Pope Francis is the first Jesuit to head the Catholic Church. Since his election, people both within and outside the church have asked me these question, “Who are the Jesuits?” “Are you a Jesuit?”
I will try to clarify any confusion.
I am not a Jesuit. I am a diocesan priest, which means I minister within the diocese of Houma-Thibodaux under the local bishop’s guidance. Our present bishop is the Most Reverent Shelton Fabre. (I do have a brother who is a Jesuit Brother. He is presently stationed at Jesuit High School in New Orleans. My father taught at Jesuit High School and Loyola University, and our family lived in a Jesuit church parish in New Orleans).
Within the Catholic Church today there are literally thousands of different religious “orders,” “congregations,” “institutes,” “societies” and other groups officially recognized by the Church, not to mention many other local or unofficial communities of believers. Each group has a special emphasis or focus. The Jesuits concentrate on education, the missions and spirituality.
The Society of Jesus (the official name of the Jesuits) was founded by the Basque nobleman, soldier and future saint, Ignatius of Loyola. He dreamed of being a knight in shining armor but was converted to a deep spirituality in 1521 while he was recuperating from a French cannonball wound that mangled his leg. He had nothing else to read except the lives of the saints and the Bible. Despite attracting the interest of the inquisition, the Jesuits secured papal approval in 1540.
St. Ignatius designed the Spiritual Exercises to help us come into contact with God. This would include a prayer, meditation and a reflection that would dispose our hearts and set us free so we can find God’s will in our life. He hoped that people would receive spiritual knowledge, not just intellectual knowledge.
Fr. Gerald Fagin, S.J., in his book “Discovering Your Dream: How Ignatian Spirituality Can Guide Your Life,” summarizes the graces received from the Spiritual Exercises in six sentences.
– We are loved. The most basic truth of Christianity is that we have a God who loves us unconditionally. We are loved at the moment of conception, at every second of existence, from now into eternity. We cannot win God’s love. We can only try to experience God’s love in our own life and try to return that love by living a life of love.
– We are gifted. Everything we have comes from the Giver who gives us life, health, family, talents, friends, opportunities and everything else out of love. Our response is to stand in awe and wonder at the beauty and sacredness of everything, a profound awareness of the presence of God in our lives and in our world.
– We are forgiven. God does not hold our past against us. We all have made a bad judgments and sinned. Only when we claim our sinfulness and stand before God in sorrow can we experience God’s mercy. God is willing to forgive us; we should be willing to forgives ourselves.
– We are called. The heart of the Gospel is a call to discipleship, to follow Jesus. Jesus call is for every Christian. We are called to live out the Gospel values in our lives as committed Christians in our families, our schools, our workplace and in our community.
– We are invited. Ignatius asks us to pray for these graces: to know Jesus more intimately, to love him more deeply, and to follow him more closely. If we do this, we will hear his invitation to friendship.
– We are sent. Our baptism commissions us to carry on the ministry of Jesus, to love and serve our brothers and sisters. God sends us out to establish God’s kingdom of justice, love and peace.