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A penitential exercise…

Explaining Lent to a Jesuit:
An Attempt at Mission Impossible

Br. Joe Hoover, S.J.

The Society of Jesus, as the Jesuit order is formally called, was once the glory of the Catholic Church. It was founded by St. Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556) to combat the Protestant heresy and includes such glorious saints as St. Peter Canisius, St. Francis Xavier, St. Robert Bellarmine, St. John Berchmans, St. John de Brebeuf, St. Isaac Jogues, St. Peter Claver, St. Aloysius Gonzaga, to name but a few, and such eminent scholars as Cardinal Johann Franzelin, Cardinal Louis Billot, Fr. Francisco Suarez, Fr. Cornelius a Lapide, and countless more.

Over the last few decades, the Jesuit order has degenerated into a den of apostates, whose most conspicuous rotten fruit goes by the moniker “Pope Francis” (Jorge Bergoglio). Among the 20th-century undertakers of the once-glorious society one must name Fathers Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Karl Rahner, Bernard Lonergan, Jean Danielou, Henri de Lubac, and Pedro Arrupe. The current Superior General, “Fr.” Arturo Sosa Abascal, is a textbook Modernist who denies the existence of Satan and the reliability of the Gospels. The Society of Jesus has become the Society of Judas.

Enter Brother Joe Hoover, S.J. He is not just a Jesuit but also an author, an actor, and a playwright. He has just published a book with the deceptively promising title, O Death, Where Is Thy Sting?: A Meditation on Suffering (Orbis, 2020). The first chapter has been published online for free at the Jesuit rag America, where Hoover serves as poetry editor.

The excerpt is entitled “Why does God allow suffering? A meditation” and is a shocking manifesto of the spiritual nothingness that emanates from today’s Jesuits. There is simply nothing there. There is nothing there that can nourish the soul. The author clearly does not have supernatural Faith or hope, and therefore he also cannot have supernatural charity (cf. 1 Cor 13:13; Heb 11:6). As a consequence, he has nothing to communicate that could elevate the soul from the natural to the supernatural plane.

One Amazon reviewer of Hoover’s O Death, Where Is Thy Sting? has hit the nail on the head. Giving it a rating of two out of five stars, reviewer “Kay L.” writes:

This book is not for everyone!

I have always been consumed by the needless suffering that takes place on a daily basis throughout history. I bought this book because I actually thought it would be meditative and stimulate new thoughts on this conundrum. What I found was a list of complaints by the author about how God has failed us, does not show himself when needed, and is no more than a ghost. I understand that these thought are common when we face trials while living in a complex and often hostile reality, but this is not what I would call “meditation.” The title reflects the author’s cynical attitude toward God as he voices his complaints about suffering. There is nothing uplifting or consoling in these narratives. They may even be harmful to some readers, who may be seeking understanding or consolation. In this book, you will find neither.

(Kay L., Amazon Review of O Death, Where Is Thy Sting? by Joe Hoover, S.J., Feb. 2, 2021; underlining added.)

Reading Hoover is like reading an agnostic or an atheist. There is no discernible difference. It is evident he suffers from a profound sickness of soul, a sickness that is bound to infect all who read him who are not sufficiently grounded in Faith and hope.

Our diagnosis can be stated up front: Joe Hoover is a Naturalist. He is a Naturalist through and through, and he probably doesn’t even know it, for he is himself a victim of many years of Novus Ordo education, and a Jesuit Novus Ordo education to boot.

Hoover looks at our sinful, broken world and is tempted to despair. He makes blasphemous remarks about God and cynically mocks whatever pertinent bits and pieces of Catholic truth he happens to recall because he cannot make sense of them. He cannot make sense of them because the entire Catholic supernatural framework from which they derive is foreign to him. He lives under a Naturalist horizon and attempts to forcibly graft individual elements of supernatural truths into his Naturalist world. It is a grotesque endeavor that is guaranteed to be as futile as trying to put a square peg into a round hole (cf. Mk 2:21-22). The end result is foreseeable: frustration, anger, and ultimately despair.

Hoover’s Naturalism is the reason why he cannot make sense of suffering. He does not understand the human condition nor the purpose of existence, much less the remedy God has so lovingly given us. He does not know God, understand God, or love God, at least not supernaturally. He has no understanding of sacred doctrine. No wonder he promotes “Ignatian Yoga”.

To a Naturalist, the present world must necessarily seem absurd, and the God who created it and keeps it in existence must seem like a cruel joke. Hoover looks for natural happiness in the temporal world, and he loses hope because he cannot find any, at least none that would be lasting, secure, and worth it. This despair he now expresses in his writings, which apparently fall under the category of “poetry.” Thus he publicly offers his Naturalist apostasy to countless souls as a fountain from which to drink. But it is a poisoned well, causing other souls to join him in withering away spiritually.

Are we being too harsh? Alas, no. His latest “meditation”, published on America on Feb. 20, confirms our diagnosis. The title alone borders on blasphemy: “Catholics, must we be so obsessed with Jesus’ death and suffering this Lent?”

The short answer is yes, we must. In fact, we are privileged to. Only a man who has no understanding at all of the divine work that is the Passion and Death of our Blessed Lord would ask such an offensive and cynical question. (The title has since been defused to a less offensive-sounding, “Why Catholics are so obsessed with Jesus’ death and suffering: A meditation”, but the original title can still be viewed here. The revised title is somewhat misleading, however, because the author does not provide an answer.)

Brother Joe’s “Lenten meditation” begins with a cringeworthy fictional dialogue about a cheese tasting and lactose intolerance. No, it has nothing to do with the Lenten fast or abstinence; rather, it seems to be the author’s attempt at a lead-in to his thesis: “It is Lent, and we are not fully right, and things are not right and never have been, and we need something to make it better.” Actually, things were once perfectly right — namely, in the Garden of Eden before the fall: “And God saw all the things that he had made, and they were very good” (Gen 1:31). But then today’s Jesuits probably don’t believe in that anymore. In any case, we can agree that today things are indeed “not fully right”, and Hoover’s article is a sterling example of that.

The author proceeds to speak about a Stations of the Cross pamphlet he remembers from his childhood:

Why are we so fixed on death? Consider the Stations of Light. Have you heard of such a thing? In the Catholic Church? Stations of Light? They are real! Oh that these could become as popular as the dispiriting ones! The Stations of Light have been around for 30-some years. After 2000 years of spears and nails, we finally got around to celebrating the resurrection!

(Joe Hoover, S.J., “Catholics, must we be so obsessed with Jesus’ death and suffering this Lent?”, America, Feb. 20, 2021)

Ah, but we do celebrate the Resurrection, Brother Joe! That celebration is called Easter. In fact, Holy Mother Church has dedicated an entire liturgical season to it, known as Paschaltide. It lasts 50 days, which makes it ten days longer than Lent. Do today’s Jesuits not celebrate Easter? Catholics celebrate it every single year!

But how do we get to Easter? Did Christ go from the Last Supper straight to the Resurrection? Was there not a “dispiriting” Sacred Passion in between? And did Our Lord not fast for 40 days and 40 nights before He even began His public ministry? How “disheartening”!

“If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me” (Mt 16:24), said the Savior. Hoover does not understand. He does not understand the remedy because he does not understand the disease. He does not understand the true condition with which man is afflicted, rooted in original sin and its consequences.

It seems that the Jesuit brother looks at the Passion just as Protestants do: It’s a thing of the past, it’s done, it was ugly; now let’s put all gloomy thoughts behind us and focus on Christ having risen from the dead. Someone who thinks that has not understood the Passion at all. He has not understood the nature and gravity of sin and the disorder it inflicts on the soul. For that reason, he cannot understand the Atonement either, an Atonement Christ rendered in superabundant fashion. The Passion of Christ is God’s proof of love for fallen mankind: “But he was wounded for our iniquities, he was bruised for our sins: the chastisement of our peace was upon him, and by his bruises we are healed” (Is 53:5). We ought to meditate often on this veritable school of divine love: “The School of Jesus Crucified”.

In one of his excellent works, the Irish Holy Ghost Father Edward Leen mentions how the disciples on the Road to Emmaus were disillusioned because they did not understand the true nature and purpose of what Christ had done:

At length it began to dawn upon them that the Redemption they looked for was to be sought not without but within — not in the emancipation of their persons from a political yoke, but in a subjection of their souls to the deifying influence of the Redeemer.

They had dreamed of a redemption that was wholly political and external, one which changed their worldly status, leaving themselves unchanged. Now they understood redemption as something wholly internal and spiritual, liberating them from the yoke of their own fallen nature and giving their souls the regal condition of the sonship of God. The imparting of grace, not the bestowal of earthly position, they now understood to be the object of Christ’s relations with them.

(Fr. Edward Leen, Progress through Mental Prayer [New York, NY: Sheed & Ward, 1938], pp. 28, 32)

In the Gospels, our Lord warned us that we must be genuinely holy and not merely have an appearance of holiness: “For I tell you, that unless your justice abound more than that of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 5:20). In fact, He counseled nothing less than perfection to be our goal: “Be you therefore perfect, as also your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48). Holiness does not consist merely in an absence of sin but in the presence of sanctifying grace in our souls, rendering them positively pleasing to God and adorning them with virtue.

To that end, Christ came not merely to forgive our sins but also to cure the disorder in our souls so as to clear away the obstacles to perfect union with God: “They that are well have no need of a physician, but they that are sick” (Mk 2:17); “For this is the will of God, your sanctification…” (1 Thess 4:3). The Redemption of Our Lord Jesus Christ provides us with more than the forgiveness of sins committed: It contains within itself the power to stop sinning. Not content with remedying the consequences of our spiritual sickness, Our Savior offers to actually make us whole: “I will, be thou made clean” (Mt 8:3).

Especially in light of his other meditation (“Why does God allow suffering?”), it seems that Brother Joe thinks the Redemption was, or should have been, man’s liberation not from a political yoke but nevertheless from an entirely natural burden, namely, from the exigencies of the human condition (“we need something to make it better” / “When will you lift us out of our human poverty?”). Since his personal experience of this world, however, does not bear this out at all, he is frustrated, angry, and is tempted to despair. All this is par for the course for a Naturalist. We will speak more about this later.

Hoover proceeds to offer further thoughts in his “Lenten meditation”, thoughts that are so obnoxious that one does not know whether he is speaking facetiously or not. Perhaps he isn’t even sure himself.

He recounts scenes from Francisco Zeffirelli’s Jesus of Nazareth miniseries, including a (hopefully unintentionally) blasphemous one about the Blessed Mother attempting to get Pontius Pilate to release her Divine Son. As if the Mother of God, the Sorrowful Virgin most prudent and Coredemptrix, would have tried to prevent the Redemption!

“If only those people on the ‘Release’ side had yelled hard enough!”, Hoover muses. “They might have won his freedom and he would not have been crucified and died. If only! We could have avoided this! It was in the realm of possibility, no?” Again, one does not know whether the author means what he says or is simply arguing and asking rhetorically. What is certain, however, is that he leaves the objections unanswered, and needlessly so.

Christ the Lord revealed to His disciples that His death would not be an accident, as if the devil would have have successfully thwarted the divine plan, but that it would constitute that very plan that was freely chosen by Him: “No man taketh [my life] away from me: but I lay it down of myself…” (Jn 10:18; cf. Is 53:7). Had Christ been released instead of condemned, our Redemption would not have been carried out — and there would have been no Resurrection. “And if Christ be not risen again, your faith is vain, for you are yet in your sins” (1 Cor 15:17).

In all apparent seriousness, Br. Hoover writes: “Why all this focus on the dead Jesus?” He sounds just like any atheist, agnostic, or other unbeliever. We must remind him, it seems, that Christ was alive for most of the time He hung upon that Cross, suffering patiently for us all. It is especially on Holy Saturday that Holy Mother Church meditates on His lifeless Body, resting in the tomb.

Catholics love to behold Jesus hanging on the Cross because it is there that the greatest-ever act of Love was carried out, proving to the utmost the Creator’s Charity for His sinful creatures: “But God, (who is rich in mercy,) for his exceeding charity wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together in Christ…” (Eph 2:4-5). In his meditation for the Twelfth Station of the Cross, St. Francis of Assisi exhorts us: “Behold Jesus crucified! Behold His wounds received for love of you! His whole appearance betokens love. His head is bent to kiss you. His arms are extended to embrace you. His heart is open to receive you. Oh what love! Jesus dies on the Cross, to preserve you from eternal death” (Way of the Cross). Who is not moved at such Love?!

Br. Hoover, it’s time to roll up your yoga mat and hit some real Catholic books. Put down Henri Nouwen and Richard Rohr and read St. Alphonsus Liguori and Fr. Edward Leen instead. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

The hapless Jesuit then tells us about his Protestant friend Tammy. She “told me her church doesn’t have the body of Christ on their cross. Because he’s not on that cross anymore, she said. He’s resurrected.” Apparently unable to answer this uninformed objection, Hoover writes: “I’d never thought of that! Of course! He’s resurrected! Why do we have him on that cross? We have it all wrong. We should be like Tammy’s church. We should just have the two boards! That makes so much sense! Take him off. He’s risen!”

Tammy and Br. Joe can find the answer to their argument in St. Paul: “But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews indeed a stumblingblock, and unto the Gentiles foolishness: But unto them that are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor 1:23-24); “But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ; by whom the world is crucified to me, and I to the world” (Gal 6:14). We show Christ on the Cross because it is the instrument of our Redemption, which has the power to convert the world: “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all things to myself” (Jn 12:32). Why would we not want to behold Him who suffered all these things for our salvation? “They shall look on him whom they pierced” (Jn 19:37; cf. Zac 12:10). Is He not our Paschal Sacrifice? “Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who taketh away the sin of the world” (Jn 1:27).

We might add that having an empty cross, as the Protestants do, does not signify the Resurrection, it only indicates that Christ was taken down from the Cross. Why do Protestants not have an empty tomb as their religious symbol if it is the Resurrection they wish to focus on?

Poor Tammy. Long gone are the days when Jesuits brought Protestants to the true religion by refuting their objections with solid Catholic truth. If only she had asked him about yoga instead!

Returning to Hoover’s text, he again misses the point of meditating on the Passion, and he complains that we don’t bow and kneel before scenes of the post-Resurrection events, such as Christ’s appearances to His disciples. He remarks cynically: “Death and the foreclaws of tragedy are always more captivating for the artist than life and joy”.

No, it is not because we love blood, spears, and nails that we never tire of devoutly recalling the Passion of our Savior. It is because it discloses to us His superabundant merciful love: “And in truth it was more by love than by the violence of the executioners that our divine Redeemer was fixed to the Cross…”, Pope Pius XII writes in his magnificent encyclical on the Sacred Heart, Haurietis Aquas (n. 74). And so we meditate on our Savior’s sorrows (and those of His holy Mother) in order to elicit acts of Faith, hope, and charity — and contrition. Nothing — except for a devout reception of the sacraments themselves, surely — is more profitable for our souls than that.

The infinite love God has shown us in the Redemption is illustrated quite pithily in the words of our Blessed Lord to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque (1647-1690) regarding His Most Sacred Heart: “See this Heart, which has loved men so much that it has spared nothing, even to exhausting and consuming itself, in order to testify to them its love” (qtd. in Most Rev. Emile Bougaud, Revelations of the Sacred Heart to Blessed Margaret Mary [New York, NY: Benziger Brothers, 1890], p. 236).

Hoover does provide one attempt at an answer to his own question about why the Church continually focuses on the suffering and death of Christ: “Maybe because life is just a very terrible thing at times, and Christ knew it and we know it and the church seems to know it. The church is something that deals, quite unflinchingly, in reality. And that reality includes the worst things.” This is certainly not wrong, but it is wholly insufficient. It is also — surprise! — entirely Naturalist. One certainly need not be a Catholic to concur that “life is just a very terrible thing at times”. No atheist, agnostic, or Wiccan would disagree. That’s because it contains nothing of the supernatural Gospel of Christ, not even anything religious.

The remaining thoughts expressed in Hoover’s sorry excuse for a meditation are so meaningless, incongruous, and bizarre that we will leave them uncommented. Sentences like, “We are born into a coffee shop, and taken down in the coffee shop, gently, gently turned aside and here’s your napkin” simply do not deserve comment. They do not testify to a sound mind. This religious brother simply has nothing to offer the soul, at least nothing that is good and worth communicating.

How low the Jesuits have fallen! They no longer preach, or believe in, the true Gospel (cf. Gal 1:8-9). After decades of drinking deeply from the Nouvelle Theologie (New Theology), this is the consequence: cluelessness mixed with cynicism, despair, and blasphemy. Hoover does not have supernatural love of God because he does not know Him. For someone who has entered religious life and now publishes writings on spiritual topics, that is very troubling. Alas, one cannot help but be reminded of the words of St. Paul: “But the sensual [=natural] man perceiveth not these things that are of the Spirit of God; for it is foolishness to him, and he cannot understand, because it is spiritually examined” (1 Cor 2:14).

The antidote to Hoover’s toxic Naturalism is found in Fr. Leen’s book Why the Cross? (1938). It is an exquisite work filled to the brim with real Catholicism. The author’s command of the theological subject matter is only matched by his graceful style. Fr. Leen offers a genuine and sophisticated cure to the burdened soul, not a band-aid of platitudes. Why the Cross? is theologically substantial, intellectually satisfying, and spiritually edifying. It is the remedy for Novus Ordo greeting card spirituality that cannot nourish the soul.

Here is a quote from Fr. Leen that identifies precisely the error of Naturalists like Hoover and other Jesuits, such as “Pope” Francis:

The [Gospel] passages that reveal Jesus in the exercise of works of mercy, in healing disease, in consoling grief and in overcoming death, are given an undue emphasis [by Naturalists]. In this way the central truth is obscured, the truth, namely, that the conflict of the Redeemer was primarily with spiritual evil and only incidentally with physical evil. His purpose was to banish from earth the ills that appear to God as such, not those that appear so to the pain-dreading nature of man… The gospel is not a record of a more or less successful philanthropic mission.

…To Christians, who persist in thinking that the function of Christianity is to provide men with good things and banish from their life evil things — understanding by good and evil what appear such to fallen human nature — life will speedily prove unintelligible. To men with such views the mystery of pain becomes insoluble. In the face of the harsh realities of existence their belief stands condemned. They have no answer to give to the ever-recurring question: if God is kind and good and tender towards human suffering, why does suffering continue to be not only for those that deserve it, but also for those who do not?

That Jesus, in His power and goodness, did not put an end to all human suffering shows that, in His eyes, suffering is not the real source of human unhappiness.

(Rev. Edward Leen, Why the Cross? [London: Sheed & Ward, 1938], pp. 54-56; italics given; underlining added.)

That is not to say, of course, that we should not or need not alleviate suffering in this world. Christ has commanded us to, even under pain of eternal damnation (see Mt 25:31-46)! Hence the Church enjoins upon her members the practice of the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, especially during Lent.

Which brings us back to our original task: How does one explain Lent to a Jesuit?

If anyone can do it, it would be Bishop Donald Sanborn. In the following four sermons, he speaks on the importance of mortification and on the season of Lent in general:

What is presented in these videos is the refreshing supernatural truth that alone can nourish souls and lift them out of their misery. This is the fountain from which we all must drink deeply (cf. Is 12:3) so that we “may have life, and may have it more abundantly” (Jn 10:10).

Oh, that Brother Joe would acquaint himself with the true Gospel! He could produce Lenten meditations worthy of the name instead of the pseudo-spiritual junk he now dumps on unsuspecting souls. The thoughts he offers are not edifying, not consoling, not helpful. If his aim is to scandalize souls so as to make them lose all hope, he’s no doubt succeeded.

Reading Hoover, one is reminded of the lament of Pope Pius XI that

…among the faithful themselves, washed in Baptism with the blood of the immaculate Lamb, and enriched with grace, there are found so many men of every class, who laboring under an incredible ignorance of Divine things and infected with false doctrines, far from their Father’s home, lead a life … which is not brightened by the light of true faith, nor gladdened by the hope of future beatitude, nor refreshed and cherished by the fire of charity; so that they truly seem to sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.

(Pope Pius XI, Encyclical Miserentissimus Redemptor, n. 16; underling added.)

Indeed, Joe Hoover “seem[s] to sit in darkness and in the shadow of death”; and since misery loves company, he publishes his faithless and blasphemous thoughts for all the world to see.

The least we can do is try to keep him from dragging others down to hell with him.

Real vs. fake Jesuits:
Fr. Bernard Maguire (1866) vs. “Fr.” James Martin (2018)

Image sources: soundcloud.com / own creation using elements from Wikimedia Commons and youtube.com (screenshot)
License: fair use / public domain and fair use

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