In my neck of the woods, we don’t see many Popes. Thus, it was with a child-like excitement that I joined my brother Jesuits from across the globe to await the arrival of Pope Francis and his address to the 36th General Congregation of the Society of Jesus. What would he say to us? Would he ask something special of us? Some of us may have been looking for a peg upon which to hang our apostolic hats. Others may have hoped for a papal-approved sense of direction.
Pope Francis gifted us with what we may have least expected, but what we probably needed the most. He brought us back to the Formula of our Institute, to the foundational inspiration of St. Ignatius and his companions. By doing this he showed great respect for the Society of Jesus. A concrete apostolic focus would have been easy. But, it would have been rather paternalistic, and in the end, a failure of hope for the Society of Jesus and the global Ignatian family.
Pope Francis, however, grounded us in our way of proceeding that expresses for us the best manner by which the greater good is accomplished. Concretely, Pope Francis characterized our way of proceeding that is marked by joy and consolation, the cross of Christ, and at the service of the Church our Mother.
Human joy has been a central theme for Pope Francis – the joy of family, the joy of creation, the joy of the Gospel. He invited us to actively and incessantly seek the joy of consolation in decision-making. Joy then becomes the criterion of action. In desolation, we wait, actively seeking the joy of consolation before we step forward in action. In consolation, we act with confidence and direction.
Our joy is mysteriously rooted in the Cross of Christ. Touch my wounds, says Jesus to Thomas. Put your hand into my wounds and you will believe. Only by touching the wounds of Christ would Thomas make his great profession of faith: “My Lord and my God!” No less is asked of us. Gaze into our own wounds, see how God has been so merciful to us. Only then will we be able to listen with compassion to the cry of the poor and the cry of the earth, the broken and crucified body of Christ.
We do all this as the body of Christ, as a community, as the Church. Discerning what to do in a Church that is both sinner and saint, free and broken, is our call as servants of God’s Church. This demands of us the greatest spiritual freedom, a freedom that listens and offers hope.
I and very grateful for Pope Francis’ challenge to the Society of Jesus. No obvious concrete mission fell from the lips of the Holy Father. We were given no specific task for which an apostolic plan could be developed in the years to come. It is quite obvious, however, that we were indeed given a mission, and a rather difficult one at that.
by John McCarthy, SJ (CDA)