September 27, 2014 marked the bicentennial anniversary of the restoration of the Society of Jesus. A special liturgy of thanksgiving was celebrated at the Church of the Gesu in Rome, the mother church of the Society of Jesus, presided over by Pope Francis. Pope Francis, in his homily, urged his brother Jesuits to remember the prayerful response of the order at the time of its suppression. The Holy Father asked the faithful to remember the time of suppression as a time of hardship during which the Jesuits remained trusting of God and persevered in their vocations.
“In times of trial and tribulation, dust clouds of doubt and suffering are always raised and it is not easy to move forward, to continue the journey. Many temptations come, especially in difficult times and in crises: to stop to discuss ideas, to allow oneself to be carried away by the desolation, to focus on the fact of being persecuted, and not to see the other,” the Pope said in his homily. The Holy Father saw the time of suppression as one of temptation but also a time to focus on discernment and testing of the Society’s obedience to God.
During the time leading up to suppression, there was much criticism of the Jesuits from European powers such as Spain and Portugal. The Jesuits were expelled from Portugal in 1759 and in 1773 Pope Clement XIV officially suppressed the order throughout the world with the brief Dominus ac Redemptor. The Society of Jesus survived in Prussia and Russia, predominantly Protestant and Orthodox areas, until their restoration by Pope Pius VII in 1814. The papal bull that restored the Jesuits was signed by Pope Pius VII in the Basilica of Saint Mary Major, where Saint Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus, celebrated his first Mass in 1538.
Pope Francis praised the actions of Lorenzo Ricci, the Society’s Superior General at the time of suppression, for his continued and unwavering faithfulness that God would provide for the order. As European countries began to expel the Jesuits from their borders, Father General Ricci continued to call for prayer and discernment. The Holy Father spoke of the Society’s experience of suppression as its sharing in the suffering of Christ without resistance: “Faced with the loss of everything, even of their public identity, they did not resist the will of God, they did not resist the conflict, trying to save themselves,” the Pope said. “The Society – and this is beautiful – lived the conflict to the end, without minimizing it. It lived humiliation along with the humiliated Christ; it obeyed.”
Even faced with its own end, the Society remained true to its founding virtues of charity, obedience, patience, and unity while it was suppressed. Pope Francis reflected that it is not surprising that the Society has often been “tossed around by the waves.” He emphasized solidarity in getting through times of hardship, even speaking of his own struggle: “The boat of Peter can be tossed about today. The night and powers of darkness are always near. It is tiring to row.”
The Pope noted that after restoration, the Society was immediately serving again as missionaries of the Gospel, preaching, ministering to the poor and marginalized, and teaching in schools.