General Congregation 36: FACT or FICTION?
This was my overarching thought as I read about GC 36 – It was about a group of men who have been discerning ‘the call made to us today by the Lord amidst the cry of the peoples of the earth for a more humane life’ (Letter from Arturo Sosa S.I. as forward to GC 36 Decree 1&2). Could it be that these men heard the call of God? This is quite a declaration.
The next question I had was - What’s going to happen now? Is this going to revolutionise the world? Is everyone going to sit up and take notice? I’ve worked with the Irish Jesuit Province since 2007 and I am still struck by the people I work with. Since the day I started I’ve met genuine people of integrity who really care about the world we live in, the people in this world and their role in it. This was something I hadn’t met so much while working in an international transport company for sixteen years! Don’t get me wrong, the people I worked with prior to working with the Jesuits were good people but they wouldn’t have approached a general meeting of the organization the way the Jesuits did.
I was quite amazed by the preparation that took place. I’ve heard of the meetings that took place in Jesuit Community houses and in Jesuit Apostolates to prepare for GC 36. I was also struck by the number of Jesuits who went to Rome to actively participate in GC36. These men took this very seriously.
Forgive me if I seem to be a bit in awe of this process but that’s not the way the world usually works – look how politicians work, look how business people work, look how educators work – the list goes on. The rest of our culture goes about its business very differently.
So, what did God say to the Jesuits at GC 36 – again, I was quite amazed!
Here is a small example of what has been proposed: ‘The poverty of life and proximity to the poor of the First Companions in Venice must mark our lives too, that poverty that engenders creativity and protects us from what limits our availability to respond to God’s call.’ (Decree 1:6)
‘In our communities and apostolates, we hear the call to rediscover hospitality to strangers, to the young, to the poor, and to those who are persecuted. Christ himself teaches us this hospitality.’ (Decree 1:16)
‘This Congregation is deeply convinced that God is calling the entire Society to a profound spiritual renewal.’ (Decree 1: 18)
‘A special gift Jesuits and the Ignatian family have to offer to the Church and her mission of evangelization is Ignatian spirituality, which facilitates the experience of God and can therefore greatly help the process of personal and communal conversion. (Decree 1:23)
‘….we hear Christ summon us anew to a ministry of justice and peace, serving the poor and the excluded and helping build peace.’ (Decree1:25)
‘The current economic system with its predatory orientation discards natural resources as well as people. For this reason, Pope Francis insists that the only adequate solution must be a radical one.’ (Decree 1:29)
These are radical calls – a life of poverty, one that rediscovers hospitality to strangers, a call to a profound spiritual renewal realising that Ignatian spirituality is our special gift. The only adequate solution is a radical one.
Decree 2 is also quite revolutionary. I was struck mostly by the writings on collaboration. Collaboration had been recognised in GC 34 and GC 35. It’s good to see it being focussed on in GC 36.
There are many working in the area of collaboration: Delegates, Projects, Committees and the Secretariat for Collaboration (Edward Fassett SJ). How can the Society support further collaboration? This is a real challenge but a necessary one for the future, especially in the western world. Jesuit numbers are in decline while employees and volunteers within the society are steadily increasing. The African Assistancy is the only one with an increasing number of Jesuits over the last ten years.
Networks are also supported in Decree 2 – the Jesuit Refugee Service, the Apostleship of Prayer, the Christian Life Communities, Social Justice Networks and Education Networks being those most developed. How can these be supported and other networks developed?
These are real challenges for the Society.
What’s going to happen now? – This is a question I asked at the outset - the answer will determine if GC36 will become fact or fiction. I hope it will be FACT.
Joe Greenan is "Human Resource Director, Irish Jesuit Province and Provincial's Delegate for Sacred Space website and the Pioneer Association"
Documents of General Congregation 36 of the Society of Jesus