|Pombal from Portugal proudly expelling the Jesuits by ship|
Inevitably when I meet a person who I judge to be a “conservative” Catholic, I feel like I am going to be judged as a “liberal” Jesuit. I want to wear a shirt that screams “Trust me! I’m orthodox!” Indeed, I often find myself clarifying that the stereotype of renegade-Jesuit does not apply to my case (or for that matter to many others). Hearing this, the other person sometimes suggests that I can “reform” the Jesuits. There are multiple dimensions to these exchanges. Part of my defensiveness is that I want to have credibility, which in my mind can be lessened by the prejudices in some corners of the Church against Jesuits as being semi-Catholic. On the other hand, I also want to be accepted, respected, and viewed as of value (not danger) to the Church to which I am seeking to give myself. Finally, I want to have that kinship and mutuality with a group of Catholics with whom I have a lot of common ground. Regardless of why I defend myself in the face of stereotypes of the Jesuits, the experience of the Suppression of the Jesuits in the eighteenth century provides an example of the kind of surrender that is needed in order to live Christ’s sacrifice in the midst of turmoil surrounding the Society.
It is striking the amount of loss that Jesuits must have felt when they saw their beloved congregation vanish before their eyes at the hands of the Vatican, which sided with various European powers in deciding that the Jesuits should be suppressed. Jesuits had made some powerful enemies, were misunderstood, and suffered for doing courageous things, such as their work in the missions. When they were suppressed, Jesuits experienced much shame and consternation. In these ways, they were in union with the life of Jesus, the son of God the Creator, who came to earth only to be brutalized by His creatures. The Jesuits, like their Lord, bore this cross with grace. Jesus did not spit back at those who spat upon Him. As Scripture says about the Suffering Servant, “Though he was harshly treated, he submitted and opened not his mouth; Like a lamb led to the slaughter or a sheep before the shearers, he was silent and opened not his mouth.” (Isaiah 53:7, NAB).
Am I living out this mystery of redemptive surrender? Oftentimes I am not, but rather clamoring to clarify matters, more so than bearing this cross of suspicion of the Jesuits. And let us face it; none of us is fully innocent as was Jesus. We all need reform and conversion. Surely some Jesuits have made mis-steps before and after the Suppression. In fact, our General Congregation has embraced the fundamental reality of all Jesuits as “loved sinners.” The chastisements that we face from many areas of the world are a way of “bearing one another’s burdens” as Scripture encourages us to do as the Body of Christ. This can be painful, but that is the nature of sacrificial gift.
Overall, it is amazing to see the way that Providence allowed for the Suppression to occur and for it not to be the permanent end of the Society. In fact, I was surprised to learn that some think that the Suppression enabled the Church to use the Jesuits as a scapegoat to appease European rulers who may have otherwise gone into schism like England did. Thus, Jesuits’ pain was perhaps the gain of unity for the Church. Jesuits who lived in this age suffered tremendously and had to surrender. That could be the only way of getting through such dark times. Yet that was only a phase that was eventually overcome in the light of the Restoration of the Society. By the 1960s, the numbers of Jesuits had surmounted pre-Suppression figures. Perhaps we Jesuits are now in another phase of semi-darkness, as we are suspected and diminished on many fronts, whether from within or without, whether rightly or wrongly. Instead of fighting those who fight us, let us quietly yet boldly keep the good fight as did the Jesuits of the Suppression, all the while surrendering this fight to God.