There are men out there who have been thinking for years about joining our religious order, the Jesuits, but cannot make up their minds. Earnest young men, spiritual charmers, joyful contrarians, with epic beards or closets of Dri-FIT, circling and circling the perimeter of the Society, but refusing to apply.
Even when the writing is on the wall—when it is clear that they would be admitted (or at least would have a fair shot)—they cannot pull the trigger.
If such men ever asked my advice, I would say: Apply. Do this thing. If the Jesuits say yes, join up. Because why not? Dive in. There is nothing to be afraid of.
You have been eating free pizza at “Come and See” weekends long enough. You have been brandishing for years the fetching promise of your vocation to parents and priests, to old teachers and neighborhood mothers, their hope-filled sighs floating after you like incense down the sidewalk.
You have been waving for far too long the sparkler of priesthood before your girlfriends or boyfriends: Don’t get too close! I could be gone, like that!
Fence hangers, doubters, grass is greeners: Many of us in the order have been there ourselves, so all we can say is, join up.
Your “call” is a quiet, solemn coda to evenings of seduction: By the way, I’m not just a scruffy,heartfelt Mountain Goats fan. I also might want to be a Jesuit. Been feeling the call to serve Christ full out. But I don’t know. Whatever. (Pause.) You wanna get out of here? I just have to be up early for benediction at St. Absinthia. Not that I’m into benediction. But I’m into benediction.
Fence hangers, doubters, grass is greeners: Many of us in the order have been there ourselves, so all we can say is, join up. You’ve got up to two years (730 days!) of Jesuit novitiate to figure it out, to test the life before you decide to take vows or not—or before you are asked to seek perfection elsewhere. You have 24 months of classes, pilgrimages, retreats, immersions and soul-crushing rides in Jesuit minivans with six grown men to get ice cream on the Feast of the Virgin Martyrs. If the life is right for you it is right for you. If it is not, you leave. No harm no foul. That is what novitiate is for.
The society (pretty much) admits only men who see themselves as sticking with it—who they believe will actually take vows. But nothing is certain for even the most certain.
Don’t be afraid. Make a decision, and make the more interesting one.
The Jesuits do not “recruit.” Trying to convince someone who they are and what life they should lead is a hopeless task for all concerned. I am just naming the reality for you. And the reality is that you want to try on for size this particular outfit. But you are afraid. And you are unable to dive deep and pluck that fear out of the seabed.
Don’t be afraid. Make a decision, and make the more interesting one.
Maybe you won’t even get in. Things could come up in the interviews, stuff you didn’t even know about—unresolved conflicts, misguided heroism, who knows? If you are not admitted no one is going to curse you for wasting their time. No vocation director will make you pay back the cost of the paper and pencils for the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory. They will just be glad you have found some clarity.
I once saw a young Jesuit scholastic at a ceremony in a church in Boston committing the unthinkable crime of wearing a black cassock. Publicly. Where everyone could see it. Even forward-thinking potential donors.
But the way the cassock was cinched, the way the cincture draped down, and his smart haircut and easy smile and non-threatening, even-keeled liturgical grace softened the blow of this audacious behavior.
Maybe our undecided young guy is on the fence, in part, because he, too, wants to wear the cassock and in such fine fashion. But how will it be received?
Maybe our undecided young guy is on the fence, in part, because he, too, wants to wear the cassock and in such fine fashion.
Don’t worry! Do it! Bring on your desire for the old soutane. Ask if you can wear it. Or just get one and wear it until someone in charge tells you to stop. Put it on and strike a touch of panic into souls who live in quaking fear that this latter-day mingling of cassocks and kneelers, mantillas and rosaries, incense and adoration, will congeal into a fierce Latinate weapon that will bomb the church back to 1961, to a thing called “pre-Vatican II,” to a time that no one on earth can actually ever bring back. Be this individual who does this thing, because God is larger than your outré cassock and anyone else’s fear of it. Go confidently toward something. Making a bold move begets energy and clarity. Sitting around begets sitting around.
Maybe you have an issue with the church, and it is keeping you from diving in. We all have “issues” with the church, don’t we? We have some hang-up, somewhere, in what the church does and what it fails to do.
So, what is the acreage of your stance? What is the square footage of that issue that keeps you from throwing yourself into this life?
We all have “issues” with the church, don’t we?
Maybe your issue is something having to do with dogmas, scandals, bodies, wombs, genders, marriages, bishops, orientations; the wombless bishop’s body oriented beneath a cassock declaring brave or charmless exhortations at a synod—and what’s a synod?
As legitimate as these church complaints may be, for you such issues are not about the issues. In your life they function not primarily as matters of justice but as makeshift screens to keep you from joining this “least society.” Is the geography of a nattering church issue large enough to swallow up your heart? To keep it from doing what it actually wants to do?
I know this is generally not O.K. to do, writing a whole article about joining the priesthood (or becoming a brother, as I did.) It may be, in fact, the most inappropriate new article on our site right now: a Jesuit in a Jesuit magazine encouraging young men to join the Jesuits. Forgive me on this. We are doing our best. Our editor sings cabaret and loves the Red Sox. We are a broken people.
I know this is generally not O.K. to do, writing a whole article about joining the priesthood.
This essay may simply be a wrong thing because anytime you talk of religious vocations you should talk about every vocation. To say the Jesuits are worthy is to say other things are not. If you invite a man to be a priest you should immediately invite everyone else to be anything else they ever could be. In some climate zones of the American church, it is wrong even to raise up, in any fashion, the call to the priesthood. Encouraging vocations to a group reserved for men is to be tacitly boycotted by some; it is best to ignore the priesthood, and maybe it will go away.
This is one line of thinking, anyway.
Maybe some men have forgotten what started them considering the vocation in the first place; namely, a Jesuit who sold him on the life just by being himself. The theologian Karl Rahner once wrote about these kinds of men. I can think of a few myself. One priest for decades with loving militancy taught high school Latin wearing a thin, blue polyester lab coat over black clerics, his perfect brown and wavy hairpiece extracting, as far as I knew, not one ounce of the respect his scores of students had for him.
Another drives madly like Steve McQueen through the hills of Northeast India starting microcredit lending groups for indigenous women. He is maybe the coolest guy you ever met. He mystifies you when he says that lately he receives inspiration from tapes of “Hour of Power” with Robert Schuller. You wish it was someone else that moved him besides tapes of “Hour of Power” with Robert Schuller. (But what do you really know about Robert Schuller anyway?)
One Jesuit (before he was a Jesuit) prosecuted a cannibal, later visited him in prison and reported back, “Actually, he’s a pretty nice guy.”
Right before they shot him one priest stretched out his arms—you can’t make this stuff up—and shouted “Long live Christ the King,” all but ending right then and there the regime that executed him. (There is no way to write any of this without coming off as look, world, how grand we are. But all I can report is what I know.) Another in 1987 gave a whiplash of a homily at midnight to freshmen sprawled all over a gym floor. He declared, against perhaps the theological fashion of the age, that at the end of time, in the battle of good versus evil, “Christ will win!”
Another priest carries deep in the lighted cave of his soul, (in a manner confounding and unabashed,) both a humble disinterested devotion to the poor, the homeless, the seekers, the losers, via his near-mystical relationship with our non-ideological Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. He carries both that and a supine allegiance to every Democrat in the world as refracted through the harsh light of the Chicago Democratic machine. It works, it works.
One Jesuit (before he was a Jesuit) prosecuted a cannibal, later visited him in prison and reported back, “Actually, he’s a pretty nice guy.” Another shouted at a raging storm on his way to save half the known world, “Even more Lord, even more!” He lost his crucifix in the sea. Later a crab returned it.
I just know it is a true thing, and true things ought to be said: namely, that there are wavering hearts out there, casing the walls of this order.
A few are just not that pleasant to be around. Somehow, in ways you cannot quite name, this confirms the legitimacy of the order: God works through anyone and anything. And what do you really know about these guys anyway?
Jesuits are men who, when dealing with someone’s sorrow or joy, do not tend to say what they think a religious person ought to say, but what actually should be said. Or they don’t say anything and just let people speak their truth. And the truth sets them free.
That is what draws you here, and your doubts are blowing you into dust. Why? Is that who you want to be, a wrung-out pile of indecision?
No one in the society asked me to write this. I just know it is a true thing, and true things ought to be said: namely, that there are wavering hearts out there, casing the walls of this order. And that they do have the ability to stop and walk straight in.
Maybe the current dogma is a little true: that if one group is exhorted all should be exhorted. Encouraging young men to shake off their fears and follow Christ in unrelenting fashion—at least for a little while—maybe this could be said to anyone.
A shortened version of this essay appeared as the Of Many Things column in the June 25, 2018 issue.