Speaking more as a fellow brother than as Pope, Francis used the pronoun “we” with Jesuits gathered for the 36th General Congregation, whom he met today in the General Curia of Rome. It is an historic event for the Society of Jesus, which was useful to remember the special bond sealed by the fourth vow, direct obedience to the Supreme Pontiff, strongly desired by Ignatius and his first companion at the time of the foundation.
In fact, the new General Superior, Father Arturo Sosa, stressed that in that “the meeting with the Pope is not only a moment of greeting to those gathered, but rather an integral part of the Congregation’s session,” as a source of inspiration for the delegates, who are reflecting on the universal guidelines of the Society.
Francis — who also wished to take part in the common prayer of the morning session, during which the Dutch Jesuit Franz van de Lugt was remembered, who was killed in Syria in 2014 — gave a long and full-bodied address to his fellow brothers, during which the exhortations of his Predecessors, from Paul VI to Benedict XVI, were mixed with Saint Ignatius’ teachings and the recommendations of great exponents of the Society, such as Jeronimo Nadal, Peter Favre and Pedro Arrupe.
Above all, Bergoglio reflected on the concepts of “benefit” and “joy” as coordinates to follow to carry out in modern times the service to the Church and to the world, remaining always “free, obedient, united in the love of Christ, for the greater glory of God,” as Montini hoped during the 32nd General Congregation.
Words that the Pope recalled “with particular emotion,” adding: “Walk together, free and obedient, walk going to the peripheries where other’s don’t arrive … The Jesuit is called to think and live in any part of the world where the service of God and help to souls is most needed,” but which is translated into “profit” and “progress,” “and go forward, and do something in favor of others.”
A “practical criteria of discernment” of Jesuit spirituality is that of benefit, which – Francis stressed – “is not individualistic, it is common.” “The end of this Society is not only that of being concerned with the salvation and perfection of the souls of its members through divine grace, but to use the same grace to help intensely the salvation and perfection of the souls of one’s neighbors.”
Therefore, Ignatius was angry if he heard someone say that he stayed in the Society because in this way he would save his soul: “He did not want people that, being good for their own benefit, were not found to be disposed to save their neighbor.”
Deep down, in fact, a “tension” exists between “one’s own salvation and perfection and the salvation and perfection of one’s neighbor.” Its harmonization “does not happen through abstract formulations, but is obtained in the course of time” through what Favre called “our way of proceeding,” namely “walking and progressing in following the Lord,” stressed the Pontiff.
It follows therefore that “advantage is not elitist.” Ignatius and his first companions demonstrated it, whose “daily bread” was to carry out works of mercy such as “care of the sick in hospitals, alms begged and distributed, teaching little ones, enduring annoyances patiently …” This was their “vital environment” and “they were careful that all the rest was not an obstacle!” affirmed the Pope.
Therefore, the objective of this advantage is to reach the “more,” that “plus” which is none other than “the fire, the fervor of action, which shakes the sleepy” and which holy Jesuits always embodied. Suffice it to think of Saint Alberto Hurtado, of whom it was said that he was a pointed dart that pierced the sleeping flesh of the Church.” This fire is all the more necessary today against the “temptation” that Paul VI called “spiritus vertiginis” or De Lubac <called> “spiritual worldliness,” explained Bergoglio. A “temptation that — he added –, in the first place is not moral but spiritual and which distracts us from the essential: which is to be of benefit, to leave a mark, to weigh in history, especially in the life of the littlest ones.”
“The Society is fervor,” said Nadal. And to revive it, the Pope indicated three points for reflection.
Ask insistently for consolation
The first is “to ask insistently for [God’s] consolation.” How? With “joy”: “The joy of evangelizing, the joy of the family, the joy of the Church, the joy of creation …” In fact, it is a task of the Society to console the faithful people and to help with discernment so that the enemy of human nature does not take away our joy,” continued Pope Francis. “May he not rob it, either because of discouragement in face of the greatness of the evils of the world and of the misunderstandings among those who are determined to do good, or because of those that fill one with the fatuous joys that are always at hand in any business.”
Doing good led by the good spirit, thinking with the Church
“Joy is not a decorative ‘extra,’ it is a clear index of grace: it indicates that love is active, working and present,” clarified the Pontiff, much less so is it to be confused “with seeking ‘a special effect,’ which our time knows how to produce for the needs of consumption, rather it is sought in the existential index that is ‘permanence.’” Therefore, reminded the Pope, the “service of joy” is “rooted in prayer”; in the Exercises that remain the main instrument to experience concretely God’s consolation. “Good news cannot be given with a sad face,” he added, and this joy of the explicit proclamation of the Gospel “is what leads the Society to go out to all the peripheries.”
Letting ourselves be moved by our Lord placed on the Cross
The last step to take, therefore, is to “let oneself be moved by the Lord on the Cross.” “From Him in person and from Him present in so many of our suffering brothers, the great majority of humanity!” — said Francis, because as Father Arrupe liked to repeat: “Where there is a sorrow, the Society is there.” In this perspective, the Jubilee is the “propitious” time to reflect on the services of mercy that, noted the Pontiff, “is not an abstract word but a style of life, which puts before words concrete gestures that touch one’s neighbor’s flesh and are institutionalized in works of mercy.”
The Jesuit Pope recalled again the example of Saint Ignatius, who lived of the “pure mercy of God” and “felt that the more impediments He placed before him, all the more was the kindness with which the Lord treated him.” He liberated “the vivifying force of mercy “ which we, instead, “often dilute with abstract formulations and legalistic conditions.” Instead, “the Lord, who looks at us with mercy and chooses us, sends us to have the same mercy with all its efficacy reach the poorest, sinners, the rejected and the crucified of the present world, who suffer injustice and violence.”
It is “only if we experience this healing strength in the rawness of our own wounds, as persons and as body [community], will we lose the fear of allowing ourselves to be moved by the immensity of the suffering of our brothers and we will launch ourselves to walk patiently with our people, learning from them the best way to help and serve them,” affirmed Pope Francis.
And he left to the Jesuits the last recommendation “to do good with a good spirit, feeling with the Church.” Hence, a “service of discernment” to organize “with a good spirit and not with a bad one,” “without losing peace” but, rather, carrying the Cross, experiencing poverty and humiliations. This service of a good spirit and of discernment, explained the Bishop of Rome, “makes us men of the Church – not clericalists but ecclesial – men ‘for others,’ without anything of our own, which isolates, but putting in communion and service all that we have.”
Then, his exhortation was “ let us not walk alone or comfortably, let us walk with a heart that does not make itself comfortable, that does not withdraw into itself, but which beats with the rhythm of a path that is realized together with all the faithful people of God. We walk making ourselves everything to all, seeking to help some one,” in the certainty that “this stripping is such that the Society has and can always have the face, the accent and the way of being of all peoples, of every culture, inserting itself in all, in what is specific of the heart of every people to be the Church there with every one of them, inculturating the Gospel and evangelizing every culture.”
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