On the Solemnity of St. Joseph, Patron of the Universal Church, Pope Francis said his Inaugural Mass before nearly one million Roman Catholics and people of goodwill from near and far.
In its Erasmus column on Religion and Public Policy, the Economist provides a description of this unusal order of priest:
They are the largest religious order within the Catholic church, with about 18,000 members, of whom 12,000 or so have undergone a long and rigorous training (at least eight years) to become priests. Since its foundation in 1540, by Ignatius of Loyola, and six of his fellow students at the university of Paris, the Society of Jesus has had a reputation for brains, energy and independence.
In different ways, the Jesuits have always been at the outer edge of the Catholic world: delving deeply into foreign languages, cultures and faiths, in the ultimate hope of converting people to Christianity but in a spirit of deep and skilfully applied empathy. They brought the Christian faith to Japan, to Quebec, to the indigenous peoples of South America, always immersing themselves in the local tongue and way of life.
If the Western world knows anything about China's greatest philosopher, and calls him by the Latinised name Confucius, it is because of reports sent back by the Jesuit scholar Matteo Ricci, who thought that Christianity and Confucianism were compatible.
This is excerpt from the site for the Society of Jesus provides some insight into the background of their founder, who single-mindedly followed a vision of the apostolic life. It sheds light on the heritage of Pope Francis, and the history of the Jesuits.
During the year his countryman Christopher Columbus was making final preparations for his voyage of discovery -- hoping to fine an alternative to the dangerous land route to Asia -- Inigo Lopez de Loyola joined a noble family of 12 children in the Basque region of northern Spain, not far from the Bay of Biscay.
As a youth, Inigo served as a page to the treasurer of the kingdom of Castile, and learned to relish the benefits of courtliness. In 1521, he took part in the defense of Pamplona in a skirmish with French forces, and suffered injuries to both legs.
The website for the Jesuits explains further:
During the long weeks of his recuperation, he was extremely bored and asked for some romance novels to pass the time. Luckily there were none in the castle of Loyola, but there was a copy of the life of Christ and a book on the saints. Desperate, Ignatius began to read them. The more he read, the more he considered the exploits of the saints worth imitating. However, at the same time he continued to have daydreams of fame and glory, along with fantasies of winning the love of a certain noble lady of the court, the identity of whom we never have discovered but who seems to have been of royal blood.
He noticed, however, that after reading and thinking of the saints and Christ he was at peace and satisfied. Yet when he finished his long daydreams of his noble lady, he would feel restless and unsatisfied. Not only was this experience the beginning of his conversion, it was also the beginning of spiritual discernment, or discernment of spirits, which is associated with Ignatius and described in his Spiritual Exercises.
The Exercises recognize that not only the intellect but also the emotions and feelings can help us come to a knowledge of the action of the Spirit in our lives. Eventually, completely converted from his old desires and plans of romance and worldly conquests, and recovered from his wounds enough to travel, he left the castle in March of 1522. He had decided that he wanted to go to Jerusalem to live where our Lord had spent his life on earth. As a first step he began his journey to Barcelona. Though he had been converted completely from his old ways, he was still seriously lacking in the true spirit of charity and Christian understanding, as illustrated by an encounter he had with a Moor on the way. The Moor and he came together on the road, both riding mules, and they began to debate religious matters. The Moor claimed that the Blessed Virgin was not a virgin in her life after Christ was born. Ignatius took this to be such an insult that he was in a dilemma as to what to do. They came to a fork in the road, and Ignatius decided that he would let circumstances direct his course of action. The Moor went down one fork. Ignatius let the reins of his mule drop. If his mule followed the Moor, he would kill him. If the mule took the other fork he would let the Moor live. Fortunately for the Moor, Ignatius’ mule was more charitable than its rider and took the opposite fork from the Moor. He proceeded to the Benedictine shrine of Our Lady of Montserrat, made a general confession, and knelt all night in vigil before Our Lady’s altar, following the rites of chivalry. He left his sword and knife at the altar, went out and gave away all his fine clothes to a poor man, and dressed himself in rough clothes and sandals and a staff.
Above all, the work of the Jesuits is based on the idea that both faith and reason are necessary for a moral life, and that they help us all to choose what is natural and good and life-affirming. The companionship among Jesuits is characterized by discipline ongoing honest assessment of one another's spiritual progress, on life's journey.
The Spiritual Exercises of their founder -- who was canonized by Pope Gregory XV on March 12, 1622, along with co-founder, Francix Xavier, S. J. and Theresa of Avilla, and others -- have been perpetuated through the centuries, as a means of spiritual renewal, even by those outside the Roman Catholic Church. They are designed to be completed in 4 weeks -- each week having a separate theme, contemplating the nature of sin and the life of Jesus, the Passion of Jesus, and the Resurrection of Jesus', leading toward a 'discernment' of the grace of God, as a mystical experience, leading to the fulfillment of one's higher purpose in life.
St. Ignatius died on July 31, 1566.