Jesuits are known for their work in evangelization, education, and apostolic work with a particular focus on peace and justice.
A Jesuit is a member of the Society of Jesus, an order of Catholic priests and brothers founded by Ignatius of Loyola (Spain) in 1543. Upon founding their society St. Ignatius and his companions offered themselves to the Pope for any mission. At the time the greatest need was for education. Hence, in the early history of the Jesuits, education became a very significant mission of the order. Other missions of the Church that Jesuits have taken on include missionary endeavor to many parts of the world, retreat ministry and spiritual development, relation between science, philosophy and religion, interfaith relation, integration of faith and social justice, and inculturation of Catholic faith in many diverse cultures.
The most prominent hint of who Jesuits are comes from the exclusive interview with Pope Francis published in America magazine (September 30, 2013). In response to the question "Who is Jorge Bergoglio," His Holiness responded, "I am a sinner." As a Jesuit provincial of Argentina, Jorge Bergoglio participated in the 32nd the Society of Jesus that reflected on the question: "What is it to be a Jesuit?" The General Congregation declared a reflective response in Decree 2: "It is to know that one is a sinner, yet called to be a companion of Jesus as Ignatius was." It is not about being a sinner wallowing in his sinfulness, but rather liberated and energized by God's merciful and compassionate grace to give himself to God's mission.
JESUITS: An order of Catholic priests know for their ability to found colleges with good basketball teams, such as Marquette University, St. Joseph's University, Creighton University, Georgetown University and Gonzaga University. Wheeling Jesuit aspires to be numbered with its elder siblings someday.
Jesuits are one of many Catholic societies (orders) founded at a particular time to meet a particular need. A order's response to those times and needs shape their spiritualties. Some aspects of Jesuit spirituality include attention to the relationship between freedom and detachment, seeking to find God's presence in all things through a process of discernment developed through a daily exercise known as the examine of consciousness.
Freedom is necessary in order to serve where there is a need and detachment is required to move to a new mission. The balance between these provides a creative tension in Jesuit ministry. Through the dynamic of freedom and detachment, many Jesuits have gone through experiences of falling in love and heartbreak. Falling in love with Christ who is truly present among the people animates the Jesuits to give themselves fully to serve God's people and the mission. Heartbreak is experienced when obedience requires Jesuits to move to a new mission and teaches the importance of detachment. The combination of falling-in-love and broken heart hopefully form a big heart open to God that Pope Francis focused on during the interview, rather than a hardened and calcified heart.
Finding God in all things is not unique to Ignatian spirituality, but makes the spirituality distinct from some other Christian spiritualties. For example, Christians who practice Ignatian spirituality may find Gospel values while watching the animated movie How To Train Your Dragon. Other Christians may see it simply as an entertainment. Jesuits contemplate God's presence, not only in explicitly Christian reality and environment, but also in daily and secular world. It is not a forceful way of finding God, but rather surrendering openness to God's revelation in all things. As a result, Jesuit educational institutions practice open hospitality to students of other or no faith traditions.
A Jesuit navigates through the creative tension of freedom and detachment by the discernment of the spirit. The habit of a discerning heart builds upon cultivation of one's relationship with God. The beloved can sense what the lover's needs and desires. Hence, a Jesuit's intimate relationship with God makes his heart and mind more sensitive and responsive to the movement of the Holy Spirit. For example, a Jesuit priest who is preaching may begin to sense his heart moving away from God as the center to his own brilliant idea or agenda. A discerning and sensitive heart will help him conclude the homily before moving far away from God.
One prayer practice that St. Ignatius requires every Jesuit to do is the examination of consciousness as a way to cultivate and deepen that relationship with God. The examination gets the Jesuit into the habit of finding God in all things and becoming a contemplative in action. Being a contemplative in action is very much intertwined with finding God in all things. The following story can illustrate a practice of becoming contemplative in action: Two Jesuit novices both wanted a cigarette while they prayed. They decided to ask their novice master for permission. The first asked but was told 'no.' A little while later he spotted his friend smoking "Why did the superior allow you to smoke and not me?" he asked. "Because you asked if you could smoke while you prayed and I asked if I could pray while I smoked!," the friend replied.
While smoking is very much discouraged in Jesuit form ation, praying while doing some other activities is very much encouraged. In fact, it is not so much praying with words, but rather raising one's consciousness of God's presence at each moment. Nowadays, the practice of mindfulness has gained popularity in many sectors of life. THrough the examination of consciousness, Jesuits have practiced mindfulness of God's presence and activity for over four centuries. This mindful or contemplative attitude in daily activity has made Jesuit open to find God in all things.