Wednesday, June 3, 2009
"The meaning of a vow" ~ Avery Dulles, SJ
Avery Cardinal Dulles, S.J., America's preeminent Catholic theologian, was brought to his final resting place on June 1 at the Shrine of the North American Martyrs in Auriesville, N.Y.Cardinal Dulles, who died on Dec. 12 at the age of 90, had been the Laurence J. McGinley Professor of Relgion and Society at Fordham since 1988. He was the first American to become a cardinal without first becoming a bishop.Friends, family members, fellow Jesuits and other admirers gathered for a Mass in Cardinal Dulles' honor at 2 p.m. at the Coliseum Church on the grounds of the shine. The interment followed directly afterward, with the casket receiving an escort by a pair of Naval officers, in recognition of Cardinal Dulles' military service during World War II.The shrine is the site of America's only canonized martyrs: St. Rene Goupil (1642), a Jesuit brother; St. Isaac Jogues (1646), a Jesuit priest; and St. John Lalande (1646), a lay missioner. It is the cemetery for all North American Jesuits.
To learn more about Avery Dulles, SJ check out his articles at America The National Catholic Weekly - The Legacy of Avery Dulles, S.J. or at Cardinal Avery Dulles Online. For information about possibly joining the Society of Jesus visit Jesuit Vocations.
Avery Dulles, S.J.
My vocation to the Society of Jesus developed steadily and firmly, but it was quite distinctively my own. It is probably not the kind of route that many others are likely to travel. Initially, my desire to enter the Jesuits coincided with my conversion to Catholic Christianity about the time of my graduation from Harvard College in 1940. If God was truly God, there could be nothing more important than to serve him. If Christ was truly Christ, he should be our Lord, our teacher, and our greatest friend. If the Church was truly the Church, it was worthy of all the talent and energy that one could give to it. How could one serve God and Christ in the Church better than in an apostolic religious order?
I had already studied something about the early Jesuits. I was introduced to them through courses on the Catholic Reformation. In one course the Autobiography of St. Ignatius was required reading. In political theory courses I gained an admiration for Robert Bellarmine, and I followed up that interest by reading his biography by James Brodrick about the time I entered the Church. The more I learned about the Jesuits, the more I felt that I belonged with them.
When I asked to be instructed in the Catholic faith, the priest to whom I was introduced was a Jesuit. I was impressed with the intellectual breadth and solidity displayed by him and many of the Jesuits I met in the Boston area at that time. This impression was confirmed during World War II, when I got to know many Jesuit chaplains in the Navy. As soon as the War was over, I applied and was admitted to the novitiate.
The novitiate was for me a wonderful experience in the almost monastic isolation of St. Andrew-on-Hudson. It was a "desert experience" offering a unique opportunity to get to know the Lord in prayer. I still live off what I then discovered about meditation, discernment, obedience, and loyalty, with the help of that great master of Christian prudence, Ignatius of Loyola. Besides prayer, the novitiate consisted chiefly of fresh air and exercise, which I found relaxing and salubrious but not otherwise very significant. The whole point, I suspect, was to prevent the novice's interest from being taken up with anything that could outweigh or compete with the interior life.
After the novitiate, I studied Scholastic philosophy at Woodstock, Maryland, and was delighted with the Thomism that reigned during that period. It gave me a synthetic view of reality as a whole in the light of the divine Word, the eternal Logos. To me philosophy is a way of raising the mind to God; it is closely linked with prayer. Together with St. Thomas, Etienne Gilson and Jacques Maritain were my principal guides.
After regency (teaching philosophy at Fordham) I studied theology, again at Woodstock. It was an exciting time, because the giants of the nouvelle theologie (De Lubac, Danilou, Congar, and others) were then publishing their major works. Karl Rahner was also coming to be known, and his brilliant transposition of Thomistic philosophy into a modern key captured the interests of many of us.
Tertianship in Germany was another wonderful experience, not only because it meant a "third year of novitiate" but also because it was an exposure to the mentality of Jesuits from many parts of Europe and the Americas and because it offered opportunities to visit many parts of Germany, where the ecumenical movement was far ahead of the United States. During my doctoral studies at the Gregorian University in Rome I continued to explore the potentialities of ecumenism in light of the Catholic dogmatic tradition. The work I did in those years has helped me ever since in my teaching, writing, and ecumenical involvements.
Since completing my studies in 1960, my life has consisted essentially in teaching and writing in the field of theology. So far as I can remember, I have never asked superiors for any assignment, but I have had the good fortune of always being assigned to places and tasks that I have found congenial. With the help of Jesuit colleagues and superiors, I have been able to accomplish far more than I could have on my own. In my travels both at home and abroad, Jesuit contacts have opened up friendships and channels of information that would otherwise have eluded me. I have experience the Society of Jesus as a true apostolic community with boundaries as broad as the world itself.
I have never been seriously tempted to leave the Society. For me, being a Jesuit, like being a priest, is a matter of personal identity; it affects the depths of one's very being. It determines the way one meets all the events of life. With God's help, the Jesuit has made his choice, his decision, and he does not have to rethink the matter again. What else could be the meaning of a vow?