Column: Thoughts on the Jesuits, going forward

Published on November 17, 2015.

ROOTING THROUGH my notes while doing research on the first Jesuit pope, I realized I had not yet shared the following remarks I made at a Province Forum of the Philippine Jesuits last year. Perhaps they may still be of some use:

Let me start from where I work: Journalism needs more Jesuits. I do not mean the profession needs more Jesuit columnists like Fr. Joaquin Bernas or Jesuit bloggers like Fr. Joel Tabora or Jesuit entrepreneurial advise-dispensers like Fr. Javy Alpasa. Or at least I do not mean that necessarily; it is also true that we in the media can always do with more Jesuit-produced content. The rotating column God’s Word Today is yet another good example; it has the advantage of being written by Fr. Jett Villarin and Fr. Manoling Francisco, among others. It only suffers from the disadvantage of appearing in the wrong newspaper!

What I really mean is that journalism needs more Jesuits as subject experts.

On the issue of corruption and patronage in the age of the pork barrel scam, for example, I think media coverage would be much improved if the views of someone like Fr. Albert Alejo were regularly included in the news reports and then, eventually, in the opinion columns. On the question of good governance and the need for more Catholic engagement in politics, I think public discourse would be greatly enhanced if the views of someone like Fr. Tony de Castro, a church historian with a deep interest in political theology, were also covered.

I would like to suggest, then, that perhaps one contemporary meaning of the virtue of disponibilité is journalism-related. Jesuits must make themselves available to today’s media, because as subject experts they can help make sense of the news.

This may have implications for Jesuit formation. Perhaps during their Juniorate year new Jesuits will study the great media theorist Fr. Walter Ong, and learn not only how to do media, as Fr. Johnny Go and Fr. Nono Alfonso are doing, but also how to be in media.

My second suggestion follows a different direction, away from Jesuits and toward the laity.

Like many others, I am aware of the great strides Jesuit institutions around the world have made in fostering greater lay collaboration. It is only a matter of time, perhaps in the next 50 years or so, before eminent laypersons assume the presidency of all the country’s various Ateneos.

I think the experience is the same in those parishes and mission areas where Jesuits are involved. But there is an area where greater lay involvement may have a direct and regular impact on the spiritual lives of the faithful.

I mean the homily. Pope Francis gave it an especial emphasis in his remarkable “Evangelii Gaudium.” He wrote: “We know that the faithful attach great importance to it, and that both they and their ordained ministers suffer because of homilies: the laity from having to listen to them and the clergy from having to preach them!”

I wonder: Would it be possible for qualified laypersons to offer the homily in certain Masses, perhaps according to a regular schedule? If Canon Law does not allow it, perhaps the example of our Christian brethren can show the way. The homily by a layperson can be given outside of the context of Mass.

I think, for instance, of “The Uses of Error,” the only sermon written by the great critic Frank Kermode, who read it in King’s College, in Cambridge. I remember the Harvard tradition of Morning Prayers, a 15-minute daily service which goes back to its founding years and which includes a short address by “a member or friend of the university.”

What would Catholics gain from lay homilies? The invaluable perspective of fellow laity. I am reminded of what C. S. Lewis wrote, about the value of students comparing notes and learning from each other. A layperson’s homily offers that possibility ….

I just realized I am running long and won’t come in under the allotted 12 minutes, so allow me to state the last two points as directly as possible.

In [seven] years, we will mark the 50th anniversary of the declaration of martial law. There is a possibility that the son of the dictator will be in a position to preside over that anniversary. This situation is a failure of something. Is it of education? I do not know if my third suggestion will ultimately prove effective, or even useful, but perhaps a course on martial law and the antidictatorship struggle, patterned after the course that I used to know as “Rizal and the Emergence of the Nation,” can become a core requirement in all Jesuit schools.

Finally, and most consequentially: Inequality. When I was in school, in the 1970s and the 1980s, the gap between rich and not-so-rich students was visible, if one knew where to look for it. Today … the gap is visible even when one doesn’t want to look for it. In my 15 years in media, I have seen up close how economic, political, and even media power have become more and more concentrated. This reality of increasing inequality is the true enemy. What can the [Jesuit] Society do?

One answer may lie in labor. Perhaps the Jesuits can build on the legacy of Fr. Walter Hogan, and redefine their work in labor organizing, using what I understand is the German template: Strive not to position labor as counterpart of management, but to include labor as a full partner of management.

Four suggestions, then. They are, to borrow the words of our prayer leader this morning, my “earnest desires.” They are earnest, yes, but also defined by the limits of my experience. My hope is that some of them may prove to be also true.

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Filed under Newsstand: Column, Readings in Media, Readings in Religion

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