Read an Excerpt
This second edition of Father Bill O’Malley’s The Fifth Week contains an updated chapter by James Martin, S.J. In the last twenty years, the Society of Jesus has seen enough experimentation and adaptation, following Vatican II and its aftermath, to make an update worthwhile. At the same time, Father O’Malley’s original 1976 text has stood up remarkably well as an account of the Jesuit calling today. Accordingly, it appears largely as first written, except for clarifying editing here and there. Readers may be surprised to know that some twentysix thousand copies of the first edition were circulated in five printings.
James Martin’s contribution looks mainly at Jesuit formation as it has developed in recent years, including the terminology and timetables. Influences here reflect a variety of developments. More educational maturity on the part of entrants is a factor as is the desire to include values emphasized by recent Jesuit general congregations. Naturally, formation will be of great interest to prospective Jesuits, since it encompasses the first ten or more years of their Jesuit lives.
Joseph F. Downey, S.J.
Like many poets, Ignatius had an incisive sense of reality. He saw the Church needed men of common sense, practical men who saw what Christ wanted of them and who could find the best means to do it. Men not bound to some outworn shibboleth or unexamined, unnecessary custom but alive with the divine common sense and practical wisdom of the Holy Spirit within the Church: to couple the two forces within him—the poet’s vision and the practical man’s grasp of affairs and detail. All that was visionary, mystical, imaginative and heroic in him must be preserved and put at Christ’s service, but it must first be controlled, directed and given point by the prudence of God. He must blend and temper his magnanimity with prudence, that loveliest of virtues which makes all things real.
John C. Kelly, S.J.
“The Making of Ignatius”
I think that . . . we must give them a very clear idea of vocation, that is of the Society as an ideal. But we must also give a clear idea of the Society today, of the real Society, so that they cannot ever say they have been deceived. . . . Explain the ideal society, but also the limitations with which they will have to live.
Pedro Arrupe, S.J.
General of the Society of Jesus
Fortunately I resisted the temptation to call this book The Paradise Men’s Club. In doing so, I also resisted the feeling that I ought to write one of those Gosh-Fellas-Do-We- Jesuits-Ever-Have-Fun! books. Some books on religious orders picture seminary life as if it were neatly divided between basketball courts enclosed by woodsy places and library tables hemmed in by intimidating bookshelves and huge crucifixes.
In short, I would like this book to be an honest picture of what being a Jesuit means, as far as I have seen and experienced it. While I was writing it I envisioned two different audiences. On the one hand, as John Cogley once said, “Every little movement has a Jebbie all its own.” We turn up with disturbing regularity in the public press, storming some barricade or other—and most often there is some Jesuit publicly defending the very barricade that other Jesuits are attacking. Consequently all kinds of people—Protestants, Jews, nonbelievers, even other Catholics—keep wondering, “What makes these puzzling men tick?” This book is, in part, an attempt to answer their question.
The other audience is the group of young men who are considering the Society as a way of life for them. They feel some sort of attraction to the life of a Jesuit and wonder just what they’d be letting themselves in for if they took definite steps to apply. As Father Arrupe says above, it would be a cruel disservice not only to those men but to the Society to offer such men a false picture of Jesuit life. Therefore, I have tried to show us as we are, warts and all. Hopefully, this book, especially the later chapters, will be of some help in showing them what Jesuits are like.
Like other men, each Jesuit is unique. We have fat ones and skinny ones, white ones and black ones, ordained and waiting to be ordained and never to be ordained ones. We have brilliant, eager, selfless Jesuits and, to be honest, we also have lazy, dulled, fearful Jesuits, and a great many in between the two dramatic extremes. There is no such thing as a “Jesuit mold” which turns us out like identical lead soldiers. On the other hand, however, there is a great core of realizations which every Jesuit, despite his unique person or work or generation, shares with all his brother Jesuits. Most people who know us will agree that the experience we all have had of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius gives a particular coloration to a Jesuit. It lasts his whole life. Each of us has made this intense thirtyday retreat at least once, and that experience not only shaped our way of thinking but it also taught us a common language which sometimes makes non-Jesuits feel mystified.
Jesuit priests have also shared a common course of studies: from novitiate, through a heavily classical and philosophical college program, through teaching, through theological studies and ordination into ministerial work. The Jesuit who plies an outrigger in the South Pacific and the Jesuit who frames legislation in Congress and the Jesuit who does biblical research in Jerusalem have all had the same basic training for ten years. As a result I can sit down in Milwaukee or North Wales or Moscow and have a beer with Jesuits I’ve never met and know that we already have a wealth of shared experience.
But it goes further than that. One Jesuit, I think, put it well: “A man becomes a Jesuit by associating with other Jesuits.” It means living very, very closely with men who not only have shared the Spiritual Exercises and the training, but who have shared the living out of those ideals in the world. Different Jesuits have different politics, different lifestyles, different interests; but as Jesuits they all focus primarily on two facets of the gospel message, Jesus Christ has come to set us free and to make us more alive.
This living with other Jesuits is not restricted, though, to the Jesuits a man can shake hands with in his twenty or forty or sixty years. It includes the biggies too. I am somehow amplified by my brother Jesuits like Bob Drinan and Dan Berrigan and Joe Fessio, Avery Dulles, and Swami Animananda. I may disagree with them. Their work may be so complex I don’t understand it. But somehow I am amplified by them.
Further, this association with other Jesuits is not even restricted to the living. My Jesuitness is enriched by the fact that I share it with Ignatius and Xavier and Clavius, with Robert de Nobili and the North American Martyrs, with Bellarmine and Canisius, with de Lubac and Chardin and John Courtney Murray. All the Jesuits of the past 450 years are also my brothers.
This book, then, will be an attempt to show what being a Jesuit means, and in doing so, what finding, accepting, and living a vocation means.
Part One, “Jesuits of the Past,” is not intended to be another of those historical background ploys which one is obliged to plow through just to get “the full scoop.” It is a study of the vocation of the first Jesuit, Ignatius Loyola, the vocation of the Society of Jesus, and the vocations of men who were inspired by the vision of Ignatius.
Throughout these pages the reader will begin to discover that a vocation is patterned. There is a certain rhythm that every vocation follows no matter where or when: the first reluctant stirrings and fumblings, the decisive meeting with God which makes a man stand up and walk, and the life journeys in which that meeting is lived out, amplified, fulfilled.
A vocation is also infectious. The vocation of Ignatius became the Society of Jesus. And the vocation of the Society gave rise to the vocations of the great Jesuits described in the second chapter and one hundred thousand others. The vocation of Ignatius, the vocation of the Society, and the vocations of each of its men began a cross-feeding back and forth: the men made an act of faith in the Society and the Society made an act of faith in them; the Society transformed the men and the men transformed the Society.
Part Two, “Jesuits of the Present,” shows how that same vocation, discovered by a Basque petty officer at the behest of a cannonball in the 16th century, has been discovered, chosen, and lived again in the 20th century by some men who did it superlatively. But not all men are heroes, and one can learn only so much about the genesis of a vocation from a man’s living it out publicly. Therefore the second half of Part Two exchanges the telescope for the microscope and shows an ordinary vocation, my own, and how it grew step by weary and joyful step, from the inside. Moreover, in showing the unnewsworthy ups and downs of my own vocation, I will be able to give some feeling of the Jesuit course of studies and some notion of the ordinary and unnewsworthy men whose greatness formed whatever Jesuitness I have today. It is these men, anonymous to history, who are the Society of Jesus, yesterday, today, and tomorrow.
Part Three, “Jesuits of the Future,” attempts to show how a vocation might begin and grow today. It attempts to show the real Society a man will enter and the world from which he must emerge. The secularism of the world challenges the Society and its men to offer a meaningful alternative to its materialist promises. In such a world, how does a man decide what Ignatius decided: to be a priest, to be a religious, to be a Jesuit? Then, if a man makes that decision, what does he do?
Ignatius, the battle-shattered worldling, had a long journey from a dream of courtly accomplishments to the reality of being father to one hundred thousand Jesuits. The young man today has an equally long journey through the thickets of Madison Avenue promises, past the sirens of success, to the rather ordinary door of the Jesuit novitiate. But no matter what the current dissuasions, no matter who the man or what the era, the journey is the same.
Jesuits of the Past
The First Jesuit
St. Ignatius Loyola, 1491–1556
Valiantly brave, unselfish, courtly and blissfully foolish, Don Quixote vowed to defend the oppressed and protect the innocent. He moved toward an ideal past where there was no greed, where “those two fatal words ‘thine’ and ‘mine’ were distinctions unknown,” where men needed only to be shown true friendship and love, and the Kingdom of Eden would automatically return to the earth. And so he set off in pursuit of the Impossible Dream to do battle with dragons and evil men.
But it was Sancho Panza who made sure the horses got fed.
In 1491, a year before Columbus discovered the West Indies, Inigo de Loyola was born in a Basque castle in the very country that Don Quixote and Sancho searched for giants. Inigo too was to become a man unafraid to dream of a kingdom beyond time and space, a kingdom burning beneath the surface of the here and now. But he also knew that a starving man hears the gurgle of his belly more clearly than he hears the voice of God.
Although they were of noble blood, the Loyolas were poor, and so Inigo was never subjected to the deadening experience of having too much money. However impoverished, he was still an aristocrat and by that very fact responsible for the people over whom destiny had set him. Like many another nobleman, Inigo was trained to exquisite courtesy and especially to a chivalrous attention to women. But courtesy will carry a man only so far, and there was not much hope that the eleventh of eleven children would prosper unless he entered the Church or lived by his wits and his sword.
For a while he tried the Church. Inigo learned the basics of reading and writing. He was even tonsured. But inside him there boiled the spirit of adventure. He spelled his way through the heroic exploits of El Cid and Amadis of Gaul, men of delicate courtesy, honor, and truthfulness to be sure; but men who proved themselves more conclusively in battle and bedroom. Perhaps it is an ugly comparison, but the heroes of Arthurian legend were not unlike James Bond, hard fighting, hard losing, slightly tarnished heroes whose casual affairs of the bed only the heartless could refuse to forgive. This is what Inigo longed to be.
Obviously Inigo Loyola in a cassock was a tiger in a cage. A year before his father’s death, when Inigo was sixteen, the boy was shipped off to be a page in the service of Juan Velasquez, Treasurer-General to King Ferdinand of Spain. It was a life too true to be good: tournaments with armored steeds, riding to the hunt, secret and tempestuous love affairs, arguments settled at sword’s point. It was what he was born for.
Inigo was a courtier, a conquistador, a musketeer. The commandments were of course unquestionable in theory, but practice was entirely another matter. Church was for times of danger or for celebration of victory, and he never prayed so hard to our Lady as before a duel. In his last years when he had no need to be boastful, he was quoted by his secretarybiographer: “Though he was attached to the faith, he lived no way in conformity with it and did not avoid sin. Rather, he was much addicted to gambling and dissolute in his dealings with women, contentious and keen about using his sword.”
Inigo found plenty of trouble. During carnival time, 1515, angered that his priest-brother had not been given charge of the church near Loyola (even though he had fathered children, apparently after his ordination), Inigo and some others of the clan managed to beat up some of the local clergy. When he was hauled into court, he tried to plead his clerical exemption from a civil trial, despite the fact that he had worn everything but clerical garb for years. Wisely he made tracks out of town.
But back-street brawling lacked the scope of his dreams, so in 1517 Inigo joined the command of the Duke of Najera occupying Pamplona on the border between France and the newly appropriated Spanish Navarre. The citizens of the occupied territory tolerated their new masters with fiery eyes. Their opportunity for revenge and freedom came when thousands of French troops poured through the passes of the Pyrenees to liberate them. Rejoicing villages greeted the French with open gates and the Council of Pamplona practically sent them the keys of the city. With more prudence than courage, the commander of the Pamplona garrison saw which way the wind was blowing and deserted. The hotheaded Inigo was furious and rallied around him the men willing to defend at least the citadel in the center of the town. When the captains actually saw twelve thousand men and thirty cannon drawn up against the city, it took all of Inigo’s badgering and shaming to stiffen their backs to salvage, if not Pamplona, at least their own honor.
Father Bangert tells the story well:
The French offered terms of surrender. Ignatius persuaded the governor not to accept them. Because no priest was present, Ignatius, following a custom of the Middle Ages, confessed his sins to a comrade. Then he took his post on the breastworks. For six hours the French pounded the citadel, and finally part of the wall crumbled and the infantry prepared to pour in. In the breach stood Ignatius, sword drawn to meet the attack. And there he fell, his right leg shattered by a shell. Surrender of the garrison followed immediately.
The French treated their wounded prisoner with that delicate courtesy which prompted them to carry him in a litter to Loyola, but which could never be a substitute for surgical competence, so distressingly wanting when they tried to set his broken leg. At Loyola the doctors of Azpeitia tried to remedy the mistakes of the French. It was an agonizing experience and years later Ignatius spoke of it as ‘butchery.’ He failed to rally after the operation, became more and more weak, received the last sacraments, and almost died. Then came a turn for the better and his strength gradually returned. However, the doctors had left his leg in a condition intolerable to a man who would still be the gallant courtier and soldier. The sections of the broken bone did not mesh smoothly and evenly, one piece actually resting astride the other. This caused a noticeable protrusion and made the leg shorter than the other. Ignatius could not abide this deformity and insisted on another operation, even though it entailed agony of the worst kind.
He bore it all in silence, he says, not for the love of God, nor to do penance for his sins, but in order to wear again the handsome tight-fitting boots which caught ladies’ eyes.
As he lay at Loyola recovering from this second operation, he whiled away the time with daydreams of his lady, a woman he said was “more than a countess or a duchess.” Whether she was merely a creature of his hope and imagination or Germaine de Foix, King Ferdinand’s widow, he doesn’t say; but he spent hours and hours daydreaming of what he would say to her, of the glorious deeds he would offer her as her knight.
As the days dragged by, Inigo asked for books of chivalry to feed his dreams, but all the castle could offer was The Life of Christ and The Lives of the Saints, thin fare for one who fed on battle and jousts and similar excitement. But when one is lying alone for months in a sickbed, the silence begins to scream, so he reluctantly picked up the two books. Without his even suspecting, he was playing with fire, because these two unappetizing books were going to eat away all those dreams. He was moving into his first retreat.
Slowly turning the pages, Inigo found himself daydreaming about the lives of Jesus and the saints in the same way he had dreamed away the hours with his princess. His curiosity was caught by the fact that the book of saints called these men “the knights of God dedicated to the eternal prince, Jesus Christ.” They were men who drew from the gospels the courage to battle an evil more subtle than guns. He imagined himself as Dominic preaching and Francis begging; he saw himself walking the hills with Jesus. And his daydreams grew overwhelming.
As John Kelly puts it, “He was meditating for the first time on eternal truths, and his meditations—crude and unsubtle as they were—would pull down his dream world and all his castles in Spain about his ears. He was on the way to becoming the most painful and satisfactory thing a man can become—a realist.”
But then it began to fade. Gradually these thoughts yielded to the old familiar glories in the gunsmoke, sabers flashing, wounds borne proudly for the glory of the king. Then back again to the yearning for a more elusive glory, binding wounds, serving the poor, following a king from beyond time. As he watched the swing of his thoughts, back and forth, he began to see that his romantic daydreams left him empty and dry, while his dreams of laboring with Christ gave him a profound joy and peace. He began to suspect that the peace and joy he felt was a touchstone of the truth, a call which said, more and more certainly, that the glorious world of the court and camp was less real and less permanent than the sacrificial world of the cross. It was for him, as for all good men, a disquieting suspicion.
He had come to that moment in every vocation when a man stands helplessly before the Lord and asks, “All right! What do you want me to do?”
Then one night as he lay awake, he, who to the end of his life distrusted extraordinary phenomena, beheld very clearly the Blessed Virgin Mary holding the child Jesus. It was a presence which threw his past, especially his sexual self-indulgence, into a light from which there was no hiding. It was the undeniable moment. He knew beyond doubt that he was called to do battle not with temporary enemies but with eternal ones: ignorance, greed, lust, all the manners of man’s inhumanity to himself. He was a knight who had found his Lady and his King.
Ignatius was a great-souled, ambitious man, too big to live the comfortable quiet life of a kindly Christian. Once he chose a road, he went down it like a hurricane. Before the end of his convalescence, he had resolved to give up everything, to make a vow of perpetual chastity, and to go to the Holy Land. As sinner or saint, he could never be content to go halfway.
As he traveled toward the port of Barcelona, he stopped at the Benedictine shrine perched high in the mountains of Montserrat. After three days’ preparing it in writing, he made a general confession. On March 24, 1522, with his past behind him, he began a completely new life. He gave his mule to the monastery, exchanged clothes with a passing beggar, hung his sword and dagger on the grill of Our Lady’s chapel, and kept vigil there through the night in preparation for the new kind of battle he knew was about to begin.
There are writers who picture Ignatius Loyola as a cold soldier, grimly marshaling unquestioning automatons into battle. If they can look at this quixotic little man, kneeling through the night in his tatters before the Black Madonna of Monserrat and still call him a martinet, they are men who do not know the difference between a soldier and a knight.
The New Battle
There was much Ignatius had to discover about himself and about this new life he had been drawn into; and so, postponing his pilgrimage to the Holy Land, he remained at the little town of Manresa near Montserrat to wrestle with himself and with God. There, typically, he resolved to rival even the saints in his rejection of his past worldiness. As he says clearly in his meditation on the three classes of men, the worldly man is called to throw away everything, to free himself utterly from everything he is and has and claims: goods, clothes, position, friends, preconceptions, anything that might prevent him from seeing the world and himself and the will of God as they really are. Only then can he work back to what is essential for his true self in the hands of his King.
Because he had been so fastidious about his appearance, he now tramped through the village begging his food, body unwashed, hair and nails uncut, followed by a gaggle of urchins yelling after him, “Old bag! Old bag!” He helped the sick in the hospitals, attended daily Mass, and spent seven hours a day in prayer, on his knees.
Much later in his life, he says in his autobiography, “In those days, God was dealing with him as a teacher deals with a schoolboy . . . because he had no one else to teach him.” But his teacher surely allowed him to make almost every possible mistake before correcting him. “By making mistakes, I learned not to make mistakes.”
His penances were merciless. At first to copy the saints and then to prove his good will to God, he beat himself with a rope, fasted, slept rough and little. In the beginning it gave him great joy. It seemed so obviously the right thing to do, to teach the flesh who was in charge, to punish the instrument of his sins. It was much easier than discovering what he learned later, the slow crucifixion of unequivocal honesty about oneself. And then there were the temptations: It seemed cowardly and ungenerous to ease up on the penances. Yet to push them further was to court vanity for being so holy. But worst of all were the voices all beginners hear in their souls: “How can you possibly endure such a life for the seventy years you still have to live?” Even in his abandonment he was wise enough to answer, “You wretch, can you promise me even one hour of life?”
It was the dark night of the soul. Prayer became bleak torment; scruples over possibly unconfessed sins ravaged him. It was a nightmare so awful that he was tempted to suicide. Still continuing his regimen of prayer and penance, he resolved “that he would neither eat nor drink until God came to his rescue . . . and all that week he put nothing in his mouth.”
And the scruples continued.
Then came the day of decision, palpable onslaught of grace, as if his teacher had finally taken him by the shoulders and shaken him. He resolved at that moment, once and for all, that he would never again confess his past sins. And he was, from that moment, unconditionally free.
Then, in a way most of us cannot even imagine, the soul of Ignatius opened to share in the aliveness of God. The most incandescent of these experiences occurred while he was sitting one day on the bank of the river Cardoner. Without seeing any vision, wave after wave of understanding enraptured him, filling him with a union of mind and will with God. It was an experience so intense that “he seemed to himself to be another man, with another mind than that which was his before.”
From that time onward he opened up more to people and took slightly greater pains to make himself agreeable to them. For this reason, after he had finally collapsed from his excessive fasting and penance, he cheerfully left behind him his more rigorous self-torments along with his outlandish clothes, his long hair, his long nails. It was not much, but it was a great advance on the sackcloth and a great advance in his spiritual growth.
The Spiritual Exercises
During this crucial period of his life, Ignatius began to sketch the lines of a little book by which others could attain the insights and freedom he had achieved without repeating his near-fatal mistakes. He envisioned a retreatant and his director working step-by-step through four weeks of meditations and contemplations in order to bring the retreatant to a freedom of vision where he could see God’s will without his own fears or selfishness getting in the way.
Its basic premise, repeated over and over, is that growth in aliveness of the spirit is made only in proportion to the surrender of self-centeredness; there is only one Center. Over four weeks the retreatant ponders the purpose and fulfillment of human life and the sin which prevents it. He ponders Christ living human life to its fullest, loving his brothers and sisters even to the ultimate sacrifice of himself. He ponders Christ’s sacrifice of himself leading to the resurrection of a new self born free of time and space, free of selfishness and death, free to love.
Every Jesuit described in the pages which follow made the thirty-day long retreat in his noviceship, before his first vows. If any one factor is common bedrock to every Jesuit, it is the union of vision and practicality embodied in the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius Loyola.
No matter how different their lives were on the surface, each Jesuit based his life and work on the same principle and foundation: we were created to praise and serve God and by this means to save our souls, and in serving God we use all the other things on the face of the earth, sickness or health, wealth or poverty, honor or dishonor, insofar as they help toward the goal and avoid them insofar as they hinder it. With serene freedom we are to follow the paradoxical King, poor, generous, and loving, out into the world to spread the good news of the kingdom that has come.
It can be summed up in the sentence Ignatius spoke to his men going to the missions: “Go and set the world on fire!”
The Spiritual Exercises are the core of Jesuit training; and, along with its educational enterprises, they are the chief instrument of the Society’s mission in the Church. But describing them to someone who has not made them is as inadequate as describing to someone who has never experienced it the liberating servitude of falling in love.
Toward the end of February 1523 Ignatius left Manresa for the Holy Land blissfully indifferent to the fact that he hadn’t a single peso to his name. God wanted him to go to Palestine, and neither hell nor foul weather nor pirates nor Turks nor starvation was going to stop him. And on the way they all had a try at him.
But for nineteen memorable days he trudged from Holy Sepulcher to River Jordan, from Bethlehem to the Mount of Olives. Father Brodrick called him “this colossal tramp.” With an idealism and determination one begins to expect, Ignatius made up his mind to stay in the Holy Land the rest of his days and convert the Turks. But the Franciscan superior there, fearing what a newly converted fanatic could do to uneasy relations with the Moslems, vetoed his plan in no uncertain terms. This was enough for Ignatius. If working in the Holy Land was his plan and not God’s, he’d work elsewhere. So he boarded a ship at Joppa for a three-month voyage back to Europe.
Ever since Manresa Ignatius had felt a restless need to help other men and women fulfill their lives. Since the Holy Land was behind him, he focused his enthusiasm on a resolution to study for the priesthood, a pilgrimage less dramatic than his trip to the Mideast but far more taxing. It was to be a journey of ten years.
Ignatius could already read and write, no small achievement for a nobleman of that time. Less than five percent of the adults at that time had an education equivalent to that of a seven-year-old today. But Ignatius knew no Latin. So at the age of thirty-three, the ex-caballero buckled his knees under desks alongside little boys and laboriously ground out Latin declensions for two years. Along with Saul of Tarsus and Augustine of Hippo, Ignatius of Loyola was definitely a delayed vocation.
From Barcelona he went to the universities of Alcala, Salamanca, and Paris. He begged his food, spent hours in prayer, and taught others to pray. He preached and discussed the Christian life. He was hauled in and out of jails as the Inquisition tested his teaching and found it orthodox. And all the while he was learning, even by making mistakes.
For instance at Alcala students could begin their studies at any stage they wished and were free to attend any lectures and take any courses they wanted. So Ignatius, a man in a hurry, took everything at once: scripture, literature, theology, and philosophy. After a year’s work, he had nothing but a skullful of undigested ideas.
Ignatius also came to realize that although man does not live by bread alone, neither can he live without it. And yet if he spent long hours begging for tuition and food, he had no time to study or to pray. So he devised a schedule whereby he spent his summer vacations each year begging enough alms for the following term.
Although he was able to complete his master’s degree in philosophy at Paris at age forty-three, theology ultimately defeated him. His earlier penances and his unremitting activity decisively broke his health so that he was never able to complete his theological studies for the doctorate. He tells us in his autobiography (told in the third person): “At this time in Paris, he was suffering a great deal from his stomach. Every two weeks he was in agony for a full hour, and this brought on a fever. On one occasion, the pain lasted sixteen or seventeen hours continuously. By the time he was finished with his course of arts and studying theology, the malady became progressively worse, and he could find no relief for it, though he tried many remedies.”
For thirty years until his death Ignatius suffered this way. After embalming his body, the doctor wrote: “I extracted with my own hands almost numberless stones of various colors found in the kidneys, the lungs, the liver and the portal vein.”
The bitter results of his uncritical enthusiasm gave birth to a realistic wisdom which still saves thousands of men trained in his Society from the same excesses: The course of a Jesuit’s studies must progress step-by-step from grammar through theology. The main task for Jesuit students is to study —other men can beg for them. A primary responsibility of every superior is to ensure that no Jesuit is allowed to study or even to pray so much that his health is damaged.
“By making mistakes, I learned not to make mistakes.”
The Society of Jesus
During these ten years of study Ignatius gave the Spiritual Exercises to a number of his fellow students. The first was his tutor and roommate in Paris, Pierre Favre, who confided in the older man the anguish of his scruples, his temptations and the confusion he felt over what to do with his life. He was within months of priesthood but couldn’t be sure it was the right step. He had come to an expert, and after a month making the Exercises with Ignatius, Favre was ordained a priest in May 1534.
Favre’s other roommate, Francis Xavier, was another matter entirely. He was the youngest son of an impoverished nobleman who had died when Francis was still a child. Xavier had an iron determination to repair the damage to his family’s fortunes. He didn’t like Ignatius. The man who had moved in on them was fifteen years older, seedy, always sneaking in pious talk, and criticizing Xavier’s inability to hang onto his money. What was worse, the man actually begged in the streets!
As Xavier’s students began to grow in number and friends tactfully slipped him gifts to tide him over, he began to feel that his fortunes were on the rise. Then he found that both the students and the money had been sent indirectly by the cripple who panhandled in the streets. Finally, Francis began to be perplexed, to wonder, to soften, and, in the end, he made the Exercises. Instead of being a wealthy patron Xavier was to become the patron of missionaries. Ignatius himself said that Xavier was the toughest dough he ever had to knead. But Ignatius with his mind made up was a formidable kneader.
There were other men who made the Exercises too, but they later proved to be more focused on their own enthusiasm than on seeking the will of God, and Ignatius wished them well. But seven proved unshakable: Ignatius, Favre, Xavier, Simon Rodriguez, Diego Laynez, Alonso Salmeron, and Nicholas Bobadilla. Hour after hour they debated what God wanted of them with no idea that they might be making history.
Finally they decided to take three vows: poverty, chastity, and a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. If the pilgrimage were to prove impossible, they would go to Rome and offer themselves to the pope for . . . whatever. On the feast of the Assumption 1534 they left the Latin Quarter of Paris in the morning and Pierre Favre, their only priest, said Mass for them in the crypt chapel of St. Denis on Montmartre. At the Communion he turned with the host in his hands and each one in turn pronounced his vows. It was a moment of “unspeakable wonder” which none of them was ever to forget.
During the following months, through Favre’s direction of the Exercises, three more joined the little company, Claude le Jay, Paschase Broet, and Jean Cordure. Now ten, they traveled to Venice to wait for a ship to the Holy Land and the blessing of the Holy Father on their pilgrimage. As the months passed by, one by one they were all ordained priests. But as wars around the Mediterranean postponed their passage again and again, the wait stretched out for two and a half years. They were not, however, sitting on the dock looking out to sea. By twos, they fanned out around the Italian countryside preaching, hearing confessions, giving the Exercises, working in hospitals, lecturing in scripture and theology, sheltering and feeding victims of the plague. Their reputation grew so rapidly that the pope called on them to settle disputes and take on the reform of monasteries.
Finally, as the will of God regarding Jerusalem gradually became obvious, the group met to decide their future. Should they preserve their union by taking a vow of obedience to one of their number who would keep them together and supervise the training of the new men? Or would that union shackle the freedom and mobility which was their greatest value? After weeks of talk and prayer, they decided to petition the pope to let them become a religious order, but with strong differences.
The group would be primarily apostolic, not secluded in a monastery but out in the streets serving God by serving God’s people. They would take a separate vow to go anywhere the pope chose, singly or all together. By their vow of poverty they would give up any right to own property, and they would refuse all offers of honor such as becoming bishops or cardinals unless expressly commanded by the pope. Rather than participative decision making by elected chapters, the general’s word would be final in any dispute. Finally, to preserve flexibility, they would not chant the Divine Office in common as all other religious communities did.
Rome moves like the tortoise and the snail. For another year of suspense they waited. But when Ignatius was convinced he knew God’s will, he was unstoppable. To counter the objections of some cardinals, especially to the omission of singing the Office, the ten Jesuits who were priests offered three hundred Masses apiece to soften the curial hearts. They sought letters from anyone of influence who had seen their work in Lisbon, in Ferrara, Parma, Bologna, Siena. At last on September 27, 1540, Pope Paul III made the Society of Jesus a reality with the bull Regimini Militantis Ecclesiae.
During the Lent of the following year, over his agonized protests, Ignatius Loyola at the age of fifty was unanimously elected the first general of the Society of Jesus.
The Early Years
In 1540 there were ten Jesuits. Sixteen years later when Ignatius died there were a thousand.
Like Johnny Appleseed, the Jesuits seemed to be everywhere at once stirring life wherever they went and rousing the interest of young men across Europe to become Jesuits. Broet was off to Siena giving retreats to university students. Le Jay settled a feud in Bognorea. Bobadilla went to Ischia; Salmeron and Broet to Ireland; Favre and Le Jay to Germany. Laynez and Salmeron became most influential experts at the Council of Trent.
They were everywhere. Spreading aliveness. And they were busy. Le Jay wrote, “At present, I cannot get away from the church until midnight. On some mornings I find that they have scaled the walls and are actually settled inside my house waiting to go to confession.”
For the last four hundred years Jesuits have hardly unpacked their suitcases in any new field before they’ve started a school. Sombody once said that if two of them arrive in a new town in the morning, one of them has founded a high school by noon and the other has a college going before dark. And then they both teach in the night school after dinner.
It wasn’t always that way. At first Ignatius feared schools because buildings tied men down. But he gradually came to see that if you want to set the world on fire, you have to begin with youth who are still pliable, before they are tempted to settle for a comfortable mediocrity.
From the very beginning, of course, education in the sense of preaching and teaching Christian doctrine had been a part of the Society. But it had been a hit-and-run operation, two weeks here, three months there. Now, as the vocations flowed in, there was a large number of men whose studies forced them to stay a long while in one place. Within the first four years, Ignatius had set up residences in seven university towns so that the scholastics could attend classes. But Ignatius, whose own educational experience had taught him as much about the learning process itself as about books, wanted a place which would respect the different capacities of individuals and would lead each one at his own pace from literature through theology.
Consequently in 1545 Francis Borgia set up a college at Gandia in Spain exclusively for the training of Jesuits. Its reputation ran like wildfire and lay students begged to be allowed to attend the same classes. Ignatius agreed. It was a momentous decision. Within eight years the Society was running thirtythree schools.
The second major work of the Society, which actually began even before it was a religious order, was service in the foreign missions. As we will see over and over in the following pages, men branched out across the globe heedless of poverty, tempests, strange languages, and even treacherous Catholics. They vowed to go anywhere God called, and that call seemed everywhere. Within the first sixteen years there were Jesuits in India, Japan, the East Indies, Brazil, the Congo, and Ethiopia. Today, there are over five thousand Jesuits in missionary stations all over the world.
Ignatius had been elected general against his will. For fifty years he had been on the move as a soldier, a pilgrim, an apostle. Even as a student he had been a beggar and a preacher. Uprootedness had been his natural state for half a century. But for the last sixteen years of his life because someone had to do it and because God had clearly chosen him for the job, the old fire-eater sat at a desk.
In those sixteen years he wrote six thousand letters, screened all applicants to the Society, opened homes for orphans and reformed prostitutes, but most important he carved out and fought for the Constitutions of the Society of Jesus. This document focused all the idealism of the Exercises into concrete activities and policies for admission,
expulsion, intellectual and spiritual formation, the structure of the Order, the union among the members. And in all this he struggled to avoid the sterile rigidity that rule books invariably encourage. The Order had to be adaptable to any country or century. And so throughout the Constitutions is the constant refrain “according to what the intention of the Holy Spirit will suggest” and “always considering differing persons, places and times” and “according to what seems expedient.” To Oliver Manare he wrote, “Man gives the orders, but God alone gives discernment. In the future I want you to act without scruple, according to what you judge the circumstances require, without regard to rules and prescriptions.” Concerning the Exercises he wrote, “There is no error more pernicious among masters of the spiritual life than desiring to govern others by themselves, thinking that what is good for them is good for all.”
The Constitutions were written to organize a group of men as prayerful as monks, as shrewd as pawnbrokers, and as different from one another as lions and lambs. The core of that unlikely union is, as in the Exercises and the Gospels, surrender of self for others. The Jesuit finds his own sanctification precisely in his self-forgetful work for the sanctification of everyone else. Even poverty, chastity, and obedience are primarily for others, to free the Jesuit to help. The conquest of self-centeredness aims at making the self a more flexible instrument in God’s care for his children. It took some screening to separate s uch unusual men from the novelty seekers, the escapists, and the self-improvers. At first Ignatius accepted anyone who showed up. But again by making mistakes he learned that “If there is one thing that makes me want to live longer, it is to be able to make it more difficult for candidates to enter the Society.” His chief test was whether a man could accept the scorn of the world and the poverty of Christ without losing his own conviction and joy. If the man was not yet that heroic, Ignatius asked if at least he had the desire to achieve that spirit.
By 1556 the sickness which had plagued Ignatius for years became worse. He had fits of shivering and fever and he often couldn’t get up for days at a time. He moved to the house of scholastics in Rome and seemed to rally a bit. But resting was not his style. He had said long before, “The workers of the Society should have only one foot touching the earth, the other always raised to begin a journey.” On July 31, 1556, between six and six-thirty in the morning the colossal tramp of Loyola began his last pilgrimage.
St. Ignatius is often pictured by men who know him very little as a stern man of iron will and their descriptions of him bristle with military metaphors. Nothing could be further from the truth. A story told by one of his novices, Pedro Ribadeneira, may serve as an example.
Since our Father was not eloquent, but unskilled in speech, and especially since he had studied the Italian language but little, I though only a boy, admonished this holy old man that there were many mistakes in his speech, many things which should be corrected because he gave them Spanish rather than Italian forms. “Good!” he said, “take note if any mistakes occur and correct me.”
So the next day I began to observe our Father while he spoke, and to note down in writing any foreign words, incorrect pronunciations, and so on, in order not to forget them. But when I saw that not one or other word but the whole sermon would have to be changed, I despaired of any improvement and stopped taking notes and told our Father what had happened. And he said, “Well, Pedro, what shall we do for God?”
This is all the more wonderful since at that time I was a boy of scarcely fourteen. . . . But I recall one day he concluded a sermon by saying, “Amar a Dio, con todo el core, con toda l’anima, con toda la voluntad . . .” a mixture of Spanish and Italian, but saying it with such force and fervor that his face seemed to glow. And sinners flocked to confession.
But how did this reputedly humble soul so often manage to get his own way? I suspect it may have been a personality factor he shared with Pope John XXIII, another simple man who set another whirlwind loose in the Church. The humilitystrength contradiction is only apparent. Radical unselfishness leaves a man utterly free inside, free of preconceived ideas, free of fear, free of the opinions of others. It leaves a man amazingly able to adapt to the unforeseen and amazingly alive to the call of God from whatever quarter that call might come.
Like the prophets of the Old Testament, like Jesus himself, Ignatius was the executor of a cause which took possession of his mind. What appears as obstinacy is more really a loyal obedience to the inspirations of a King whose choices are unquestioned because they are beyond question.
The legacy of Ignatius was not a gift but a challenge: to serve God with unrelenting freedom, even from oneself