Monday, October 5, 2015

Following an Order // Jim Dwyer reviews two new books about the Jesuits

John W. O’Malley, S.J., in The Jesuits: A History From Ignatius to the 

Reviewed by Jim Dwyer
Jim Dwyer captures the experience of being educated by Jesuits.  Unfortunately today the  Society of Jesus is reduced in numbers;  One consequence of the Society's membership loss is that so few today have the experience we had. In the service of others was not a tag line, but a living example. - gwc
"Instead of invoking monastic traditions of withdrawal from the world, Ignatius and the other early Jesuits placed high value on the richness of conversation, of art and reading and education. They would travel and preach. The world, after all, had been made by God; and, as Jerónimo Nadal, an early collaborator of Ignatius, said, “The world is our house.” He might as well have also said it was their schoolhouse. A decade after the founding, Jesuits began to open schools and universities. Education remains the most vibrant thread in the order’s DNA. Long after I served my last Mass, Ignatius leaned into my life through his progeny at a Jesuit high school and college. Jesuits and their lay colleagues taught me how to make a layup in basketball and critically read Walden Pond and how covalent bonds knit the physical world together." - Jim Dwyer (Writing her for the Jesuit magazine America, Dwyer is a Pulitzer Prize winning writer for the New York Times.  Like me he was Jesuit-educated)
Following an Order

The worldwide census of Jesuits reached 36,000, its historic peak, in 1965, we are reliably informed by John W. O’Malley, S.J., in The Jesuits: A History From Ignatius to the Present. That year was also my busiest year as an altar boy at the Church of St. Ignatius Loyola in New York City, the magisterial Jesuit presence on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Often, two side altars were deployed along with the high altar so that three Masses could be said at the same time, keeping the queue of priests moving.
As an 8-year-old boy, kneeling on the Carrara marble steps awaiting my cues to ring the bells, I often gazed up at three murals in the apse. Each depicted a chapter in the story of St. Ignatius, the Basque founder of the Society of Jesus. Two were evocative enough, if a bit dull—Ignatius, with some of his early followers, kneeling before Pope Paul III to get permission to start the order; and Ignatius on the day of his canonization, lolling on a celestial cloud cushion in heaven. But I never tired of the drama in the first mural: it showed Ignatius, then a soldier known as Iñigo, his leg wounded by a cannonball. As he is being bandaged on the ramparts of Pamplona, the invaders swarm a few feet beneath him. Even so, Iñigo is sitting up, giving orders to his men, his left hand pointing. It was during his long recuperation from this injury that he decided to abandon his life as a soldier and courtier and begin a quest for meaning. Hence the Jesuits.
Ignatius and the company of men he founded in 1540 loom over nearly five centuries of history, no less than they did over a small boy kneeling at a grand altar. Two recent books, O’Malley’s and another by Luke J. Larson, capture parts of the Jesuit experience through different instruments: O’Malley by a telescope and Larson by microscope.
O’Malley, the leading academic historian of the order and a Jesuit, sprints through 500 years in 160 pages that do “little more than glide over the surface of a long and complex history,” he says. That is accurate but understates his accomplishment in The Jesuits.

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