Just another Jesuit changing the world

By  Fr. Paul Hansen, Catholic Register Special
  • September 13, 2014

Robert Blair Kaiser’s analysis of what makes Pope Francis tick is a wonderful read and to be promoted. But it’s not what I was expecting.

I guess I am so taken up with Pope Francis that I wanted to know more about this Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio who, unexpectedly I am told, became Pope Francis. He is the first Jesuit to do so, which is in-teresting indeed given that a pope suppressed the Jesuits a couple of hundred years ago.

Kaiser was a Jesuit in formation for 10 years before he discerned a path outside the order as an award winning reporter for The New York Times, CBS News, Newsweek and Time. He made his mark during the Second Vatican Council and is excited that Pope Francis is a Jesuit.

His excitement stems from what Kaiser calls “Jesuit DNA.” Jesuits, according to Kaiser, “have an inner compulsion to do more.”

I was expecting to read about the surprising new pope. Instead, I was introduced to Jorge Bergoglio — Pope Francis — using contem-porary and former Jesuits to show how this Jesuit DNA drives them “to get involved in the action and passion of our times. Yes, to change the world.”

Kaiser believes Pope Francis has this DNA and we can see it watching how he greets visitors, celebrates liturgies and welcomes one and all, especially those on the margins. Pope Francis is against clericalism and wants his priests “to have the smell of the sheep on them.”

Kaiser was inspired by the Second Vatican Council. He witnessed its deliberations up close as a journalist. He believes that during the 35 years of the last two popes, John Paul II and Benedict XVI, the vision and the inspira-tion of that council was dampened if not outright ignored. In Pope Francis we now have recovered the council, according to Kaiser. For Kaiser, this is a new era in the life of the Church.

The author tells us the cardinals chose Bergoglio “because he was a Jesuit.” Really! How does he know this? He reports from interviews, one with Cardinal George Pell of Australia, “We got the very best of the traditional Jesuit: faithful to Christ, faithful to the Church, going out to the people on the margins. At its best, I don’t think there is any tradition in the Church to equal that of the Jesuits.”

Being a religious priest myself, I would like to test this comment.

Others would maintain that Bergoglio was chosen because the cardinals, given the recent situation of the Church in the world, wanted someone from a non-European country and one that was not linked in any way to the curia, which needed to be reformed. In fact Pope Francis’ recent Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, is almost word-for-word what he wrote for the recent assembly of Latin American bishops.

Such quibbles aside, the book is an excellent read. I learned much about Jesuit DNA and about Jesuits who were instrumental at the Second Vatican Council. Men like Gustave Weigel, John Courtney Murray, Robert Tucci, Henri de Lubac and Jean Danielu to name but a few. These were great men and contributed immensely, but so did others. It seems that once a Jesuit always a Jesuit, no matter whether one is in or out of the Society of Jesus.

Kaiser illustrates this by naming American ex-Jesuits who have contributed to the betterment of society and the commons for all of us. He names a few — Edmund G. “Jerry” Brown Jr. current governor of California, Robert Mills Holstein a personal injury lawyer, Michael Saso who left the Jesuits to study Taoism and Buddhism, Eugene Bianchi who founded the Emeritus College at Emory University and John Dear, peace activist.

Kaiser notes, “So in singling out the Jesuits, I do not want to denigrate the efforts of all the others.” There is however in his writing some truth to the comment that, “If a Jesuit is not leading the parade, he is not in the parade.”

I highly recommend this book. It is insightful and well worth the effort of a read. Good on Kaiser for bringing it to us.

(Fr. Hansen is a Redemptorist and founder of the Redemptorist Biblical Justice Consultancy.) 

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