John Dardis SJ, Irish Jesuit Provincial, writes to the Province on the occasion of the official release of the decrees of General Congregation 35. For a useful summary of the decrees, see the Australian Province Express.
Father General has now officially issued the documents of General Congregation 35 and they are available on the Society’s website: www.sjweb.info/35/index.cfm. The delay in making them available was because of the difficulty in harmonising the three official texts (English, French and Spanish).
The General Congregation has been a very important moment in the lives of Jesuits today and of those who work with us.
- The mission and identity documents of the Congregation remind us that Jesuits are called to limit situations (1) where we encounter ‘energy and new life, but also anguish and death’. Globalisation, the expansion in technological possibilities the growing destruction of the environment ‘have placed in question our traditional boundaries and have enhanced our awareness that we bear a common responsibility for the welfare of the entire world’ (2). Pope Benedict XIV affirmed that our mission is to be at the frontiers – the frontiers of faith and human knowledge, faith and modern science, faith and the fight for justice. (3)
- The Identity document affirms the value of Jesuit religious life: ‘With the birth of the Society of Jesus a new fire was lit in a changing world. A novel form of religious life was brought about…The fire that was set alight then continues to burn in our Jesuit life today’. The document explores what the Jesuit and Ignatian charism means: ‘Following Christ bearing his Cross means opening ourselves to every thirst that afflicts humanity today’ (4) and underlines the value of Jesuit community: ‘’to live this mission in our broken world we need fraternal and joyful communities in which we nourish and express with great intensity the sole passion that can unify our differences and bring to life our creativity’ (5)
- To respond to the many challenges of our day, many hands are surely needed and collaboration in mission is how we live this. The Congregation affirms the value of and need for collaboration with others and speaks of ‘the harvest of grace brought forth by deepening collaboration’. (6)
- The GC reaffirms that the way we go about our work is in dialogue and in a spirit of openness. This dialogue has often to occur in difficult spaces and areas: between religions, cultures, centre and periphery. The mission document (7) speaks of a 3-fold reconciliation and of building right relationships with God, with each other, with our world.
- The Congregation was a moment when our relationship with the Church was deepened significantly in our encounter with Benedict XVI and through his letter to Father Kolvenbach.
- Finally, it was a moment of great consolation when we thanked Fr. Kolvenbach for his twenty four years of service of the Society and elected a new General to lead us forward.
Perhaps the most profound experience of the Congregation was an affirmation that a core grace for Jesuits (8), a key part of our charism is a positive appreciation of our world and of God working in that world. Despite its many problems and its fragility, it is a world that is loved by God. It is a world where God is working (9). At a time when religions can be tempted to fundamentalism and can lose sight of what is good in the surrounding culture, this very deep Ignatian insight is one which is world-affirming and which lays the foundation for an important dialogue between our Catholic faith and the world around us. Of course we have to discern and examine the reality around us but our basic stance is that there is nowhere that God is not found working for the good.
During the next six to nine months, Jesuit communities and our different ministries will be reflecting on the Congregation and its importance for them. Many Jesuits are currently making a special Province Retreat (June 21st to June 29th). At the annual Directors of Works meeting in late September and at a meeting of Jesuit superiors in October there will be a special discussion of the Congregation documents.
In the 2nd Letter of St. Paul to Timothy (2 Tim 1:1-6), Paul reminds Timothy to ‘Fan into a Flame the gift that he has been given’. He says that ‘God’s spirit is not a spirit of timidity but a spirit of power and love and self control’. These words echo in our hearts today in an age when faith can often be marginalised and when believers can feel afraid to express in a full manner what we believe. The document on Jesuit Identity is one that can inspire us and can move us to ‘Fan into a Flame’ the spark of faith that is there in people’s hearts already.
The Ignatian Exercises, based as they are on the belief that a personal experience of God is offered to each person are an important tool for this mission. With the establishment of the new Spirituality Centres in Galway and Limerick and the ongoing development of the existing ones in Belfast and Manresa we hope to be more and more creative in making the Exercises available more widely and more deeply. Pope Benedict XVI, when speaking of the Exercises says “it is for you to continue to make [the Exercises] a precious and efficacious instrument for the spiritual growth of souls, for their initiation to prayer, to meditation, in this secularised world in which God seems to be absent. (10)”
It is an exciting time for the Church and for The Society in Ireland. I believe that, with the new energy from GC 35, Jesuits and those who work with us can take important next steps and play a significant part in serving in new ways those most in need in Ireland and abroad. I thank you for your interest in the Congregation and I pray that together we will move forward to be evermore present at the frontiers of our world ‘loving and serving in all things’ with greater dedication and effectiveness.
With every good wish.
Yours sincerely in Christ.
John Dardis SJ
(1) A Fire that kindles other Fires, number 7
(2) A Fire that kindles other Fires, number 20
(3) Address of Pope Benedict XVI to the Congregation, page 2
(4) A Fire that kindles other Fires, number
(5) A Fire that kindles other Fires, number
(6) Collaboration at the Heart of Mission, number 15
(7) Challenges to our Mission today, number 19-36
(8) A Fire that kindles other Fires, number
(9) A Fire that kindles other Fires, number
(10) Address of Benedict XVI, page 3