For some time, I have wanted to articulate part of what I love about the Jesuit way of life. Jesuits are not perfect (nor is anyone or any religious order), but I deeply believe the Society of Jesus (the dream of St. Ignatius of Loyola) is of God. Our former Father General Pedro Arrupe said, "The Jesuit vocation means going directly and radically to the Gospel and living its message fully, generously, and in this historic moment even heroically. It is not an easy life. It is a wonderful vocation. Everything for the greater glory of God: more is not possible."
1. A Life of Prayer: Having an intimate, committed relationship with Jesus Christ is THE foundation of Jesuit life, and it is built in large part by undergoing St. Ignatius’s Spiritual Exercises, a 30 day silent retreat during which Jesuit novices grow in deeper friendship with Jesus, a friendship by which we are strengthened throughout the rest of our Jesuit lives.
2. A Life of Love: While it is true that loneliness is a part of ALL humans’ existence, I have found that the Jesuit life is far from lonely, but rather our life opens us up to receiving and giving chaste, appropriate love in countless ways and with countless persons. Fr. Peter Klink (a Jesuit who has served for decades on an Indian reservation) says that being celibate is about “loving well.” Jesuits are able to live in a love that is universal, generous, and free.
3. A Life of Sacrifice: For all of the joys of Jesuit life, there is no way around the fact that we are seeking to follow Christ, a “man of sorrows” who suffered and died for our sake. Some have linked our 3 vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience to the 3 nails that crucified Him. Yes, this life should cause us some suffering, but it is a redemptive suffering, so that like Jesus (but in our own small ways) we “lay down our lives, so that others may have life.”
4. A Life of Brotherhood: Over 400 years ago, the Society of Jesus was founded by a group of college friends at the University of Paris, and there has been a continuous brotherhood of tens of thousands of Jesuits since then. I have experienced a deep sense of camaraderie, fellowship, and mutual support in the Jesuits, both at home and abroad.
5. A Life of Fun: Yes, you read that right—fun! Although the Jesuits embrace many noble ideals, they are not up-in-the-clouds but rather with-the-people, as was Jesus. Jesus was no doubt a challenging, inspiring, but also FUN person to be with, since even great public sinners were attracted into His company. I have personally had some of the most good-natured but truly FUN times as a Jesuit, with my brothers and with many others.
6. A Life of Mission: To be a Jesuit is to be a man sent on many missions for Christ. This involves a life of near-constant adventure. Pope Benedict XVI recently told the Jesuits, “The Church needs you, counts on you, and continues to turn to you with confidence, particularly to reach the geographical and spiritual places where others do not reach or find it difficult to reach.”
7. A Life of Discernment: Our founder, St. Ignatius, believed that we are often influenced by various “spirits”: some which are good and helpful to our future and others which are bad and destructive to our future. St. Ignatius developed a very useful system of discernment of spirits, and Jesuits internalize these rules so that they can gain greater insight and wisdom into where God is leading them.
8. A Life of Hope: It is amazing how just being a Jesuit helps give many people hope. For many, we are the answers to their prayers for more religious vocations in the Church that they love. One time when I was in clerics at a funeral, an old woman I didn’t even know beamed at me “Oh, I love you.” I don’t think that she necessarily loved me, but she loved what I represent. There is something about our way-of-life through which we are able to remind people of the reality of God in their lives, due to our chosen state of life of poverty, chastity, and obedience.
9. A Life of Service: One of my novice-brothers, when he has to do something he would prefer not to do (such as clean a huge shower room in Peru once), affirms aloud with humor frequently “I am doing this for Christ.” That is not just a pious phrase or a joking reminder—it is the heart of what we are doing. Jesuits are committed to the “service of faith and the promotion of justice.” This involves carrying out the Church’s “preferential option for poor,” serving the most needy directly and advocating on their behalf.
10. A Life of Freedom: Jesuit spirituality is meant to cultivate in a person an interior freedom that enables one to (as in the old saying) “let go and let God.” Jesuits are intended to imitate the angels (albeit as humans), who are always living for God and who are so totally free that at any moment they can respond to the call of God to go where He needs them in the universe.
11. A Life of Living in the Tensions of the World: Our world is clearly complicated, divided, and in need of greater unity. Jesuits carry out a much-needed ministry of reconciliation. Pope Benedict XVI echoed the words of his predecessor Pope Paul VI when he said “Wherever in the Church, even in the most difficult and extreme fields, at the crossroads of ideologies, in the social trenches, there has been and there is confrontation between the burning exigencies of man and the perennial message of the Gospel, here there have been, and there are Jesuits.”
12. A Life of Spiritual Fatherhood: Many (myself included) can have fears that a life of celibacy is a life without children. However, this celibate life involves being a spiritually fatherly presence to countless people, simply by loving, guiding, inspiring, and encouraging them to follow God and receive the eternal life He offers. Archbishop Fulton Sheen said that in the next life he would be asked where his children were. In the Jesuits, we can have a lively hope that we are living a profound spiritual fatherhood in the lives that we influence for God.