We started our noviciate life with the ‘first probation’ which is a time of intense prayer and reflection and of getting to know Jesuit life. After this 10-day period we spent 4 weeks reading and reflecting on documents of the General Congregations 31 to 35. General Congregations are the highest form of authority in the Society of Jesus. The documents they produce used to be quite legal, but at the 31st more or less a change occurred and the current documents try to capture what it means to be a Jesuit. Each day we read a document and one of us had to present it to the rest. After the presentation there was time for discussion on this that either struck, affirmed of challenged us. Now that these 4 weeks are over we were invited to draw up a reflection on all what we’ve read. I would like to share my reflection with you. In reading my documents myself I found a couple of topics central to my ways of perceiving what Jesuit life would be like. And what this would mean for me, at least in theory. Praxis will come later and I’m sure we’ll find out. These topics are not to be taken completely separately but are obviously linked. These are the ´understanding of mission’, ‘community life’ and ‘being an image of Christ to others.’ These three have challenges and affirmations which might differ for each one of us. But I would like to lay out what these mean to me and what I perceive to be difficult or affirming from my point of view.
‘Understanding of Mission’
Seeing our God as creator of all and therefore as present in all and through all. This seems to be the basis of all the works of the Society of Jesus. Acknowledging Christ’s presence in everything invites us to work in all situations, basically saying that there is no science or field of work which is too profane for us to work in. I find the concept of finding Gods Love in all things very affirming and gives us reason to have a very positive view of our world. We find ourselves sent to this world which has a lot of imperfections simply because we believe we have something to offer to this world. We want to give to others what we have freely received ourselves.
I find the phrase which St. Ignatius supposedly said to St. Francis Xavier when sending him to the Indies very inspiring. ‘Ite, Inflammate Omnia!’ Though in one of our discussions, I think it was on countering Atheism, we came upon two different ways of understanding evangelisation. Namely one as being the one that brings Christ to others who isn’t there yet, and secondly as encouraging others to find Christ in who’s already present. If we acknowledge God as He who is present in all, we must say that He’s also present in those have not yet heard of Him. It seems to me that the Society of Jesus embraced the 2nd one. This notion of a God who is already present clears the way to interreligious dialogue and inculturation. As a way to see how God works in different ways with different people. But in order to do so we must study cultures and doctrine. I do find this inspiring in seeing that study must lead to action, must lead to mission.
The decrees of these different General Congregations place a lot of emphasis on the poor and the marginalized. Since Christ humbled himself to help us, we, who are called by Him, are also called to humble ourselves to help others. Numerous Gospel passages tell us how Christ looked after those in greatest need. And so should we. The actual act of humbling oneself is quite difficult for me. It’s a very romantic and beautiful concept, but to take this into actual practice takes a lot of time and patience. I would say that following Christ is central to our mission. Therefore we have to follow him to the poor, to the marginalized. These General Congregations see the promotion of Justice and tackling the very systems and institutions that promote injustice as very central to our mission today. I do find it affirming that the Society identifies with the poor since Christ is especially present in them. But there is a challenge in not being limited to only helping persons physically but also helping them mentally or spiritually. Our mission today finds a number of challenges in today’s multicultural society which aren’t easily dealt with. I find it affirming that the Society acknowledges this and at the same time tries to encourage us to see the positive effects of these developments. It is important to recognize that a simplistic division between believers and unbelievers is not realistic since believers can raise difficulties as well, and to see our mission extend to all people individually, as persons in the image of the Father and loved by Christ.
Living in community is something I chose but nevertheless it’s also accompanied by a number of difficulties. Our mission is not something we do by ourselves alone. We have to be aware that we are part of a larger body which as Ignatius has put it ‘should stand out in perfect obedience’. Obedience itself can be very difficult especially when the superior wants you to do something which you don’t like or don’t think you able to. It hasn’t happened yet but I don’t look forward to the moment when my own conscience clashes with that of my superior. Though I find it comforting that ‘a superior should have a perfect love for those placed under him.’ The account of conscience given in full honesty should more or less prevent that from happening but even then it is not guaranteed.
One other notion which struck me is seeing community life as a mission on its own. We are not only missioned to help others but also missioned to form a community of real brothers in Christ. At times it may be very difficult to see a balanced union in such a mix of diverse persons of different background and cultures. Life in a community for me should be like coming home, a place where I can ‘charge up’ and where I can be of help to others. In the end, binding ourselves to a community should make us more free, even if this sounds very much like a paradox.
‘An image of Christ for others’
Every individual relates differently to his mission or community. But every one of us should have an image of Christ as Him who leads us through life and who guides us on our path to salvation. To put it very simply, just as Christ is an image on how to live our lives; so we are called to be an image of Christ to others. I find this extremely difficult because this isn’t something, in my experience, you get to slowly grow into. People don’t see you a Jesuit/priest in formation but sometimes see you as if you are one already. And I don’t like living up to the high expectations that are mostly involved. I can’t speak for others but this notion of an image for others leaves me asking how to be one. I find the answer I found more challenging and troublesome then affirming. Because how can I truly live a life of Self-abnegation, of Self-giving and have an undivided love for others? Be that witness and vessel for God in facilitating the spiritual growth of others, believers and non-believers? And, last but not least, how can I be the contemplative person in action who’s involved in making this world more human and more divine.