Last week, on Monday 24th October, Pope Francis – the first Jesuit Pope – addressed the 36th Jesuit General Congregation meeting in Rome. In this and the previous two blog posts we reflect on the three ways he suggested the Jesuits can choose to carry out their mission nowadays.

The original speech, in Spanish can be found on https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TqrK938BBPg with the English version at http://gc36.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/20161024_Discourse_ Pope_ GC36_EN.pdf

“We neither walk alone nor comfortably, but we walk with a heart that does not rest, that does not close in on itself but beats to the rhythm of a journey undertaken together with all the people faithful to God”. Doing good led by the good spirit, thinking with the Church

Hovering at or near the top of our list of what makes the Christian life challenging and difficult we surely find our concrete experience of the Church, with its failures and inconsistencies. At the same time we know that the Church is our mother, the place where we have received our faith and where this faith finds sustenance, in a special way through the sacraments. The right way of behaving and thinking in the Church is certainly an ever present question for every Christian.

For Jesuits this is an even more pressing issue, for they have a special vow of obedience to the Pope, a vow that signifies their special bond with the whole Church. St Ignatius called this vow the Jesuits’ “principle and foundation”, and it has characterised the Jesuits’ history since then, both for their critics and for their admirers. 

No wonder that the Pope chose this as the final point in his address to the Jesuit General Congregation. Francis starts constructing his answer by quoting Peter Faber, one of his favourite Jesuit saints, who asked for the grace that  “all the good that can be realised, thought or organised, be done through the good spirit and not through the bad”. For the Pope this is the grace of discernment:  “it is not enough to think, do or organise the good, but to do it of the good spirit; this is what roots us in the Church, in which the Spirit works and distributes the diverse charisms for the common good”.

This attitude has very concrete consequences according to Pope Francis: “It is proper of the Society to do things in harmony with the Church. Doing this without losing peace and with joy, in the context of the sins we see, in us as well as in others, and in the structures that we have created, involves carrying the cross, experiencing poverty and humiliations”.

The Pope is certainly not suggesting a passive attitude, a spiritualising away of difficulties. Earlier in his address he reminds his audience that Alberto Hurtado, a Chilean Jesuit saint of the 20th century, was once described as “a thorn in the dormant Church”. But he tells the Jesuits to make sure this is done as a result of the good spirit, out of love for the Church our Mother and not out of anger or frustration. “Service of the good spirit and of discernment makes us men of the Church, not ‘clericalists’”.

“We neither walk alone nor comfortably, but we walk with a heart that does not rest, that does not close in on itself but beats to the rhythm of a journey undertaken together with all the people faithful to God”.

Let us join the Pope in his concluding prayer: We beg Our Mother to direct and accompany every Jesuit along with that part of the people faithful to God whom he has been sent, along these paths of consolation, of compassion and discernment.

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