Fr Adolfo Nicolas SJ: Six hopes for the General Congregation
Can we be realistic?
I can still remember GC34. They are fond, humorous and challenging memories. But we were not realistic.
Just imagine: 220 Jesuits decide to tackle 46 topics, work on them for three months, produce 26 documents and solemnly handle and approve 416 complementary norms. Thus, we were not surprised when crises emerged: crises of content, of management, and of hope. Next year we will be close to 230 members.
It is my ardent hope that we be realistic as to what a GC can do decently well, what it cannot, and what it should leave to the new Father-General and his team.
Can we be transparent?
Transparency has become more difficult in our small world. When was the last time that a great leader could confess substantial sins in public and continue leading the flock, the country, the Church?
And yet, our GCs have always started with an honest and frank acknowledgment of where we are going wrong, what is missing in our lives, what has been distorted or wounded of our spirit, what needs conversion, renewal or radical reform.
It is my sincere hope that we can do that again.
Can we be accompanied?
The best of a General Congregation is the event itself, as an ‘event of the heart'. This is a time of intensive search and of exhilarating exchange, where questions and answers do not come lineally, but dance within us and around us, at the rhythm of fraternal and humble mutual openness.
My hope is that this happens to the whole Society of Jesus. I hope that we all take an active part in preparing the Congregation from inside our common issues. Prayer, reflection and exchange are the gift and the contribution.
I hope that those who do not go to Rome, will monitor and follow events closely, with the same hope, the same intensity of search, the same willingness to change and be led by the Spirit of our Lord. This will be our best accompaniment.
Can we be creative?
I have a feeling, still imprecise and difficult to define, that there is something important in our religious life that needs attention and is not getting it. We have certainly been diligent in addressing our problems whenever we have seen them: Poverty (GC32 in 1974 and 34 in 1995), Chastity (GC34), Community (Provincials at Loyola)... But the uneasiness in the Society and in the Church has not disappeared.
The question for us is: Is it enough that we are happy with our life and are improving our service and ministry? Isn't there also an important factor in the perception of people (Vox Populi) that should drive us to some deeper reflection on religious life today? How come we elicit so much admiration and so little following?
Thus, one of my hopes is that in GC35 we begin a process of dynamic and open reflection on our religious life that might begin a process of re-creation of the Society for our times, not only in the quality of our services, but also and mostly in the quality of our personal and community witness to the Church and the World.
Can we be practical?
The age in which we live and our younger Jesuits will live, is an age of very rapid change. New technologies and new communication possibilities can make a great difference. We are using some. We do not feel free to use others. Maybe a certain restraint in using new means might be good for us. Maybe not. It is so difficult to know what is going to happen seven, ten years from now.
It is my hope that the coming GC opens the way for future General Congregations, giving the new General and his Council the freedom to discern and choose the best means to prepare and to run the Congregations of the future.
Can we be short?
We would not like GC35 to become another exercise in patience. A General Congregation is not a "Panacea" for all the problems we might face. It is a help of great value, but basically oriented to the ongoing growth in the Spirit and the Apostolate of the whole Society.
Thus, my final hope is that we will be so clear as to the purposes, and so focused in our work, that we can do this service to the Society and the Church within a reasonably short time.
By Adolfo Nicolas SJ, Moderator of the Jesuit Conference of East Asia and Oceania.
Fr Michael Kelly SJ: Sustaining our mission in vulnerable times
The big ticket items in General Congregations to date have been of two types-firstly Mission and then the internal life of the Jesuits.
Mission is the heart of Jesuit purpose. In fact mission is the identity of the Jesuits from our beginnings. So it is not surprising that the Congregations of the last four decades have been long on the focus and entailments of mission.
To support it, the spiritual, community and formation life of the Jesuits have received extensive attention. And the forthcoming Congregation will doubtless be attentive to the consequences of mission and its emphases.
But what will be distinctive about this Congregation is what is distinctive about any Congregation-its context. The world in which the Congregation occurs and the life of the Church which the Society seeks to serve will focus the attention of Congregation participants.
What is that context? It has many features. I want to focus on two aspects of one issue: sustainability.
The world, as we know, is a vulnerable organism. It is severely challenged by the population, energy and enterprise burdens and challenges we humans offer it today.
The Church, as we know, is a vulnerable community. It is severely challenged by the cultural shifts in sexuality, relationships, attitudes to commitment, authority and the significance of institutions. In this context, the role of key people in the Church and in the leadership of Jesuit ministries is of central importance.
I would look to the Congregation for two things.
- For it to authorise the concern for sustainability in the way it has been played out in the mission and ministry of the Jesuits. What I mean is that it is not simply our adapting to the inevitable but actually our responding to the challenge and invitation God's Spirit is offering to the Church to be relevant and useful in service. In particular, I would look to the Congregation to spell out the ways in which Jesuit/lay partnership is carrying and will carry the Jesuit mission in the future; and
- For it to identify ways in which the mission and ministry of Jesuit enterprises will operate in a context of world changing circumstances where the poor will carry the heavier burden. In particular, as the impact of climate change unfolds, it is the least resourced who will carry the heaviest burden-the poor. They will pay the higher bills for energy in the West and suffer the impact of changing environmental circumstances in less developed countries.
The mission of those inspired by the Jesuit desire to promote a faith that does justice can find no more ready focus for sustainable ministry than to measure and respond to the changing context in which all humans live and seek to thrive.
By Michael Kelly SJ, Australian Province Communications Delegate.