The news of a Jesuit being elected Pope sent shock waves through my system, as I’m sure it did to many others. The Jesuits have garnered an ambiguous reputation this past century, especially in conservative Catholic circles, much due to a loosening grasp on their origins. At least in America today, Jesuits are equated with higher education.
They are the thorn in the side of conservative Catholics and the champions of the liberal, political activist Catholics. But what will Pope Francis, a humble, morally conservative Jesuit, mean for this order? As a former student of a Jesuit university and a current teacher at a school originally founded by Jesuits, I offer one theory.
To put it simply, I see Pope Francis returning the Jesuits to their original foundation: dedicated defenders of the Church in a world that opposes Her at every turn. St. Ignatius of Loyola lived during the height of the Protestant Revolt when the Church was being attacked from all sides. After being severely injured in battle, Ignatius dedicated himself as a soldier for Christ and His Church. He came from such a militaristic background that he considered his new order, the Society of Jesus, to be the “shock troops” in service of the Pope—to defend him, his authority (which was being called into question), and the Church in the battle against Protestantism.
While I mean no disrespect to the priesthood of any Jesuit, they have become in recent years closely associated with progressive and liberal ideologies, which make many orthodox Catholics cringe at the mere mention of the Society of Jesus. Pope Francis himself has recognized that many Jesuits have fallen away from their original calling.
While he was bishop of Buenos Aires, he criticized his fellow Jesuits for supporting liberation theology (communism under the guise of Christianity) and has called them to return to their roots of service to the Church and defense of Her teachings.
- He will call his brother Jesuits back home and remind them of their vow of obedience to him. The Jesuit vow of obedience to the Pope was what set them apart at their founding. They were fully devoted to defending the Pope and promulgating his teachings and those of the Church around the world. Pope Francis will prompt a resurgence of loyalty to the papacy and the Church, especially in a world where he is under constant surveillance and his every move is questioned, analyzed in high definition, and critiqued.
- Second, he will remind them that their duty is first and foremost to Christ and His bride, the Church. In his first few weeks as Pope, Francis has shown no indication of backing down on Church teachings. He lives a very radical life of love and justice, one that has captured the attention of the mainstream media, but never has he spoken out against fundamental Church teachings that liberals abhor. This example of being a Pope of service and love while holding fast to Church teachings will show his fellow Jesuits that living a life of social justice and love of God’s people does not mean compromising the faith and moral foundations of the Church.
- I believe that Pope Francis will muster a new wave of young Jesuits in order to do battle with the secularism that runs rampant in our world today. His aforementioned dedication of service to God’s people and to Church teaching, not to mention his love of science, will inspire young men around the world to join the ranks of the Society of Jesus so that they can go out and teach the world through word and deed about God and His Church.
Let us pray for our Pope Francis!
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