Category Archives: Society of Jesus

Dec 3 – St Francis Xavier, SJ (1506-1552), Priest, Missionary, Co-founder Society of Jesus, “Simple Ain’t Easy”


-by Br Bartholomew Calvano, OP

“Sometimes God works in mysterious ways that we can’t understand. We may not be sure what exactly it is God wants us to do. At other times God’s will for us can be painfully simple. I say simple because what God wants us to do can often be quite obvious. I say painfully because that obvious task is not necessarily easy. Sometimes, we would rather have God’s will for us be mysterious rather than pay the cost that the obvious task demands of us.

Saint Francis Xavier, one of the first members of the Jesuits, provides an excellent example of someone who followed God’s will for him when it was simple and straightforward. He did this despite the pains he would have to undergo. At the direction of St. Ignatius, St. Francis Xavier left Europe to accompany the Portuguese explorers and preach throughout India and eventually even Japan. It was not a complicated task to do as he was told. Saint Francis Xavier simply had to go to those people who had never heard the Gospel and preach to them. St. Ignatius’s instructions were nothing more than a reissuing of the Great Commission which Jesus gave to the Apostles: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Mt 28:19-20). The task could hardly be simpler: preach the Gospel to those who have not heard it.

Yet, this was not an easy task even if St. Francis Xavier knew what he had to do to accomplish it. He had to learn multiple languages in order to translate the Creed and other basic prayers, which he would use to catechize these foreign peoples. He traveled far and frequently. He was often on his own during these travels. The trials were even physically demanding. We can see this from one letter he sent back to the Jesuits in Rome:

“As to the numbers who become Christians, you may understand them from this, that it often happens to me to be hardly able to use my hands from the fatigue of baptizing: often in a single day I have baptized whole villages. Sometimes I have lost my voice and strength altogether with repeating again and again the Credo and the other forms.” (quoted in The Life and Letters of St. Francis Xavier by Henry James Coleridge, S.J., 153)

Saint Francis Xavier, SJ, exemplifies the heroic virtue that allowed him to carry out day in and day out the simple, repetitive, sometimes even monotonous tasks to which God called him. Tasks that cost him a great deal of suffering. Sometimes, this is precisely the reminder that we need. God has called each and every one of us to do certain, simple tasks, most of which are not glamorous. These tasks are, nonetheless, the foundation of the Kingdom of God. The pain of these tasks for us may not be physical, it may be the pain of stepping out of our comfort zone or doing the job no one else wants to do. By being faithful in the obvious, repetitive, and sometimes distasteful tasks given to us, we can spread God’s love to the world one person at a time.

Eventually, St. Francis Xavier would die at the age of 46 from a fever while waiting for a boat to take him to China. This seems like a rather prosaic death for a saint who had served God so fervently. He did not die a martyr’s death. Instead, he bore witness to God by his arduous labor at a task he could never hope to complete in his lifetime. It was a task that wore him to the bone and ate away at his health, but he embraced it joyfully.

Most of those he preached to were eager to receive the Gospel and only needed someone to preach it to them. Likewise, there are many people in our lives who are ready to hear the Gospel if they only had someone to bring it to them. What will preaching the Gospel cost us?Are we, like St. Francis Xavier, willing to embrace the attendant hardships with joy? Can we be like Jesus who “for the sake of the joy that lay before him . . . endured the cross”(Heb 12:2)?


-Pilgrims pray by and view the body of St Francis Xavier during an exposition of the saint in December 2004.  Please click on the image for greater detail.


-missionary journeys of St Francis Xavier, SJ, (1541-1552).  Please click on the image for greater detail.

Love,
Matthew

Catholic priests invented the concordance & search engine


-by Br Ephrem Maria Reese, OP

“Dominicans invented the Bible concordance. It was Hugh of St. Cher, one of the great academics of the early friars preachers, who first accomplished the feat, and his students developed the concordance over subsequent generations. A concordance is an index of words found in the Bible, and indicates where they are located by chapter and verse. This tool has become an indispensable part of the study of Sacred Scripture, and Dominicans are happy to claim it.

But Dominicans didn’t invent the search engine. Father Roberto Busa, a Jesuit, deserves the credit for that innovation. And I admit that I use search engines much more than I use concordances in my studies.

Histories of the search engine may begin at a more advanced stage of computing, but it seems right to me, and downright charming, to begin with Fr. Busa. In 1946, the Italian Jesuit submitted his dissertation on Saint Thomas Aquinas’ use of the word “in” when describing the presence of God. To aid his work, he created a concordance of Aquinas (not the Bible), which consisted of handwritten note cards. But he needed more power, so he went to the Americans.

In a 1949 meeting with IBM in New York, the priest requisitioned an inspirational poster off the wall and cited its hyperbolic claim to innovation in order to convince the company’s founder, Thomas J. Watson, to help devise a machine-assisted concordance of Aquinas’s works. This concordance eventually became the Index Thomisticus. Today many scholars refer to an online resource, the Corpus Thomisticum, which provides a searchable version of Busa’s Index, among other tools.

This application of business technology to sacred study is almost a parable. The technical world is capturing the strongholds of the human spirit. Dorothy Day, among those suspicious of this infestation, said that “he who lives by the sword will fall by the sword and he who lives by the machine will fall by the machine.” Christians live instead by the light of Christ. But by a divine instinct, it is sometimes possible to seize the divine purpose of the machine. God’s design quietly supervenes in the devisings of man. Roberto Busa listened to the Spirit, crossed the world, and made it possible for Thomists to mine every “in” found within the sparkling caves of one of the Spirit’s most eloquent spokesmen.”

Love & truth,
Matthew

July 31 – Examen


-by Br Cornelius Avaritt, OP

“Today, people live busy lives. We are surrounded by noise and distractions as we hustle off to work or school…and then back to home…only to rush off in the evening for another meeting or another social event. We like to be busy. We continue this rhythm of life because being busy often makes us feel important. If we are successful in this busyness, the world tells us to keep going and to do more things. The feeling of accomplishment is rewarding, but it can also distract us from seeing how God is acting in our lives. If all our actions are directed toward self-gratification, aren’t we somehow missing the mark?

At the end of the day, are you able to look to the Lord and say I did it all for you, or were your actions today directed toward your own interests? If you are endlessly busy with the latter, you will eventually fatigue and find yourself looking for God. A good habit to develop is finding a way to withdraw from the busyness of everyday life and focus on God through prayer. Thankfully, we have many saints who can help us combat the endless busyness of life.

Today the Church celebrates the feast day of St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) and a man of perseverance in the spiritual life. St. Ignatius was a soldier who converted to the Faith, and thus became a soldier for Christ. As a soldier charges into battle to fight for the good of society, St. Ignatius charged into the battle of the spiritual life. In that same vein, the spiritual battle cry of the Jesuit Order is Ad majorem Dei gloriam, which means “for the greater glory of God.” Many of St. Ignatius’s writings aimed to give all glory to God. As a result, they have been used by many to direct their lives in the knowledge and love of God. The Spiritual Exercises, his most notable work, is one such work that has helped people advance in the spiritual life.

In the opening line of the Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius writes that “Human beings are created to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and by means of this to save their souls.” This line from St. Ignatius expresses the importance of turning toward Christ in all our actions. One particular prayer that comes from the Spiritual Exercises and helps one to pull away from the busyness of life is the daily examination of conscience, otherwise known as the Daily Examen.

The Daily Examen is a recollective prayer where one recalls the events that happened throughout his or her day. It is easy to develop a habit of praying the Daily Examen by practicing it through a few short steps. The first step is to acknowledge the presence of God and to give thanks to him. The second step is to acknowledge where one fell short in giving God glory through our actions or inactions. The last step is to resolve to do better with the help of God’s grace the next day. The prayer is simple in its application and yet effective in keeping one grounded in the spiritual life. Developing the habit of praying the Daily Examen can help one stay accountable to God in the spiritual life. This accountability bears fruit in the form of a friendship with God.

The Examen and other meditative prayers (when done well and consistently) allow us to pull away from all the busy distractions of life, and turn our attention to God and His loving providence. Fidelity to daily prayer leads to a deeper friendship with God and the closer we are with God, the better we can offer our daily lives to Him as a spiritual soldier (like St. Ignatius) and friend.”

Love, AMDG
Matthew

July 21, 1773-Aug 7, 1814: Suppression of the Society of Jesus


-statue of St Ignatius of Loyola, SJ, Church of the Gesù, Rome, please click on the image for greater detail


-by Steve Weidenkopf

“Stunned by the rapid advance of the Protestant Revolution, the Church began its much-needed reform with the ecumenical council at Trent (1545-1563). The council that would lay the foundation for the Catholic Reformation followed another important development, when in 1540 Pope Paul III approved the Society of Jesus. The Jesuits, as they would be called, began their work several years prior in Paris, when Ignatius Loyola and several companions (including Francis Xavier) pledged to live the evangelical counsels (poverty, chastity, obedience) and to go to Rome and place themselves at the service of the pope.

Ignatius envisioned his new order would participate in the reform of the Church by focusing on education (catechesis) and encouraging the laity to participate frequently in the sacraments, especially confession and the Eucharist. This focus led to a multitude of Jesuit teachers and missionaries serving in heavily Protestant territories and in far-flung places of the world that had never heard the Gospel, all to win souls for Christ.

Although the Jesuit formation process was long and life in the Society was difficult, men joined by the thousands. The Society established universities throughout Christendom in order to form both members of the order and Catholic laity to participate fully in the Catholic Reformation. The small group began by St. Ignatius and his companions became a powerful and influential element within the Church and Christendom within a century of the founder’s death in 1556. By the eighteenth century, there were over 20,000 Jesuits running nearly seven hundred universities, colleges, and seminaries. The Society contributed to the prestige of secular rulers and the papacy but its influence was not universally appreciated. Anti-religious intellectuals and absolutist-minded monarchs became wary, envious, and ultimately opposed to the Jesuits.

René Decartes’s (1596-1650) philosophical writings, likely without his intent, sparked a movement opposed to the Church and its understanding of philosophy. By the eighteenth century, the “age of reason” and “enlightenment” produced a crop of thinkers, writers, and politicians radically opposed to the Church and its influence in the world. François-Marie Arouet (1694 – 1778), known by his pen name Voltaire, was one such individual. Although educated by Jesuits, Voltaire embraced anti-Catholic beliefs and worked tirelessly to destroy the “infamous thing,” his moniker for the Church. Voltaire recognized the only way to limit the Church’s influence and bring about a secular society was to take control of the institutions of higher learning in Europe, which required the destruction of the Jesuits. He boasted that with the Jesuits defeated, “there will be nothing left of the Church.” In order to further their agenda, Enlightenment thinkers began a concerted campaign against the Society of Jesus.

Many secular rulers were wary of the Jesuits due to their outsized influence and their independence. Jesuits were fiercely loyal to the pope, whom many kings saw as a foreign prince intent on meddling in their internal affairs. As these monarchs focused on creating a centralized state, they increasingly saw the Jesuits as an obstacle to their plans. Frustrated and irritated by the Jesuits, several secular rulers in the eighteenth century placed intense political pressure on the Roman pontiffs to do something about the meddlesome Society. However, these rulers did not wait for papal activity, as many began their own campaigns of suppression and expulsion.

King Joseph I (r. 1750 – 1777) desired to reform Portugal so that it could be a leading power in Western Europe. He placed great power and authority in the hands of Sebastião José de Carvalho e Melo, known as the Marquis de Pombal, in order to accomplish this task. Believing the Jesuits to be a threat, Pombal began a concerted propaganda campaign directed at creating a negative image of the Jesuits in the minds of the king and the Portuguese people. In 1759, Pombal convinced the king to sign a decree denouncing the Society and ordering their expulsion from Portugal and its overseas territories.

The next attack on the Society came from France, the “Eldest Daughter of the Church.” The Paris Parlement, the most important of thirteen provincial appellate courts charged with registering and approving royal decrees, initially restricted French subjects from entering the Society and banned Jesuits from teaching theology, then prohibited citizens from attending Jesuit schools. The Parlement’s anti-Jesuit declarations culminated in 1764, when King Louis XV (r. 1715-1774) signed a decree expelling the Jesuits from France and its dominions.

Recognizing the serious threat to the Society and the Church as a whole posed by such attacks, Pope Clement XIII (r. 1758-769) defended the Society its role and mission in the Church in the bull Apostolicum pascendi in 1765. Despite the papal defense, the attack on the Society from European secular rulers continued. In Spain, Ignatius’s nation of origin, the Jesuits came under fire from Bernardo Tanucci, a chief minister and advisor in Naples to King Charles III (r. 1759-1788). Tanucci despised the Jesuits and the Church and continually sought to limit the power and influence of both. He convinced the king to order the expulsion of all Jesuits from Spain and its colonies in 1767.

In only twelve years, the Society was ruthlessly persecuted in three countries where it had been highly effective and influential. The Jesuits, once the champions of the Catholic Reformation and a powerful and prominent group within the Church and Europe, were dazed and weakened, but their greatest defeat was yet to come.

Giovanni Vincenzo Antonio Ganganelli was educated by the Jesuits as a young man and discerned a religious vocation. He entered the Conventual Franciscans in 1723, taking the religious name Lorenzo. He was ordained to the priesthood and pursued advanced academic studies, earning a doctorate, and teaching at a university. Pope Clement XIII, who had befriended Fr. Ganganelli, made him a cardinal at a time when the Jesuit controversy dominated the pontificate. The conclave to elect Clement’s successor met in the face of a formal request from the rulers of Portugal, France, Spain, and Naples to suppress the order.


-St Ignatius of Loyola, SJ, by Peter Paul Reubens, please click on the image for greater detail

Several cardinals believed suppression was the only viable alternative to bring peace between the Church and those kingdoms. There was much debate within the conclave but eventually the cardinals elected Ganganelli, who took the name Clement XIV (r. 1769-774). Clement XIV hoped to resolve the Jesuit question peacefully but was under intense political pressure throughout his pontificate. After a failed attempt to placate the anti-Jesuit secular powers through harsh measures against the Society, he issued the brief Dominus ac Redemptor on July 21, 1773, which formally suppressed the Society of Jesus.

It was, as historian Eamon Duffy wrote, “the papacy’s most shameful hour.” Clement partially blamed his action on the Society itself for sowing seeds of dissension and discord among secular rulers and other religious orders. Sadly, the pope ordered the arrest and imprisonment of the Superior General of the Society, Lorenzo Ricci, in Castel Sant’Angelo, where he later died. Clement XIV’s action against the Society left such a significant blot on the history of the papacy that no pope since has taken the name Clement.

Although the suppression was universal, there were areas where the Jesuits continued to operate unimpeded (especially in areas with non-Catholic monarchs). The monarchical world was turned upside down by the creation of the United States and the French Revolution in the late eighteenth century. Desperate to revive Catholic higher education and reigning during a time when the Church no longer faced opposition from the same secular authorities that clamored for the Society’s suppression, Pope Pius VII (r. 1800-1823) re-established the Jesuits on August 7, 1814. Once more, the sons of Ignatius were allowed to operate universities, colleges, and undertake missionary adventures.

The forty-one years of suppression were a dark time in the history of the Society, but the vision of St. Ignatius and his companions could not be forever dimmed.”

Love, and AMDG,
Matthew

Jul 31 – St Ignatius of Loyola, SJ, (1491-1556) – Priest & Founder of the Society of Jesus

“Long before he instructed his followers to, “go forth and set the world on fire,” Ignatius was under his own fire of spiritual and physical combat. His leg was broken, as was his spirit. Legs take us to our destination, but Ignatius no longer knew where that destination was. His whole life he had perfected the profession of a soldier: exercise, training, wielding armor and weapons, imagining the enemy and visualizing victory.

Because he would never be a soldier again, he was convinced that his twenty-three years of life were useless, and that the rest of his life would be spend in the humiliation of defeat and the embarrassment of not being able to resurrect his former skills. On that same bed where he wished for death more than once, he would consider a different sort of death: a death to self.

His physical exercises were about to become his famed Spiritual Exercises; he would put on the full armor of God (Eph. 6:11), wield his word as a sword (Eph. 6:17), and use his imagination to envision himself in victory for heaven.

In order to become this person God created him to be, he knew he must reform himself first, and in a saying often ascribed to him he instructs the same of us: “He who goes about to reform the world must begin with himself, or he loses his labor.”

His Counter-Reformation labors started with himself, and although he accomplished much and his life can teach us copious lessons of Christian charity and virtue, he dominates in two principle areas: education and spirituality.

“The [Second Vatican Council] has considered with care how extremely important education is in the life of man and how its influence ever grows in the social progress of this age.” —Gravissimum Educationis

Sacred art depicting Ignatius usually depicts him studying, reading, writing. It might surprise some to learn, then, that for the first half of his life Ignatius was not an educated man. Though his intellect was strong and aptitude was high, our saint had less than grammar-level education at the age of twenty-three, just a few years before he formed the Society of Jesus and founded colleges. He placed little emphasis on structured learning, perhaps because he was a soldier, yet still came to be one of the most respected educators of his time.

What caused such a change?

The answer is not so simple. To understand what he did, we need to understand his story.

After his leg was shattered in a cannon-ball blast, Ignatius’s dreams of soldiery were gone. But as he said of himself in his autobiography, “his special delight was in the military life,” so if he could not do these things he at least wanted to fill his mind with the thoughts of others doing them. So Ignatius requested books about valiant knights and heroes of war, but there were none.

Instead he was handed The Life of Christ by Ludolph the Carthusian and a book about the lives of the saints. At first he was reluctant to read either but soon found himself engrossed in stories of the heroic virtue, if not quite of the kind he had sought.

After he was healed he continued to study and grow in devotion. He became a gifted street-teacher and built a small following. This drew the attention of the clergy. Around this time the Inquisition was rooting out any potential heresy or corrupted preaching, and without a degree or formal training Ignatius was looked at suspiciously. He was examined briefly by the Inquisition but they found no error in his interview and let him go—but did instruct him not to dress as if he were clergy. He was later summoned again, and again they found no error.

A last time he was examined by the Inquisition, whose verdict resulted in an interesting action by Ignatius. Each time prior, he had explained that he was not preaching or teaching novelties, but was simply conversing with small groups about holy and divine things, occasionally introducing his “exercises” still in development.

This time, he was questioned about his advice to others on faith and morals. In his own autobiographical words:

“So clear and exact was his explanation that his examiners could not find the least flaw in his doctrine. He was equally correct in the answer to the friar who proposed a difficulty in canon law. In every case he said that he did not know the decision of the professors.”

The tribunal’s final verdict was that Ignatius would be free to teach on matters of Christian doctrine, but not on sin or canon law. Not until the tribunal said, he completed four years of study.


-by Peter Paul Rubens, ca. 1600s

Love & Ignatian joy,
Matthew

May 19 – Bl Peter Wright, (1603-1651), SJ, Convert/Revert, Priest & Martyr

Peter Wright was born in Slipton, Northamptonshire, one of twelve children, in a Protestant family. While young, he converted to Catholicism. Peter was still young when his father died. He had to work in a country solicitor’s office at Thrapston in his home area. After spending ten years with the solicitor he enlisted in the English army in the Low Countries, but finding that he did not care for military life, he deserted after a month and went to Brabant.

Having drifted away from his faith in his youth, he visited the English Jesuits in Liège and asked to be reconciled to the Church. He then visited Ghent and for two years attended the college of the Jesuits. In 1629 he entered the Jesuit novitiate at Watten. After studying philosophy and then theology at Liège, he was ordained a priest there in 1636 and after a further period at Liège was sent to serve at the English College of St. Omer. From 1638-1644 he served as chaplain to Colonel Sir Henry Gage’s English regiment in the service of Spain, based near Ghent.

When Gage returned to England in the spring of 1644 to aid King Charles I, Wright went with him, first to Oxford and then to the relief of Basing House, the seat of John Paulet, 5th Marquess of Winchester. He administered the sacraments to the dying Gage on January 11, 1645. After this Wright became the marquess’s chaplain, first in Hampshire and later in the London house. Wright was seized there by a band of pursuivants who burst in on Candlemas day, 2 February 1651.

Committed to Newgate, he was brought to trial before Henry Rolle, Lord Chief Justice, sitting with justices Philip Jermyn and Richard Aske and others, at the Old Bailey 14–16 May. Something of the atmosphere of the times should be clear when it is recalled that Charles I had been put on trial and subsequently been executed on January 30, 1649. The evidence at Wright’s trial was provided by the informer Thomas Gage, apostate brother of the late Sir Henry and a renegade Dominican priest. Thomas Gage had met Wright in the years when he was a military chaplain and testified against him. The whole scene, about which numerous details have survived, was little like a modern court of law and bizarre moments included the Parliamentarian Lord Chief Justice rebuking the half-deranged informer for speaking disrespectfully of his Royalist soldier brother.

Wright was condemned under the statute 27 Eliz., c. 2. for being a Catholic priest in England, and sentenced on Saturday May 17 to being hanged, drawn and quartered. His execution at Tyburn, London on a hot Whit Monday, 19 May 1651, took place before over twenty thousand spectators. In the period of the trial and the days after his execution, Wright was if not popular, at least a respected figure in public opinion. The sheriff’s officers also seem to have been relatively well disposed to him and he was allowed to hang until he was dead, being thus spared the agonies of being eviscerated alive.

Protestant Bishop Challoner records: “Having celebrated Mass with great devotion, the time drew near when he was to go down in order for execution. Hearing the knocking at the iron grate, he took it as a summons from Heaven, and cried out:

“I come, sweet Jesus, I come.”

When Fr Wright was called out to the hurdle, he went with so much alacrity and speed that the officers could scarce keep pace with him; then being placed on the hurdle he made a short act of contrition; and in the midst of mutual embraces was absolved by Fr Cheney, and then drawn away to Tyburn through the streets crowded with an innumerable multitude of people. He was drawn on the hurdle more like one sitting than lying down; his head was covered, his countenance smiling, a certain air of majesty, and a courage and cheerfulness in his comportment, which was both surprising and edifying, not only to the Catholics who crowded to ask his benediction, but to the Protestants themselves, as many publicly declared.

Thirteen malefactors were appointed to die with him, to whom the father endeavoured to give seasonable advice for the welfare of their souls, but was continually interrupted by the minister, and therefore desisted, betaking himself to silent prayer, in which he employed about an hour, standing with his eyes shut, his hands joined before his breast, his countenance sweet and amiable, and his whole body without motion as one in deep contemplation. When the minister took occasion to tell him it was not yet too late, and that he might save his life if he would renounce the errors of Popery:

“If I had a thousand lives I would most willingly give them all up in defence of the Catholic religion.” The hangman having fitted the rope to his neck, the confessor made a short speech to the spectators: “Gentlemen, this is a short passage to eternity; my time is now short, and I have not much to speak. I was brought hither charged with no other crime but being a priest. I willingly confess I am a priest; I confess I am a Catholic; I confess I am a religious man of the Society of Jesus, or as you call it, a Jesuit. 

This is the cause for which I die; for this alone was I condemned, and for propagating the Catholic faith, which is spread through the whole world, taught through all ages from Christ’s time, and will be taught for all ages to come.

For this cause I most willingly sacrifice my life, and would die a thousand times for the same if it were necessary; and I look upon it my greatest happiness, that my most good God has chosen me most unworthy to this blessed lot, the lot of the saints. This is a grace which so unworthy a sinner could scarce have wished, much less hoped for.

And now I beg of the goodness of my God with all the fervour I am able, and most humbly entreat Him that He would drive from you that are Protestants the darkness of error, and enlighten your minds with the rays of truth. And as for you Catholics, my fellow soldiers and comrades, as many of you as are here I earnestly beseech you to join in prayer for me and with me till my last moment; and when I shall come to Heaven I will do as much for you. God bless you all; I forgive all men. From my heart I bid you all farewell till we meet in a happy eternity.”

Having spoken to this effect, he again recollected himself a while in prayer, and then the cart was drawn away, and he was suffered to hang till he quietly expired. His dead body was cut down, beheaded, bowelled, and quartered. His friends were permitted to carry off his head and quarters which were translated to Liege, and there honourably deposited in the college of the English Jesuits. He suffered aged 48, and after 22 years of religious life.”

Love,
Matthew

Jesuit emotion…

-by Professor Yasmin Haskell

“Jorge Mario Bergoglio has chosen the papal name ‘Francis’, which will suggest to most Catholics the founder of the Franciscan order, Francis of Assisi. Pope Francis’ gentle and unassuming style, his poverty – if catching the bus and cooking one’s own meals really qualifies as poverty in the Latin American context … – point to the medieval Italian saint who preached to the common people, and legendarily, to the birds. But Francis was also half the name of one of the Jesuits’ earliest saints, Francis-Xavier (1506-1552), the fervent and restless ‘Apostle to the Indes’, who took Catholic Christianity to India, Japan, and the East Indes in the early modern period, dying of a fever just fourteen kilometres from the shore of mainland China. Perhaps Pope Francis quietly gestures to this sixteenth-century Jesuit missionary, too, who has come to represent the global reach of the Catholic Church, and embodies the evangelical zeal for ‘harvesting souls’ which fired so many members of his order in the early modern period.

So who were the Jesuits? The Society or Company of Jesus was a Catholic Reformation order founded in 1540 by Basque nobleman and former soldier, Ignatius of Loyola, and a bunch of his student friends (among them Francis-Xavier). They quickly earned a formidable and paradoxical reputation. The Pope’s crack troops were deployed from Messina to Macao, Paris to Paraguay, recruiting converts, fighting the spread of Protestantism, and educating the élites of Catholic Europe and her New World colonies. They conducted diplomatic business and scientific research, composed music and poetry, and shocked and awed audiences with theatre and pyrotechnics, art and architecture. Jesuits were prepared to die for their beliefs in faraway missions, but they were also accused of being slippery and self-serving. They championed native Indian rights, but enslaved Africans. In their ranks were to be found hard-nosed heretic hunters, as well as defenders of the rights of ‘witches’, and believers in ‘natural magic’. Renowned for their chameleon-like ability to adapt to local circumstances – dressing as mandarins in China or brahmins in India – the proud and powerful ‘black robes’ couldn’t help but stand out on Catholic home turf. Victims of their own success, the Jesuits were hounded out of France, Spain, Portugal, and the New World. The ‘Old’ Society of Jesus was shut down by the Pope in 1773.

The Society of Jesus was restored in 1814 and has regrown to become the single largest order of the Catholic Church. The ‘New’ Society has produced its fair share of arch-conservatives, but also Nazi-resisters, freedom-fighters, and liberation theologians. It retains its former reputation for education and intellectual sophistication: the profile of a twentieth-century polymath such as Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (philosopher, mathematician, palaeontologist, and evolutionary biologist) would not look out of place alongside those of Athanasius Kircher (speculative vulcanologist, biologist, orientalist …) or Roger Boscovich (poet, physicist, astronomer, diplomat …) in Carlos Sommervogel’s great bio-bibliographical dictionary of the Old Society (Bibliothèque de la Compagnie de Jésus).

But the heart has always been just as if not more important than the head in Jesuit theology. Much of the order’s thinking, historically, has gone into questions of how to rouse, channel and discipline the emotions. Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises remains to this day the beating heart of the Society of Jesus, anticipating some of the techniques of modern psychotherapy in its guided visualisations; its call for attention to and daily written reckoning of our desires and defects; its rules for ‘discernment of spirits’ (in effect, how to listen to our emotions before making important life choices). In conjuring up in detail the agonies of the Passion, however, not to mention a sense-by-sense experience of the torments of Hell, Ignatius is a world away from modern secular philosophers of emotional well-being and intelligence, and from mental health regimes that seek to eliminate anxiety and depression from our lives. The exercitant of the Spiritual Exercises moves inevitably between states of ‘consolation’ and ‘desolation’ with no more human control over this process than that of preparing him/herself in advance for the next turn of the wheel.”

Love,
Matthew

Jun 20 – Bl Dominic Collins, SJ (1566-1602) – Religious & Martyr

Dominic Collins was born in the seaport town of Youghal, in County Cork, Ireland. His family was well established and respected and both his father and brother were mayors of Youghal. It was in the time of Queen Elizabeth and Anglicanism was the official religion and Irish Catholics were subjected to persecution from time to time.

Although the situation was not yet critical in Youghal, Dominic felt that he did not have much future in the town. Like many others, he decided to leave Ireland and make a better life in Europe. So at the age of twenty, Collins arrived in France. He had dreams of joining the cavalry but for that he needed a horse so he worked for some time in various hostelries in Brittany, north-west France. Eventually, he was enlisted in the army of the Duke of Mercoeus, who was a member of the Catholic League fighting against the Protestan Huguenots in Brittany. Dominic had a distinguished military career lasting nine years.

He was promoted to captain of the cavalry and later military governor when he managed to recover land from the Huguenots.

Although he had a good pension following his service to the King of Spain, he began to realize that being a soldier was not the future he wanted. In the Lent of 1598, he met an Irish Jesuit, Thomas White, who introduced him to the Jesuit superiors in Salamanca, Spain, after hearing Dominic’s desire to do something better with his life. Although he was now 32 years old, the Jesuit provincial thought it was wise to delay his entrance, perhaps to test the strength of his vocation. There were doubts too about his sufficiently educated to become a priest but he was willing to be a Jesuit brother. He entered the Jesuit novitiate in Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain in December 1598. When the Jesuit College was struck by a plague, Dominic tended the victims, nursing some of them back to health and comforting the others in their last hours. A report from that time describes him as a man of sound judgement and great physical strength; mature, prudent and sociable, though inclined to be hot-tempered and obstinate. He was allowed to profess temporary religious vows in the Society in February 1601.

Soon after his profession, an expedition was organized by King Philip III of Spain to assist Hugh O’Neill and Red Hugh O’Donnell in their attempt at revolt against English rule. Seven months after his profession, Brother Dominic Collins was assigned as companion and assistant to Fr James Archer, an Irish Jesuit who was being sent by the king as chaplain to the expedition. Fr Archer has specifically asked for Collins as his assistant due to his extensive military background.

The two Jesuits sailed in September 1601 on different vessels which became separated during a storm. When Bro Collins finally reached Ireland in December, two months after Fr Archer; Castlehaven in southwestern Cork on 1 December, the main squadron with Fr Archer having reached Kinsale more than two months earlier.

The Irish attacked Kinsale at dawn on Christmas Eve but were defeated. Bro Collins was reunited with Fr Archer in February 1602 and together the two Jesuits proceeded to Dunboy Castle, which the Irish had recently regained. Some months later Bro Collins found himself (Fr Archer had left for Spain to persuade the king to send reinforcements) besieged inside Dunboy Castle with 143 defenders. With the landing on 6 June of huge English forces, Dunboy Castle fortifications began to crumble under the heavy bombardment. Many of the Irish defenders were killed and the Castle surrendered. With the exception of Dominic Collins and two others, all the remaining 77 defenders were executed by hanging in the castle yard.

Dominic was later imprisoned in Cork, tortured for three months, and, despite several offers to spare his life if he would divulge information about Catholics and to renounce his vocation as a Jesuit and join the established Church, he flatly refused. He also rejected the offer of an honorable position in the English army and Protestant offers of ecclesiastical preferment if he would renounce his Catholic faith. Even his own relatives tried persuading him to renounce the faith publicly while inwardly remaining faithful to Catholicism. But this he would not do.

He was finally condemned to death and on 31 October 1602 he was taken to Youghal, his hometown and hanged. Before climbing the scaffold, he spoke to the crowd in Irish, Spanish, and English, saying he was happy to die for his faith. He was so cheerful that an English officer remarked, “He is going to his death as eagerly as I would go to a banquet.” Bro Collins overheard him and replied, “For this cause I would be willing to die not one but a thousand deaths.” So moved was the crowd that the hangman fled and a passing fisherman was forced to do the job.

Blessed Dominic is remembered for his constancy in the faith. Though freedom and advancement were set before him, he chose to “endure the cross, despising its shame” (cf. Heb 12:2).

Dominic’s martyrdom is commemorated in a carving at St. Colman’s Cathedral, Cobh, Co. Cork. Liturgically his feast is celebrated on 20 June, or 30 October (in the Society of Jesus). Today a Jesuit residence in Dublin is named for him.

Left hanging on the gallows, the rope eventually broke and Dominic’s body fell to the ground. Under cover of darkness, local Catholics took his body away and buried him with respect in a secret place. From that day he was venerated as a martyr in Youghal and his fame quickly spread throughout Ireland and Europe. In the Irish Colleges of Douai and Salamanca the Jesuits showed his portrait and many favors and cures were attributed to his intercession. Although used to the rough life of the army camp, Dominic always kept a strange innocence and gentleness. He is one of the most attractive of all the Irish martyrs.

All powerful and ever-living God, You gave us an example of marvelous courage in the blessed martyrs Dominic and his companions. For the joy that was set before them they endured the cross, despising its shame. Grant by their prayers that, faithful to Your commandments, we may bring forth the fruits of unity and peace.

Love,
Matthew

Jul 4 – Martyrs of Dorchester, (d. 1594), Bls John Cornelius, SJ, Thomas Bosgrave, John Carey, Patrick Salmon – “Oh, Precious Collar!!”

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-Dorset Martyrs Memorial, Gallows Hill, Dorchester, England

There is a very special communion between the laity and the ordained. Not merely too many calories delivered to rectories at holidays, or generous gifts for Father from time to time; one priest who received a new car famously quipped, “All THIS!!!! AND eternal life, too!!!”

It is recorded, often, in history, when oppressed, persecutors believed by destroying the priesthood, they would succeed in in destroying the faith. Untrue, time and time, again. When Asian missionaries returned, it is recorded, to Far Eastern missions where once they evangelized after several hundred years of absence, the clandestine faith still survived, albeit adapted to life without clergy, but it persisted. It is stronger than that. It always has been. So, “though the mountains fall into the sea”, yet shall we trust in His promises. The gates of Hell shall not prevail against us.

Persecution in England in the late 17th century was part of a crackdown by the Elizabethan government after the Decree of 1585, which made it an offense punishable by death to seek ordination to the priesthood oversees and return to England. This story, like others just like it, is of Catholic laity and that special communion with the ordained.

John, Thomas, John and Patrick were executed together at Dorchester on July 4, 1594: John Cornelius, who trained for the priesthood at Douai and Rome, was arrested in April; his companions were arrested for assisting him. John became a Jesuit while imprisoned in London. All of them were from Ireland:

Father John Cornelius, their leader, was born in 1557 to Irish parents who had moved to Great Britain. A Dorsetshire Catholic knight, Sir John Arundel, sent him to Oxford University to study. But John was too Catholic in his convictions to be pleased with the “new religion” that dominated the University. Feeling called rather to the Catholic priesthood, he crossed the Channel and enrolled at the English college in Rheims for holy orders. From Rheims he went on to the English College in Rome to complete his theology, and it was at Rome that he was ordained a priest.

Return to England as a Catholic priest was at that time forbidden under pain of death. But Father John, a man of prayer and zeal, saw in that law a challenge rather than a deterrent, as did the rest of the contemporary English priests who set service to persecuted Catholics as their top priority. His assignment was to the Catholics of Dorset. These priests’ ministry was a “cloak-and-dagger” operation, since they were always in danger of discovery and arrest. Their capture could mean also the arrest and punishment of anybody who assisted them.

Naturally, the missionaries’ terms of service were usually short, for the police were alert and aggressive. Cornelius (he also went by the alias of Mohun, although his real surname seems to have been O’Mahony) was finally seized by the sheriff of Dorset on April 24, 1594, at the Chideock Castle of Lady Arundel.

Having seized the priest by surprise, the Sheriff was about to hurry him off hatless. Now, in that hat-conscious age, to be hatless was to appear uncivilized. Thomas Bosgrave, a gallant young Cornish nephew of Sir John Arundel and a witness to the arrest, stepped forward and offered Father John his own hat. “The honor I owe to your function,” he declared, “may not suffer me to see you go bareheaded!” It was a simple gesture of charity to a priest, but he was to pay for his piety. The Sheriff promptly arrested Bosgrave, too, for “aiding” a Catholic clergyman. He likewise arrested two serving-men of this Catholic household, Dubliners John Carey and Patrick Salmon. Content, no doubt, with the day’s work, the county official then led his catch off to jail.

Cornelius, the most important of them, was taken to London to be examined by Queen Elizabeth’s Privy Council. The Council had him stretched on the rack to force him to name all those who had given him shelter or assistance. Torture would not open his lips, however, so he was sent back to Dorchester for trial, along with the three lay captives. On July 2, the court declared the priest guilty of high treason under the law that forbade Catholic priests to enter England and remain there. Bosgrave, Carey and Salmon were pronounced guilty of felony for aiding and abetting Father John. The sentence was the same for all: hanging, drawing, and quartering.

After the court had published its judgment, it offered all four men a reprieve if they would give up their Catholic faith. All four refused.

The execution took place at Dorchester two days later. The three laymen were hanged first. John Carey is reported to have said as the noose hung before his face, kissing the rope, “Oh! Precious collar!” Each made a Catholic profession of faith before the trap was sprung. Father John then kissed the feet of his hanging companions. He then kissed the gallows with the words of Saint Andrew, “O Cross, long desired.” He was not allowed to make any formal statement; but he did manage to state that he had been lately admitted into the Jesuits, and would have been en route to the Jesuit novitiate in Flanders had he not been arrested.

Dorset Martyrs Memorial, Gallows Hill, Dorchester

The Dorset Martyrs Memorial at Gallows Hill on South Walks, Dorchester was created by Dame Elisabeth Frink and was erected in 1986. It was funded by institutions and individuals of all denominations and the Arts Council of Great Britain through South West Arts.

The memorial represents two martyrs facing Death and commemorates all Dorset men and women who suffered for their faith and, in particular, seven known Catholics who were executed where the Memorial now stands, including —

John Cornelius SJ, Priest, executed 4 July 1594

John Cornelius was born in Bodmin of Irish descent and was sent to Exeter College, Oxford by Sir John Arundell. He was ordained in 1584 at the English College in Rome.

John Cornelius was a Chaplain to the Arundell family at Chideock Castle where he was arrested after a search of the castle and sent to Dorchester to be tried for high treason along with

Thomas Bosgrave, John Carey and Patrick Salmon. Executed on 4 July 1594, along with Fr Cornelius, SJ.

Thomas Bosgrave was the son of Leonard Bosgrave and the grandson of Sir John Arundell, making him the great-great-grandson of Thomas Gray, 1st Marquis of Dorset and half-brother to Elizabeth of York, Queen Consort of King Henry VII.

Thomas Bosgrave, together with John Carey and Patrick Salmon, servants at Chideock Castle, was arrested and taken with John Cornelius to Dorchester where they were charged with harbouring a priest contrary to the statute of 1585.

Gallows Hill

dorchester
-please click on the image for a more detailed view

John Speed’s map of Dorchester was published in 1610. It shows the position of the gallows on Gallows Hill on the bottom of the map towards the right,close to the modern junction of Icen Way and South Walks. The gallows was made of two uprights and a crossbeam connecting them with enough space for a two-wheeled cart to pass through and enough space for multiple hangings. At that time the County Gaol wa son High East Street near Icen Way, which used to be called Gaol Lane.

In the 16th and 17th centuries the penalty for high treason was to be hung, drawn and quartered. The victim was tortured, imprisoned, then taken to the gallows. He or she would be cut down after a short hanging, sometimes still alive, and cruelly butchered, with the limbs being torn from the body. The dismembered corpse was often placed on gateways. This is how John Cornelius, SJ and many more died.

The gallows was removed to Maumbury Rings around 1703, which means that many of the 74 prisoners condemned to death during the ‘Bloody Assize’ following the Monmouth Rebellion in 1685 will also have been executed there.

Love,
Matthew

Psalm 130 – De Profundis clamavi ad te Domini

©Photo. R.M.N. / R.-G. OjŽda
-Les Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry, Folio 70r – De Profundis, the Musée Condé, Chantilly.

For 800 yrs Dominicans have lined the hallways of their priories, where they have buried their dead, and sung the De Profundis, in remembrance. Very moving to experience. I also have the pleasure of owning and having read Fr. Ciszek’s, SJ, book He Leadeth Me.

Profound sinner though I am, I pray, Lord, if it be Your holy will, allow me the privilege and grace to suffer and die for You!! Better yet, let me despise my many sins, and live instead in faithfulness to You and Your will. Amen.

De profundis clamavi ad te, Domine!
Out of the depths, I cry to You, O Lord!

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-by Br Philip Nolan, OP

“After years of interrogation at the hands of the Soviet secret police, the American Jesuit Walter Ciszek reached a breaking point. He had been falsely accused of spying for the Vatican and was subjected to isolation and near starvation. As he records in his autobiographical account He Leadeth Me, under this strain his prayer life and mental stability both collapsed in a moment of despair: “I knew that I had gone beyond all bounds, had crossed over the brink into a fit of blackness I had never known before.” The cause of this crisis? He had always conceived of his “role—man’s role—in the divine economy as an active one,” but now, brought to destitution & desolation, he hadn’t the strength to go on. Thus for “one sickening split second,” he gave up on his life and on his salvation.

He came out of this experience only after being stripped of all trust in his own strength: “I realized I had been trying to do something with my own will and intellect that was at once too much and mostly all wrong.” He discovered that he had to see that every action, every impulse, was a moment for cooperation with the directive love of God.

While Ciszek came to understand what it meant to rely on God’s grace through extraordinary suffering, it’s something we all have to learn. And for all of us, it involves suffering—primarily, the suffering of dying to self. How do we let go of that trust in ourselves that makes us so defensive when challenged, so worried when we’re uncertain about the future, and so frustrated when things don’t go according to our plans? So much of our mental and spiritual energy goes into protecting that center of false self-reliance that its removal seems impossible for us. And, for man, it is impossible.

The psalmist tells God, “It was good for me to be afflicted / to learn Your will.” That’s fairly easy to say in a moment of contentment, but if someone told that to me during the miseries of the stomach flu, let alone in a Soviet prison camp, I’d find it much harder to believe. But notice that the psalmist says it was good—he’s reflecting on the past. He didn’t necessarily see or appreciate the point of afflictions while they happened, but in retrospect he can begin to see why God had allowed the difficulties in his life. His understanding came from a habit of reflecting about what had happened to him, what God had allowed. [PRAISE HIM!!! PRAISE HIM!!!]

I’m reminded of the title character in Marilynne Robinson’s novel Lila. She spends much of the book musing: “I just been wondering lately why things happen the way they do.” It sounds like a simple question, but the very phrasing of it implies a deep insight—things happen. Like the psalmist and Ciszek, Lila, too, had suffered. She had known what it was to be powerless. She had lived a childhood that would have been disorienting and traumatizing to the steadiest disposition. If someone told her she was the maker of her own destiny, it would have sounded a farce to her. As a result, she lives a posture towards her own life that is one of wonder—“I just been wondering”—even if it’s a wonder that is often confused and frightened.

Things happen to us and we don’t know why. We don’t create our lives; we haven’t chosen many of their events. We both participate in the story of our lives and observe them. As we live, and suffer, we have the opportunity again and again to wonder and ponder why things happen the way they do. Over time, we can hope with Ciszek “to see [God’s] will in all things, … to accept every situation and circumstance and let oneself be borne along in perfect confidence and trust.” [PRAISE HIM!!! PRAISE HIM!!!]

Love & trusting in the the Divine Will. Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief!!!
Matthew