn’t been so jolly keen on the assimilation of Catholics into the US, the US Church might not be as decrepit as it seems to be now. The Church is not meant to be of the world – something J23 did not (it seems) remember: though the rot goes back much further, he did a lot to accentuate it. And the Church has usually more concerned with being Catholic, or even with being Roman, than with being Christian. It’s been a train-wreck for most of its life – possibly that is good news; OTOH, maybe it can be a train-wreck only for a while before the contradictions and strains in it pull it to pieces: “God is not obliged to repair the mistakes of His vicars” – or of anyone else in the Church. Maybe the chickens are coming home to roost.

    There is no meadow where tired old churches are put out to grass. No Divine promises to them guarantee that they will survive, if they don’t take the measures needed for so doing – like conversion, repentance, and the like (that looks Pelagian – it’s not). They have to do their part, once they know what God requires of them.

    • dismasdolben

      You know what, Kerberos, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if the only way that true Christianity could survive on earth would be if the Roman Catholic Church should rot into the ground, but that out of it would spring the seeds of a new, renewed and better Christianity–that is possible, but what I maintain is that it would be only out of that genuine orthodoxy and not out of sects tainted with heresy that the renewed Christianity would be born. There is the Malachi prophecy, after all, that this pope would be the last one, and I can actually imagine that the real meaning might be that this pope will be the “last” one OF THAT KIND WHICH WE’VE HAD PREVIOUSLY, for too many centuries.

      • Peter Paul Fuchs


        You wrote:”You know what, Kerberos, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if the only way that true Christianity could survive on earth would be if the Roman Catholic Church should rot into the ground,”

        News flash, kiddo, they are not going anywhere. If one is interested in world peace and religious authenticity in this world of ours, unfabulous as it is in so many ways, I am convinced one of the best things that can be done is to try to find a way to deal with them constructively,,,,,,,yes, as a “given” having “many warts” as my former prof Monsignor John Tracy Ellis used to say, as he elegantly raised his dropping eyelids. They are not going anywhere. They invented “survival” in the Western context, and there is something to be learned from that lesson, vexed as it is. Ain’t nothing pure in this world of ours, but things CAN be better. As for searching for purities, and surreptitiously hoping for (nihilistic) doomsdays for existing institutions in our cultural world, well, as Sweet Brown say (see Youtube!) : “Ain’t nobody got time for that!”

        • dismasdolben

          Okay, Peter Paul, then “deal with them constructively” by coming back to the Catholic Church and join its “loyal opposition.”

          • Ronald King

            Yah Baby!!!!

      • Dante Aligheri

        Of course, Joachim of Fiore and St. (and Doctor now) Hildegard of Bingen prophesied the same kind of spiritual renewal (although I don’t think they necessarily intended the end of the hierarchy). I’ve done a lot of reading on Joachim (a very fascinating man, to say the least), and his influential ideas actually persisted down into 18th century eschatological speculations.

        Through St. Bonaventure’s sanitization of Joachim, he informed some of the speculations of Pope Benedict XVI indirectly.

        God alone knows.

        • Peter Paul Fuchs


          Well, what you say of Joachim of Fiore is true, but it is harder to mention that without the vast amount of nutty thinking that became liked to those Joachite ideas. It seems that the nutty edge is what has ended up being influential in the RC church of late, and this is especially lamentable because in recent centuries they were bulwarks against such fatuous apocalyptic thinking, serving as a leaven against evangelicals who are off in la-la land constantly. Worst of all, it seems that the whole rise of the Divine Mercy Chaplet is somehow also mysteriously linked with this tendency which is a huge shame. Though if one is to judge by the droning dreary music for the Chaplet on catholic cable, the end will be a whimper and not a bang.

          Really, the greatest shame is that the thought of Cusanus (the great Nicholas of Cusa) has been mostly ignored in relation to these Joachite ideas. For there was a man who took the edginess of those ideas, and with the metaphysical subtlety of his mind, given to coincidentia oppositorum and the like, adumbrated how we human beings are always feeling like we are at the end AND at the beginning. If we take Cusanus’ insight, salvation is in the dynamic tension. (Plus Nicholas of Cusa was a great diplomat, which makes it clear that the insghts were very “real world’ and not just mystical abstraction.

  • Mark VA

    Sam Rodgers, you wrote:

    “But the perception of authenticity is important, and unless you get to know Jesuits and spend time learning how they can live comfortably while keeping a vow of poverty, it is easy to scoff.”

    If you are right, then perhaps our new Pope’s emphasis on material modesty has, among other things, this type of arrangement in mind. Notice how you had to qualify your point: one has to “get to know” these Jesuits to be convinced that they are genuine, and are not mere poseurs. But why should we have to go thru these mental gymnastics in the first place?

    The question that presents itself is, why do they allow these trappings of affluence, if all of it only raises questions and doubts? Why are they making it easy to scoff?

    • Sam Rodgers

      I don’t know, Mark. It has been a part of the Society’s tradition, from the beginning, to dress as the locals do. Some people dislike this because SJ priests won’t always wear collars, but I think it here leads Jesuits to “blend” and approach people on their own terms. Dismasdolben above recounts seeing Jesuits interacting with both rich and poor with ease. I wonder if it is easier to associate with the rich if you have discriminating taste in scotch. More recently, the worldwide congregations have paid a lot of attention to the vow of poverty, and have asked that Jesuits live their lives as a lower-middle income family would. But it is always a balancing act, for sure.

  • Peter Paul Fuchs


    Moving the discussion down here so it doesn’t get too vegetarian and willowy, let me say good riposte as always. I could give a flippant answer to your “coming home” suggestion, but let me give a serious one. In the form of a very beautiful poem by William Carlos Williams, one of my favorite works ever, which I hope I have not used here before. I feel it represents, no offense please, a more mature religiosity. It is, in my estimation, as a modern “psalm” a more “Divinely inspired” work than like 88 percent of of the psalms recited from the Breviary everyday by the priests of the faith you extoll. All the more so since it seems to be a sort of homage to those same psalms in recognizable “De Profundis” mode:

    “The Descent

    by William Carlos Williams

    The descent beckons
    as the ascent beckoned.
    Memory is a kind
    of accomplishment,
    a sort of renewal
    an initiation, since the spaces it opens are new places
    inhabited by hordes
    heretofore unrealized,
    of new kinds—
    since their movements
    are toward new objectives
    (even though formerly they were abandoned).

    No defeat is made up entirely of defeat—since
    the world it opens is always a place
    unsuspected. A
    world lost,
    a world unsuspected,
    beckons to new places
    and no whiteness (lost) is so white as the memory
    of whiteness .

    With evening, love wakens
    though its shadows
    which are alive by reason
    of the sun shining—
    grow sleepy now and drop away
    from desire .

    Love without shadows stirs now
    beginning to awaken
    as night

    The descent
    made up of despairs
    and without accomplishment
    realizes a new awakening:
    which is a reversal
    of despair.
    For what we cannot accomplish, what
    is denied to love,
    what we have lost in the anticipation—
    a descent follows,
    endless and indestructible .”

    • dismasdolben

      Beautiful poem, Peter Paul, and I hope that you have found happiness in “what is denied to love”–that is, what was denied to your previous love, in your earlier incarnation.

      Oh, and by the way, I DON’T “extol” the Catholic faith exclusively; in fact, I love all of the serious “spiritual paths,” and am somewhat of a scholar of the whole bunch, but I also believe, with the Dalai Lama, that one should not leave the path one was born on. Tradition and heritage do count. The Roman Catholic Church is extraordinarily flawed and has carried much evil with it, down through the centuries. However, it has also, somewhat miraculously, transferred to us MOST of the original teachings of its Founder, who is, in my opinion, the world’s greatest Religious Teacher, whether or not He actually meant to identify himself with the godhead of His people, Yahweh.

      If, in the coming few years, you’re ever in Alexandria, in Egypt, you should visit me. Additionally, I have friends in the Washington area, so maybe some day I’ll visit you.

      • Peter Paul Fuchs


        These days I am often found ensconced in our gorgeous John Russell Pope-designed library doing my work, which is open to the public, and I will be happy to greet you and converse about our shared “tradition and heritage.” :-) Making good men better.

  • trellis smith

    Very elegant Mr, Fuchs but I’ll be taking a little liberty in being a little flip for you.
    When advocating someone’s return to church remember the fable of the chicken and the pig where in being prepped for a breakfast of bacon and eggs, the trepidation of the pig was obviously greater since the chicken may have been involved but the pig was fully committed. Likewise the animus towards gay people in the teachings of the Catholic church are so extreme (to the point that the writings of Pope Benedict are cited extensively as extreme prejudice in the findings of fact in the Californian Prop 8 case in federal court) that it rises to the level of assault on their personhood.
    May their friends and families advocate for them in loyal opposition but for the sake of their souls, let alone their self respect I would expect them to leave en masse. Self sacrifice may be noble but at some point it’s just masochism.

  • M M

    As an married lay educator at a Jesuit institution, I think that the Jesuits who give witness to living simply are the most powerful witnesses through those simple choices.

    One reason for evangelical poverty is to be free to get up and go to the next assignment, and that is okay, but sometimes leads people into excuses (one doesn’t have to take a 100 dollar bottle of champagne to the next assignment). Even better is when one sees religious who make simple choices, like Pope Francis’ choice to take public transportation, that witness that life is not all about money.

    This is important in a culture, like a poor inner city school, that lacks money among those whom one is serving. It’s probably even more important in a culture, like a rich wealthy college, that has money and overvalues it. I see simple choices in clothing, food, etc more among religious sisters—who are just as active in their schools, nursing, administrative work—than among Jesuits, though one sees it in some. Maybe the Jesuits might have a look at how religious sisters who are also engaged in apostolic types of ministries and ask, “what can I learn ?”

    I’d add that I don’t think lay people are any less called to this kind of a witness; this blog post also reminds me of discerning my own choices of to be “in the world but not of the world” just as carefully as any religious, though with different choices before me and my family.