I have been ruined for life.
The Jesuits did it.
The Jesuits, otherwise known as The Society of Jesus, are an order of brothers and priests within the Roman Catholic Church who were founded by Ignatius of Loyola. If you don’t know who Ignatius is, you should look him up; his life story could be the plot of a Lifetime movie, except it is way cooler because it’s a true story. When I decided to attend a Catholic college founded by the Jesuits, I did not realize how that decision would come to affect me as a person. Who knew that Ignatian Spirituality was totally my thing? Not me, that’s for sure. I was oblivious to how my eyes were about to be opened, to how I would soon be ruined for life, in the best way possible. The lessons I learned during this brief time in my life have profoundly shaped my values, and have caused me to view the world in an entirely different way.
As a side note, I need to warn you that I will not be able to do the Jesuits justice in this short post, as I am totally not an expert on the subject. I do, however, want to pass on some of the most important things I learned from them, because I believe they are extremely relevant to the world and our society at this particular moment.
Mind, Body, Soul
First of all, I just want to say that I am so proud of my liberal arts education, and I would choose it again in a second. The S.J.’s believe in a solid holistic education, or an education of the whole person, mind, body and soul. What does that mean for a college education exactly? It means that the goal is not simply to learn skills that will land you a job once you graduate, but also to gain a broader world perspective by exploring all academic areas and enriching yourself in every way possible. In college, I didn’t just learn, I learned how to learn. I learned how to question and critique, how to use ethics and philosophy as a personal and social barometer, and how to view the world through the lens of social justice and living to serve others. To the people who are saying right now, “You can learn those things anywhere and get a cheaper education that will make you more money…”, I know those arguments and they make sense from an outsider’s perspective, but I respectfully disagree. The Jesuits allow education to enrich all facets of person, not only those skills which lead to a high paying job, because it helps people develop into conscientious, free-thinking, inspired, and creative learners for life. That is more important than attaining a six-figure salary. My holistic, Jesuit education is worth so much more than any amount of money a degree can make me.
In saying all of these things, I absolutely do not meant to imply that my academic education from the Jesuits was lacking; on the contrary, it was rigorous, challenging, and thorough, and someone absolutely can earn six figures with a degree from my university. My point, however, is that the worth of education is not merely based on the amount of money a person makes. In my opinion, that is a beautiful way to view learning.
A Different Kind of Spirituality
I know, you hear the word “spirituality” and your mind starts to wander because you have heard it all before and it is super boring. I don’t know about you, but my brain associates the word “spirituality” with vague, overused phrases like “talking to God” and “finding yourself”. I have a general sense of what those phrases mean, but what do each of those things actually entail? What exactly do those things require? The same goes for that somewhat nebulous concept of spirituality. What does it even mean?
After reading a handful of books and essays in college that were written by the Jesuit brothers themselves, I have absorbed a definition of spirituality that actually makes sense to me and is relevant to the world we live in. Jesuit, or Ignatian, spirituality involves contemplation, not only in order to enjoy the beautiful things in the world, but to acknowledge the ugly things as well. Along with that, a person is urged to think about his or her own strengths and failures, how to improve on those shortcomings, and how to be more like God. The S.J.’s take it one step further and call on people to figure out how their understanding of themselves relates to the world they live in. The idea is to first understand the self, and then begin to understand how the self connects to the world. In other words, what are you meant to be doing with your life, how does it help you come closer to God, and how will it affect those around you?
Such a simple idea, but to me it makes the most sense; it seems such a better use of time, energy, and effort to not only discover yourself, but to then apply your newly found discoveries to the world around you to help other people. For me, this is a much more concrete and practical way to think about spirituality; it doesn’t all have to be about finding your inner hippie. Spirituality means finding yourself within the world, not independently of it. Not only can that kind of thinking lead to a more satisfied individual, it can lead to a world where people think about others first. It’s called Love. Selflessness. Empathy. All of those things can ultimately lead to action.
Which leads to my next point…
Awareness, then service
In case you haven’t heard yet, The Society of Jesus invented social justice. Okay you got me, the S.J.’s didn’t exactly invent it, but they are the poster children for serving other people, and for enlisting other people to serve as well. They have been establishing missions in some of the most dangerous parts of the world for centuries. For the record, I’m not talking about the kind of mission where they shake a bible in your face and try to change the indigenous “savages” into “civilized” people. The true purpose of the missions was to introduce God to groups of people in a way that respected their original beliefs and way of life. The Jesuits seek to fully understand the unique predicaments of the under educated, impoverished, and unloved humans of the world- of all humans, really. From them, I learned to open my eyes to the sufferings of the world, and to try to understand why that suffering occurs. First, seek out awareness of the realities of the world, but then, work for justice. The S.J.’s would argue that that is our main purpose in life; to use our unique and personal understanding of ourselves to love and care for other people. It is a constant and lifelong discernment process, but I agree wholeheartedly that this is the way the world will see positive change.
Finally, I need to reccomend a book for your enjoyment: Tattoos on the Heart by Gregory Boyle, S.J. If you don’t already love the Jesuits, if you read this book I promise you will at least appreciate their mission. This little book is a quick read, but it is so beautiful. Boyle recounts his experiences working with the members of roughest gangs in L.A. for over twenty years. It is both joyful and heartbreaking, whether or not you are a religious person. So that is your homework this week: Read Tattoos on the Heart to learn about why and how the Jesuits are so awesome and life changing.
Do you have any experience with the Jesuits? Share in the comments or email us!