New Mission for Nicolás

Although some of you might be getting sick of it by now—not to mention that you’ve already read reports far more insightful than this one—I’m obligated to say a few words on the election of the new Jesuit superior general; after all, I am a faithful student of Jesuit education and will be one for… well… who knows how long?

Certainly the election of a new general for the Society of Jesus marks the beginning of a new era. Even though Fr. Adolfo Nicolás is 71-years-old, his appointment to the head of the order will no doubt instill a new sense of youth and zeal into its ranks. The freshly elected Nicolás was formerly a missionary in Japan, and although his time as ‘black pope’ will be spent in Rome, his days of fieldwork will serve him well. Perhaps one of his greatest areas of expertise—at least I hope so, personally—will be in further developing and solidifying the Jesuit approach to missionary work (even in developed countries and on the university level), and in correctly and faithfully approaching the issue of inculturation, which has proved a divisive topic in recent years.

Maybe the most reassuring thing about the election of Fr. Nicolás as superior, especially for those of us non-Jesuits, is the fact that his election occurred only with the approval of Pope Benedict XVI. Obviously a firm defender of the faith, the Holy Father’s stamp of approval should reassure us all of the choice made by the electors last Saturday. One of the primary concerns raised in the opening days of the General Congregation by the papal legate, Cardinal Franc Rode, was a “sadness and anxiety” caused by the Jesuits’ “growing distancing from the hierarchy.” The Cardinal went on to say that the “Ignatian spirituality of apostolic service ‘under the Roman Pontiff’ does not allow for this separation.” Indeed, the thoughts expressed in this address were surely those of the Holy Father as well, which again leads me to believe that his approval of Nicolás was not uneducated or hasty. He knows what is necessary for the Society to flourish.

One of the main focuses at most Jesuit institutions—and something they do quite passionately—is the battle for social justice. Father Adolfo knows this work well, especially due to his missionary background, and there is no era more in need of this endeavor than our current age. Not only does our society struggle with offering justice to all, but perhaps more dangerously, it struggles with offering justice in a manner that is truly Christian and ultimately acceptable; only an authentic, meaningful justice is one worth having, and there is no better day to reflect on that than today, the anniversary of the Roe vs. Wade decision in the U.S. Supreme Court. Father Nicolás’ work will be cut out for him in this area, and we ought to pray that his example will set a trend of faithful adherence to the magisterial teachings of the Holy Catholic Church, which alone promote the true end of injustice in the saving acknowledgment of Jesus Christ as the one Savior of all mankind.

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    # by A Simple Sinner - January 27, 2008 at 3:56 PM

    I hope that his performance with the shrinking society will be better than his track record with the Japanese Mission (cultural encounter).

    I hope the Society does what it takes to change their current trajectory and begin to think (and grow) with the Church again.

    I say this as an alumnus of Jesuit education myself.

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    # by Andrew Haines - January 27, 2008 at 5:52 PM

    I think that anyone with sense would agree with you, particularly on the point that the Jesuits need to review their own 'trajectory' and consider how they can once again move closer to the magisterium.

    In a conversation I had with a Jesuit father who was an elector at the Congregation, this topic came up and I asked him what he saw as the key to it all. On one hand, he agreed that something needs to be done, but on the other he did make me realize that it really is the outlying one or two problem-causers that generally make the press. That's not to say that the problem isn't widespread of this or that theologian dissenting from magisterial doctrine, however the cases are much fewer and farther between than some would let on.

    If you think about it--and this is what he told me, too--if you have enough priests doing theology for a living, someone is bound to cross the line sometime; that's just the nature of the beast. For all the bad press they take, there's no doubt that even the Holy Father treasures the Jesuit vocation to theological work (which he even expressed in his letter to the Congregation a few weeks back). The Society needs to work on staying within the lines, but we need to be willing to cut them some slack (which, as a seminarian, I assure you is not a common sentiment). In my mind, an authentic renewal of theological discipline within any religious order can only come through a positive, Christo-centric approach to study; anything resembling the "I-have-to-do-something-radical-so-I-will-be-silenced-by-the-Church" model of years gone by is not what we need.

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    # by A Simple Sinner - January 27, 2008 at 11:22 PM

    "On one hand, he agreed that something needs to be done, but on the other he did make me realize that it really is the outlying one or two problem-causers that generally make the press."

    That is fair enough if we were just talking about the bad press. There is, howerver, a distinctive sub-culture in many areas that is not getting any press, bad or otherwise.

    What I got taught in HS at a Jesuit institution comes to mind. If only I had some of the lectures I heard there on tape - they would be hard to believe.

    I wish them well, and hope the day comes soon when they really recapture some of their missionary zeal and a spirity of fraternity and loyalty to the Magisterium. It can certainly be found in some circles, I grant. But I not widely enough.

    Of course in Asia and parts of Africa and Latin America their novitiates are full. Who knows what the future holds?

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    # by Andrew Haines - January 28, 2008 at 7:55 PM

    The comment was with regard to the media coverage. The issue of widespread dissent in many universities is another. My own undergraduate education was likewise laced with much unorthodox yet "Catholic" teaching, which I look back on with disappointment. This is not an uncommon problem.

    This same priest--who works at a Jesuit university in the States and is a solid member of the Society himself--offered a thought on that topic too. It seems, he says, that perhaps the bishops in some dioceses need to make a more active attempt to truly act as the primary pastor and theologian for the diocese; in other words, get involved in the goings-on of the local university. In dioceses where this is the case, the outlook appears better than elsewhere. One great example of a Jesuit institution on the right track that I know is Spring Hill College in Mobile, Alabama. Lo and behold, the bishop of Mobile is involved. Seems to be a good model...