As the context for the reflections stated ahead, at the outset let me state that I have spent 22 years as an ex-Jesuit after being in formation for 15 years.
The context I want to draw attention to, will focus on the human resources that are available in accomplishing mission. Needless to say, that the Jesuit human resources have been greatly depleted over the last couple of decades. With genuine feelings of unworthiness, I re-imagine the Society of Jesus and suggest three areas where more could be done to increase the effectiveness of being “men for others”.
Firstly, one needs a major evaluation and overhaul of all the current mission assignments of every Jesuit priest, to align them with the four UAPs. There will be a need to speed up handing over of pastoral and administrative jobs to diocesan priests and lay persons respectively, and allow every Jesuit to play a highly specialized role that very few others are capable of. Every Jesuit will have to re-imagine himself as a CEO of a chosen UAP, and be a mentor and guide to tens of lay persons who can actually implement the goals of that UAP in the field. There are quite a few organizations already led by certain individual Jesuits who work with teams of volunteers with village or ward-level leaders who are doing wonderful work, especially with self-help groups. I imagine that to be the model to follow, in order to increase efficiency in implementing the UAPs. This will necessitate highly skilled Provincials who have excellent training in managing the limited human resources.
I also imagine these specialist Jesuits to be leading institutions not run by the Society of Jesus. With our own institutions coming under a lot of pressure, there is nothing that should prevent Jesuits from leading an IIM or an IIT or other institutions of higher learning in the future. This will allow Jesuits to infuse these institutions with the Ignatian Pedagogical Paradigm and the values of the Kingdom. I know this is a difficult task but it is not impossible. Often times a majority of the Jesuit institutions rely on past glory, and there is little new that is envisioned for them to be more relevant for our times. This is mainly seen in some of our educational institutions, whereas several private, secular institutions have marched way ahead embracing the signs of the times. Maybe it is time to move out of our comfort zones.
The final section of my first area has to do with the intellectual apostolate. It is a known fact that a large number of our very good thinkers are not known outside the seminary and convent worlds. I imagine Jesuits to be participating in larger numbers in the secular media and research journals. We need more thought leaders from the Society of Jesus that influence the narratives that shape and drive the nations in which we live.
Shorter but Intense Formation:
The second area to re-imagine is Jesuit formation. For starters, it still continues to be a reward for a life well-lived! We must try and achieve the goals of Jesuit formation in a maximum of eight years. I would imagine an integrated Philosophy and Theology program of four years, and the completion of Novitiate, Juniorate and Regency in the other four. Of course, the rigour of formation will have to increase, and most Jesuits will then enter active ministry by the age of 28, by which age many persons in the secular world begin taking charge of companies. Those allowed to specialize in a specific field will surely need some extra years. This eight-year formation must be complemented with a well-designed, annual, three-week, ongoing formation that will be mandatory for all priests during the first eight years of their priestly life.
The Lay Society of Jesus:
Finally, the third area is a suggestion I had made in an article published in JIVAN (“Once a Jesuit, Always a Jesuit,” May, 2018) and which I am quoting here:
“Why should the Society of Jesus not start a two-year Jesuit formation for the laity? Selected young men “and” women should be offered this course which will include a kind of a novitiate with an abundance of Ignatian spirituality and rural immersion for a year, and an intensive philosophy and theology programme for another year. These young people can then be set free to be whatever they choose to be in the world. Their impact in any “ministry” will be remarkable. Without the taxing requirements of compulsory celibacy, the burden of community life, or the even difficult task of seeing “God” in their superiors, they will probably lead more fulfilled and efficacious lives.”
The training of laypersons in the Jesuit Charism and Spirituality will greatly improve the reach and impact of the mission. These lay persons could also take over existing Jesuit institutions and set the Jesuits free to actively implement the UAPs, as stated above.
In conclusion, I would like to acknowledge that these points may perhaps have been already reflected upon by the Society of Jesus. I am aware, it’s easier said than done. This is just in response to the invitation to a free flight of imagination!
The author is Former Principal of Mercedes Benz International School, Pune.