Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Society of Jesus: A Definition of "Obedience"

The last of the vows is “obedience to the pope?” When we asked the head of a Jesuit theology department if the teachers were loyal to the magesterium he laughed. It was probably the most ridiculous idea he’d heard in a while (from his point of view). Of course they weren’t. That would limit their freedom…

I guess it all comes down to definitions again (and apparently few of our definitions match up). It would only limit their “freedom” if you define “freedom” as doing whatever you want, whenever you want. Using that definition we all have to admit that none of us are truly free. Freedom becomes an impossibility… more than that, it becomes an obstacle to something greater than a mentality that lets us “do whatever we want.”

Whenever I start to think about freedom this quote from Kahil Gibran inevitably comes to mind:
“…I have seen the freest among you wear their freedom as a yoke and a handcuff. And my heart bled within me; for you can only be free when even the desire of seeking freedom becomes a harness to you, and when you cease to speak of freedom as a goal and a fulfillment.”
Yet when you realize that true freedom can only be found in Christ, things begin to look a little different.

St. Ignatius of Loyola understood this when he vowed absolute obedience to the Pope. As I read about the two-month General Congregation meeting of the Society of Jesus that took place two years ago, I can’t help but think that the Jesuits have lost some part of that understanding.

A month before the meeting began Pope Benedict wrote to the order saying:

“I heartily hope that the present Congregation affirms with clarity the authentic charism of the founder so as to encourage all Jesuits to promote true and healthy Catholic doctrine.”

The response?

Fr. Adolfo Nicolas, the Superior General of the order (who blamed reporters for causing an “artificial tension between the Jesuits and the Pope) said that the Jesuit tradition of obedience never stopped them “in their theological research or in their way of living the Christian faith.”

That doesn’t really answer the Pope’s statement, does it? It’s something of a non-answer. Almost like claiming that they’d been doing the right thing all along.

Fr. Carlo Casalone said “In reality, obedience understood as uncritical obedience to the will of another is not a virtue.” Instead he explained that obedience is “seeking the will of God together with another person, that is, seeking the good to be done.”

You may want to re-read that last definition of “obedience.” Do you think that’s what St. Ignatius of Loyola meant when he vowed obedience? Is that what his own rule for his order states? Clearly it isn’t. But it shows how vows can be reinterpreted (and even twisted).

I’m not arguing that critical thinking is a bad thing. But when I seek an answer to a question that I have, and I come up with an answer that is contrary to a teaching of the Church (which actually hasn’t happened in a couple years) I am not so proud as to think that I must be right. Usually this quote comes to mind:
Matthew 16: 18-20

Or (in English)…
That thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose upon earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven.
And I can’t help ask myself if God has ever promised that the gates of Hell won’t prevail against my own personal opinions or conclusions? Nope, I can’t say that that has happened. But I’m sure Fr. Casalone could come up with another definition of what Jesus meant when he said that, to explain why the Jesuits can redefine their vows and their relationship to the Church.

The order seems to be expert at coming up with new definitions.

(Traditional Painting by Pietro Perugino from Wikipedia)

1 comment:

  1. Phew! You GO, girl! The Church can use all the good converts it can get to whip us all into shape.


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