We start each day of the GC in prayer. I believe many of us find this a uniting and consoling experience. It is well prepared and settles us for the day and tasks ahead. We have also learned to hear, and even sing, in languages foreign to most of us, such as Swahili, Guarani, Bahasa Indonesia and Hindi, but we try and it works.
As Jesuits, we do not seek to pray the Divine Office together or even necessarily do we do it well when we do gather to pray and sing. But we are a religious community who wish, as Pope Francis reminded us this week, to live in God’s joy and consolation. Prayer and music can combine together well.
On Saturday morning we tried something new. We sang our final song, a version of The Magnificat, in four groups, like a round. It was an ambitious effort that took a lot more concentration and the guidance of our choir leader. But it was enjoyable and it largely worked. We just need a bit more practice!
Pope Francis did not refer to songs or music when he recently spoke to us. But he did offer three images to consider: consolation, compassion and discernment. Is this a new ‘song’ with old words he is teaching us, something we can learn to sing together with all our different languages, cultures and voices? Or is it an old song with new words?
Can his three images speak to those other three named in GC35: identity, community and mission, ones we have been examining more closely in recent days. Some of us find it hard to sing this triptych ‘song’ while others sing it with great enthusiasm. Some are still working on the meaning of the words, much less attempting to sing the tune. Others wish we could sing it more in harmony and more confidently.
Can Pope Francis’ reference to consolation suggest that joyful ‘song’ we experience when we ‘let go and let God’ in our personal prayer and community life? Like a tune that stays in our minds and hearts for days, one that helps us step out more happily into the world and share our joy with others.
Can compassion refer to those ‘songs’ that move our hearts to reach out to others who are suffering? When Pope Francis quoted Pedro Arrupe, ‘wherever there is pain, the Society is there’, was he was directing those rich ‘songs’ that lie within our spirituality to be more generously shared to bring God’s mercy to others?
Can discernment refer to our efforts to proclaim the Word in harmony, despite our limitations and differences, listening attentively to the sounds of those hurting around us? We may never sing a perfect tune but, in trying to do so, we might find ourselves surprised and more united, humbled and graced.
Perhaps we struggle with this GC35 triptych because we have yet to enjoy the transforming power of it as our ‘song’. Like any choir, we still need to work on it. Not too analytical, not at all competitive, just willing to sing together, seeking harmony and expressing in joy and gratitude what we have received.
We finish our GC daily prayer with a blessing in someone’s mother’s tongue. We have received many such daily blessings, rich in the tones, words and inflections of many different languages. Those blessings remind us that, like Ignatius, we are all pilgrims setting out each day with songs in our hearts, rich in our gifts and grateful for our diverse company.
Pope Francis asked us this week ‘to have more the face, the accent and the lifestyle of all peoples, of every culture, inserting ourselves in all of them, in the very heart of every people’. Perhaps that is the new ‘song’ we are learning to sing these weeks, a renewed song for our company along with the help of a new choir leader and now to be shared with the world, our common home.
Brian F. McCoy SJ