By: Max Bruns ~Advertising Manager~
“Wait, you’re not considering St. Xavier?” My eighth grade teacher stood before my parents sternly, claiming that St. Xavier was the only school she felt was really equipped to give me a good education in Cincinnati. Having never sent a son to high school, my mom tells me now that she had no idea what my teacher was talking about at the time, but now she gets it. My teacher saw something in me. She saw something in me that needed the Jesuits.
St. Xavier is a Jesuit high school in Cincinnati, situated not far from our own university. As I went about the absolutely ridiculous process of choosing a high school, a process rendered ridiculous by the feud-like relationship among all the Cincinnati private schools, it became clear pretty early on that my teacher was right: St. Xavier was the place for me. From the slogan “Men for Others” plastered across the front page of the St. X website to the philosophy of cura personalis and magis preached in open houses and during the day that I shadowed, St. Xavier presented itself as a caring and formative place, all fueled by Jesuit values.
Going to St. X, however, revealed a slightly different truth. It wasn’t that St. X wasn’t Jesuit, because it was inasmuch as there was a Jesuit residence on campus, we had a Jesuit president and everyone said Jesuit things. But unfortunately, when St. Ignatius formed the Society of Jesus, founded upon the principles of desiring to live just as Jesus did, he didn’t consider the pervasive effects of the capitalistic value of marketing.
In other words, St. X rolled out a thousand bucks worth of 50-cent slogans based in Jesuit philosophy. But this didn’t always mean that St. X produced students who could act Jesuit as well as talk Jesuit. Rather, these slogans and speeches and spoken Jesuit words acted as points of attraction for prospective students, and it kept parents believing that their kids were becoming disciples of Ignatius’ values. The retention rates and the façade of following was sometimes enough for St. X as an institution.
I have found, after talking to many Jesuit priests and after going to two different Jesuit institutions, that many such institutions share this shortcoming. The façade of following Jesuit values is better than actually dedicating one’s life to them.
Now, I would never claim to be free of this fault myself. In fact, I don’t know many people who could truly say they are a person who actively practices being a Jesuit. To make such a claim would be to claim acting almost extra-humanly because being a Jesuit means always selflessly putting the needs of others before one’s own. It means practicing empathy, not sympathy. It means not gossiping, not wantonly judging, refraining from over-indulgence, allowing time for daily reflection and meditation, questioning everything and not allowing oneself to get too complacent with one’s lot in life.
Everything about being a Jesuit is about constant challenge, never allowing yourself to accept what you’re told as true. If there is a status quo, shake it up. If there is a conditioned set of beliefs, never questioned and never challenged, challenge and question it. Allow God to be a guide, not other men, and if your gut says that Jesus wouldn’t approve of what the rest of the world tells you to do, don’t do it.
So why am I saying these things? After all, the force of these tenant philosophies is contained in phrases like cura personalis, which means “care of the whole person,” and magis, which means “more” and implies that everyone should be striving for more all the time.
I am saying these things because just because a Jesuit institution teaches you to walk and talk like a Jesuit doesn’t mean you know what it means to be a Jesuit. I certainly don’t, and I always want to be doing more for my Jesuit-ness. But I can’t guarantee perfection in this pursuit, and I certainly can’t ever say that I am a Jesuit, only ever that I’m striving to be one.
Jesuit philosophy is a pretty spiritual thing. It is a long-held tradition, and it is mirrored in many different faiths and backgrounds. The force of what it means to be a Jesuit, however, is something that should not be taken lightly. If you are a purveyor of Jesuit words, if you can talk the talk but have spent almost no time walking the walk, indeed if you wish to call yourself a Jesuit, you must dedicate more time to learning how to act, not just what to say. Because especially in the Jesuit context, words carry much more force than just what can be found in fifty-cent recruitment slogans.