Saturday, August 30, 2008

"May Day! May Day! Houston, We Have A Problem!"

This photograph was taken at the Jesuit ordination Mass in 1925 at Georgetown University. Please notice the fiddleback vestments of the Traditional Latin Mass and the lay faithful kneeling and awaiting the new ordained Jesuit priests first blessings.
This past summer only 2 Jesuits were ordained into the priesthood in the New York Province and another two Jesuits were ordained in the Maryland Province, that is a 90% decrease in vocations.
There is a serious vocational crisis for the Society in the United States, what can be done about this and what are the causes of this problem? The GC 35 decrees point out the problems and the solutions very clearly, but is the Society in America implementing any of the decrees? In my 15 year walk with the Jesuits, there seems to be two broad categories of Jesuits: the first are for a lack of a better term
"Old School Jesuits" these Jesuits relate to the world through Ignatius' Spiritual Exercises, and the second "New School Jesuits", which tend to relate to the world through Teilhardism and Liberation Theology, they often have a flexible and even a syncranistic interpretation of the Spiritual Exercises.
It is also my experience that the "New School Jesuits" out numbers the "Old School Jesuits" hence, dominate the Ignatian message. You can see this transformation played out in the pages of the Jesuits leading publication America Magazine in the editorial and theological positions of today (Fr. Reece and Fr. Christiansen) verses, say fifty years ago (Fr. Hartnett) , are nearly unrecognizable to each other and even contradictory. It is my opinion that the "New School" Jesuits have diminished the Society's ability to evangelize, making it harder to win for Christ, Catholic converts and new members to the Society of Jesus.

Read the rookie Jesuit priest Fr. Mark Mossa's post entitled, Back in the Day Fr. Mark gives his own read on the 1925 Georgetown picture and Jesuit vocations then and now.


semper fidelis said...

The big numbers of vocations and ordinations continued up to the early 1960s. I honestly believe that many of today's problems have their roots back then. Many religious orders and dioceses became complacent. The big numbers masked a lot of spiritual and intellectual flabbiness.

The Church is not like a secular organization or club; big is not always better! I would like to think that the smaller number of vocations nowadays means that candidates are more serious, that the selection process is more thorough, and that a lot of the flabbiness is beginning to disappear. However, small is not always better, either. The real issue is the quality rather than the quantity of vocations.

I know that some visitors to this blog place a lot of faith in younger priests and religious. I am reserving judgement. I still meet far too many younger religious who always seem to be returning from yet another vacation, or enthusing about a favorite restaurant, or, generally, not obviously on fire with the love of God and a desire to serve the Church selflessly.

In recent years, I have noted an expensive tendency to send young religious to some '3rd world' country, supposedly to serve the poor! In fact, they would do better to save the money expended on their plane tickets, and use it to serve the poor who, invariably, may be found within a few blocks of the seminaries and religious communities.

Of course, it is all in God's 'hands', and all will be right in the end. In the meantime, I suspect that religious orders and diocesan seminaries still need to pass through a long purification process before they will be deemed worthy of large numbers of high quality vocations.

Joseph Fromm said...

Semper Fidelis,

You stated,
"I still meet far too many younger religious who always seem to be returning from yet another vacation, or enthusing about a favorite restaurant, or, generally, not obviously on fire with the love of God and a desire to serve the Church selflessly."




Jim Lopez said...

In the Philippine province, as far as I know, the numbers of those who make the vows every year have been decreasing. If I am not mistaken, last May, only seven made their vows and six entered the novitiate in their place.

Some hardcore supporters of the Tridentine Rite attribute the lack of vocations to the changes made by Vatican II.

I think it has to do instead with the modern lifestyle espoused today by millions of contemporary youth, which is very unsupportive of such life choices as the priesthood and the religious life.

Joseph Fromm said...

I think both of your ideas have merit.



Fr. Robert Ballecer, SJ said...

semper fidelis,

I understand your frustrations. It's very easy to see the "younger crowd" of Jesuits (I am included in that crowd) and point to them as the source of all the woes of the Society of Jesus. In fact, I'm sure that such conversations happened with the new crop of novices under the first companions. However, to point to a generation and make broad generalizations about their vocation and dedication is simply unfair.

Do some Jesuits (and in my experience this is NOT limited to the younger guys) enjoy vacations and a good restaurant? Yes... and I don't see that as a bad thing. One of the characteristics of the "New School Jesuits" is that they recognize that they are of no worth to ANYBODY, particularly to the Church and her faithful, if they are burned out or otherwise incapable of supporting their own vocations and emotional needs.

Though I am not always good in separating myself from work during my vacation time, or making my "day off" at the parish a sacred day of rest, I do try to get away 4 weeks of the year for some quiet time... and I work my tail off the other 48.

In all honesty, when I compare some of the things that the "Old School" train of thought about work and rest has reaped in the form of abuse and maladjusted older (and younger) brothers, two weeks with friends and a good meal once in a while is a small price to pay for emotional stability and social flexibility...

As for the "expensive tendency" to send young scholastics out of the country. Believe it or not, but it is far less expensive to send a Jesuit out of the US than it is to house them within.... by A LOT. Even when you add in airfare, travel expenses and foreign per-diem, a twelve week experience in India costs about 1/2 of a twelve weeks of living and working in Los Angeles or Chicago at one of our communities. -- Are there poor here, yes. Do we serve them, yes. But more than just a financial boon, the experience of foreign service is vital for showing young Jesuits that they are part of a global Society. --- something that the "Old School Jesuits" really never had a chance to see. We are increasingly called to NOT see ourselves as belonging only to our provinces, but to the global ministry of the Jesuits. I have been asked to teach in the Philippines, to be an engineer in Bolivia, to pray in Mexico, and to be a student in Vietnam. In a Society that is increasingly interdependent, this kind of experience is vital.

Finally, this "long" purification process that you write of has me baffled because the US Jesuit Province that is doing the best in terms of vocations (California -- We have seven for the year) is one of these "New School" focused institutions.... Some of the "Old School" provinces are lucky to have seven in a decade.

Still, you are absolutely right in saying that it is all in God's hands. As a young priest (well not THAT young anymore) I have immensely enjoyed my time working as a priest in parishes in San Jose and Honolulu. I was humbled by my experience working alongside the most marginalized of the poor in Chicago and Milwaukee. I was challenged by my years of teaching at an inner-city school in Los Angeles. I've also participated in a ministry of technology that has quite possibly outpaced my traditional priestly ministry in terms of spiritual conversations, converts to Catholicism, lively debates about faith, and vocations.

While I realize that this will most probably not change your reservations about us younger Jesuits. You should know that we are doing what Ignatius asked of us... to push the boundaries and to be a prophetic voice... We're doing this with whatever tools are at our disposal. --- We acknowledge that we stand on the shoulders of giants, but we also are sure that the apostolic zeal and charism of the Society is well served by those who follow. The "long black line" is gone, but the Society still meets young vocations where there are, not where we want them to be.

semper fidelis said...

to Fr. Robert Ballecer, SJ:

Sincere thanks for your reply to my comments.

I did not mean to give the impression that all was right with previous generations of Jesuits/other religious/diocesan priests. On the contrary, I stated my belief that many of today's problems have their roots back in the days of the big numbers of 'vocations'.

For example, I have never believed that problems like pedophilia or more general emotional disturbance/imbalance were CAUSED by seminaries, convents, celibacy, or whatever. On the contrary, I think that many priests/religious had such difficulties long before they managed to gain entry to religious life/priesthood. In some cases, their presence was masked by the big numbers and large institutions. So, by nio means do I subscribe to the notion that the 'Old School' was all good.

Having said that, I have to disagree with your contention that older religious were relatively unaware of the global character of the Church or the Society of Jesus. On the contrary, there is a centuries old tradition of many thousands of Jesuits spending an entire lifetime working heroically as missionaries in faraway places. I find the testimony of a lifetime spent in such self-effacing service far more impressive than a few short spells in some poor country (sometimes referred to as '3rd Word Tourism').

Nor would I accept that previous generations had an unusually high percentage of workaholic, burned out emotional wrecks. In the Society of Jesus, as elsewhere, I am sure that plenty of such individuals existed. However, many older Jesuits were just as renowned for a broad intellectual and cultural formation, that helped them to enrich their 'work' (I prefer to speak of 'mission' or 'apostolic activity') with healthy recreational/cultural pursuits. Indeed, the well deserved reputation of Jesuits as excellent educators, preachers, missionaries, etc., stemmed from an exceptionally rich formation that was, at once, spiritual, intellectual, cultural, etc.

Probably, the Church/Society of 50 or 100 years ago was a mixed bag, with some remarkably saintly, talented, dedicated, hard-working people, together with some people who should never have been admitted to a seminary or religious community. My impression is that the situation with younger priests/religious is not all that different.

I have indeed met some admirable younger Jesuits, living an exemplary life of poverty, chastity and obedience. But I have met others who strike me as being far too fond of the 'good life', with excessive unnecessary travel, indulgence in unhealthy recreational comforts, and, in some cases, a lifestyle that left me with concerns about their fidelity to the vowed life.

So, my intention is not to defend either 'Old School' or 'New School', but simply the 'School of the Gospel'. Numbers, I believe, are relatively unimportant. I would prefer to see a very small Society of Jesus, composed of high-quality, well trained 'men for others', rather than a numerically inflated Society, with a large number of mediocrities.

I like what you say about being 'humbled' and 'challenged' by your experiences in Chicago, Milwaukee, Los Angeles, etc. From what you say, I am sure the experience went beyond merely being humbled and challenged to a genuine conversion experience of being CHANGED. I have wealthy non-Christian friends who tell me about how they were very moved by the spectacle of poverty while on vacation in some poor African or Asian country. But those emotions are usually fleeting, and these people are soon back to planning their next expensive trip. In other words, they are moved, but not converted.

I wish you many blessings in your own ministry. When all is said and done, the health of the Church or the Society of Jesus surely depends on good, faith-filled individual apostles, selflessly going about the Lord's business. We shouldn't worry too much about numbers. I'm sure it will always be the case that many will be called, but very few will follow Jesus all the way, to Calvary and, more importantly, beyond.