Just before Fr Arturo Sosa, the new Jesuit General, starts the celebration of his thanksgiving mass at the church of the Gesu’ in Rome, he will visit the room where the first Jesuit General, St Ignatius, lived for nearly 18 years. There he will listen to the portrait Ignatius himself composed in the Jesuit Constitutions on the person the General should be. Some say this is the closest we get to a self-portrait of Ignatius, and others see this chapter as referring not only to the ideal General, but to the essential qualities Ignatius would like to see embodied in each Jesuit leader. What we read is still very strikingly relevant, not only for Jesuits but for all of us who strive to live a good life as we carry out our responsibilities.
Ignatius is clearly looking for a person with superior personal qualities, one who leads by example. The first quality in Ignatius’ list is that he ‘should be closely united with God our Lord and have familiarity with him in prayer and in all his operations’ so that from Him he can obtain the light and the strength to carry out his task of leading his brother Jesuits.
He should be able to win the trust and affection of his brethren through his personal qualities, especially through his humility and charity. Yet he must also possess a spirit of initiative and perseverance in his undertakings, even to the point of being ready to give up his life for what he believes in. Whether in success or in failure, he should be able to show magnanimity in his dealings with others, whether powerful or humble.
Ignatius’ idealism is always tempered with a deep sense of realism, and at the end of this long list of desiderata, he admit that it is practically impossible to find all these qualities in one person. He adds that it is therefore enough for the General to be a good and virtuous man who loves the Society, a man of good judgement and sound learning. The rest will be provided by the people the Society chooses to help him in his task.
We too often feel overwhelmed by the responsibilities we carry, especially those of leadership, whether within the family or at work, in the Christian community or in some voluntary organisation. Consciously or not, there is always something we seek above all: we might strive to be more efficient, or more knowledgeable, seek more power to be able to influence others, plan for the future and learn leadership skills.
All this is very important, but Ignatius insists that the priority lies in our relationships: a close relationship to God, the source of all wisdom and power, and to our fellow men and women, whose trust and cooperation we achieve through our actions, which should reflect humility, charity, and a big heart.
As we pray for the new Jesuit General Superior, let us ask God to be our guide us as we lead others.