As I look back on 25 years of religious life, I am overcome by compunction and contrition. My education and my formation were good—I can offer no excuse for my sins. I am in anguish over my faults and failings. My sins of commission and omission are always with me. I am not crushed by my regrets because I cling to a line from the 34th General Congregation of the Society of Jesus, Decree 2, paragraph 1: “Our many faults we know and confess; our graces are more important because they come from Christ.”
As I recall my sins and faults, I recall a conversation I had with Father Joseph Tetlow, S.J . I told him that I wished that Jesus had someone better than me to carry on His mission and His name. He scolded me with uncharacteristic severity: “No! That rejects His gift! You have to believe that when the Lord called you that He got the man He wanted!” I don’t know why the Lord called me, but I know that He did; and I know that He has anointed me and forgiven me and sustained me and missioned me. I cling to the Lord’s promise that Satan, “the accuser of the brethren”, has been cast down. (Revelation 12:10) Even with a sober sense of my sins, I resolve to focus on my graces, which are from Christ. I must say to myself what I say to my penitents: “Our sins do not define us.” Instead, I must insist that I am defined by my baptism, my consecration and my ordination.
As I approach my 25th anniversary in religious life, I have an abiding sense of hope. Because of who God is and how He has revealed Himself to the Church, to the Society of Jesus and to me, I trust that He who has begun the good work in me will bring it to fulfillment. (Philippians 1:6) I have hope because even as anyone might identify faults in me or other Jesuits or Jesuit institutions, I know that the Lord continues to bring good young men into the Society of Jesus—men who embrace the heroism Saint Ignatius called for in the Spiritual Exercises, men who, as Saint Ignatius called for, “wish to distinguish themselves in the service of Christ the King.”
As I approach my 25th anniversary as a Jesuit, I wish, with humility, audacity and hope to make a public invitation to good young men to consider a vocation in the Society of Jesus. I ask them to consider taking a place in that “Long Black Line” of Jesuit heroes that extends across the centuries back to our founder, Saint Ignatius Loyola. Join the ranks of Jesuits reaching back from Ignatius in Rome to Saint Francis Xavier in Asia—Francis Xavier who baptized hundreds of thousands and who died face down in the sand pointing to the shores of China that he could see but could not reach.
Join the ranks of Jesuits from Francis Xavier to Saint Isaac Jogues in North America. Isaac Jogues escaped with his life after his first mission in the New World, and chose to return and face certain death, in order to ensure that the gospel would be firmly planted here.
Join the ranks of Jesuits from Isaac Jogues to Blessed Miguel Pro in Mexico. Miguel Pro shocked and shamed the Church’s persecutors by shouting out “Vivo Cristo Rey!” (“Long life Christ the King!”) at the moment he was being shot by a firing squad as a traitor to the state.
Join the ranks of Jesuits from Miguel Pro to Blessed Rupert Mayer in Germany. Rupert Mayer enraged Hitler with his fearless and relentless resistance to the Nazi madness.
Join the ranks of Jesuits from Rupert Mayer to the American, Walter Ciszek in Russia, who remained faithful to his vocation through years in Soviet prisons and Siberian exile.
Those names are familiar to many. There are other Jesuit giants likely not known to you, whom I was privileged to meet in my Jesuit life. I recall now great Jesuits whose example thrilled me and humbled me.