Skip to comments.backs to the future (reflections on new Superior General for the Jesuits)
Posted on 01/22/2008 10:11:36 AM PST by NYer
In terms of his theology, the Spanish-born Jesuit came of age in the early 1970s, but his academic pursuits, unlike Ratzinger's, gave way to work in formation and administration, and the theological jargon of the 1970s remains audible in those of Nicolás's homilies and interviews available on the Web.
Bouncing around the blogs and the GC-35 website, I'm struck by how often the Jesuit electors mention former General Pedro Arrupe (1965-1983) in congratulating themselves on the election of Nicolás. The symbolic connection was clearly important to them: both Arrupe and Nicolás came from Spain and both had worked extensively in Japan. But the world has changed since Arrupe was elected in 1965, and it's odd that Jesuit would think Arrupe's abilities would answer to today's problems. Yet, just as many lay Boomers are drawn to "reunion concerts" given by pop musicians whose heyday was in the 1960s and 1970s, by their own account the Jesuit electors were moved by a sentimental attachment to the bygone Arrupe years in their emblematic choice of a General. In fact Nicolás seems to have been summoned to do an Arrupe Nostalgia Tour.
This is not to say that Fr. Nicolás will be disposed to play the role sentiment has projected upon him. He may have his own ideas about his generalship. He is described as a progressive and a man who believes Roman Catholics have "much to learn from Asia," but this tells us almost nothing. His Asian experience includes the Philippines, which is a "developing" country with robust Catholicism and a robust birthrate, and it includes as well Japan, which exhibits all the ills of prosperous secularism and is locked into a demographic death spiral scarcely less dramatic than the Jesuits' own. So what do we Catholics need to learn, and which Asians will be commissioned to teach us? Will the Filipino culture of life be held up for our emulation, or will we be coached in the Japanese art of decorous suicide? One suspects that, as often, the wisdom of the orient will be tailored by what our fellow Westerners are keen to thrust upon us.
As an institution, the Society of Jesus is confronting problems that are more "Japanese" in nature than "Filipino." A photo of a Mass celebrated by the electors last Friday provides an emblematic illustration of the order's bewilderment: we see a single vested celebrant at the altar, with all the other priests scattered in the pews, not concelebrating but garbed as laymen in corduroy and cardigans. Hesitations about the purpose and the value of priesthood, along with uncertainty about the connection of priesthood to Christ, have contributed to the fuzzy sense of Jesuit identity and that eerie feel of detachment from the Church to which both Cardinal Rodé and Pope Benedict alluded in their communications to the delegates. It seems unlikely that a septuagenarian Arrupe Impersonator would be able to confront the real difficulties. It remains to be seen whether Nicolás will abide by the script or will be his own man.
A sad commentary.
Much of the more amused commentary on the Spanish blogs has been about what Nicolas was wearing in his first public photo. A lap robe? A poncho? An airplane blanket? They decided he was just cold and had grabbed the first thing he could find.
More disturbing are other things I have read. Nicolas was perceived by the “progressive” Jesuits as a stealth candidate, and apparently a genuine effort was made to keep his name from appearing at all in advance public speculations on the election. He is seen by them as taking up where Arrupe left off and being appointed, essentially, to oppose Rome. All the lefty Catholic blogs are hopping up and down with joy about this.
Of course, since it was under Arrupe that the order dwindled so much and so rapidly that it almost ceased to exist, perhaps this will be a self-limiting condition. What the Nicolas crowd seems determined to ignore is that heterodoxy attracts no one, and their order will thus continue to shrink and become increasingly meaningless.
A number of formerly Jesuit schools in Spain are no longer operated by or even affiliated with the Jesuits, simply because there are no longer enough Jesuits to provide even a symbolically Jesuit stamp to the school. If Nicolas follows Arrupe - which I think he will do, although less combatively and more as a sort groovy preacher of Asian fusion/syncretist heterdoxy - the order is effectively dead.
I think Diogenes makes a good point when he asks, “Which Asia?”
If the Church needs to learn from Asia, does that mean I have to brush up on my Shinto, or does it mean that on Good Friday there’s going to be a procession out in the streets with a bloody Jesus walking by?
The greatness of the heyday Jesuits was that they could translate personal faith into popular devotions. That is the ultimate in “social consciousness” and helps build a kingdom of Christ. It also takes smarts. We’ll see if Nicolas has them.
I used to pray the Jesuits would once again become Catholic. Now I would be happy if they would at least become Christian.
During Sunday Mass I felt a urge to pray for the order.
Lord may the Society of Jesus once more remember their founder’s loyalty to the Pope. May they remember their mission to declare your glory to all the world. May they never be ashamed of the Cross and Him crucified. Amen
Thank you for the feedback from the Spanish blogs. Just curious - anyone know how the Jesuit vocations stand? Do the blogs make any mention of attraction to the Jesuit order?
They need more than a Sunday prayer; it should be daily. Pray to their founder and ask for his intervention.
Oh the prayer is continuous. Sorry I did not leave that impression.
I cannot view the picture of the Mass, something wrong with my computer, would it be simple for someone to post it on here? Thanks, if possible.