Jesuits’ history shows trust in God amid trials, Pope Francis says

The suppression and subsequent restoration of the Society of Jesus shows the importance of discernment and trusting in God even in tribulation, rather than relying on one’s own cunning or dwelling on one’s persecution, Pope Francis reflected on Saturday.
“God is merciful, God crowns with mercy. God loves us and saves us. Sometimes the path that leads to life is narrow and cramped, but the tribulation, if lived in the light of mercy, purifies us like fire, it gives us much consolation and inflames our hearts, endearing prayer to it,” Pope Francis preached at Vespers in the Church of the Gesu Sept. 27.
The Gesu is the mother church of the Society of Jesus, having been home to the Society’s superiors general until its suppression in 1773.
The Vespers service marked the 200th anniversary of the restoration of the Society of Jesus. Pope Francis, the first member of the Society of Jesus to be elected to the papacy, reflected on the Jesuits’ prayerful response to suppression.
“Today, remembering its restoration, we are called to recover our memory, calling to mind the benefits received and the particular gifts. Today, I want to do that here with you,” he told his fellow Jesuits, according to a Catholic News Agency report.
“Our brother Jesuits in the suppression were fervent in the spirit and in the service of the Lord, rejoicing in hope, constant in tribulation, persevering in prayer. And that gave honor to the Society, but certainly not the praise of its merits,” the pope said in his homily. “It will always be this way.”
Pius VII restored the Society of Jesus in 1814, slightly more than 40 years after decades after Clement XIV had suppressed the order by his papal brief “Dominus ac Redemptor.”
The brief marked the culmination of anti-Jesuit religious, political, and cultural action that took force in Portugal in 1759 and soon extended throughout Catholic Europe and its colonies in the New World and elsewhere.
The Jesuits lost many of their churches, universities, missions, and other property. Most of their members were forced to leave the order. The Jesuits survived as a collective body primarily in areas under Orthodox Russian control and in Lutheran Prussia, where the political authorities blocked the implementation of the suppression.
Pope Francis cited St. John Paul II’s 1990 message to the Jesuits, which blamed the order’s suppression on “the enemies of the Church.”
Pope Francis praised the pre-suppression actions of the Society’s Superior General, Lorenzo Ricci, saying he watched “the clouds thickening on the horizon” and strengthened the Jesuits in their mission
“In times of trial and tribulation, dust clouds of doubt and suffering are always raised and it is not easy to move forward, to continue the journey. Many temptations come, especially in difficult times and in crises: to stop to discuss ideas, to allow oneself to be carried away by the desolation, to focus on the fact of being persecuted, and not to see the other,” the Pope said.
He praised Father Ricci’s ability “to avoid being harnessed by these temptations” and to propose to the Jesuits “a vision of the things that rooted them even more in the spirituality of the Society.”
“In a time of confusion and turmoil he discerned. He did not waste time discussing ideas and complaining, but he took on the charge of the vocation of the Society.”
This attitude “led the Jesuits to experience the death and resurrection of the Lord.”
“Faced with the loss of everything, even of their public identity, they did not resist the will of God, they did not resist the conflict, trying to save themselves,” the Pope said. “The Society — and this is beautiful — lived the conflict to the end, without minimizing it. It lived humiliation along with the humiliated Christ; it obeyed.”
“You never save yourself from conflict with cunning and with strategies of resistance,” Pope Francis said.
“In the confusion and humiliation, the Society preferred to live the discernment of God’s will, without seeking a way out of the conflict in a seemingly quiet manner.”
“It is never apparent tranquility that satisfies our hearts, but true peace that is a gift from God. One should never seek the easy ‘compromise’ nor practice facile ‘irenicism’.”
Pope Francis said that only spiritual discernment saves from the true “suppression” of a heart of selfishness and worldliness.
“Our hope, is Jesus; it is only Jesus.” He added that Father Ricci and the suppressed Jesuits knew that “hope, even in darkness, is greater than our expectations.”
The pope noted that Father Ricci’s writings ahead of the order’s suppression spoke about the sins of the Jesuits, and his own.
“He does not defend himself, feeling like a victim of history, but he recognizes himself as a sinner. Looking at oneself and recognizing oneself as a sinner avoids being in a position of considering oneself a victim before an executioner.”
This self-recognition places oneself “in the correct attitude to receive consolation.”
Father Ricci continued to recommend prayer and docility to God’s grace, “holiness of life, humility and the spirit of obedience” as the suppression of the order spread throughout Catholic countries.
“Trust must grow precisely when circumstances throw us to the ground,” Pope Francis said.
“Of importance for Father Ricci is that the Society, until the last, is true to the spirit of its vocation, which is for the greater glory of God and the salvation of souls.”
“The Society, even faced with its own demise, remained true to the purpose for which it was founded,” he said, noting Father Ricci’s exhortations to charity, unity, obedience, patience, and “true friendship with God.”
“Everything else is worldliness,” Pope Francis commented.
“The Society experienced the supreme test of the sacrifice unjustly asked of it, taking up the prayer of Tobit.”
The pope said it is not surprising to be “tossed around by the waves” of circumstances.
“Even the boat of Peter can be tossed about today,” he said. “The night and the powers of darkness are always near. It is tiring to row.”
However, citing Pius VII’s restoration decree, he encouraged the Jesuits to be “brave and expert rowers.”
“Row, be strong, even with the headwind! We row in the service of the church. We row together! But while we row — we all row, even the pope rows in the barque of Peter — we must pray a lot.”
Pope Francis praised contemporary Jesuits’ work with refugees and displaced persons and the order’s efforts to “integrate service to faith and the promotion of justice in conformity with the Gospel.”
He noted that at the time of the order’s restoration, the Jesuits had a “small flock” but after the “test of the cross” they began again to invest “in the great mission of bringing the light of the Gospel to the ends of the earth.”
“This is how we must feel today therefore: outbound, in mission,” the Pope exhorted. “The Jesuit identity is that of a man who loves God and loves and serves his brothers, showing by example not only that in which he believes, but also that in which he hopes, and who is the One in whom he has put his trust. The Jesuit wants to be a companion of Jesus, one who has the same feelings of Jesus.”
The pope prayed that the Virgin Mary “watch over us and protect us always.”

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