Jesuits and Fridges


Google “Jesuits” and you’ll be seated to a smorgasbord of half-baked conspiracy theories, scandals, heresies, intrigues, insidious plots and outlandish gossip.  You could eat yourself quite stupid on the outrageous fantasies and falsities cooked up by detractors, and, at times, admirers of the Society of Jesus.  But fiction often turns out to be more benign than fact.

Reality is crunchier than the Pablum concocted by idle or indignant minds.  All the blather about the “Black Pope” and his subversive will to power has nothing on the honest-to-God infamy to be revealed in what follows.  The true dirt on the Jesuits is spattered all across our fridges.

Yes, refrigerators are the dark secret lurking in the shadows of Canadian Jesuit communities.  I have lived in several of them that house a 1:1 ratio of refrigeration/freezer units and vowed members.  Moreover, I have entered  certain SJ dwellings in which these modern appliances far outnumber their human housemates.

For a few days I helped myself to food out of one of the four fridges that overpopulate a household of two Jesuits.  Add to these the full-size, mostly empty chest freezer in the basement, and suddenly the Jesuits become the visible minority in their own home.

Why such domestic demographic imbalance?  Why do Jesuits need so much cold square footage?  Contrary to conspiracy theorists, I don’t believe that this amounts to just another micro ploy in our supposed universal plan to seize control of Church and State by destabilizing the global climate then availing ourselves of the ensuing economic and politic.  We’re not that malicious, let alone that clever.

Quite the opposite; in our communal comings and goings we merely accrue the conveniences of a consumer lifestyle, and then, once plugged in, we simply let precedent take over.  We pass merrily through houses, inheriting and preserving what our predecessors left behind.  After all, there must have been a very solid reason that compelled the community to collect and connect all these refrigerators.  Who would dare unplug and undo the good faith of our fathers?

Thus we fall into the naturalistic fallacy, that extremely seductive temptation to take what simply is (abundant appliances) and elevate it to what ought to be (all of them are absolutely, categorically necessary).

Even with multiple fridges, each half full (often with items long ago purchased and forgotten by itenerant Jesuits), we still too often keep one dedicated to cooling a dozen or two cans of soda.  So we throw good money after bad, buying electricity to keep our diabetes-in-a-can on perpetual ice.  Of course, because we did it yesterday, we must continue doing it tomorrow.

For some years I have chafed at the absurd cross-purposes within which we, both Jesuits and others, live here in Canada, the true north strong and free.  During a very long segment of the year, Mother Nature lavishly heaps on us ample, costless cold, which we, in turn, mortally combat with a huge arsenal of heating systems.

But not content with the semi-tropical interiors of our buildings, we conscript electric Arctic boxes to reclaim a piece of polar winter and defend it forcefully against the manufactured, ambient heat.   We live in little war zones, killing ourselves, not to mention the planet, in an endless battle over climate control.

There was a minor movement afoot, mostly among hippy homesteaders and young, urban environmentalists, of dispensing with artificial refrigeration.  These ambitious folks attempt to live without one of the most significant (in terms of food preservations) and coveted inventions of the twentieth century.

While I admire their discipline and dedication to living lightly, I am not about to impose their radical solidarity with the planet and the poor (developing countries have not nearly the same super-saturation of fridges as Canada does) on my fellow Jesuits.  We don’t have to go fridge-less, but shouldn’t we go with less fridges?

Surely it would give witness to our care for our common home to scale back our energy use, especially seeing that refrigerators are one the most power-hungry appliances that populate our homes.  Surely it would reflect well on our vow of poverty not to take thoughtless advantage of a modern good to which billions of people have no access.

Now, I didn’t uncover the real dirt on Canadian Jesuits in order to provoke merciless mudslinging.  Rather, my hope is that the exposition of the fridge foibles of my brothers will both prompt a conversation and, please God, a conversion towards lighter living.

However, conversation and conversion are worthy projects for all Canadians.  I’ve crossed the threshold of a number of non-Jesuit homes that also abound in fridges.  We Jesuits are not the only overly privileged Canadians when it comes to household goods.  We share with many others a mission of unplugging and letting go.  Let’s inspire each other, taking joy in our common vocation of simplicity and joyful, ecological sanity

Greg Kennedy, SJ is assigned to the spiritual exercises ministry at the Ignatius Jesuit Centre in Guelph, Ontario.

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