What makes a Jesuit saint?
Chris Brolly SJ, currently a Jesuit in formation studying in Paris, took time to reflect on the Jesuit saints during his time in the novitiate in Birmingham...What qualities make a Jesuit saint, he asks?
Last week our study focus turned to some of the great men in the history of the Society of Jesus. Throughout the week we novices researched and presented the lives of Francis Xavier, Pierre Favre, Matteo Ricci, Edmund Campion, Jean de Brebeuf, Rupert Mayer, Pedro Arrupe and Alberto Hurtado. As an exercise in reflection I returned to their lives over the weekend and attempted to piece together the qualities that made all of the above so impressive and many of them recognised as Saints by the Church.
*Although I’ve shortened these qualities into list form (of no particular order), it will soon become apparent that there’s nothing simple about leading the life of a saint…
- Obedience: manifesting itself in total apostolic availability for mission.
- Intelligent: Not only well-educated and rounded, but presumably open to self-improvement and always looking to learn.
- Brave and Courageous: To embark on certain missions, ready to be imprisoned, persecuted or even martyred when on mission. To stand-up to accepted norms.
- Prophetic: Sensitive and responsive to the society and context one lives in. Realise that everything – politics, economics, culture, and theology – is connected and has to be balanced. The challenge is to read God’s call amongst this.
- Interculturality: Strive for cultural immersion with those one serves in all things, beginning with language, then cultural customs, living standards, even name and appearance!
- Integrity: Be a good example to others. An exemplary way of living speaks louder to others than words. One can also earn credibility by being useful to others. In addition, share ‘your own lamentable past’ (St Francis Xavier) that others can relate to.
- A Pragmatic idealist: Show faith, resilience and creativity in the face of adversity or difficulties. Show ambition, courage and prudence on mission.
- Service: Devote yourself in service of the people, often, if not always, those people perceived as the most in need. Bring the Gospel to the people who most need to hear it. Be superhuman to those treated as subhuman and turn others’ suffering into joy – if you cannot remove the cross, make it sweet.
- Dedication to evangelisation: Bring teaching, the sacraments and justice to others. Put teaching catechism and prayer first and the sacraments will follow. A dedication to justice, peace and social issues show that Christianity and faith is “not a dull opiate”, rather a force for good in the world.
- Perceptive: Mindful of the presence and working of the Holy Spirit in one’s life.
- Positive: Be consistently enthusiastic, zealous, joyful and optimistic. Use fervour in the face of apathy.
- Deep: Strive to make a deep, lasting impression and legacy wherever you work, not just a ‘flash in the pan’ effect dependent on the personality of one person. Institute foundations to be built on by others, asserting and insisting on high standards from others. This involves an ability to collaborate, as well as a commitment to forming others.
- Grateful: To God and all those he has placed in one’s path who have contributed to the person they’ve become. Remember that God can be glorified by taking the time to thank others and reflect on their impact on one’s life.
- Awareness: Of the potentially transformative effect of the Spiritual Exercises a) on oneself and b) on others.
- Prayerful: Always making space to spend time with God.
- Tolerant: Always prioritise love and hope over hate and despair.
- Hardworking: Have a huge impact, even when placed somewhere for a relatively short time. Radiate to those around you.
- Moderation: Listen first, speak second. Be both unassuming and humble in conversation.
- A good walker: It’s amazing how many miles these guys covered on foot…
So that’s how one becomes a Jesuit Saint in less than twenty simple* steps! In some ways reflecting on the amazing lives of these great men has made me feel further away than ever from emulating them. At the same time, I can’t help feeling deeply inspired and motivated by the example they have laid down before me, especially as I am beginning at the very same place they all started from: the Jesuit novitiate. It’s quite a challenge and one that will take all of the years in formation, probably a lifetime and, indeed, will likely still remain unachieved. However, that’s how it should be for, as Robert Browning once wrote, ‘a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a Heaven for?’
(Image credit: Stained glass window above the north entrance of the west façade, depicting the Jesuit saints Stanislaus Kostka, Francis Xavier, Ignatius Loyola, and Aloysius Gonzaga. Created by Mayer & Co. of Munich from Saint Macartan's Cathedral, Monaghan, County Monaghan, Ireland. Image by Andreas F. Borchert via Wikimedia Commons)