‘Life is difficult’. The first sentence of M. Scott Peck’s book ‘The Road Less Travelled’, is as relevant today as it was more than forty years ago, when the book was first published. This column is being written in the midst of the euphoria of 100 years of the Patna Jesuit Mission and the sudden loss of three Jesuits, within nine days, to the Covid pandemic. So, as a leader, one of the important characteristics that strikes me is maintaining an equilibrium between what is death dealing and energy sapping, on one side; and life-giving energizing forces on the other. Some would like to call it crisis-management, I prefer to call it the balancing of opposites. Sometimes, as in the present moment, these opposites can be the extremes of life and death.
As a leader, I also feel vulnerable in being sensitive to the needs of others over my own. An attitude of compassion, caring and concern, in reaching out to the last, least and lost. Patna Province has had a long-tested tradition of a preferential option for the poor. This is borne out by the nine social action centres in the Province, catering to marginalized groups in rural Bihar. In recent times, all the schools have been tagged to the rural centres creatively, through zoning of the Province. The Covid-19 crisis was an opportunity to take this concern to another level. First, by providing relief to the suffering masses during the first lockdown, without any support or assistance from the government. Second, by engaging the returning migrant labourers from the Southern states, during the first wave of the pandemic. The creation of a migration cell, and Patna becoming one of the hubs for the MAIN – (Migrants Assistance International Network) have been one of the initiatives to focus our apostolic energies on the more vulnerable sections of society. “Love for the poor”, as “love for Christ”, makes all other apostolic engagements more meaningful and cherished.
Nothing truly significant, the ‘Magis’ is attained without taking risks. A leader in particular is confronted with “risk” when one pushes the boundaries in the midst of new challenges, and ideas are pushed outside one’s comfort zone. He is willing to “trust” and experiment with new ways of doing things. Patna Province took the risk of moving into five dioceses of eastern Uttar Pradesh, along with the four dioceses of Bihar of the past 100 years, even as our numbers were falling. To actively take this initiative forward may seem foolhardy. However, as the great risk-taker, Nelson Mandela, has said: “It’s not about getting a chance, it’s about taking a chance…. It always seems impossible until it is done”.
Even as the second wave of the pandemic rages, spreading death and uncertainty, the Jesus-Leadership inspires me to become a life-giving “spirit”, creatively striving for God’s Greater Glory and Praise.
The author is the Provincial of Patna Jesuit Province.
As Jesuits, we are always on the move even though there are exceptions, depending upon the nature of our apostolates. In my case, the course of formation has taken me to various places and communities, where I have encountered and learned from many different superiors. This diversity of experiences in the Society of Jesus broadens our vision and so helps us to understand our mission in new and more profound ways.
In the Society of Jesus, every encounter between a superior and the men entrusted to his care, may be fairly guided by the wise principles that Father Ignatius once communicated to Diego La nez, Alfonso Salmer n and Pierre Fabre, at the time when he was sending them to Trent in 1546, at the request of Pope Paul III, to help tackle the highly sensitive issues being debated at the Council. Ignatius counselled them to be slow to speak, to listen attentively, to seek the truth in what the others are saying, to correct misstatements humbly and gently, and to allow the conversation the time it needs. These same principles are ad rem and desideratum for any conversation with a Jesuit superior that leads to apostolic discernment.
Over the years, I have realised that these conversations always bring about greater clarity and consolation when there is active and attentive participation from both sides. Of the principles enunciated by Father Ignatius, it is the last one that I find the most reassuring and the most demanding. A Jesuit is expected to carry out faithfully the mission he has received from his superior, because he and the superior have together completed the process of discernment, in and through conversations that allow each one to know the mind and heart of the other. In these conversations, the superior listens and perceives with his heart, because his role is not to impose his own vision and will, but rather to accompany another Jesuit in seeking to discern the will of God. This manner of discernment requires conversations that are honest, unscripted, and authentic. They require the time and space that is needed to free ourselves from prejudices, disordered attachments, and personal preferences, and so to be able to listen more carefully and attentively to the promptings of the Holy Spirit.
The value of these conversations for an effective apostolic discernment, will be quickly affirmed by Jesuits who by the grace of the Holy Spirit, were able to fulfil faithfully a mission that they were initially reluctant to accept. As Jesuits we are often on the road, but we do not always travel to places that we would choose to go. We are on the road because of the mission that we have received. The freedom to set out on these missions is the gift of the Holy Spirit, which is offered to us in and through our authentic conversations with those who send us forth.
The author is pursuing his Licentiate in Sacred Scriptures in the Pontifical Institute Biblicum, Rome.