3 Jesuit Heroes

Canada Hails 400 Years of Service

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TORONTO, OCT. 1, 2011 (Zenit.org).- Here is the profile of three Jesuit heroes, beginning with St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits.

These profiles were printed in The Catholic Register, the national Catholic newspaper of Canada, as part of a special supplement honoring the Jesuits for their 400 years in Canada.

The 36-page homage includes reports on the Jesuits as a key element of history, the spiritual exercises, Jesuit formation, social justice, ecology and various other themes, along with reflections on Jesuit heroes, including the three found here.

— — —

Ignatius of Loyola: a saint ‘inclined toward love’

Dec. 24, 1491 – July 31, 1556

As he lay on his supposed deathbed in 1521, it would be hard to believe Ignatius of Loyola would become the founder of the Society of Jesus. A rash, worldly and contentious young officer in the Spanish army, he paid little attention to matters of faith. It wasn’t until he was struck with a cannon ball and told to prepare for death that Ignatius began his turn to God.

Left with only a book on the lives of the saints after his health took an unexpected turn for the better, Ignatius was inspired to model his life after theirs. By the time he had fully healed — though he spent the rest of his life with a limp — he had decided he wanted to go to Jerusalem and live where Jesus had.

Along his pilgrimage, Ignatius stopped in a cave near Manresa, a town in Spain, where he planned to spend a few days, but ended up staying for 10 months. It was here that Ignatius had a vision, which he never revealed, that led him to see God in all things. Here, he also undertook penances and fasts, trying to imitate — and even outdo — those of the saints. This extreme fasting would permanently damage his stomach.

After passing through Barcelona and Rome, Ignatius eventually arrived in the Holy Land only to be immediately sent away because the Turk-ruled Jerusalem was too dangerous for Catholics at the time.

Over the next several years, Ignatius studied in various European schools and universities, though his desire to go to the Holy Land never dwindled. While at the University of Paris, he met and began to influence Francis Xavier, Peter Faber and a few other students, directing them all through what is known today as the Spiritual Exercises. Together, Ignatius and six fellow students decided that if they couldn’t go to the Holy Land, they would travel to Rome and put themselves at the disposal of the pope.

By 1539, Ignatius had been ordained to the priesthood. Realizing that it was likely he’d never be able to travel to Jerusalem, he formed the Society of Jesus with six of his companions, with the approval of Pope Paul III.

Ignatius was unanimously voted the superior of the Society — twice. After the first vote, he begged his fellow members to pray, reconsider and vote again after a few days. They did, only to yield the same result. Though reluctant, Ignatius accepted the responsibility when his confessor convinced him it was God’s will.

As superior, Ignatius remained in his office in Rome, though his real passion was to teach children and direct adults through the Spiritual Excercises. Over the next 15 years, he wrote almost 7,000 letters to colleagues in the Jesuit order, which grew to include nearly 1,000 members by the time of his death.

On July 31, 1556, Ignatius died after an increasingly taxing struggle with the stomach problems he had developed when he was younger.

He was beatified on July 27, 1609, and canonized by Pope Gregory XV on March 12, 1622, together with St. Francis Xavier.

Though often portrayed as a stern, unemotional soldier, Ignatius was known among the members of the Society as a loving superior.

One of Ignatius’ closest companions, Luis Goncalves de Camara, wrote, «He was always rather inclined toward love; moreover, he seemed all love, and because of that he was universally loved by all.

There was no one in the Society who did not have great love for him and did not consider himself much loved by him.»

* * *

Brébeuf’s heavy load

March 25, 1593 – March 16, 1649

It was perhaps one of the most gruesome of all martyrdoms — bound to a stake, his fingernails were torn from his fingers, his feet severed from his legs and his tongue cut out. But throughout the entire ordeal, Jean de Brébeuf never cried out.

Once he had died, his Iroquois captors ate his heart and drank his blood in hope that they might gain his courage. For another 3,000 indigenous Canadians, however, Brébeuf’s valour inspired an entirely different reaction: a conversion to Christianity.

The scale of conversions following Brébeuf’s death is a far cry from his first years among the Huron, when his evangelical efforts met little success.

The French-born Jesuit first travelled to New France in 1625, three years after his ordination to the priesthood. He was chosen to work in the Huron country (near modern day Midland, Ont.) because of his talent for languages. In his time with the Huron, he would author the first Huron dictionary as well as write the Huron Carol, an indigenous understanding of the nativity still used today.

Though he returned to France in 1629 before converting even a single Huron, Brébeuf soon returned to Canada and was tasked to found and organize a formal mission, which the Jesuits hoped would serve as a prototype for future missions among indigenous peoples.

But in 1634, only a year after this mission began, all hopes of an ideal mission disappeared. Smallpox and dysentery epidemics provoked threats to Brébeuf and his companions’ lives, beginning a pattern of illnesses and subsequent backlash against the Jesuits. The Huron — not entirely mistaken — blamed the Europeans for bringing plagues to their homes. In 1639, after another epidemic, the Hurons tore crosses down, vandalized chapels and even beat Brébeuf and other Jesuits.

By 1641, 15 years after Brébeuf’s arrival in Huron country, there were still only 60 converts and the original Huron mission and its residence had been abandoned. But by 1644, another mission had been established. At this time, the French Jesuits proved an important ally for the Huron, who were undergoing regular attacks at the hands of the Iroquois.

Brébeuf had by now earned the title of Echon among the Huron, meaning «he who carries a heavy load.» But it was a burden he carried with joy, commitment and piety. Throughout his writings, he established his willingness to die for Christ.

In 1649, that willingness was fulfilled. In subsequent attacks on the towns of Saint-Ignace and Saint-Louis, where Brébeuf worked, the Iroquois captured and martyred him.

Brébeuf, «the giant of the Huron missions,» a title earned for both his physical and spiritual grandeur, was canonized in 1930 by Pope Pius XI.

«Your life hangs by a thread. Of calamities you are the cause — the scarcity of game, a fire, famine or an epidemic… you are the reasons, and at any time a savage may burn your cabin down or split your head,» Brébeuf wrote to would-be missionaries. » ‘Wherein the gain,’ you ask? There is no gain but this — that what you suffer shall be of God.»

* * *

Lonergan’s influence still spreading

Dec. 17, 1904 – Nov. 26, 1984

In Jesuit Father Bernard Lonergan, the Society of Jesus lays claim to a man that many modern thinkers regard as the most influential philosopher of the 20th century.

Since his death in 1984, Lonergan’s school of thought has rippled worldwide, and Lonergan educational and research centres can be found anywhere from Canada to the Philippines, from the United States to Australia — extending even beyond the reach of his 43-year teaching and writing career, which included positions
at Regis College in Toronto, Harvard University, Boston College and the Gregorian University in Rome.

«(Lonergan), with that boldness characteristic of genius… set out to do for the 20th century what Aquinas could not do for the 13th: provide an ‘understanding of understanding,’ » read an issue of Newsweek magazine.

Critical realism, Lonergan’s school of thought, sets out to discover «how to come about understanding Christian doctrine in a way that’s authentic,» said Fr. Gordon Rixon, S.J., director of the Lonergan Research Institute at Toronto’s Regis College.

By Rixon’s account, Lonergan succeeded in finding that authenticity he was searching for.

«What grabbed me — and I think this is often the case — is the people that I met who were studying Lonergan’s thought seemed to be authentic people,» said Rixon of his introduction to Lonergan’s philosophy. «They were seriously concerned with understanding truth, goodness and beauty.»

These concerns were shared by Lonergan, whose ideas are best shared through his magnum opus, Insight: A Study of Human Understanding, and the subsequent Method in Theology. In these works, Lonergan develops what would become one of his most recognized ideas, the Generalized Empirical Method.

«Just as you formulate a hypothesis about how water boils, you can formulate a hypothesis about how humans understand each other,» said Rixon, explaining the method.

The method, loosely defined as scientific method for the humanities and social sciences, stretches across a broad array of fields, from economics to philosophy and theology. The universality of this approach is part of why Lonergan’s work is so celebrated, said Rixon.

«Whether you’re a scientist, a doctor, a lawyer, a journalist… in all those different fields, you have a mind and you’re using it,» he said. «If you have awareness and self-freedom, you’re better at your profession… It helps (people) ground their profession in their spiritual life.»

It’s an ambition that Rixon and the Lonergan Research Institute — along with dozens more institutions around the world — think is worth promoting.

The Institute is dedicated to preserving, promoting, developing and implementing the thought of Lonergan. Through international seminars, lectures, publishings and scholarly work, the Institute and others like it keep his school of thought alive and well. Rixon and the institute are currently publishing an ongoing series of Lonergan’s works.

Underlying all those works, Rixon added, is a deep Jesuit spirituality rooted in the «self-transcendent» nature of St. Ignatius of Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises.

«Ignatius has a thing about seeing God in all things,» said Rixon. «And Lonergan helps people do that.»

— — —

On the Net:

Jesuits in Canada – 400 Years of Service: www.catholicregister.org/jesuits

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