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A window on a General Congregation

by Jim Corkery SJ, Irish Province Elector

Jim Corkery

On amdg.ie you will find information about what a General Congregation does.  But you may wonder about the experience of one– about what it’s actually like to be there.  Well, you wouldn’t be alone in that!  After Christmas I will go off to Rome with Fr. John Dardis, the Irish Jesuit Provincial, since we are the two from Ireland who will attend the 35th General Congregation, beginning on January 7, 2008.  Already I’m wondering what it will be like to spend two months working with a group of 225 Jesuits from all over the world.  Irish Jesuits who have done so in the past – Cecil McGarry, Paddy Doyle, Joe Dargan, Laurence Murphy and Gerry O’Hanlon – all report how enriching the experience was.  What they say can be summed up in three “ex” words: exciting, exhilarating and exhausting!

The upcoming Congregation will have a number of tasks: to consider the state of the Society of Jesus worldwide; to receive the resignation of the present General, Fr. Peter-Hans Kolvenbach and, following its acceptance, to elect his successor; and then the Congregation will consider a range of matters that are central to Jesuit life and mission at present and that need updated reflection, so that the Society’s future direction and mission can be expressed afresh.

Who will the new Fr. General be?  What will he be like?  A multilingual person of international experience, very likely to have lived and worked in at least one culture other than the one in which he was born.  He will need to be inspirational, to be a prayerful person in love with God, the Church and the world; and he will need to be competent in dealing with complex institutions.  He will have to be a ‘giant’ of a person.  As a young Jesuit said in 1983, before the Congregation that elected Fr. Kolvenbach: “I just want to see what he’s like” (“je veux voir sa tête”).  Soon his picture will be on the walls of Jesuit houses and places of work, so I, we, are eager to see who he will be.

I have a further dream: that, during our time in Rome, we will be able to speak about the beauty, depth and holiness of the Jesuit mission to plunge with Jesus Christ into the heart of the world and, with his help, to love it with his own love.  Jesuits are often thought to be world-focused, world-centred, sometimes perhaps exaggeratedly so, as if the world did not also need critique.  But Saint Ignatius was wise, not naïve, knowing that the mission to love the world with Christ did not mean affirming everything in it; but he did see that the key to mission was getting involved – as God got involved in Jesus – and such Christ-centred involvement in the world remains a must for Jesuits.  It’s a dangerous mission, this mission of incarnation, but it’s also a beautiful one.  My dream is that the Congregation will find the words to articulate this mission for the 21st century in a way that will make others enthusiastic to embrace it too.