//Listen, Observe, Learn

Listen, Observe, Learn

Re-imagining who one is, who one wants to be…what an exciting idea, what a courageous and radical process to undertake!  That was my first thought when I read the theme of this issue of Jivan.  For people like me, who have studied in Jesuit institutions, counted Jesuits as friends and brothers, as well as being teachers, mentors, spiritual directors, this seems like just one more way in which these men continue the ongoing efforts at deepening their commitment and challenging themselves to push back their own boundaries and limitations to reach out towards the Magis that calls them ever onwards.

Indeed, it is a call that cannot be ignored. In his Preface to Paradise Lost, C. S. Lewis speaks of vocation as ‘…a thing that calls or beckons, that calls inexorably, yet you must strain your ears to catch the voice, that insists on being sought but refuses to be found. To follow the vocation does not mean happiness: but once it has been heard, there is no happiness for those who do not follow.’ This existential moment in the life of our country and our Church, as much as for the Jesuits, demands of us a ruthless honesty in self-examination and in analysis of the context we inhabit, and demands, too, an equal integrity in holding fast to the truth as we discover it.  We cannot afford to let ourselves be deluded either by ourselves (by motives of fear or indolence or indifference) or by others who seek to bend that truth to their purposes.

For many of us, the Jesuits we have known and loved have stood for that integrity and that courage. They have taught us, less by precept than by the example of their own lives, what it means to strive ‘to give and not to count the cost, to fight and not to heed the wounds, to toil and not to seek for rest…’  Whether it was the intellectual honesty that characterised the finest thinkers in those ranks, or the dynamic choices of those who fought against injustice wherever they encountered it, or the profoundly human and compassionate response to all that is human, one had the sense that one was in the presence of someone who had encountered the Lord at a deeply personal level, and was living out of that experience.

And so I hope that, unlike the way that we seem to be accepting the rewriting of history as a nation, this process of re-imagining will hold, own and move onwards from the history of the Society and all of its glorious achievements and failures. Move onwards in response to the call of the Spirit and the signs of the times. Move onwards as pioneers, as Jesuits have always been, to new frontiers, taking risks where necessary because they cannot remain silent and inactive. 

And, too, I hope that, in this process, you will continue to listen…to listen, to observe, to learn, with simplicity and openness, allowing yourselves to be challenged by the uncomfortable questions and the inconvenient truths that may surface. That you never lose sight of why you have undertaken the process in the first place. That you continue to be inspired by the founding vision of St Ignatius, continue to be humbled by the generosity and courage and insights of others with whom you walk on this journey, continue to hold on to the example of Jesus as the touchstone for all of your own choices. That your style of relationship, of accompaniment, of leadership, be characterised by warmth, mutuality, respect and justice. 

I’d like to end this with a quote from Autumn Journal by Louis MacNeice, that for me articulates perfectly what it is you seem to be wanting to achieve in this movement of re-visioning, re-imagining yourselves:

…What is it we want really?
For what end and how?
If it is something feasible, obtainable,
…..Let us dream it now,
And pray for a possible land
…..Not of sleepwalkers, not of angry puppets,
But where both hand and brain can understand
…..The movements of our fellows;
Where life is an instrument and none
…..Is debarred his natural music,
Where the waters of life are free of the ice-blockade of hunger
…..And thought is as free as the sun…

That is truly what I pray for each of you, and for all those among whom you work!