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The other evening, I was canvassing classmates for donations to the annual fund for the Jesuit high school I attended. A classmate I called said he would not make a contribution because he felt the Jesuits were too liberal. Whenever I hear something like that, I have a tendency to back off. We graduated almost 50 years ago, and as an Irish Catholic Spanish-speaking Democrat, I feel as if I might be the last liberal, if indeed I am a liberal, in my age group. Not only do my conservative peers have an axe to grind; they are irrationally passionate about their feelings. There was a time when we were not so threatened by the differences we civilly presented to each other.

I could sense his anger when he asked me what I thought about his view. I felt the need to defend my beloved Jesuits. But I did not want to get into the endless round of arguments and recriminations and deal with sickening superiority like that of the talking heads on the conservative radio talk shows.

I was, however, educated by the Jesuits, so I boldly ventured into the fray. Damn the torpedoes; full speed ahead. I stated that I did not think the Jesuits were liberal enough.

My classmate became predictably apoplectic.

He wanted to know where I stood on the sinfulness of homosexuality, the sinfulness of birth control, the sinfulness of subscribing to HBO and MTV and a dozen more forms of sinfulness, most of which are dear to my heart. I am pretty sure I did not answer him in a way to bait him further, although that would have been fun. He kept pressing me on birth control, and I told him it is not a black-and-white issue. It is more complicated than that. I was then told that my conscience was incorrectly formed and because of me sins were mounting all over the place. We then exchanged pleasantries as I maneuvered to a graceful exit, and the conversation ended civilly.

I later reflected on that conversation. I do not like labels. I do not care to be labeled. I am not certain what it is that makes a person conservative or liberal. There has to be a way of having an opinion that does not label a person one way or another. I am definitely pro-life, which includes the avoidance of war and the rejection of capital punishment and violence against women. I am in favor of distributive justice and support the love and care of children and feeding the poor. I do not necessarily support same-sex marriages, although I feel that homosexuals should enjoy the same civil rights as everyone else. Is my conscience incorrectly formed? It may well be. I do not have the certainty of the televangelists or the lions of conservative talk radio. I believe I am on a journey to salvation and my quest is like that of St. Augustine, Our hearts are restless, O Lord, and they will not rest until they rest in thee.

What forms my conscience? I am a voracious reader and am reasonably open to ideas and opinions with which I do not agree. I have even changed my position on some things because of new information. I am reasonably well informed on the teaching of the church and read most of the relevant information that comes from the Vatican and the American bishops. I am one of the few people who have read encyclicals, and I recently read a pastoral letter from my local ordinary on the beauty of human sexuality. This latter certainly required bridging a credibility gap, but I have to admit it was very well presented. I know what my church teaches, and I know how theologians interpret it. I accept most of what my church teaches, and some of it I discard. I do not feel bad about this, nor do I consider myself an arbitrary Catholic, because the church herself has been doing this for centuries.

I read the Scriptures. I read, reflect, pray and take action. Correction: I may or may not take action, but my conscience always bothers me when I do not. That is part of the journey. I am trying to be Christian. I just have not arrived yet. Am I born again? Let me tell you I am born every day, because I have to deal with the Spirit confronting me to give birth to a better person as I read, reflect and pray.

What concerns me is the righteousness of those who condemn others in the name of Jesus. I tried to reflect seriously on the Sunday Gospels during Lent, and I see a picture of a compassionate Jesus. I see a Jesus who relates to everyone, who healed the sick, to the chagrin of the righteous who felt that he violated the Law of Moses by doing good. I see him being compassionate and merciful to sinners in spite of significant criticism from the good and holy people of his spiritual institution. Jesus showed the highest respect for the woman at the well and for the woman caught in adultery. He never ceased to love his disciples, even though they did not stay around for his crucifixion. It is interesting to me that the adulterous woman was going to be stoned to death. Adultery is not unilateral. What was going to happen to her male partner? When I was in grade school, a teaching sister told us that when Jesus traced his finger in the dust of the ground, what he wrote exposed the hypocrisy of the accusers. St. Luke does not say that, but I like the idea.

I am not certain, any more than anyone else should be, about what sin is. There just do not appear to be simple black-and-white definitions of real life. Most of us live in a gray area. There are many things that we accept on authority, but we are perplexed about them. I am far less aghast about sexual behavior or watching HBO or MTV than I am about the lies that have cost thousands of lives, including those of American soldiers. I am repulsed by the greed prevalent in business today. I am horrified by the callous treatment of workers in our country and even more by the treatment of workers abroad. We are shipping approximately three million jobs abroad because slave labor increases our profits. I am concerned about the practices that pollute our environment. I am shocked by the rip-off of the pensions and life savings of workers, not only by the Enrons, Tycos and Global Crossings of this world. It has been happening to my peer group for the last 30 years. I am shocked that the tremendous technological benefits of health care are not available to the poor. I am horrified that we cannot provide prescription medicines to our elderly and that some of us are dying before our time as a result.

I am sure my classmate believes that the Jesuits are too liberal because they have been in the forefront of the quest for human rights, the rights of workers, in concern for the poor, in the effort to educate, in defense of a university’s right to air all opinions, even those that differ from the church. They might be considered too liberal because they minister to all people, including homosexuals, the poor, those who are considered on the lower levels of society and, yes, sinners. They might be considered too liberal because they encourage women to pursue and take their rightful place in society. They might be considered liberal because they produce so many great theologians and spiritual leaders.

They might be too liberal because they promote an intense spirituality among the laity that is suddenly becoming a threat to the hierarchy. They might be too liberal because they encourage full participation in the liturgy. They might be too liberal because they treasure our faith, promote it and defend it so well.

Jesuits spearheaded the Counterreformation in the 16th century, and our church today is in desperate need of an on-going counterreformation.

I might be too liberal because I finally listened to the Spirit and wrote this article.

Raymond D. Aumack is vice president of institutional advancement at Holy Name Academy in Bayonne, N.J.

Comments

Andrew Parker | 10/6/2012 - 8:02am
Mr. Aumack,

I wholeheartedly agree with the first commentoer that this article is a "breath of fresh air in a stifling room". Sadly, the most vocal in the Church today would probably parrot your former classmate and dismiss you as a "fake", "cafeteria", or as you put it, "arbitrary" Catholic.

I long for the day in which our faith could emphasize our growth in love through Christ, rather than loyalty to a bullet point set of beliefs.
Martha Folmsbee | 11/22/2009 - 8:41am
I am a humanistic atheist. I was surprised by this article, unaware that such compassion exsited within organized religion, especially within catholicism. That has not been my experience. It usually just plays "lip service" to compassion for humanity with no true heart that I can feel. You do have heart. I could almost believe in a god if organized religion truely lived what it preached as you seem to do. Kudos.
RC Poperstein | 4/16/2009 - 2:52am
How do you know that you are right about Jesus? Maybe He is not as compassionate and caring as you think, and is more like the conservatives you despise.
Daniel Pelletier | 8/18/2008 - 9:16am
Yes Jesus is compassionate, but He is also just. For example, in the parable of the prodigal son, the son returns and a feast is thrown (compassion), yet you never here about how the father gives him anymore inheritance (justice). We are called to love homosexuals, men, women, the poor, the adulterers, the oppressed, friends, family, and each other all the same. But what does that love mean? What does it mean to be compassionate? I think we can all agree if you love someone, you'll do what's best for them, and I might only be 19, but I know that what's best for me doesn't always make me happy or comfortable. So in order to love and show compassion to the homosexual, we must minister to them, but this doesn't mean we give up our beliefs on the dignity of the human body through sexuality. We all have our crosses and we all have to deal with them, homosexuals included. As far as birth control, I know the issue of HIV and AIDS always comes up. Should we support contraceptives because of STDs? I read a statistic that it reduces the risk of AIDS by 85%... So why support it? I would rather focus my energy on how to best support abstinence. If I had a choice of a friend or family member either playing Russian Roulette, just shooting their-self, or not playing with a gun at all, I think there would be a unanimous vote on the third option. That's why we should spend more time figuring out how to minister that to others. Women in the priesthood... We all strive to be like Christ and in order to do so, we need to look over every single detail, small or large, to do so. Now I believe there was a purpose that Jesus came to us as man. I believe there was a purpose that Jesus hand picked his Apostles (all male). I also believe there was a reason Jesus had women disciples and showed compassion to women in the Bible. These reasons were distinct and different from each other, but they all made it into the Bible, so they had to be important. Men and women are equal, but it is very obvious that they are different. We are different in our physical ways, we are different in our ways that we deal with emotional issues, we are different in our ways of interaction with each other, but no one single way is better. They both have their places. So it is logical for men and women to have different roles, because men and women are different. Now we need to be understanding of others, compassionate to others, and love others, we are individuals and we deserve equality. The best way to do that is to love the Church as the Body of Christ. The hand has a separate role from the foot or the eye. So if we assign the function of the foot to the hand, the Body of Christ will not work right. If we assign the role of the priest to the women, the Church will function differently. Not to say that women are inferior, they have their roles, nut we must not forget that Jesus and His Apostles had Their purposes in God's plan for the Church. Our Church is facing struggles just as our nation is. We must not forget our roles in the Body of Christ or else we will lose our function in society, and that's when society loses its hope. It is not in one politician that our nation will be saved. It is in our nation's acceptance of its undeserved gift of salvation that it will be saved. I'm currently in college, and it seems many of the youth consider themselves liberal, many of these liberals would consider themselves Christian, but to them politics comes first and then comes faith. And with the democratic candidate we have, I am worried. Yes there is war, yes there is poverty, yes there is genocide, but I haven't heard anything on abortion. Why? It's the genocide in our own backyards, and we accept it by not addressing it. It's something that has been against our faith since the Didache, and against our souls since creation. Why isn't this an issue? 4,000 lives a day in America... This needs to be an issue. It should be the first issue. We speak of equality and compassion.<
Elias Fernandez | 6/28/2008 - 11:54am
Exodus is the class struggle between oppressors and the oppressed, with G-d siding with the insurgents; Exodus is today in front of our indifferent churches, and Jesus is constantly denouncing the Temple and its Priests, and this is today. And the Isaiahs' are ever more rising revolts so that the wealthy will not eat the food of the poor or take their houses, and this is today. And the power elite is crucifying Jesus every time Jesus speaks against Rome and its client puppet regimes, and this is today. Now, how liberal is the guy who typed this? If I define "Liberal" as one who defends social justice then I am a "Liberal", with my Bible telling me all the time examples of exploitation, plunder and genocide and the urge to be like Jesus, the insurrectionist crucified by the powers that be, as we speak.
hadley talbot | 5/30/2008 - 1:10pm
SUPPRESS THEM!
juliette Brennnan | 11/10/2007 - 12:10am
Jesuits were suppressed by previous popes. It is again said with a lot of displeasure that many Jesuits have lost their way. One wrote a book stating that Jesus did not know who he was. Another writes a book stating that some forms of Christianity can be traced back to Buddhism. And now we read and hear Jesuits speak in defence of abortion, divorce, gay marriage and heterosexual co-habitation. Because they have crossed the lines of the Magisterium, they deserve the title of Protestant ministers.
thomas farrelly | 6/22/2004 - 12:17pm
There has been some discussion in America of the opinion that "the Jesuits are too liberal". I know of no scientific poll, such as an Andrew Greeley would conduct, that has explored this question. So my comments, based on reading America and knowing some Jesuits, simply represent my own impressions. It is entirely possible, of course, that America is not representative of the opinions of most Jesuits.

Let's start by saying that, in the US today, as a practical matter "liberal" means Liberal Democratic. I see some overlap in beliefs by Liberals and Jesuits, but there is certainly not an identity of beliefs. In no particular order, here is a non-exhaustive list of areas in which similarities and differences may be noted:

ABORTION Clearly the Jesuits do not share the Liberal view, which seems to regard an abortion as a rights-affirming event, and a partial-birth abortion of a viable fetus as an especially joyful one.

GAY RIGHTS There seems to be a strong Jesuit sympathy for homosexuals, and a desire to provide ministries for them and recognition of them within the Church. I have detected no rush to support gay marriage, and this would be rather awkward in view of the pronouncements of the Pope and the US bishops. So the Jesuits fall short of the Liberal ideal in this regard

SEX Jesuits do not share the “anything goes” beliefs of Liberals, but like other Catholics are still working out what to keep and what to discard from the body of traditional teachings.

RACIAL QUOTAS Jesuits are very much in accord with Liberals, who favor racial quotas under euphemistic disguises.

IMMIGRATION Jesuits are in accord with Liberals, perhaps a little beyond them. Neither group has a clear and rational position. While not advocating opening the borders, both seem to argue that if you manage to immigrate illegally you should be welcomed, on fuzzy Christian (in one case) and humanitarian (in the other) grounds. Interesting that the conservative Wall St. Journal advocates an open borders approach, though on different, and equally one-dimensional grounds.

SCHOOL VOUCHERS Here there is a real parting of the ways. Jesuits do seem to like vouchers, which are toxic to Liberals (except poor black Liberals).

ISRAELI PALESTINIAN CONFLICT Liberals, except for a fringe on the Left, consider criticism of Israel beyond the limits of acceptable speech. Jesuits freely criticize Israel and tend to support the Palestinians.

THE UN Jesuits, like Liberals, take the UN seriously and hold the view, despite overwhelming contrary evidence, that it is useful in preserving peace, the reason for its founding.

THE INVASION OF IRAQ There is agreement here between Jesuits and Liberals in opposing the war, though even Liberals are not unanimous. (Michael Ignatieff comes to mind.) That may also be true of Jesuits.

THE WELFARE STATE This is shorthand for a host of tax and public policy matters, too numerous to try to list. Jesuits and the Liberals share the same general approach of favoring a greater role for the government than conservatives do in providing public services and imposing taxes to pay for them.

PREFERENTIAL OPTION FOR THE POOR Liberals would use different words, but undoubtedly would approve of the sentiment. This “option” often takes benign forms, like running special schools for inner-city kids, but may take annoying forms, like laying guilt trips on stressed-out family men, coping with tough jobs, mortgages, enormous tuition bills, and various life crises.

Celeste Arbogast Bragorgos | 5/21/2004 - 11:27am
Thank you, Raymond Aumack, for your essay, "The Jesuits Are Too Liberal." I am a 40-year-old woman who recently subscribed to America because I want to see if the Church in which I was raised still exists, a Church greatly influenced by the Jesuits who led our parish, Gesu in Detroit. Thanks to the IHM sisters who taught at our school, Jesuit priests and my parents, I grew up believing in the rights of women, the importance of social justice, the rightful place of the laity in the Church, and the legitimacy of Vatican II. Sometimes the Church in which I am raising my children doesn't even seem familiar to me. Very simply, Aumack's essay encouraged me.
(Rev.) Robert J. Thorsen | 2/9/2007 - 2:03pm
These are lonely times for liberals. “Compassion” has been redefined by a conservative president; the War Against Poverty has been replaced by a war against the poorly housed, the poorly educated, the poorly fed and the uninsured sick; the evil that is war is begetting its unbounded, evil behaviors; institutionalized Washingtonian hubris dismisses the wisdom of religious voices for peace. It is like a remaking of the Napoleonic tragedy after the principles of the Revolution were lost in the subsequent unslaked thirst for power. People who think they know “the truth” are always dangerous.

Therefore, when I read the Of Many Things column by Drew Christiansen, S.J., the editorial “Catholics and Politics 2004” and Raymond Aumack’s “The Jesuits Are Too Liberal,” I did not feel as lonely (5/24). There still are informed and articulate people who have the courage to speak to the awful mess we are in and a weekly magazine that has the courage to print their words.

Frances Grace | 2/9/2007 - 3:28pm
I want to congratulate Raymond D. Aumack for his wonderful article, “The Jesuits Are Too Liberal” (Faith in Focus, 5/24). He expressed exactly my viewpoint on the controversial and difficult issues troubling the church and the world.

I am an 80-year-old Catholic, active in my parish (especially in adult Christian initiation, which I look at as the best part of Catholic life today). I must confess to feeling discouraged when I see how much needs to be done in so many areas, local and worldwide, to bring about the reign of God. But I do what I can in my own corner and trust that God will raise up younger and wiser people to bring about the ongoing counterreformation of which Mr. Aumack speaks. Thanks to Mr. Aumack for articulating so well the thoughts of many “liberal” Catholics.

Celeste Arbogast Bragorgos | 5/21/2004 - 11:27am
Thank you, Raymond Aumack, for your essay, "The Jesuits Are Too Liberal." I am a 40-year-old woman who recently subscribed to America because I want to see if the Church in which I was raised still exists, a Church greatly influenced by the Jesuits who led our parish, Gesu in Detroit. Thanks to the IHM sisters who taught at our school, Jesuit priests and my parents, I grew up believing in the rights of women, the importance of social justice, the rightful place of the laity in the Church, and the legitimacy of Vatican II. Sometimes the Church in which I am raising my children doesn't even seem familiar to me. Very simply, Aumack's essay encouraged me.
Frank Csathy | 7/19/2004 - 2:16pm
I've just read Raymond Aumack's defence of Jesuit liberalism with some amusement. He describes conservative Catholics as "irrationally passionate" and condemns the "righteousness (he means self-righteousness) of those who condemn others in the name of Jesus. This is all a prelude to a blinkered left-wing rant ("We are shipping approximately three million jobs abroad because slave labor increases our profits") that would make Teddy Kennedy blush but which Aumack modestly attributes directly to the Holy Spirit. Yes, the Jesuits were the sharp edge of the Counterreformation in its reasoned defence of orthodoxy. Catholics who see so many Soldiers of Christ still in the thrall of 1970s Kumbaya Catholicism and even heterodoxy, can only hope that the Order returns to that historical calling.
Peggy Kruse | 5/20/2004 - 11:03pm
I smiled when I saw the title of Raymond Aumack's article, "The Jesuits Are Too Liberal" (5/24-31). It took me back more than 10 years to a gathering of residents in our condo complex in a Memphis suburb.

We were newcomers to the area and while making 'connections,' I mentioned that our sons had attended a Jesuit High School in St. Louis (SLUH). One of the men asked if my sons were liberal because, you know, the Jesuits are, uh, pretty liberal. I smiled and said that my sons weren't particularly liberal but that their mother was and that was why they were at that school -- what a great conversation killer. Our sons are still fairly conservative, but at least one of them thought from the beginning that we had no reason to invade Iraq.

Thanks for the article.

Leonard Barretto | 6/13/2004 - 8:54pm
The first steps of my school life (1932) were guided and influenced by the Jesuits, who conducted St. Patrick's School, Karachi, Pakistan (formerly British India). The school founded and opended by the Jesuits in 1861, admitted students from all quarters and religious leanings, The Jesuits by their zeal and spirit of dedication gave themselves wholeheartedly to educate the boys. They were very small in number, but what they lacked in quantity they had in quality. It was the Jesuits who were mainly responsible for the unusual number of vocations to the priesthood in the mid-thirties and early forties, who came from the small number of Karachi Catholics. St. Patrick's School produced two Cardinals - one was the first Cardinal Valerian Gracias in India, the other the first Cardinal Joseph Corderio in Pakistan and an impressive number of bishops - eight in number (all trained under the Jesuits) and scores of priests who spread themselves over different parts of India and Pakistan. From a miniscule community of Catholic students from St. Patrick's School, perhaps one of the smallest in the world, can this be matched ? The Jesuits also used their deep knowledge, liberal and broadminded attitude to guide persons in the civic and national direction, and it was this guidance that St. Patrick's School produced an impressive list of persons of all religions who had risen to prominence as Army Generals, High Court Judges, Mayors and others. Many families had their sons (all from St. Patrick's ) join the Jesuits - my own uncle and aunt had their four sons join the Jesuits - one of the brothers - Aloysius Fonseca founded the Indian Social Institute and was a leading expert in Labor Relations in India. He was summoned to Rome to become a member of the college of writers for the "Civilta Catholica" and was a member of the Vatican delegation to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome. He had done his training in philosphy and theology at Jesuit Colleges in India. At least 10 boys who were under the Jesuits in St. Patrick's School, joined the Jesuits. Well aware, that a healthy mind resides in a healthy body, the Jesuits put special emphasis on sports and with the encouragement and training had St.Patrick School produce a field hockey gold-medalist at the Berlin Olympics. One of the famous and important landmark in Karachi - even today - is the Christ the King Monument was built by the Jesuits in the early 30s all marble imported from Italy. The Jesuits introduced and organized many religious services in Karachi, which are carried on till to-day - May and June devotions; St. Anthony Tuesday; Our Lady of Perpetual Succor Novenas; First Fridays; sodality services and then the Lenten Services and Sermons by Jesuit priests with their 'love of God' sermons, followed by the 'fire and brimstone' deliveries given by the Redemptorists. There was not place enough to hold the people - very many of different religions - who came to hear them speak. Working in a non-Catholic country, the Jesuits had the skill and ability, even in the 30s and early 40s - to get people of different religious and different ideas to participate in open discussions and have them organize debats and 'brain' sessions on birth-control; mixed marriages; abortions and religious dogmas.

It was the Jesuits who had the gift to deepen the knowledge of religion and strengthen the faith of people. It was by their openess and understanding that they succeeded.

candace fisher | 5/28/2004 - 12:48pm
Raymond Aumack's article, "The Jesuits Are Too Liberal" was like a breath of fresh air in a stifling room.

The Jesuit Anthony Demello wrote, "Certainty is the sin of bigots, terrorists, and pharisees...compassion makes us think we may be wrong."

Thank God for the teaching of Jesuits that we must not view the world in black and white terms, but keep our minds open.

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