How the Jesuits made me a more Spiritual Person
Three cheers for the Jesuits!
Why? Because over the past several years, as I have learned more about them, their examples have made me a more spiritual person.
The first time I ever recall hearing the word "Jesuit" was in 4th grade. My teacher was a big fan of J.D. Fitzgerald's Great Brain books, and was reading them outloud to us. Since The Great Brain himself was a Catholic living amongst the Mormons of Utah, he often talked about Catholic things. I think he was sent to a boarding school run by the Jesuits... but I'm not 100% sure that was the case.
In any event, that small mention of the Jesuits made me wonder about them, and years later when I ran across the book "My Life with the Saints" by James Martin, SJ, it was (partially) my curiosity about the Society of Jesus (the formal order that Jesuits belong to) that lead me to read the book. Now there was great book - one that was both inspiring and uplifting! Just by reading it and thinking about the lives of some of the Catholic Saints I found myself wanting to be a better person and do more good in the world.
It's kind of funny, because I am not Catholic and never have been. I, like the author Fitzgerald, grew up in a small Utah town where the majority of people were Mormons. I knew a handful of people who belonged to different religions, but I don't particularly recall any Catholic minded ones. When I went on my mission to Guam, however, I began to be schooled in Catholicism! Only a little bit though. I purchased a little book that gave me the basics of the Catholic religion, and I found it tremendously interesting. All the history and tradition associated with the Catholic church is both amazing and rich - I reveled learning about it. While in Micronesia I attended Catholic Mass a couple of times, and had many good religious discussions with several of its members.
Several years ago I heard about Father Jim when he became somewhat famous for his appearances on the Colbert show. As I learned more about him I became even more impressed with his gentle manner and scholarly approach to helping people become better - no matter which religion they claimed. That's when I got his book, read it, and was inspired to be more.
Shortly after finishing that book I read another of his: "The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything: A Spirituality for Real Life." That one was also very good, but I liked Saints better. One of the neat things I learned while reading the Guide, however, was the 'Spiritual Exercises.' This is basically a set of prayers, meditations and mental exercises that one does over the course of four weeks. I found myself really wanting to participate in this rigorous exercise, but I haven't done so yet. Can you imagine spending multiple hours each day focusing on spirituality and making yourself better? I think it would be wonderful! It makes me a little bit sad, and causes me to wonder why my own religion (Mormon) doesn't do something similar to this? I imagine there are several LDS people who would jump at a chance to spend a week in spiritual meditation - I know I would.
It also makes me a bit sad that we don't have "orders" in our church either. I would really enjoy joining a group of like minded individuals in pursuit of certain spiritual ideals. I certainly don't know how fulfilling it would really be, but I imagine that it would be very much so.
When Francis became Pope a few years ago, I was extremely pleased to see that he was from the Society of Jesus. I enjoy seeing his changes at the Vatican, and while I certainly don't keep tabs on everything he does I do like to follow the main events in his Papacy. In fact one of the recent issues of National Geographic had an excellent article about the changes he is making/has made at the Vatican - it was really cool.
So, yeah, I like the Jesuits. In spite of some of their questionable actions in colonial South America, I still feel that they are a force for good in this world. I really appreciate their focus on social justice and poor. I consider those worthy ideals. Although I'm not about to convert to Catholicism just so I can join their order, I figure I can follow their example and help make the world a better place for the rest of us.
Hip hip hooray!