Tuesday, July 30, 2013
Readers of the Mirror of Justice may recall that two years ago on the Feast of Saint Ignatius of Loyola I posted at this site a pivotal segment of the Formula of the Institute by which the Society of Jesus was recognized by the Holy See back in the mid-sixteenth century. The link to my previous posting is HERE. A principal reason for posting then was to help readers understand why there is a Society of Jesus. The myths abound, but it is good to know the reality.
Since July of 2011 when I last posted on the subject of the feast, some things relevant to this memorial which the Church celebrates on July 31 and to the role of the Society of Jesus in the world (including the realm of education) have changed—whether for the better or not, I shall leave for another day. But one major change is clear as we have our first Jesuit pope, who is and remains a son of Father Ignatius. In spite of what others may argue or suggest, he remains a Jesuit until he is dismissed from the Society. I do not see any reason to justify this.
Still, I am asked by the curious, the faithful, and the skeptical a similar question: “So, what do you think of the Jesuit pope?” I think the intention underlying this question is to extract my impression of what the pope will do. My fundamental answer is based on the reason why Father Ignatius established a religious institute which was approved by Pope Julius III in 1550 under the Formula of the Institute. Here are some of the critical details that go into the formulation of my answer.
1. A man enters the Society of his own free will—because he desires to serve and follow Christ as a Soldier of God beneath the banner of the Cross. Once a member, regardless of his grade within the order, a Jesuit must continue to serve God and the Church with fidelity. Because he is a soldier, he may well face hostility from those forces pitted against God and the Church, but still he must serve the Triune God and the Church.
2. In particular, the Jesuit’s service to God and the Church is under the direction of the Roman Pontiff or whoever the pope appoints as his delegate. Since the current pope is a Jesuit, it is clear that this pledge of service which follows Pope Francis is not to serve himself personally but to attend with diligence and fidelity the office he holds which necessitates aiding God and the Church in whatever way he can.
3. The pope’s Jesuit service (and this applies to all members of the Society) can manifest itself in a multitude of contexts; however, there is one central objective of the order, i.e., to strive (a strong transitive verb) for two things: (a) the defense and propagation of the Catholic faith, and (b) the progress of souls in Christian life and doctrine. The tenets of the Catholic faith which Jesuits are called to defend and propagate (not sacrifice and frustrate) are revealed by God’s truth and the long history of teachings that the Church has established upon God’s truth. The progression of a person’s Christian life is to be accord with God’s truth as contained in the doctrines the Church has recognized over two thousand years. In this fashion, souls make progress by avoiding sin and seeking Christian virtue.
4. While the particular ministries for achieving the objectives of the Society of Jesus are diverse (education is a principal one), it is clear that another element of what the pope must do is to preserve, protect, and offer vigorously the sacraments of the Church. One of the sacraments is confession (the sacrament of reconciliation). It is through this sacrament that a penitent expresses his or her responsibility for offending God and the neighbor by freely choosing to sin. Yet, sin can be forgiven if the penitent seeks God’s mercy and forgiveness through the Church’s ministers who are competent to offer this sacrament. Pope Francis surely is a member of this group of ministers of this sacrament as he has already demonstrated on numerous occasions.
5. The sacrament of reconciliation is crucial the Church, her members, and the Society of Jesus because, as the Constitutions of the Society of Jesus note, the end of the Society is directed toward the salvation of souls—not only of the subject Jesuit but also of our fellow human beings whom we serve in many ways. The sinner is and must be loved; however, this does not translate into loving the sin as well. To the contrary, the sin must be identified and explanation offered as to why it thwarts God’s plan for human salvation. The reason why salvation is necessary is because of the existence of Original Sin and the commission of our own sins. Sadly, with our free will, sin is not a relic of the past, and this is something that Pope Francis has not forgotten and will continue to teach us even as he continues to reach out to all of us who sin. The sinner is not identified by who he or she is; the sinner is identified by what he or she does; what he or she fails to do; or, what he or she thinks of doing.
So, when the media, Jesuits, Catholics, and anyone else offer opinions about what the pope will do or what he should do, the authentic answer to this and related issues must be viewed through the lens of why the Society of Jesus exists. It does not exist to agree with popular culture; it does not exist to confirm the opinions of any elite; it does not exist to rationalize the license of freedom untethered by the responsibility for the common good and obeying God and His laws which is a duty of all Christians. The Society of Jesus does exist for the salvation of souls and saving the human person from sin. That is what Pope Francis is about because that is what a Jesuit is about.