Jesuits are members of the Society of Jesus. Currently, almost 17,000 men serve as priests and brothers in ministries around the world.
The Society of Jesus is the largest men’s religious order in the Roman Catholic Church. The Society is especially available for missions from the Pope.
Jesuit formation aims to develop the potential of the whole person – body, mind and spirit – for the universal mission of the Society and at the service of the Church. Hence the formation program spends long periods of time in prayer, spirituality, personal development, intellectual development, cultural and media sensitivity, insertion in the developing world, leading to an availability for the Jesuit mission whose scope extends to all of the academic, cultural and spiritual disciplines throughout the entire world. Ideally, a formed Jesuit is available to be sent on any mission, and the length of formation is to prepare this flexibility.
Jesuits can choose to be priests or brothers. Both groups of men take the same vows and live and pray in a religious community. Priests are ordained and administer the Sacraments and celebrate Mass. Although brothers do not feel called to the life of a priest, they participate fully in the work of the Society of Jesus, whose mission is “the service of faith and the promotion of justice.”
Pastors of Catholic parishes can be diocesan priests or members of religious orders such as the Jesuits. All parishes are part of the local diocesan system, and from time to time archbishops or bishops invite Jesuits to staff parishes and other ministries where they believe our talents can foster growth and community.
Roman Catholic parishes are always part of a local diocese, but pastors can be either diocesan or religious priests. Diocesan priests make promises of chastity and obedience; they are under the authority of bishops. Religious belong to communities, such as the Society of Jesus, which are typically guided by a particular mission or spiritual tradition. Religious priests, including Jesuits, take vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience; they are under the authority of their local superior and provincial. Jesuits take an additional vow of obedience to the Pope, placing themselves at his disposal.
Jesuit provincials are appointed by the Superior General in Rome to serve six-year terms. Provincials oversee geographic units called provinces. In Canada and the United States, the Society of Jesus is organized into six provinces or geographic regions.
In Latin: Societas Jesu
In English: Society of Jesus
In French: La Compagnie de Jésus
In Spanish: Compañia de Jesus
“It is to know that one is a sinner, yet called to be a companion of Jesus, as Ignatius was, who begged the Blessed Virgin to place him with her Son, and who then saw the Father Himself ask Jesus, carrying His cross, to take this pilgrim into his company…”
“It is to engage, under the standard of the cross, in the crucial struggle of our time the struggle for faith and that struggle for justice which it includes.”
– from the 32nd General Congregation Decree on “Jesuits Today”
The Jesuit takes religious vows which are apostolic. He commits himself until death to the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience. This is so that he may be totally united to Christ and share His own freedom to be at the service of all God’s people. And so, the Jesuit formalizes this commitment, by public vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience.
In binding the Jesuits, the vows set them free:
- free by their vow of poverty, to share the life of the poor, relying on God’s providence, and to use whatever resources they may have not for their own security and comfort, but for service;
- free by their vow of chastity, to be men-for-others, in friendship and communion with all, but especially with those who share their mission of service;
- free by their vow of obedience, to respond to the call of Christ as made known to them by him whom the Spirit has placed over the Church, and to follow the lead of their superiors, especially the Father General, who has all authority over them.
Moreover, following Ignatius they have asked Christ our Lord to let them render this service in a manner that gives them a personality of their own. They have chosen to give it in the form of a consecrated life, placing themselves at the service not only of the local churches but of the universal Church, by a special vow of obedience to his who presides over the universal Church, namely, the Pope.
The Jesuit Brother is a man called by God to the apostolic and missionary work of the Church. He is a man who consecrates the labor of his hands, all his talents, all his life, to the service of God and his neighbor. He does this as a full member of a brotherhood of men with one and the same vision, the SOCIETY OF JESUS. As a Jesuit, he commits himself totally to God by taking the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.
When Ignatius and his companions discerned how they were to live their vocation, their experience was already linked to the exercise of priestly ministry. But the required mobility to live out the vocation led Ignatius to accept into the Society a diversity of priests and brothers to share the same vocation and contribute to the one mission. All members are graced with the call to follow Jesus poor and humble.
The Brother’s vocation is to be sent to labor strenuously in giving aid towards the salvation and perfection of the souls of others. Brothers share in and contribute to the one apostolic vocation through the personal call of the Spirit. They can function in any mission proper to the Society. Brothers are intimately involved in every apostolic task of the Society through which this mission is carried out.
Thus, the first and most important contribution of a Brother is the gift of his own self, offered freely in service to the Lord.
If accepted in the Candidacy House, the applicant is asked to contribute some amount to help defray expenses undertaken by the Society. He is also expected to provide for his own personal needs while in the Candidacy.
Anyone, however, who is not able to meet these financial requirements can explain his situation to the Vocation Director, or to the Director of the Candidacy who will judge what arrangements are feasible. No one is refused admittance for purely financial reasons.
As soon as the candidate is accepted into the Novitiate, he has no more financial obligations. The Society, with the help of generous benefactors, takes care of financing his whole formation and training in the Society.
Continue to pray, receive the sacraments. Get involved in your parish and your school’s religious activities specially in the Sacrament of the Eucharist. Write or visit us. We will be happy to accompany you in your search. We encourage you to attend our vocation seminars and other activities. Visit beajesuit.org and fill out the contact form to get in touch with a Jesuit vocation promoter.
Spirituality is a unified world view and way of life. Christian Spirituality is believing and acting in accord with God’s self-revelation in Christ. There are many ways of doing this, all faithful to the Gospels, but historically, psychologically, and culturally distinct.
Ignatian Spirituality is rooted in the life and experience of St. Ignatius Loyola. Ignatius’ book of the Spiritual Exercises, arising from his personal experience, was written to help people. It contains a series of meditations and prayers, considerations, rules, and good advice that can be drawn upon as needed. This book is the principle written source of Ignatian spirituality. People who have made the Exercises and have adopted their principles are living Ignatian Spirituality.
Characteristics of Ignatian Spirituality
Some of the characteristics of Ignatian Spirituality are:
- Belief that we are created, forgiven, accepted, and unconditionally loved by God, and are called to a life of union with God now and for all eternity.
- Conviction that God does not hold aloof from creation, but is actively working in our world and our lives.
- Affirmation of the world, all the elements of which are created good and in which God may be found.
- Reverence for God and gratitude for God’s gifts leading to a response of love and service.
- Contemplation, looking for and finding God, in all things, in action as well as in prayer.
- Reverence for and reflection on human experience, since God’s presence and call can be discovered there.
- Continual prayer and discernment, attending in particular to interior movements of the heart through which God is manifest.
- Awareness that God deals directly with each person, and that each person must be treated with individual care.
- Reverence for the freedom of each individual to respond to the call of God.
- Clear distinction between God and all other things which are means to the love and service of God and others.
- Freedom from disordered attachments to any of these means in themselves so that we may clearly discern, rightly judge, correctly choose, and faithfully and lovingly respond to God.
- Critical consciousness of the distinction between the action of God and movements originating elsewhere that undermine freedom and love.
- Personal love for Jesus, which expresses itself in a commitment to work as his companion and to continue his mission in the world for the good of our fellow men and women.
- Dedication to the Church, the Body of Christ, and to the Holy Father his Vicar.
- Commitment to the welfare of our fellow humans — especially the marginalized, poor and oppressed — by a service of faith of which the promotion of justice is an integral part.
When they had finished their studies Ignatius and his companions decided to offer themselves to the Pope for whatever ministry he wished. They discerned that God was calling them to form a new religious order, the Society of Jesus. Rather than committing themselves to a single work and specific religious practices, they chose to keep themselves available to be sent, on a moment’s notice, to any part of the world where the need was the greatest, and to adopt the religious way of life needed for that end.
Ignatius was elected the head of this new order, called the Society of Jesus because of their devotion to the person of the incarnate Lord. They were later called Jesuits, a name meant to mock their frequent use of the name Jesus. The Jesuits embraced and adopted the name, by which they are now commonly known.
The Spiritual Exercises
Ignatius wanted to share with other people the fruits of his experience of God, and made notes for himself to help him do this. Those notes grew into a small book of directions called The Spiritual Exercises. It was intended to help the person who directed another in a structured thirty-day program of contemplation and prayer rather than for use by the person being directed.
Some of the major themes normally addressed in the four weeks or periods of the Exercises are:
- God’s unconditional, ever faithful love.
- Sin: our failure and the failure of the human family to respond with love to God’s love.
- God’s ever greater love, mercy and forgiveness.
- The person and life of Christ.
- Our call to discipleship, ministry and friendship with Jesus.
- Knowing Christ more intimately, loving him more ardently, following him more faithfully.
- The ultimate expression of God’s love.
- The suffering and death of Jesus for us.
- The victory of Jesus over death.
- Jesus’ sharing his joy with us.
- Being missioned by Jesus.
- Being empowered by his Spirit.
- The continuing presence of Christ in the world and the life of the retreatant.
- The call to return God’s constant love by an offering of one’s whole self to God.
All Jesuits make the full thirty-day Spiritual Exercises. Over the centuries the Jesuits have adapted the Exercises into shorter individually directed retreats of six to eight days, and into conference or group retreats of a few days’ duration in which the director presents various themes of the Exercises to individuals or to a group of people, who pray on their own about the material presented.
The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius are usually experienced in one of these shorter adaptations, but occasionally people are moved by grace to give themselves to the full Spiritual Exercises either at a retreat house for the form of a silent Thirty-Day Retreat, or at home in the form of The Spiritual Exercises in Daily Life. [Also called the 19th Annotation Retreat.]
St. Ignatius was born in the Basque area of Spain in 1491. In his early life he pursued a worldly career as a courtier and soldier. At the age of 30 he was struck down by a cannon ball in the battle of Pamplona.
During a year of recuperation he had no books to read except a life of Christ and lives of the saints. He daydreamed about being a heroic soldier and about serving God, and noticed that while both dreams were sweet, the sweetness of the first quickly faded while that of the second endured. He began to see from this that the second was an indication of God’s will and that God speaks to us through our consolations and desolations and other inner movements. As he continued to read and pray over both books, he began to recognize that God was calling him to follow Jesus.
After recovering, he traveled to the monastery of Montserrat near Barcelona, and there dedicated himself to the service of God. His conversion was deepened through ten months of prayer at Manresa, a town about ten miles away. There he experienced visions and anxieties, joys and scruples, and learned to discern the difference between the workings of God and those of the evil spirit.
In mystical visions beyond words, Ignatius experienced the love of the Trinity communicating itself to us and acting within creation out of love for us. He began to free himself from anything holding him back from God. And he greatly desired to share his experience of God with others.
But, in those days, it was difficult for an unschooled layman to teach about religious matters. He had to go back to school at the age of 30, get a degree, and become a priest. He went to the University of Paris, where he found companions, among them Francis Xavier.