Looking For Ignatian Threads

Katherine asked about America‘s interview with R. R. Reno, theologian, editor, and occasional culture warrior.

I realize there is little sympathy here for this writer; I’m interested in the accuracy of his reading of Jesuits.

He is a brother Catholic, so there’s that family link. If I knew the man, I would probably find him to be a great friend. But as an observer of the conservative hermeneutic in the Church, no doubt I find much objectionable not only in his political writing, but his approach to Catholicism.

And yet, the man was a theologian at a Jesuit university for twenty years. Did anything substantial sink it, other than his switch from the Episcopal tradition? Likely so.

The interviewer asked if he had “seen the pope’s “Jesuit side” coming through most strongly in (his) U.S. visit?” Dr Reno responded:

I don’t think it’s come out very strongly in this visit. I think one feature of his papacy is rhetorical extremism; his gestures, like not living in the papal palace, are extreme. I don’t associate poverty with the Society of Jesus anymore, but I do associate extremism—a certain pushing of one’s charism to the limit—with it. And I do see that very strongly in this papacy. I think that’s one reason it has a kind of force to it. Also, the extremism is sometimes dangerous and unworkable. Jesuits go notoriously to the line and sometimes over it.

So after two decades at Creighton, Dr Reno is attuned to Ignatian “extremism.” I think that’s an unfortunate and shallow interpretation. The little dig at poverty, too. First world universities are not a natural setting for the spirit of the poor. They are what they are.

My sense of the Ignatian impulse is more the term magis. And by this, I think the Jesuits mean more, greater, better, higher, and things of a similar vector. When the Jesuits do poverty, they seem to do it without a net. Likewise a lot of endeavors. And sure, this gets dangerous–some Jesuits have died for their full-hearted immersion into their ministry with people. Unworkable? That’s a matter of interpretation. I suppose some conservatives would find some kinds of adventurism to be scary, and by extension, worthy of a certain degree of scorn. I don’t think Saint Ignatius minded this.

Going over the line simply sounds like Jesuits going to the frontiers of the Gospel. Easy enough for some conservatives to browbeat the long-hanging post-Christian fruit in our culture. It’s another thing to push (just plain) evangelization close to where the lines are drawn.

Katherine also asked about Dr Reno’s conclusion:

I think it’s fitting that … I emphasize how important it is that this pope is a Jesuit. That, to me, is the hermeneutical key to this papacy and a testimony to the wisdom of the church for not electing a Jesuit in the past—perhaps also to God’s sense of humor for giving us a Jesuit in the present! But it’s also a testimony to the power of the charism of St. Ignatius that it so distinctively marks the men who are formed in the Society.

No question that Pope Francis is a Jesuit through and through. Those unwilling to learn about Ignatian spirituality will find him and his ministry baffling. I think we can be sure he listens to the Lord in prayer, and he listens to his close advisors. He does not take advice from those who complain, or those who have money, or those in or out of the Church who have an angle. I suspect he listens to them, person to person. But such hearings influence his ministry very little.

This was accurate, I thought:

(T)he charism is really an interiorized trust that enables one to let go of the outward forms to pursue the essential mission of the church.

This, too, though I disagree with it:

To me, that’s why there’s never been a Jesuit pope, because the papacy is primarily an institution of preservation and transmission of the tradition. So this kind of purification and internalization, I think, is at odds with the papal office.

For those who see the office of the Bishop of Rome as part of an institution, this may well be true. But the question for the Church, the papacy, and the world is this: what sort of pope is needed to further the mission of Jesus Christ, especially when the Lord’s mission is at odds with aspects of the institution?

So Francis is exemplifying the end goal of the Christian life and the danger is that Jesuits often neglect the ordinary means by which people often enter into the Christian life.

Some Jesuits, perhaps. But the notion that Ignatian spirituality neglects the ordinary is just plain silly, to use a theological term.

Good Jesuits and people attuned to Ignatian spirituality look for God and find him in everyday experiences. Not just St. Peter’s in Rome, on a throne. Not just on a monastery bench. Not even exclusively in front of a sunset or under a tree. But everywhere.

What Pope Francis notices as he walks through the Vatican hotel or offices or stairways is as likely to show him something of the Lord as a passage in Kasper or Rahner or Francis of Assisi. How is that significant? It’s how the rest of us should be doing it, too.

It’s too bad so many conservatives have soured on the pope. These past few years have been a marvelous opportunity to explore the distinctive spirituality Saint Ignatius and his followers have given the Church. Making an Ignatian retreat and finding an Ignatian-trained spiritual director would be two of the best things a “confused” Catholic could do right about now.

Ultimately, the important thing isn’t to understand a pope. But to understand the Lord, his call, and his relationship with me (or any of us). Ignatian spirituality offers the best tool I know.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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2 Responses to Looking For Ignatian Threads

  1. Melody says:

    Those darned Jesuits, always pushing the envelope. Everybody knows popes aren’t supposed to push the envelope, because they’re all about “..presevation and transmission of tradition.” Making Prof. Reno a little nervous, isn’t it.

  2. snjsteve says:

    As I listened to the papal addresses a couple of weeks ago, I was struck with how the notion of themagis permeated his talks.
    Francis consistently affirmed the good that existed, and then suggested ways to move beyond the good to the better. Another Jesuit charism he exhibited (preaching the Gospel without using words) was the cura personalis – the care for the person.

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