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Life Arts    H3'ed 1/1/22

Joseph F. Conwell, S.J., on Jesuit Renewal (REVIEW ESSAY)

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Duluth, Minnesota (OpEdNews) January 1, 2022: Among other things, the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) in the Roman Catholic Church instructed all religious orders and institutes, including of course the Society of Jesus, to revisit their original charisms (i.e., gifts given in the founding of the religious order or institute) and undertake renewal of themselves personally and collectively based on their renewed understandings of their original charisms.

The American Jesuit spiritual director Joseph F. Conwell's admirably accessible and massively learned 1997 Jesuit self-help book Impelling Spirit: Revisiting a Founding Experience: 1539: Ignatius of Loyola and His Companions: An Exploration into the Spirit and Aims of the Society of Jesus as Revealed in the Founders' Proposed Papal Letter Approving the Society (Chicago: Jesuit Way/ Loyola Press) is designed to be part of the Jesuit effort to carry out the Vatican II mandate to revisit their original charism.

In this respect, perhaps we can refer to it as a Jesuit self-help book. But I want to suggest that it may also work as a Christian self-help book - that is, a book that may help Christians renew their personal religious lives.

According to information on the back cover of Conwell's 1997 book, Father Conwell holds a doctorate in ascetical and mystical theology from the Jesuit-sponsored Gregorian University in Rome and is the authors of the 1957 pre-Vatican II book Contemplation in Action: A Study in Ignatian Prayer (Gonzaga University Press). However, Conwell's 1957 pre-Vatican II book was originally published as a doctoral dissertation in theology for the Gregorian University in Rome under the title Prayer Proper to the Society of Jesus according to Jerome Nadal, S.J. (1507-1580).

This brings us to Conwell's 2003 post-Vatican II book Walking in the Spirit: A Reflection on Jeronimo Nadal's Phrase "Contemplation Likewise in Action" (St. Louis: Institute of Jesuit Sources). It is also designed to contribute to Jesuit personal and group renewal.

The word Spirit in each book title refers to the Holy Spirit, the Third Person in the Divine Trinity in Roman Catholic trinitarian theology. However, if you do not subscribe to trinitarian theology, you are free to think of the word Spirit in each book title as referring simply to the spirit of God.

I commend Father Conwell for providing Jesuits with self-help books designed to further advance their Jesuit post-Vatican II renewal. However, I want to suggest here that perhaps other Christians could also advance their post-Vatican II personal renewal by meditatively reading Conwell's Jesuit self-help books.

Let me give you the image of yeast (or leaven) as the object to derive from meditatively Conwell's 1997 and 2003 books. However, the trick involved in ingesting and digesting such figurative yeast in oneself is not to succumb to yeastiness. Good luck with that.

Matthew 13:33 says, "He [Jesus] told them another parable: 'The kingdom of heaven [manifested on earth] is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with [Greek, hid in] three measures of flour until it was leavened'" (NRSV).

Luke 13:20-21 says, "And again he [Jesus] said, 'To what should I compare the kingdom of God [manifested on earth]? It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with [Greek, hid in] three measures of flour until it was all leavened'" (NRSV).

But I hasten to add that Conwell himself does not mention yeast as needed for Jesuit personal and group renewal - nor does Vatican II. Shame on them!

However, in the spirit of giving credit where credit is due, I hasten to give Conwell credit for his use of vineyard imagery: "Section Two: The Vineyard of the Lord" (pages 129-131); "Chapter seven: Workers in the Vineyard" (pages 133-161); "Chapter Nine: Tending the Weakest Vines" (pages 163-182); "Chapter Ten: Stewardship of the Vineyard" (pages 183-203).

For an account of Vatican II, see the American Jesuit church historian John W. O'Malley's book What Happened at Vatican II (Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2008).

For a recent English translation of key documents of Vatican II, see the book Vatican II: The Essential Texts, edited by Norman Tanner, S.J.; each translator is identified in the headnote to each document (New York: Image/ Crown Publishing Group/ Random House, 2012).

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Thomas James Farrell is professor emeritus of writing studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He started teaching at UMD in Fall 1987, and he retired from UMD at the end of May 2009. He was born in 1944. He holds three degrees from Saint Louis University (SLU): B.A. in English, 1966; M.A.(T) in English 1968; higher education, 1974. On May 16, 1969, the editors of the SLU student newspaper named him Man of the Year, an honor customarily conferred on an administrator or a faculty member, not on a graduate student -- nor on a woman up to that time. He is the proud author of the book (more...)

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