Why are the Jesuits also called ‘The Society of Jesus’?

St Ignatius, one of the founders of the Jesuits, built his Spiritual Exercises on the life and example of Jesus. He believed that the more we came to know Jesus, the more we would grow to love Him – a love that would then draw us into deeper service of God and the world.

Indeed, so central was Jesus to St Ignatius, that he prayed to be given the honour of serving Him. He wished that he and his own companions, the first Jesuits, could also be companions of Jesus – being close to Jesus so they could become more like Him in all they did, but also so that they could help others to see something of Jesus in and through their actions.

The prayer of St Ignatius was answered in one of his most important visions, at La Storta on the way to Rome. He saw Christ carrying his cross and heard God the Father say to Jesus, ‘I wish you to take this man [Ignatius] for your servant’ and Jesus, in turn, spoke to Ignatius, confirming that ‘My will is that you should serve us’.  

The name Ignatius and his first companions chose for their new group emerged also from this vision. It was clear to them that they had to take the name the ‘Company of Jesus’ because Jesus alone was their head. It was Jesus who had taken them all into His company, and that made them companions of Him, as Ignatius had so fervently wished; but they were also companions of each other, friends in the Lord, alongside Jesus, carrying His cross.

We want to introduce you to Jesus as we have come to know Him – as the person who has transformed our lives. So, who was Jesus of Nazareth? Why does He continue to bring new life and hope to people all around the world? What is so life-changing about His teaching and what can happen if you let Him enter more and more into your life?

Who is Jesus?

Simply put, Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus the Christ, is someone worth getting to know. He is the most important person ever to have lived – someone who has literally changed the world. Historically, of course, there is the vast and rich cultural influence of Christianity, but what is most important of all is that Jesus also changed the world at a much, much deeper level.

We can see something of this in those chaotic days around His death. His friends had scattered in fear, unable to deal with His humiliating and violent crucifixion (a particularly cruel Roman punishment for slaves and rebels). And yet, these people, who had denied Jesus at the moment of His greatest need, who had abandoned Him, were turned around completely by an event that none of them had anticipated – His rising from the dead. As a result of their encounters with the risen Jesus, instead of hiding and fleeing they now stood up and publicly proclaimed what they had seen, even though it would mean their own violent deaths.

Right from these first transformational moments, as Jesus’ friends and followers tried to put what they had experienced into words, they could only find one credible explanation for all that they had seen and heard. They began to describe Jesus in ways that, up to that point, had only been used to describe God.

‘God highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth.’ Phil 2:9-10

Jesus was recognised as sharing in a special way in the unique identity of God. From the very first generation of Christians, people called him God. That is why today, we also proclaim that Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of God. We believe that He is both fully God and fully human.

Jesus, Son of God

Through Jesus, humanity came to a fuller understanding of God. Why would God choose to become part of His own creation? The short answer is that it was the culmination of God’s self-introduction to humanity.

‘Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son.’  Hebrews 1:1-2

More than this, it was God’s way of bringing us closer to Him. This was Jesus’ mission and the goal of His life, to bring us back to full unity with God the Father, by showing us the depth of God’s love.

God entered the human experience to break the power of sin and death in the world and, through the example of the Son, to model for us a new way of living. As Pope Benedict has taught:

‘In Jesus of Nazareth we encounter the face of God, who came down from his heaven to immerse himself in the human world, in our world, and to teach “the art of living”, the road to happiness; to set us free from sin and make us children of God.’ Pope Benedict XVI

Jesus, Son of Man

Through Jesus, God knows exactly what it means to be human. Don’t forget, Jesus was a son, a friend, a person who mourned and a person who suffered. He knew what it meant to be rejected, to be abandoned by those closest to Him. He saw his life collapse in the course of just twenty-four hours. He experienced every human emotion.

He knew the joys of family and friendship, the satisfaction of work, the powerful call of vocation. He played and laughed, grew and learned. He faced temptation but knew always to turn to His Father and trust in God.

How can we forget the way Jesus lived? How He turned words into action as He sought to break down barriers between people, bringing in those who were at the margins of society through a radical and, at the time, shocking table-fellowship. How He healed those who had been forgotten. How He challenged those who misused their power and wealth. How He kept God and love at the centre of everything.

‘With a tenderness which never disappoints, but is always capable of restoring our joy, Jesus makes it possible for us to lift up our heads and to start anew.’

Pope Francis, The Joy of the Gospel

What did Jesus teach?

At the heart of Jesus’ teaching are some very simple lessons. The first is that God is love and that God loves each of us in the same way. No matter who we are or what we have done, God does not stop loving us.

Jesus repeatedly taught that God invites all of us to share in the promise of new life. There is no ‘in-group’ or excluded, no advantage for the rich or powerful. The ways of the world are turned on their head. All are welcome, equally, because God’s love and mercy are all-embracing.

The image Jesus offers is of a royal banquet with the Father as a generous host who tells his servants to “go into the main streets, and invite everyone to the wedding banquet”, with a welcome extended to “both good and bad” so that the wedding hall is “filled with guests” (Matt. 22: 9-10). None of us ‘earns’ the invitation, but we all receive one. It is God’s love that gets us there. Our task is to put our best foot forward, accept the invitation, and just as Jesus did to His Father, and as much as we can, say ‘Yes’ to God every day.

Jesus came to bring us into a new relationship with God and with each other.

The good news of Jesus Christ

Jesus talks about the gospel, which means the good news, at the very beginning of His public ministry.

… Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel.”’ Mark 1:14

He calls us to ‘repent’, that is, to turn to God and to seek a new and better way of living. We might call it a conversion of heart and mind, as we come more and more to live lives of love. God knows that we struggle sometimes and that we can often do things that hurt others, or that push God away. That is why Jesus asks us to recognise not only our failings but also God’s transforming love.

God’s unfathomable mercy and generosity are shown in Jesus’ story of the Prodigal Son. The young man left with half the family wealth and wasted it, before being forced to return home broken and penniless. The father did not scold or punish his wayward child but embraced him and threw a huge party to celebrate his homecoming. This is the God that Jesus is showing us – a God whose love overflows, whose gift of love he simply wants us to accept and share.

Jesus wants us to accept God’s love and, bit by bit, to come also to live and share God’s love. He wants us to be the best version of ourselves. This is Jesus’ Good News. As he says,

I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.John 10:10

Love your neighbour

As Jesus showed us, the Christian life at its best is about self-giving. He lived not for Himself, but for the glory of God and in service of others, and He asks us to do the same. As He taught

‘ ... you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength’ . . .  [and] ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:30-31

Of course, Jesus did not just teach others to love their neighbour, He also lived out this teaching in radical ways. The New Testament is filled with stories of Jesus ministering to, and reaching out to those on the margins, to the outcasts of his society. And He calls on each of us to do the same:

‘The king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you cared for me, I was in prison and you visited me.” Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me”.’ Matthew 40:34-40

What did Jesus say about prayer and spirituality?

Prayer is about speaking to God from our hearts and, in doing so, coming to know God in a new and deeper way. It is about opening ourselves to God’s presence in our lives so that God can help us discover the right path to follow. We see this from Jesus’ own example.

For Jesus, prayer is personal.

Prayer, for Jesus, is about relationship. He speaks to His Father with love and intimacy. In the gospel, when He has a big decision to make or is faced with hardship, He spends time in prayer. He speaks and listens to His Father and, in His great prayer, the Our Father, He invites us to do the same.

‘Pray then in this way:
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one.’

Matthew 6:9-13

In Ignatian spirituality, the idea of prayer as a conversation with God is important. Often at the end of a time of prayer, we are invited to speak to Jesus, or the Father, with the same intimacy and trust as we would with our closest friends.

Jesus prays from the heart

He asks us to speak simply and from the heart.

Jesus is also clear about using normal language when we pray to God. God the Father knows us intimately and this means we can be totally honest, totally ourselves:

‘And in praying do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.’ Matthew 6:7-8

Often this simplicity can be found in the traditional prayers of the Church. One that was important to Saint Ignatius, is the great prayer to Jesus, the Anima Christi:

Soul of Christ, sanctify me.
Body of Christ, save me.
Blood of Christ, inebriate me.
Water from the side of Christ, wash me.
Passion of Christ, strengthen me.
O Good Jesus, hear me.
Within your wounds hide me.
Permit me not to be separated from you.
From the wicked foe, defend me.
At the hour of my death, call me
and bid me come to you
That with your saints I may praise you
Forever and ever. Amen.

And he knows that prayer can and does change us, and the world.

Jesus says that if we pray about the most important things in our lives, God will hear us and answer us. If we are troubled or have a big decision to make, God will shine a light and show us the way ahead:

‘Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks the door will be opened.” Matthew 7: 7-8

Why did Jesus die?

Very few would now deny that, as a historical fact, Jesus was crucified and died. Crucifixion was a brutal form of execution used by the Roman Empire to make a public example of wrongdoers by nailing them to a cross for all to see. But why did this happen?

It is important to recognise, first, that Jesus did not just die, he rose again. It is the two together that reveal the full meaning. Through his death and resurrection, Jesus showed that death is not the end. In our world, many believe that after death there is nothing, but Jesus shows us the opposite – after death, there is everything, the fullness of life in God’s presence for eternity.  

Jesus died at the hands of an angry mob, whipped up to believe that they were doing God’s will. And so the Cross teaches us a second important lesson – vengeance and violence are not God’s way. Jesus was the innocent victim of violence, and God’s response was not violence in return, but forgiveness. The Cross is a sign that even in the face of the worst that we can do, God remains steadfast in love and mercy.

The New Testament also tells us that Jesus died to save us. This is why common titles for Jesus are ‘saviour’ and ‘redeemer’. Through His death, the sins of humanity were forgiven, and we are fully reconciled to God. As St Paul describes it:

‘God has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.’ Colossians 1:13

Because of this, the Cross transformed from an instrument of torture into the greatest symbol of hope in the world. St Ignatius prayed to understand more deeply what Jesus’ actions meant:

‘Christ comes to be born in extreme poverty and after so many labours, after hunger, thirst, heat and cold, outrages and affronts, he dies on the cross, and all this for me’. Spiritual Exercises [116]

It is a good way for us to reflect on what the life, and death, of Jesus means for all of us.

Did Jesus rise from the dead?

Christianity has always taught that Jesus rose from the dead based on the personal accounts of those for whom it was a transformational experience. Simply put, without the Resurrection, Christianity would not exist. The very essence of the first Christian proclamation was Jesus’ resurrection. The disciples could not be silenced because their encounters with the risen Jesus had changed them to their very core. They turned from cowering in fear or fleeing, to boldly proclaiming an event that was ‘a scandal for the Jews, and foolishness for the gentiles’ (1 Corinthians 1:23).

St. Paul spoke about some of these direct encounters with the risen Jesus when he wrote to one of the earliest Christian communities:

‘For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom are still alive’. 1 Corinthians 15:3-6

Belief in the resurrection is an act of faith, but we can find evidence of its power in our own lives and in the world around us. In nature, the rhythm of life does mean new shoots emerging every year – death is overcome time and again; life can reach into the most difficult or seemingly inhospitable of places. And that is because life is a stronger force.

Even in the darkest and most difficult experiences of our lives, we know that new life can and does also emerge. As Pope Francis reminds us:

‘Christ’s resurrection is not an event of the past; it contains a vital power which has permeated this world. Where all seems to be dead, signs of the resurrection suddenly spring up. It is an irresistible force.’ Pope Francis, The Joy of the Gospel

How can we know Jesus today?

Spending time with Him in prayer

The easiest way for you to connect with Jesus today is to pray to Him. In the last words that Jesus speaks in Matthew’s gospel, He promises, ‘I am with you always, to the close of the age.’ Matthew 28:20

Knowing this, you can be bold in praying to Jesus, knowing that He cares about the details of your life. Pope Francis advises being completely honest when praying to Jesus. ‘Jesus likes to see the truth of our heart. Don't pretend in front of Jesus. With Jesus, always say what you are feeling.’

Reflecting on what He said

The majority of what is known about Jesus’ life comes from the Bible, specifically the Gospels. Here, you can find detailed accounts of what Jesus was like, how He spent His time on Earth, the stories He told and the things He cared about.

St Ignatius invites us to spend time getting to know Jesus through the stories of His life. One powerful way of connecting to Jesus through Scripture is by imaginative prayer.

Opening ourselves to the presence of the Holy Spirit

Through the Holy Spirit, God is active and present in the world today. Jesus spoke of the important role of the Spirit:

‘But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.’ John 14:26-27

Ignatian Spirituality can help us grow in awareness of the workings of the Spirit in our lives and in the world around us.

Discovering Jesus in His Church

Christianity teaches that Jesus established a Church on Earth. One of the most powerful images of the Church is as the ‘mystical body of Christ’. It represents difference but also unity; each part of the body has its distinctive shape and function, but we all need each other, we work best together. This idea of communion is another powerful image for the Church – we are a community, something that is increasingly precious in this current age.

We invite you to join or deepen your involvement, in the community of the Church, perhaps through one of our Jesuit parishes.

Meeting Jesus in the service of others

During his life on Earth, Jesus spent his time with those on the margins, with the poorest, the outcasts, those suffering illness or rejection. There can be no clearer sign that this is also where we will encounter Jesus in the world today.

In the Beatitudes, Jesus shows his love and concern for those who are suffering and oppressed. They offer a model for how we can serve the world today.

If you are interested in helping with the work we do among refugees, the homeless, and internationally, you can find out more below.