Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Pruning

I have in my stack of books that I'm currently reading several very fine Jesuit theologians...some I would even consider great. It's with sadness that I read this:
Of course it not just liberal Protestants who have, ahem, liberated themselves of superfluous congregants. Many Catholic religious orders likewise embarked on ambitious programs of renewal so as to prune away the "deadwood" -- by which they meant heterosexual Roman Catholics under the age of 70. That renewal was a spectacular success, and in virtually every case you can plot membership growth in inverse proportion to trendiness.

As it happens, the Society of Jesus is celebrating today, albeit rather abashedly, the centenary of the birth of Fr. Pedro Arrupe, the General Superior who took the reins in 1965 and, in the face of many obstacles, set the Jesuits on their current trajectory. A 2004 story from the New York Times expounds the nature of the triumph and permits the lieutenants to indulge in some well-merited gloating:
"It is certainly the case that we are getting smaller, but I see it as the religious life being restored to its proper minority status within the church," said [Father Robert Manning, S.J.] of the Weston School. "We were always meant to be a model, a sign to people, not the dominant model of religious life."
Not the dominant model -- that's to say, the little boutique specialty niche business you've always wanted to be. Just think: had Ignatius Loyola founded no new religious order but continued his life as a roystering soldier, the "proper minority status" of the Jesuit ideal would have been in place from the get-go, and forty-plus years of effort wouldn't have been needed to restore it. If St. Ignatius committed some blunders at the outset, however, his heirs have done their part to correct them. And more.
I don't know enough about Fr. Arrupe. Perhaps someone can elucidate. But there are glimmers of a springtime here and there.

1 comment:

Quantitative Metathesis said...

*glowers at people who do and think these ghastly things*