Concluding remarks by Provincial Mark Raper SJ
Friday, 14 December 2007
The Jesuit General Congregation: January to March 2008
The main topics at our forthcoming General Congregation are likely to be our mission today and our Jesuit identity. Not only does the reality of Jesuit-lay collaboration impact on these issues, but the changes already evident in the 21st century will have an immense effect on our mission. Globalisation offers many advantages for our lives, our apostolates and for our capacity to meet and to communicate.
But the global political economy brings disadvantages as well: new forms of marginalisation and poverty, and blindness to new problems. The globalised economy impacts on our attitudes and actions, our lifestyles, the services we bring and the message we offer. We are becoming aware of new dimensions of social injustice, including the environmental impact our way of life exerts on planet Earth. We are newly aware that ecology should affect the way we live, spend, share, work and travel. How are we to offset the carbon cost of this meeting? It is correct to ask such a question. With so many people flying to meetings, I ask the Province's Finance and Ministries Commissions to give attention to our carbon footprint.
Religious Life in crisis
As President of Catholic Religious Australia, I am aware that religious women and men sense we are in a deep crisis. This has implications for our Jesuit mission. Religious life is groping in the dark to discover its future. There are few vocations. Many Christian people are operating out of models of Church and world that no longer exist, attempting to re-establish Christendom. Many religious have moved on, culturally and socially, from the old models that our Church leaders espouse. This leads to restlessness within religious life, the lack of a sense of leadership and of creative apostolic work, despite exciting changes occurring all around us. Within the Church, there is a risk that disaffected religious, even Jesuits, may be perceived as a kind of alternative Church.
It may be premature to tackle these questions at the forthcoming General Congregation. Clearly we are seeking leadership, but a document that offered little new would be a profound disappointment. We religious, and we Jesuits, need not be afraid to die and rise again. There has always been religious life in the Church, but it may take years for viable new forms to emerge in strength. During this present time, we need what J. B. Metz calls "the mysticism of open eyes". Faithful to Ignatius, united in the mission of Jesus, we need not fear times of change. "Well and good if all things change, Lord God, provided we are rooted in you."
Obedience is another topic due to be discussed at the General Congregation. This was not requested by the Jesuits, but it was apparently felt necessary by the Holy Father. This may well be a useful area to explore since it goes hand in hand with the question of Jesuit identity.
But there will be risks if we do not hit the mark. A document affirming Ignatian freedom to search for the will of God would be seen as simply re-stating of our problems. Our contemporary world, different from the past in style, mentality and awareness, demands that obedience be understood and practised differently. Alternatively, we might prepare a document demonstrating our submission to the Holy See. This may please the Vatican but would horrify most Jesuits. Finally we might issue an honest document outlining our experience of transition and searching, but without giving clear lines of action, since these are not yet mature. Such a document would neither please the Vatican nor help the Society.
Nonetheless, in this area, many issues might helpfully be clarified. The meaning of the Fourth Vow of professed Jesuits, namely to accept any mission from the Pope, and by extension from the Jesuit Superior General, is ripe for explanation in diverse contexts. Ways in which decision-making involves individuals, communities and partners should be explored. A good leader is not necessarily one who gives the commands, but one who can engender consensus. Similarly, the role of the local superior can always be developed, since he guides apostolic discernment not just for individuals but to help his community share in the discernment of the Province. We now have many experiences of Jesuits accountable to non-Jesuit directors. Given the range of our partnership experiences, we must be more attentive to Human Resources questions, and also to the skills balance needed for cura personalis, care of the community and management of works. The topic of obedience also invites discussion of various theologies arising from mediation on the will of God.
In many areas, then, the Congregation may not say much to us rank and file, but rather seek to make recommendations to the new Superior General and his team.