Editor's Blog

Joseph Wakelee-Lynch

Acting and Thinking

August 17, 2017

Life on the LMU campus during the months of June, July and August often matches what I imagine European summers to be: cities that have been vacated by their citizens who have gone off to breezy, pleasanter climes. It’s quiet here, and the pace of life seems slower. But the dog days aren’t always dull.

Last weekend, some 200 Jesuits and lay people working in ministries of the Society of Jesus in the western United States met here for two days to mark the beginning of a new era in the order’s western provinces. What used to exist as two provinces spanning 10 states, the Jesuits’ Oregon and California provinces, became one — Jesuits West — on July 1, 2017.

Easy to imagine for most of us are the challenges that come with change. Old ways provide the comfort of the familiar; new ways, the fear of the unknown. The Jesuits and their institutions — their works, as they call them — are no more immune to that fear than are the rest of us. Scott Santarosa, S.J., formerly the provincial of the Oregon province and now provincial of the new, larger organization, offered hope by way of the ever-useful biblical analogy of new and old wineskins: “… No man pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does so, the wine will burst the skins and both wine and skins will be lost. No, new wine is poured into new skins” (Mark 2:22). The boundaries of the new province are the new wineskins, he explained. “We have to fill them with new wine,” he said. Then came the hard, but exciting, part: “The new wine is the byproduct of our willingness to take risks.” (Some of those risks are outlined in the mission statement of the newly organized province.)

I thought of Santarosa’s advice today while reading the latest edition of Touchpoints, occasional commentaries by James Heft, S.M., president of the Institute for Advanced Catholic Studies at USC and former provost and chancellor of the University of Dayton. Heft explored the complex relationship between thinking and believing, two abilities frequently seen as opposites. I’ve often considered one of the strongest challenges to my own faith is reconciling the size of the universe, containing perhaps billions of galaxies, with a belief in God — how can the two be possible? How do I reconcile what I know with what I believe but do not see? Heft quoted Isaiah (7:9) and Augustine, and he referred to William James’ advice in “Varieties of Religious Experience” — rather Ignatian advice, it seems to me — for testing religious doctrine: “First, does the teaching help us understand our lives? Second, is it consistent with the way we know things are? And third, what are the fruits or benefits for those who believe?”

Yet Heft shifted ground, finally, with another quote from Augustine: “‘We move towards God not by walking but by loving (non ambulando, sed amando).’ Loving is a special way of thinking. Loving is not blind, but bound.” Perhaps you have to allow the ground to shift when it comes to believing.

Santarosa spoke to that as well when he offered advice about dealing with redrawn geography of Jesuits West. “Don’t think your way into new ways of acting; rather, act yourself into new ways of thinking.”

That struck me as good advice in many predicaments.

Photo of Homeboy Industries mural by Jon Rou