Friday, March 15, 2013

Lent Day 31: Of Jesuits, Franciscans, and Pope Cakes!

Hello, Coffee Talkers!

Let's begin tonight with a question from a friend and reader!
Dear Leslie: inform a Mormon. What is a "Franciscan"? It's in the news, and I feel ignorant. Also, what is a "Jesuit"? How are the two different? Why did people in the news say there is a Yankees/Red Sox relationship between the two groups? What's the skinny on that part of the new pope? 
Dear Inquisitive Mormon Friend,

You've asked some great questions! Let me try to break this down as simply and clearly as I can. First, let's talk a bit about Franciscans and Jesuits. In the Catholic Church, there are different types of priests, and different types of religious communities:

1. Diocesan Priests: some priests are known as 'Diocesan priests' because they are assigned to a geographical region and are under the authority of a local diocesan bishop. Here in the high desert of California, for example, we are in the Diocese of San Bernardino which encompasses Riverside and San Bernardino counties. We have a Bishop who oversees seminary training (the education and formation of men seeking the priesthood) and activity of priests in his local diocese. Diocesan priests here are given their assignments (in what church, office, position they will serve, and for how long), and they make a promise (or vow) of obedience to the bishop. A diocesan priest does not take a vow of poverty (but many still live very simply) and they may own personal property.

2. Religious Orders: There are also communities or congregations in the Catholic Church known as religious orders. Some priests (as well as monks, brothers, nuns, and sisters) live in these kind of communities. These communities were founded by a particular person or group of people, and are marked by a specific charism (gift of the Holy Spirit) and apostolate (the work or activity of the apostles and all those who continue to carry out the mission of Jesus on earth). Priests who are 'religious priests' are part of one of these orders, and this typically means that they are associated with the work and charism of that order, take vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience to their superior, and receive assignments from the superior of their own congregation which are not confined to a geographical area, but rather to the scope of the work of their order.

3. Jesuits: The Jesuits are a religious order founded by St. Ignatius of Loyola in 16th century Spain. They are also known as the Society of Jesus, which is why priests of this order have their names followed by the initials 'SJ.' In addition to the vows professed by other religious orders, the Jesuits also take a specific vow of obedience to the Pope in regard to mission. While the Jesuits are still one order throughout the world, some individual Jesuits vary in modern times on their level of commitment to Church teachings (is that a nice way to say it?), so if you ever hear someone refer to a 'solid Jesuit', it probably means that they are still a priest who upholds and teaches what the Catholic Church upholds and teaches. Jesuits are often engaged in teaching, retreat ministry, and spiritual direction.

4. Franciscans: Franciscans are those people belonging to orders which follow the Rule of St. Francis of Assisi, who founded his order in 13th century Italy. Francis himself never became a priest, but he is considered the founder of the many Franciscan orders and of the Poor Clares (the cloistered Franciscan nuns who were also started by Francis' spiritual companion, Clare of Assisi). Francis lived a life of radical poverty and of service to the poorest of the poor. There are many different orders of Franciscans today (including the Order of Friars Minor, the Capuchins, the Third Order Regular, and the Conventual Franciscans, to name just a few), but all of them strive to follow Francis' way of life, which included renunciation of personal property and worldly prestige.

Q: Why did people in the news say there is a Yankees/Red Sox relationship between the two groups? 
A: Well, I think that there are two main reasons: 1. the media understands almost nothing of Catholicism and can only speak in sports analogies, and 2. while it is unfounded to liken the relationship between these orders to a long-standing and even vicious rivalry between sports teams, it is commonly joked about among Catholics that whenever two or more of the older religious orders of the church unite, it may be a sign of the end times or some such thing, because the different communities can have really different personalities, so to speak. But they are all part of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, so the differences should be complementary rather than divisive.

Q: What's the skinny on that part of the new pope? 
A: It's interesting to have the first Jesuit Pope ever, and then to have that Pope not take the name of a previous pope, or even of a founder or saint of his own order, but rather choose the name of Francis of Assisi, who is known for his radical poverty, care for the poor, rejection of worldly power, and his response to God's call to him to "Rebuild my Church, which you can see has fallen into ruin." To me, it's a sign of something bold and new, a unifying force, a breath of new life into a Church and a world in great need of repair and renewal. I'm pretty stoked about our new Jesuit Pope Francis!

Lastly, and completely unrelated to these questions but still pope-related, I ordered a cake tonight for a Pope-themed dinner with friends, and want to let you all know that if you ever want to see something truly hilarious, ask a bakery worker to write "Viva El Papa" on your cake, and see the look they give you!

I hope this has been helpful. As always, thanks for stopping by, and be assured of my prayers.

Peace and all good,


  1. Thanks for the clarifications and explanations Leslie. I've been getting similar questions and honestly didn't know how to answer them. Now I can pull up your great answers! Thanks!

    1. You're welcome, Jennifer -- so glad you found this helpful! Peace and blessings, Leslie