After a thunderous liturgy at St. Peter’s Basilica Friday, Congregation has moved into a different mode. The novelty of being together is wearing off; the Aula and the rhythm of meetings are familiar. We are getting to know one another.
That is true at one level, but there is something deeper too. We are moving from discussions about the state of the Society and the challenges we face toward the election of a new General next Friday. I sense both excitement at what is to happen and anxiety about the unfamiliar and odd-sounding process of the murmuratio, the one-on-one conversations to inform our discernment; this is like no other election process in the world, no ‘campaigning’, thank God. Most electors have never experienced the greatest gift we have as Jesuits, this process of electing our General.
Thursday we began the move toward the election. Fr. Jim Grummer, the Vicar General, reminded us of some of the key considerations anyone on a retreat should bear in mind. He challenged us to trust in God, to put aside the temptation to rely on ourselves or to fear about acting ‘perfectly’ in the process. He called us to freedom, to put aside our desires to reach a quick conclusion and to let ourselves be led by God. If we are to really listen to others in the murmuratio, we have to believe that we could be wrong, and that the other bears to us a knowledge of God’s will. Of course, we all knew this, but since everyone in the Aula is so aware of how important this election is, the temptation to anxiety and to a need to control could overwhelm. His words hit home. Because it is so important, the call to rely on God’s grace becomes ever more crucial, as only God can guide us to a good choice.
After the Mass yesterday, we moved into small regional groups (Assistancies) to discuss candidates for the Secretary and his two assistants who would help lead the Congregation. Each Conference provided two lists with three names on each, one for Secretary, one for the Assistants. During the afternoon, we saw the lists compiled by each Assistancy. In an ordinary election process, one expects each group to put forward its own ‘candidates’; instead we saw a more universal perspective, as delegates sought the best men, not ‘their own candidates’. It gave us a palpable sense that we are not European or American or Indian Jesuits, but simply Jesuits, able to perceive the extraordinary gifts in our brothers throughout the world. That ‘universality’ opened up during the voting (again with its technological challenges!) to a sense of unity. We came to consensus almost immediately, moved to wonder that God could lead us gently and yet powerfully. Those elections were a ‘school in trust’, and now we ponder the fruits.
And then…. After a session on Saturday morning in which veterans of previous Congregations calmed the fears of ‘newbies’ by presenting their experience, we entered into a time of rest, a weekend off. Yet, more truthfully, it’s a weekend of ‘disposition’, letting ourselves enter the rhythm needed for next week’s ‘retreat’, since these elections are a time of prayer. Fr. Grummer called us to take the weekend to ponder with gratitude what God has done during this week, moving us to a trusting place, ready to begin the election. This is also a time to unplug and unwind, to quiet down so we can hear God speaking through the ‘murmurs’ of our brothers next week. We seek not simply an external quiet, but an internal one of ‘recollection’, attentiveness to God. One delegate said he would stop all email for the weekend – a radical step these days.
We had begun this journey with excitement and anxiety. After this grace-filled week, the anxiety fades even as the inner excitement of expecting to hear God speaking through our brothers remains. We have indeed ‘shifted gears’, from a time of business toward a time of retreat, drenched this time not with Roman thunderstorms but with the gentle grace of God. And so we begin…..