In an earlier article, we spoke about how Saint Ignatius himself envisioned his successors. The electors of GC36 are currently engaged in the murmuratio, the time honoured process that leads to the election of the Superior General. Nicholas Austin, a British Jesuit, recently wrote an article on the relevancy, today, of the manner Ignatius describes the qualities of a Superior General. The article was published in Spanish in the magazine Manresa. Here is a summary of his enlightening work.
This image is undeniably challenging since the Superior General “ought to be outstanding in every virtue, most deserving in the Society, and known as such for the longest time” . More than his technical abilities, the deeper qualities of his mind and heart, which Ignatius calls “virtues”, should be taken into account. What Ignatius wants for the leader of the Society of Jesus is not just an expert, but a particular class of person, someone who can lead, above all, with his example, which should be a mirror and paragon for all of us. What he wants more than anything is that the Father General be a good Jesuit.
In contemporary terms we could express it in this way: Above all, the Father General has to be a person of profound spirituality, of friendship with God in prayer, in action, and in human relationships; with a freedom of heart so that he can lead with humble, just, and courageous love. He should be a person with initiative and perseverance in doing good, always showing magnanimity in success and in failure. He should be careful of his health and his appearance. And in soul, heart and body he should live the magis with great heart, open to God, and to others.
Such an image could seem so exacting that it would be impossible to find someone that could even minimally come close to it. It seems that Ignatius himself was conscious of this problem. That is why he added in the same paragraph a final criterion which embraces three indispensable qualities. “And if any of the aforementioned qualities should be wanting, he should at least not lack great probity and love for the Society, nor good judgment accompanied by sound learning.” In other words, the most essential qualities are found in the triptych of sound character, deep love for the Society, and a common sense rooted in culture.
From a summary from a paper of Nicholas Austin, SJ.