Imagine you wanted to come to a decision about a matter of great importance for you and those close to you, something that would shape your future. How would you go about it? Usually we try to lay out the options, maximize possible goods and minimize harms, etc. As someone who worked in university ministry for many years, I know that path only too well. It can in fact work well. Probably most people who know Jesuits would figure that we’d do something very similar, since we’re known for being thinkers, very rational. You might think, though, that we’d add a debate over ideas or process, and that surely isn’t alien for us.
Today, though, we took a very different tack, one that took some getting used to, but also one that flows right from the heart of who we are as Jesuits. We discerned in common. We took the time to reflect not on what we think best, but on how God is leading us.
The process was simple – disarmingly so. Each of us had read a proposed document, read it carefully. In the light of that careful reading, however, we took the time to pray with it, to see how our hearts responded to what we had read. Each of us asked, ‘how was I moved?’ It might have consoled us, drawn us into prayer, given us a deeper sense of God’s presence, provided images or questions that grabbed us and invited us to ponder. Alternatively, praying with the text could have left us cold, unmoved, maybe even with a lack of peace; the text could have blocked our sense of the presence of God. In the hour given to us after morning prayer, quiet descended on the Curia building as we went off to pray alone.
Then in small groups we shared not our thoughts about the document, but what happened in our prayer. What struck me was the way in which people had been praying before the hour allotted to us, asking where they felt God moving them. We spoke simply from the heart, having been called to really listen one to another. And we did. So many different ways of engaging the prayer, but in my group so many Jesuits had felt God’s consoling presence. We don’t often talk to one another in that way, and the process itself was very uplifting; I could sense the reality of the prayer of others, something obviously that long preceded today’s activity.
Do we move forward with the document? My group seemed to think we continue working with it, but most salutary in the process was not that decision but rather a much deeper insight into the working of God in people’s lives. The diversion from our usual debate over ideas and plans will, I think, help us grow in that trust in one another that we will need for the discussions ahead. Thank God!