The spirituality of St. Ignatius has had a powerful influence in the Catholic Church over centuries. Numerous are the religious orders and varied forms of Catholic action that have found inspiration to pursue their goals with purpose and commitment, inspired by the zeal of Jesuit founders.
The focus has generally been on groups within the Church with the hope that the formation received would enable them to transmit the same spirit to the world outside and gradually to the world at large. This attitude has even produced a kind of superiority as if one knows the whole truth and others could well follow us.
I still remember the first stanza of the anthem of the AICUF which I used to sing whole-heartedly in the 1950’s:
“The clarion call of conquering truth is heard o’er India’s plain, And the serried ranks of Catholic youth are marching to its strain; Midst spirits high and hearts ablaze, And minds that surely know, Tis theirs midst dark and erring ways, the light of Christ to show….”
This conquering mentality was turned by Vatican II (GS) towards a vision of the “solidarity of the Church with the whole human family” (GS 1). The document is well worth studying in formation programs, cautioning us not to let our spirituality be crippled by an ivory tower isolation but rather letting ourselves grow amid the constraints of social life, responding to the demands of human fellowship and service to the community at large. (GS 31). Christ’s preaching became his command, “to make the Gospel known to all peoples in order that the human race become the family of God in which love would be the fullness of the law.” (GS 32).
The key points arising from Gaudium et Spes are:
The focus on the human family as the field of mission and the spirit of love as the fullness of the law. The process of preparation for the Synod has stressed the attitude of openness to other cultures and inclusiveness reaching out to the marginalised and to those at the peripheries.
It is around these key points that Jesuits need to reflect, discern and identify the channels of their contribution in the world of today, keeping in mind the leads that exist with regard to the Church of the future. Some of these leads are:
a. The understanding of the role of women and men in the responsible growth of humanity, according to God’s Plan. The thrust of the Church has to change from a rigid patriarchal mind-set which has influenced the spirituality, the structures and power dynamics of her functioning to a more universal view of the common good of all humanity. Theologians, thinkers, writers, pastors, activists, need to liberate the atmosphere in the Church at all levels, to include the unique contribution of the laity, religious sisters and brothers, the elderly, the young so that all experience a sense of belonging and a readiness to join with others for the common good.
b. This sense of the universal brings one to the question of human rights and the constitutional responsibility that all citizens bear, to defend and promote our basic rights as persons. The fact that we have a Constitution that protects and promotes the rights of all citizens, whatever be one’s ethnicity, culture or belief, shows that we share a common image of the One who created us. Since the Jesuit mission is oriented to education at various levels, it is important for them to see how constitutional values are to be imparted both at the level of religious formation as well as in other secular fields.
c. To be universal both in outlook as well as in action, is necessary in working for the common good. To be firmly rooted in one’s belief and convictions is necessary to start with, but to be effective for social change in the country, one needs to network and be connected with like-minded groups. There are various examples of issues in which one can collaborate: voting rights for migrants, the rights of under-trial prisoners, commercial grabbing vs. livelihood concerns of the poor. Coming together as neighbours on days of national and religious importance, to feel the bonding of values that unite us at such celebrations, helps to build communities of concern and harmony, so necessary to ward off the hatred and violence that is unfortunately publicly proclaimed today.
The future invites the Jesuits and all of us with them, to open wide the windows and doors of our homes and hearts, so that in communion and participation we may receive the energising breath of the Spirit to walk forward confidently hand in hand.
The author is former Principal of the Nirmala Niketan College of Social Work, Mumbai and former Superior General of the Society of the Daughters of the Heart of Mary.