Friday, January 27, 2006

Being a Jesuit in today's Church.

Mark Mossa has an excellent post up commenting on the role that the Society of Jesus plays in ideological squabbles among Catholics. Mark starts out by giving examples of the positive and negative reactions he receives when people (Catholics in particular) find out that he's a Jesuit. Commenting on these reactions, Mark writes:
These are two extremes. It seems sometimes that when it comes to Jesuits, people either love us or they hate us. The difference I find is that the people who love us, in most cases, do so because they have had good, personal encounters with Jesuits. As for the people that hate us, some have had a bad experience with a Jesuit, but some have just jumped on the bandwagon. There seems to be a rule in some quarters that if you are striving to be an orthodox Catholic, you have to hate the Jesuits. There's a strange sense of solidarity that comes with having a common "enemy."

But as with any prejudice, there are many who will say mean-spirited things about the group as a whole, but when challenged they will allow, "I didn't really mean all Jesuits. Hey, I even have friends who are Jesuits." This, then, serves as permission to continue to malign the group as a whole.
Though I've only been in the Society for a year and a half, Mark's words have a great deal of resonance for me. Most people I encounter express strong support for my vocation, often in part because of the positive impact that individual Jesuits have had on their lives. Echoing Mark's observations, I've found that people I encounter who have bad things to say about the Society often base their opinions on secondhand information or seek to defend their views with statements of the "I even have friends who are Jesuits" variety.

For me, it's hard not to take criticism of the Society personally, especially when that criticism is unfair. It's particularly hurtful to hear people suggest that the Jesuits are 'a dying order' or one that is becoming irrelevant - both of these claims are false, and furthermore both seem to implicitly condemn the commitment that I and my brothers in the Society have made. Hurtful, too, were the words of some of my Catholic friends when I told them I was entering the Society. Though most of my friends supported me, a few were tepid or even bemused in their reactions. If I were joining another religious community, I sensed, they would have been much more supportive. Some Catholics, I've learned, have a very restrictive vision of what religious life is - they expect everyone who joins a religious order to share the same attitudes and observe the same practices. They seem to believe that religious orders that don't align with their own narrow conceptions simply should not exist.

As discouraging as some criticism of the Jesuits can be, I'm happy to report that I receive many more positive responses than negative ones. Here, too, my experiences have been similar to those Mark reports: "People are very pleased to meet a young man who has chosen to serve God and the Church as a priest. Most don't care that I'm a Jesuit, some don't even know what a Jesuit is. They are very supportive, especially when I share with them who I am and why I have chosen the life I have." I love being a Jesuit novice, and the support and encouragement I've received from many quarters has been a great blessing. Being a Companion of Jesus, a member of a group every bit as committed and flawed as the Apostles, is itself a joy and a blessing. There's nowhere I'd rather be, and no group I'd rather be a part of. AMDG.


At January 27, 2006 2:53 PM, Blogger Mark Mossa, SJ said...

Well said, Mr. Koczera!

Hope your experiment is going well!



At January 27, 2006 5:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bravo...excellent comments. It's inspiring to hear a young man on long-experiment embrace his vocation.

I wish you the best and hope that the your vigor and enthusiam doesn't wash out after years of tedious and vapid community meetings coupled with exotic personalities that only Ringling Brothers could dream up.

Not to mention, the endless Omenas where the main topics of conversation are the wine selection and/or the best place to find a good hairdresser.

Best wishes...

At January 28, 2006 12:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I, for one, find reading about your journey uplifting and inspiring. Thanks for sharing it via this blog. But if the Jesuits are indeed not "a dying order" or "becoming irrelevant," why should such such comments phase you?

At January 30, 2006 4:37 PM, Blogger Joseph Koczera, S.J. said...

Anon -

The talk about the Jesuits "dying out" or "becoming irrelevant" is discouraging because of what it says about the people who make such comments. Talk like that seems to suggest wishful thinking on the part of people who believe that all religious orders should be cut from the same cloth and who don't wish to make a place in the Church for orders that don't accord with their own vision of what religious life should be. To dismiss one's opponents by suggesting they will or should disappear is uncharitable and disrespectful, to say the very least.


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