Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Benedict talks to the Jesuits again

Finally there is an official translation of Benedict's 21 minute long address to GC35.  Since I don't think it has gotten fair treatment, I want to comment on a few elements as it moves along. Most of the treatment has been given to the last paragraph of the talk, as if all the Pope was doing was rapping the Jesuits on the knuckles for being bad.  Not quite what is going on.
Your Congregation takes place in a period of great social, economic and political changes, sharp ethical, cultural and environmental problems, conflicts of all kinds, but also of a more intense communication among peoples, of new possibilities of acquaintance and dialogue, of a deep longing for peace.
I find Benedict's words here already very interesting, especially the concerns that make his list. Those "sharp" problems that make the list are many and varied, from social and cultural problems to ethical and environmental problems. This appears to be an affirmation that the Society's interest in addressing ecological issues during this Congregation are not far off the mark. Benedict himself has made environmental issues a central part of his teaching thus far.
As my predecessors have often told you, the Church needs you, counts on you, and continues to turn to you with confidence, particularly to reach the geographical and spiritual places where others do not reach or find it difficult to reach. Those words of Paul 6th have remained engraved in your hearts: “Wherever in the Church, even in the most difficult and exposed fields, in the crossroads of ideologies, in the social trenches, there has been or is confrontation between the burning exigencies of humanity and the perennial message of the Gospel, there have been and are the Jesuits” (3 December 1974, to the 32nd General Congregation).
Benedict here reaffirms the mission that Paul VI gave to the Society, the mission of combating atheism. There is a reaffirmation, not a condemnation, of the Jesuit's place both at the crossroads of ideology and in the social trenches. 
As the Formula of your Institute states, the Society of Jesus was founded chiefly “for the defence and propagation of the faith”.... This is why the Church is in urgent need of people of solid and deep faith, of a serious culture and a genuine human and social sensitivity, of religious priests who devote their lives to stand on those frontiers in order to witness and help to understand that there is in fact a profound harmony between faith and reason, between evangelical spirit, thirst for justice and action for peace. Only thus will it be possible to make the face of the Lord known to so many for whom it remains hidden or unrecognisable. This must therefore be the preferential task of the Society of Jesus. Faithful to its best tradition, it must continue to form its members with great care in science and virtue, not satisfied with mediocrity, because the task of facing and entering into a dialogue with very diverse social and cultural contexts and the different mentalities of today’s world is one of the most difficult and demanding. This search of quality and human solidity, spiritual and cultural, must also characterize all the many activities of formation and education of the Jesuits, as it meets the most diverse kinds of persons wherever they are.
Here Benedict turns to Jesuit formation. He calls for the need in formation not for a narrow catechesis, but for deep faith, cultural and social sensitivity, and priests willing to devote themselves to the frontier. The use of "frontier" in the full document here is interesting, since many understand Benedict to be attempting to rein in the Jesuits. Rather, he is encouraging them as we see to continue in their extremely multi-faceted work specifically on the frontier, not at the center. This is the "preferential task of the Society of Jesus," precisely to be on the margins. Jesuit formation must continue to be in science and virtue, without mediocrity. The last sentence above I think is also fascinating. Benedict points to the need in formation of "quality and human solidity, spiritual and cultural." This means, spiritual quality and cultural quality, spiritual solidity and cultural human solidity. What could this mean, "cultural 
solidity?"  It at least implies the embrace in formation of a profound anthropology that is not reduced in its scope to the western or the first world. It implies a solid foundation in a recognition of that which constitutes human culture, namely, genuine human creativity.  Jesuit formation must therefore be a school of human creativity even as it is a spiritual school of the heart.  This is a profound challenge that the Jesuits are offered. 
In its history the Society of Jesus has lived extraordinary experiences of proclamation and encounter between the Gospel and the cultures of the world – suffice it to think of Matteo Ricci in China, Roberto de Nobili in India, or the “Reductions” in Latin America – of which you are justly proud. Today I feel I have the duty to exhort you to follow in the footsteps of your predecessors with the same courage and intelligence, but also with as profound a motivation of faith and passion to serve the Lord and his Church.... This does not apply solely to the personal task of each Jesuit; since you work as members of one apostolic body, you must be attentive so that your works and institutions always maintain a clear and explicit identity, so that the purpose of your apostolic work does not become ambiguous or obscure, and many other persons may share your ideals and join you effectively and enthusiastically, collaborating in your task of serving God and humanity.
Many of the above Jesuits got themselves in some pretty binds in their work of inculturation. Benedict is not asking us to step away from that, but to continue to search on the frontiers for the meaning of Incarnation. Of course, this does not mean losing a sense of identity to the mission of spreading Christ crucified, whether in missions abroad or the high school in the U.S. where often the Christian and Catholic mission is subordinated to turning out CEO's. That is one of the saddest things that has happened to Jesuit education. What is required is "courage and intelligence... faith and passion" as well as collaboration with others. 
As you well know because you have so often made the meditation “of the Two Standards” in the Spiritual Exercises under the guidance of St Ignatius, our world is the stage of a battle between good and evil, with powerful negative forces at work, which cause those dramatic situations of spiritual and material subjection of our contemporaries against which you have repeatedly declared your wish to combat, working for the service of the faith and the promotion of justice.
Whether a Jesuit or not, one can never meditate too often on the "Two Standards." They point both to the cause of spiritual and material evil: personal negative spirit doing combat with the soul of each individual; and the method of that combat: the cultivation of spiritual and material riches, spiritual and material honors, spiritual and material pride.  We must continually declare again and again our "wish to combat" spiritual and material subjection. Both are important, and Benedict reaffirms that. 
I know and understand well that this is a particularly sensitive and demanding point for you and not a few of your confreres, especially those engaged in theological research, interreligious dialogue and dialogue with contemporary culture. Precisely for this reason I have invited you and am inviting you today, to further reflect so as to find again the fullest sense of your characteristic “fourth vow” of obedience to the Successor of Peter, which not only implies readiness to being sent in mission to far away lands, but also – in the most genuine Ignatian sense of “feeling with the Church and in the Church – to “love and serve” the Vicar of Christ on earth with that “effective and affective” devotion that must make of you his precious and irreplaceable collaborators in his service of the universal Church. 
"Sentire" with the Church, I like the translation that Benedict offers, "feeling" with the Church. That is an accurate translation, but would require another post. 

Markel, SJ


Longin, SJ said...

Most of this is excellent.

"This is the 'preferential task of the Society of Jesus,' precisely to be on the margins."

A caveat: Our mission is to work on the margins. We, ourselves, are to be at the heart of the Church in both doctrine and piety. Working on the edge is dangerous unless one is solidly anchored to the rock. That solid connection to the Church is what makes our work on the margins effective.

Perhaps that's why the Pope also said (in a sentence you ellipsed away):

"All the same, while you try to recognize the signs of the presence and work of God in every part of the world, even beyond the confines of the visible Church, while you endeavour to build bridges of understanding and dialogue with those who do not belong to the Church or who have difficulty accepting its position and message, you must at the same time loyally fulfil the fundamental duty of the Church, of fully adhering to the word of God, and of the authority of the Magisterium to preserve the truth and the unity of the Catholic doctrine in its totality."

Markel & Mason said...

Thank you longin, sj, (Pan Longinus?). I agree with what you are saying, but maybe some more comment on my point. The Church is not a bounded entity. It does not constitute a "space" per se. So to say that Jesuits work on the frontiers but live in the center is only useful depending on what those who use these words mean by them. I admit that often, by the Left and the Right, these are used specifically, to mean either living with "creative fidelity," or living and "orthodox" lifestyle. But the way I think even Benedict is using these words, to live on the frontier does not mean you are not simultaneously in the center. They do not exclude each other unless you have too strong of a spatial image of the Church. Why use the term then? Using frontier is a particular way of speaking of HOW we live at the Center. There are many ways of living in the center, and one way of living in the center is living on the frontier. I don't think that is a contradiction, just a paradox, but it is a very real way of living Catholicism that is not practicing the same as others. It is even a way of living doctrine, since doctrine is not univocal, but to be lived and understood analogically and contextually, maintaining of course the roots of tradition. That's my only point. Let me know what you think.

Markel, SJ