When you think about Jesuits the first thing you think about is education. They have always been solidly committed to extraordinary high standards of education for their priests and for those that they taught in their many schools around the world. We tend to think about the Jesuits as university professors. Thousands of them are and in this country alone, they own 27 colleges and universities. Can you imagine that? A group of individuals developing 27 universities! But back to the trenches.
They are also heroic and effective missionaries in the most remote and difficult parts of the world. Whether it be the swamps of Bangladesh or the jungles of Brazil, the Jesuits are there. When the Jesuits are there, the Church is planted firmly and when that gets done, Jesus of Nazareth is there.
I think that part of the genius of the Jesuit missionary experience is that when they go into a country or into a culture they really insert themselves into that culture totally and completely. They become one with that culture, absorb and live the history of the area, and they learn to think the way that the people there think. A great example of this, of course, was the wonderful Matteo Ricci (1552-1610). He was the first Jesuit to go to China. If his example would have been followed, the Church would be much more stronger there today. Ricci learned Chinese, celebrated their liturgy in Chinese, became a master of Chinese culture and philosophy and reached the Chinese people in a way that they could really understand. Tragically, he was a little ahead of schedule and his approach received a negative evaluation by the Vatican and the use of the language of the people would not reappear until the 1960’s. His work did not continue but he is a marvelous example to missionaries all over the world.