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‘Be ecclesial, not clerical,’ Pope tell Jesuits at GC36

Pope Francis set a precedent when he chose to meet with the Jesuit delegates at GC36, in their own curia instead of having them go to meet him. There is a well-established tradition that on the occasion of a Jesuit General Congregation, the Holy Father meets with the delegates in the rooms of the Vatican. But on Monday, 24 October, Pope Francis came discreetly to the curia and was greeted by Father General Arturo Sosa and Father Orlando Torres SJ (to the right of the Pope in the photo. To Fr Torres’ right is Irish Jesuit delegate, John K Guiney).

Fr Sosa and Fr Torres accompanied the Pope into the aula for morning prayer with the delegates. The theme of the prayer, the Good Shepherd, had been chosen for the occasion. The Ignatian reflection as part of the prayer referenced Fr Franz van de Lugt, who was a beloved pastor in Homs, Syria, until he was killed in the violence there.

In his message to the Jesuits at GC36, Pope Francis outlined the type of service that the Church and the Society of Jesus can offer the world and in a manner connected to his own ministry. He asked Jesuits to be open to what lies ahead, to go out to others and support them on their journey.

Quoting Saint Ignatius, the Pope recalled that a Jesuit is called to be part of the world’s conversation in order to bring life to birth, “in every part of the world where a greater service of God and help for souls is expected.” Precisely for this reason, the Jesuits must go forward, taking advantage of the situations in which they find themselves, he said. They must always seek to serve more and better. This implies a way of doing things that aims for harmony and balance in the midst of the tensions that are normal in a world with diverse persons and missions. The Pope mentioned explicitly the tensions between contemplation and action, between faith and justice, between charism and institution, between community and mission.

He also detailed three things that Jesuits need to do as they follow the path ahead.

The first is to “ask insistently for consolation.” Jesuits must know how to console, to bring consolation and real joy to others. They must put themselves at the service of joy, for the Good News cannot be announced in sadness.  “The Jesuit is a servant of the joy of the Gospel,” he said.

Secondly he asks that Jesuits “allow themselves to be moved by the Lord on the cross.” This means getting close to the vast majority of men and women who suffer, and be able to serve them mercifully in various ways. The Pope spoke again of the Jubilee Year of Mercy and the importance of God’s message of mercy. “We who have been touched by mercy must feel ourselves sent to share this same mercy in an effective way,” he said, adding that only when Jesuits experience this healing power in their own lives will they be able to walk with those who suffer, “learning from them the best way of helping and serving them”

Finally, he urged that Jesuits to go forward under the influence of the “good spirit.” This implies the need for ongoing discernment (which is more than simply reflecting) around how to act in communion with the Church. He spoke of how St Ignatius tried especially hard to make sure he was acting ‘”in the Good Spirit,” when he saw sinful structures in the Church.

Referencing the Jesuit commitment to sentire cum ecclesia (thinking with the Church) he said, “We do not read the rules for thinking with the Church as precise instructions about controversial points,” but rather “to open up a space so that the Spirit can act in its own time. The Jesuits must be not “clerical” but “ecclesial.” They are “men for others” who live in the midst of all peoples, trying to touch the heart of each person, contributing in this way to establishment of a Church in which all have their place, in which the Gospel is inculturated, and in which each culture is evangelized.

He concluded by naming the graces which each Jesuit and the whole Society must always ask as they walk this path of mercy and service; consolation, compassion, and discernment.

Read the full text of Pope Francis’ address.