“A Jesuit is essentially a man on a mission, a mission he receives from the Holy Father and from his own religious superior, but ultimately from Jesus Christ himself, the one sent by the Father.”
- General Congregation 34, Society of Jesus (1995)
In August 2007, when I professed the religious vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, my religious superior immediately sent me on a mission. To be “a man on a mission,” sent into the vineyard to serve God’s people, is how the Jesuit conforms his life to Christ. My mission was to study philosophy and theology at Loyola University in Chicago. That may not fit one’s traditional notion of mission activity, but it was St. Ignatius Loyola himself who identified studying as a unique way of glorifying God and preparing to “help souls.” As part of his Christian journey, Ignatius discovered that he needed to learn Latin and theology, so he traveled to the University of Paris to study. In Paris, Ignatius met his first companions, Peter Faber and Francis Xavier. These men, along with others, eventually founded the Society of Jesus. I continued this Jesuit tradition at Loyola University. “To overcome ignorance and prejudice through learning and teaching, to make the Gospel truly ‘Good News’ in a confused and troubled world through theological reflection, is a characteristic of our Jesuit way of proceeding” (GC 34).
How did I discover the Society of Jesus and this particular way of following Christ? Raised in Kaukauna, Wisconsin, I attended public high school, and then Saint Joseph College (Indiana). When I graduated in 2004, I felt called to continue developing intimacy with God through community life, simple living, and commitment to social justice, so I joined the Jesuit Volunteer Corps (JVC) in California. While there, I hoped to find an answer to the question: “Who are these mysterious men known as Jesuits?” I had heard about these “companions of Jesus,” but I did not personally know any of them.
On my first night in California, I met Fr. Tom Weston, S.J. During Mass, he prayed in Hebrew as he offered the gifts of bread and wine, and since the first reading had mentioned Abraham, our father in faith, Fr. Weston prayed for the unity of Jews, Christians, and Muslims. His authenticity, intelligence, and compassion were evident. The following week, I learned about the Jesuit martyrs of El Salvador, including university president Fr. Ignacio Ellacuría, S.J., who was murdered in 1989. Ellacuría, a brilliant man, used his God-given intelligence to serve an entire country: he fearlessly promoted justice and peace in the midst of a bloody civil war. He knew that some people wanted him dead, but he remained in the country, faithful to the mission he received from his superior, “but ultimately Jesus Christ himself, the one sent by the Father” (GC 34). Ellacuría’s dedication to the Kingdom of God reminded me of the early Apostles. I could not help but be inspired by his witness to faith. Also, while in California, I had the privilege of having Fr. Paul Fitzgerald, S.J., as my spiritual director. His faith, joy, and humility shaped me as a person. During this time, through prayer, my awareness of God’s presence in my life deepened, and I began listening for God’s call.
“Each day is filled with blessings and challenges.”
Now I have been a Jesuit for more than four years. It has been a great privilege to live with these companions of Jesus. Each day is filled with blessings and challenges. When in Chicago, I regularly visited with teenage boys at the Juvenile Detention Center. Those boys taught me so much about life on the streets and the scourge of violence in our neighborhoods. Their perseverance and hope in the face of these horrific conditions inspire me. This ministry experience connected with my classroom experience and helped me to formulate important questions about faith and justice. How do we find God in the poor, as Jesus did? What are our responsibilities as Christians in today’s world of violence and poverty? How can we help transform the oppressive societal structures that make it difficult for these boys to avoid incarceration? Since I received this mission to study, it is these questions that give life to my Jesuit vocation and confirm that this call has been received “from Jesus Christ himself, the one sent by the Father” (GC 34).