Monday, October 17, 2016

For Jesuits' Future, Father-General's "Journeys of Collaboration"

Keeping with the custom of the Society of Jesus, before Saturday's Mass of Thanksgiving for his election, the 31st Father-General (back right) stood and listened as the mandate of his office was read out to him in the small room adjacent to the Gesu Church where Ignatius of Loyola wrote the job description into the Constitutions of his Company.

As for what Arturo Sosa's ascent as the first non-European "Black Pope" means, however, the fallout is anything but typical, reflecting an unprecedented "upstairs" dynamic in the five-century history of the church's largest and most influential order, even more than the worldwide Society's relentless shift of its membership's dominance toward the other side of the global south.

On the prinicipal sliding scale that faced the 215 electors of the 36th General Congregation – how closely they wanted the new General to be affiliated with the first Jesuit ever to occupy the Chair of Peter – the GC Fathers moved decisively and quickly to secure a maximal bond to Francis, choosing someone Papa Bergoglio already knew as a fellow Latin American provincial, and a confrere whose CV included a significant role in the social ministry the "White" Pope has come to see as indispensable to the entire church's mission.

Given one of the more onerous tasks each Father-General faces – negotiating the Jesuits' relationship with the Vatican and smoothing out its concerns – that kind of comfort level from the outset is a very potent asset. At the same time, as another Latin confrere indicated, the new chief enjoys a reputation as "caudillo" – the loaded term roughly equivalent to "strongman"... a quality where, lest anyone forgot, Francis isn't exactly a slouch, himself.

Yet even for as critical as the Pope angle is – all the more in the present scene – in another established tie with the folks up the Borgo, as Sosa was the Society's top resident official in Latin America at the turn of the decade while remaining in his native Venezuela, it is no less significant that the Nuncio then posted to Caracas was Pietro Parolin, now tasked with making the Holy See's trains run on time as Francis' formidable Cardinal-Secretary of State.

In terms of the internals of the Company, meanwhile, the choice of Sosa signals a continuity at the helm of a kind unseen in living memory. It's been over a century since the last time a deputy of the Jesuit Curia became successor of Ignatius in his own right, and some seven decades since a Father-General has come to the post without having spent most of his professed life away from his homeland.

That combination makes for a rather unusual mix. In light of the new Superior's prior tasks as a General Counselor at home, then the overseer of the Society's Roman houses – which, given their nature, encompass (and require close ties with) the entire Jesuit world – Sosa begins with a better sense of the wider order than the last 50 years of his predecessors have had at the start of their tenures. Being a "lifer" in Latin America until 2014, meanwhile – in contrast to the heavily Eastern exposure shared by the last three Generals – brings a greater ease and experience with the deeply established institutional apparatus which dominates the Jesuit reality across the Western world.

That background will help with guiding two concurrent, but remarkably counter-posed transitions: in Europe and the Americas, the ongoing hurdle remains how the Society's works broach the future amid increasingly fewer priests and brothers available to lead them, while the immense growth zones of Asia and Africa (which have rocketed to a plurality of the order's membership within three decades) present the challenge of forging a sustainable path toward the building of new entities to serve ecclesial environments whose youth and dynamism are bursting at the seems.

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With its major election completed, the GC now moves to its other marquee items: the preparation and approval of the Decrees which will set the focus for Jesuit life and identity worldwide over the next decade or more, and the reconstitution of the Curia with the body's choice of the four Assistants ad providentiam – the Rome-based principal advisers who form the core of a General's team. Beyond them, the remainder of the dozen or so General Counsellors are freely chosen by the Superior, who likewise determines the geographic or topic-based responsibilities each holds.

On the latter front, the election of the new Assistants will mark the final major responsibility to leave the hands of Fr Federico Lombardi (left) after a decade of juggling that 24/7 role alongside his higher-profile tasks as head of Vatican Radio and Television and director of the Holy See Press Office, from which he retired in August.

Much as it's a fitting tribute to Don Federico's herculean work ethic that the many hats he's worn are now demanding a community-sized group to carry onward, even a team of hands would be hard-pressed to equal the grace, generosity, integrity and dignity Lombardi has embodied without fail – all while navigating the ceaseless load of four pressure-cookers, to boot. May his pure, ever-faithful goodness remain an example far and wide, especially for those of us who've been blessed to share the ride of these years with him.

As the Negotia (business) phase winds down, the assembly is set to meet in short order with Pope SJ for Francis' intensely awaited address.

While it's long been the case that the pontiff sizes up the life of each major religious community in an audience and speech to its global chapter during its discussions, not since a Camaldolese Benedictine became Gregory XVI in the 1830s has a Pope been able to assess an order's mission and challenges as one of its own members.

Again, much as that would be a big deal for any order, the historic confluence of the Pope-as-member is infinitely more consequential given the community in question, for two reasons: the Jesuits' size, scope and the sheer clout of their efforts on the global stage and – in a particular way – Ignatius' placement of the Company at the direct and complete service of the Pope, vowed to obedience to the pontiff and his directives for "the missions."

Accordingly, the first Jesuit-turned-Bishop of Rome maintained a resolute silence in the run-up to the election of the General, two prior turns from Francis serve to summarize his concept of what the modern Jesuits are, and what the "mission" means today.

First, during an intimate meeting with the Jesuit community in Krakow (above) during his July visit for World Youth Day, after wrapping up a planned Q&A with the confreres, the Pope sat back down to launch into a spontaneous reflection, with a pointed request – that the Society "work with seminarians... above all, giv[ing] them what you have received from the Exercises: the wisdom of discernment."

As the onetime provincial and novice-master explained his call:
Some priestly formation programs run the risk of educating in the light of overly clear and distinct ideas, and therefore to act within limits and criteria that are rigidly defined a priori, and that set aside concrete situations: 'you must do this, you must not do this.' And then the seminarians, when they become priests, find themselves in difficulty in accompanying the life of so many young people and adults. Because many are asking: 'can you do this or can you not?' That’s all. And many people leave the confessional disappointed. Not because the priest is bad, but because the priest doesn’t have the ability to discern situations, to accompany [people] in authentic discernment. They don’t have the needed formation.

Today the Church needs to grow in discernment, in the ability to discern. And priests above all really need it for their ministry. This is why we need to teach it to seminarians and priests in formation: they are the ones usually entrusted with the confidences of the conscience of the faithful. Spiritual direction is not solely a priestly charism, but also lay, it is true. But, I repeat, you must teach this above all to priests, helping them in the light of the Exercises in the dynamic of pastoral discernment, which respects the law but knows how to go beyond. This is an important task for the Society....

In the Exercises St Ignatius asks to be introduced both to the intentions of the Lord of life and to those of the enemy of human nature and to his lies. What he has written is bold, it is truly bold, but discernment is precisely this! We need to form future priests not to general and abstract ideas, which are clear and distinct, but to this keen discernment of spirits so that they can help people in their concrete life. We need to truly understand this: in life not all is black on white or white on black. No! The shades of grey prevail in life. We must them teach to discern in this grey area.
To be sure, the interpretive key of that statement is the centrality of discernment and conscience sketched out by Francis in Amoris Laetitia – and, with it, the ongoing skirmishes the concept has wrought in the Establishment he inherited. That the Pope saw fit to deem the church as lacking in discernment in speaking to his own confreres (and, what's more, proposing them as the remedy) merely highlights the critical import he assigns to the issue and its likely return in his GC address.

Yet even before his first Synod on the Family, the now-(in)famous "D"-word loomed large in Papa Bergoglio's mind.

A week before launching the 2014 Extraordinary Synod, Francis (seen above with Sosa and his now-predecessor, Fr Adolfo Nicolás) presided at an epic Jesuit moment in the Gesu – a Vespers to mark the bicentennial of the Society's restoration after four decades of suppression, an act which no less than John Paul II chalked up to the "enemies of the church."

Basing his preach for the occasion on the 18th century Father-General whose single-mindedness in mission contributed to Pope Clement XIV's move to disband the order, while the reigning pontiff cited Fr Lorenzo Ricci's witness as an example for the modern Company, it isn't hard to see Francis finding in the historic General a model likewise for himself....
In times of trial and tribulation, dust clouds of doubt and suffering are always raised and it is not easy to move forward, to continue the journey. Many temptations come, especially in difficult times and in crises: to stop to discuss ideas, to allow oneself to be carried away by the desolation, to focus on the fact of being persecuted, and not to see anything else. Reading the letters of Fr Ricci, one thing struck me: his ability to avoid being blocked by these temptations and to propose to the Jesuits, in a time of trouble, a vision of the things that rooted them even more in the spirituality of the Society.

Father General Ricci, who wrote to the Jesuits at the time, watching the clouds thickening on the horizon, strengthened them in their membership in the body of the Society and its mission. This is the point: in a time of confusion and turmoil he discerned. He did not waste time discussing ideas and complaining, but he took on the charge of the vocation of the Society. He had to preserve the Society and he took charge of it.

And this attitude led the Jesuits to experience the death and resurrection of the Lord. Faced with the loss of everything, even of their public identity, they did not resist the will of God, they did not resist the conflict, trying to save themselves. The Society - and this is beautiful - lived the conflict to the end, without minimizing it. It lived humiliation along with the humiliated Christ; it obeyed. You never save yourself from conflict with cunning and with strategies of resistance. In the confusion and humiliation, the Society preferred to live the discernment of God's will, without seeking a way out of the conflict in a seemingly quiet manner. Or at least in an elegant way: this they did not do.

It is never apparent tranquillity that satisfies our hearts, but true peace that is a gift from God. One should never seek the easy "compromise" nor practice facile “irenicism”. Only discernment saves us from real uprooting, from the real "suppression" of the heart, which is selfishness, worldliness, the loss of our horizon. Our hope is Jesus; it is only Jesus. Thus Fr Ricci and the Society during the suppression gave priority to history rather than a possible grey “little tale”, knowing that love judges history and that hope - even in darkness - is greater than our expectations.
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All that said, back to the Father-General of the present.

Woven in the palpable Christology of his homily at Saturday's Thanksgiving Mass, in keeping with the analysis above, it was deeply telling that Sosa devoted almost as much of his de facto "inaugural message" to the theme of "collaboration" – the term the Jesuits use for the participation of non-members in the Society's works – urging the order to embrace the practice "generously."

In the grand scheme of things, that indication is even more significant than the new General's pledge that the Company will continue "to think so that we never cease posing pertinent theological questions."

Here, a translation of Sosa's complete text:
Dearest Brothers,

A few days ago, in this very Church of the Gesù, where the remains of St. Ignatius and Pedro Arrupe are laid to rest, Fr. Bruno Cadorè invited us to have the audacity of the improbable as the distinctive stance of persons of faith, who seek to bear witness to such faith in the complex reality of human life. He invited us to leave behind our fear and to row out into the deep, as a kind of attitude for being at once creative and faithful during the General Congregation.

Certainly, the audacity that we need in order to be servants of the mission of Christ Jesus can flow only from faith. For this reason, our gaze is directed first of all to God, since you have only one Father, and He is in heaven, as the passage from the Gospel which we have just heard reminds us. And as the Formula of the Institute reminds us at paragraph no .1: “Let (the Jesuit) have before his eyes, as long as he lives, before anything else, God, and then the form of this his Institute.” In fact, it is the whole heart that we wish to have in tune with the Merciful Father, the God that is only Love, our Principle and Foundation – the heart of each of us and also the heart of the body of the Society.

If our faith is like that of Mary, Jesus’ own mother and the Mother of the Society of Jesus, our audacity can go even further and seek not only the improbable, but the impossible, because nothing is impossible for God, as the Archangel Gabriel proclaims in the scene of the Annunciation (Luke 1:37). It is the same faith held by St. Teresa of Avila, or St. Teresa of Jesus, whose memorial we celebrate today. She too, without fear, entrusted herself to the Lord in order to undertake the improbable and the impossible.

Let us ask, therefore, for this faith from the Lord, so that we, as the Society of Jesus, can also make our own the words of Mary in her response to the extraordinary call that she received: “Behold the servant of the Lord: Be it done to me according to your word.” Like Ignatius and the First Companions, like so many Jesuit brothers who have fought and who fight today under the banner of the cross, in service only to the Lord and to his Church, we too desire to contribute to that which today seems impossible: a humanity reconciled in justice, that dwells peacefully in a well-cared-for common home, where there is a place for all, since we recognize each other as brothers and sisters, as sons and daughters of the same and only Father.

For this reason, we reaffirm even today the conviction of Ignatius as he wrote the Constitutions: “Since the Society of Jesus was not instituted by human means, it is not through them that it can be preserved and increased, but with the all-powerful hand of Christ, our God and Lord; in Him alone must our hope be placed.”

With our hope placed in God and in God alone the General Congregation will proceed with its deliberations and it will contribute to its duty to preserve and grow this whole body (Const. 719).

The preservation and growth of the body of the Society is tightly bound to the depth of the spiritual life of each of its members and of the communities in which we share life and mission with our companions. At the same time, it is necessary to have an extraordinary intellectual depth in order to think creatively about the ways in which our service to the mission of Christ Jesus can be more effective, in the creative tension of the Ignatian magis. To think about ways of deeply understanding the unique moment of human history in which we are living, and to contribute to the search for alternatives for overcoming poverty, inequality, and oppression. To think so that we never cease posing pertinent theological questions, and so that we continue to deepen our understanding of the faith that we ask the Lord to increase in ourselves.

We are not alone. As companions of Jesus we too want to follow the journey of the incarnation, to identify ourselves with the human beings that suffer the consequences of injustice. The Society of Jesus can develop only in collaboration with others, only if it becomes the least Society that collaborates. Let us be attentive to the linguistic pitfalls here. We want to increase collaboration, not just to seek that others collaborate with us, with our own works, only because we don’t want to lose the prestige of the position of who has the last word. We want to collaborate generously with others, inside and outside of the Church, in the awareness, which comes from the experience of God, of being called to the mission of Christ Jesus, which doesn’t belong to us exclusively, but whom we share with so many men and women who are consecrated to the service of others.

In the journey of collaboration, with the grace of God, we will also find new companions to increase the number, always much too small no matter how great, of collaborators who, along with the others, are invited to be part of this body. There is hardly any doubt about the need to increase our prayer and our work for vocations to the Society, and to continue the complex commitment to provide the formation that makes of them true Jesuits, members of this multicultural body that is called to testify to the richness of interculturalism as the face of humanity, created in the image and likeness of God.

Let us, therefore, today make our own the words of the Apostle Paul: may the God of patience and consolation grant you to be like-minded one toward the other according to the example of Christ Jesus, so that you may give glory to the God and Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ with one heart and one voice. (Rm. 15:5)