José Ignacio García, SJ
The recent 36th General Congregation (GC 36) of the Jesuits has been a new opportunity to reflect on the challenges we have in front of us as a community of the Church and to find our capacities – and fears – to respond to them.
The election of Father Arturo Sosa as Superior General is part of the response to these challenges. Undoubtedly, the GC felt that Father Sosa is the one who can best help us to respond in such a complex global context, marked by increasing inequalities, environmental degradation and where populist leaders are getting access to power by seeking to attract people with effective policies, even if it means reducing the guarantees for freedom and human rights.
Besides electing a new Superior General, GC 36 also reflected about the Society of Jesus in this new context by looking at three fundamental elements of community, our identity, and the mission we want to respond to.
Community, how we live
The community remains a challenge for the Jesuits. It is not so much about the “concrete community” as it is about the relationships we establish within it and also about our lifestyles. We need more coherence between what we do (mission), what we are (identity), and how we do live (community).
Many of our efforts, full of goodwill, lose a lot of credibility because our lifestyles are not consistent with the message we announce. This is very evident in the face of environmental challenges. It is not only a matter of knowing the encyclical Laudato si’, and certainly it is very important to know it, but more importantly, implementing it, involving in it by transforming our personal and community lifestyles.
Identity, what we are
The Jesuit identity is marked by a deep experience of God that we live through the Spiritual Exercises. The Congregation invites each Jesuit to take a deeper understanding of the experience of the Exercises. It is a renewal that begins – and is sustained – by the care of our inner life. Again, the desire for coherence: that what we are be expressed in the best way possible through what we do and through our way of life.
Mission, what we do
Finally, our mission. This is what makes our existence meaningful. We have not been founded to “be,” as if we were a static essence floating in the cosmos or a luminous signal that points to the sky to indicate where God may be. Nor have we been only founded to live together, because we are not a monastic order. We Jesuits have been founded, trained, and supposedly living, to collaborate with Christ in a mission of reconciliation and justice. This is precisely the title of the main text approved by the Congregation.
Reconciliation and consolation
The mission of the Jesuits today is guided by a dynamic of reconciliation that promotes justice. Reconciliation takes place on the three levels that are already known to us: reconciliation with God, with others, and with creation.
Reconciliation with God wants to gather all the efforts undertaken for the explicit proclamation of the Gospel, that is, how to make Jesus Christ known and loved.
Reconciliation with others is the expression of our search for a fairer and more peaceful world, and here we recognize how the Society has been involved in three major areas: migration and forced displacement, with special reference to the Jesuit Refugee Service; the accompaniment of minorities and marginalized peoples (such as indigenous communities, Dalits, and other vulnerable groups in the margins of society); and finally, all forms of violence that arise from religious fundamentalist groups, as it is necessary for all believers to unite to show that religious experience, if it wants to be authentically religious, rejects violence.
Reconciliation with creation is the third great area of this mission and it is the care of our common home as proclaimed by Pope Francis in Laudato si’. The same Pope stressed that we are facing a single crisis, as the socioeconomic and environmental are not two separate realities, but a single threat to the future of the humanity and the planet. Behind this double crisis, there is the predatory way of relating with nature and using people to serve economic interests. The care of our common home needs to put the creation of God (people and nature) in the centre if we want to have a sustainable future.
This reconciliation with creation requires active collaboration on our part. It should first mobilize us to be with the most vulnerable, sharing with them their difficulties and their hopes. Secondly, we should change our lifestyles, being much more respectful of the environment and more supportive of the poor and marginalized. Our activities must always have a strong intellectual foundation, and cannot forget the celebration to give thanks “for so much good received.” The Congregation expressly mentions the Amazon and the Congo basin as two specific places where the involvement of the Jesuits has already begun and in which the commitment is expected to continue even more intensely. They are two key regions for the future of the planet.
In his visit to GC 36, Pope Francis reminded us of the need to “ask for consolation.” This ministry of reconciliation can only be accepted by our brothers and sisters if it is a message of hope. Consolation assumes that what moves us internally is joy and gratitude. Consolation is not a naïve relationship with the world, but an understanding of all its complexity, and one where we are able to recognize God present and active.