Friday, June 27, 2008

GC 35: Decree 1

I will spend the next week commenting individually on the decrees of GC 35. All of the decrees can be found here. The document begins with Decree 1, "With Renewed Vigor and Zeal," the Congregations response to Benedict's letter sent previously. It truly is a wonderful letter, perhaps most exceptional for its extremely humble tone, and tone that many Jesuits throughout the world would do well to pray with and emulate. I will only pull out some small portions that I found especially interesting.
The Congregation first expresses its reason for writing new decrees, namely, "to provide guidance that will enhance and increase the spiritual and evangelical quality of our way of being and proceeding." It has become something of a habit now for the Society since GC 31 to write decrees at every subsequent Congregation, which have taken place roughly every ten years since 1965. This Congregation, like the others, also thought it necessary to write a few things. They are brief however, and much to the point. Initially I thought them unnecessary, but I have come to change that opinion for reasons I will express further on.

In paragraph 6, the Fathers acknowledge the affirmations given to the Congregation by the Pope:
6. With such strong words, the Pope definitively placed the future of our mission before us. This mission has been expressed with complete clarity and firmness: a defense and a proclamation of the faith, that we should explore new horizons and reach new social, cultural and religious frontiers, borderlands that, as Father Adolfo Nicolás related in his words to the Holy Father, can be places of conflict and tension that endanger our reputation, our peace, and our security. That is why we have been sensitive to the evocation of our Father Arrupe, whose proposal of service to refugees was mentioned by the Pope as "one of his last far-sighted intuitions."
As Jesuits, we are called to live on the frontiers at the heart of the Church, in tension often, and misunderstanding. Jesuit Refugee Services has been one of the best examples of this work, as the Pope names above. The document then continues to what I think is the meet of this decree, the response to Benedict's letter. Below are these two paragraphs:
14. We call each Jesuit to consider in the light of Decree 11 of the 34th General Congregation and the final speech of Father Peter-Hans Kolvenbach to the Congregation of Procurators in September 2003, "the proper attitude of service in the Church", which should be ours. This means recognizing, with honesty to ourselves and before God, that some of our reactions and our attitudes have not always been expressed as our Institute demands of us: to be "men quite humble and prudent in Christ." With deep regret and conscious of our common responsibility as an apostolic body, we call on each Jesuit to help the Pope, with a resolutely constructive attitude, to create a spirit of "communion" so that the Church can make the Gospel of Christ heard in a world as complex and troubled as ours.
15. Recalling the Examen and asking the Lord for the grace of conversion, we ask each of our companions to examine his own way of living and working at “the new frontiers of our time." This examination will include the following: the demands of our mission "among the poor and with the poor;" our commitment to the ministry of the Spiritual Exercises; our concern for the human and Christian formation of "the most diverse;" “that harmony with the Magisterium which avoids causing confusion and dismay among the People of God" about the " themes, continuously discussed and called into question today, of the salvation of all humanity in Christ, of sexual morality, of marriage and the family." Each Jesuit is invited to acknowledge humbly his mistakes and faults, to ask the Lord's grace to help him live his mission and, if necessary, the grace of forgiveness.
These truly are remarkable paragraphs, if they are read seriously and lived out by individual Jesuits. Paragraph 14 honestly states that many Jesuits have not sought communion with the Church, have actively not desired to act with the Church. This is a deep and humble confession, acknowledging the failings of the Society and asking forgiveness. Paragraph 15 continues this confession in light of the Examen, asking not that Jesuits ask pardon for working at the margins and frontiers, but for how they have done so. The examination of conscience has four parts:

1. the demands of our mission "among the poor and with the poor;"
2. our commitment to the ministry of the Spiritual Exercises;
3. our concern for the human and Christian formation of "the most diverse;"
4. “that harmony with the Magisterium which avoids causing confusion and dismay among the People of God" about the " themes, continuously discussed and called into question today, of the salvation of all humanity in Christ, of sexual morality, of marriage and the family."

First, have we as Jesuits kept the service of the poor as a priority. In a society and Church even that has not done so, and that has continued to serve the comfortable, have we remained with Christ's favorites in voluntary poverty, living with them and working to remove the structures of sin that dominate them.

Second, do the Spiritual Exercises continue to influence all the ministry that we do with their emphasis on a personal love of Jesus Christ.

Third, do we serve the most diverse, the outcasts, as Jesus did, giving them good spiritual and human formation. Three goes closely with four, since how we offer formation to the most diverse is important. And so,

Fourth, in regards to sexual morality, marriage and the family, are we working with the Magisterium or causing confusion and dissension. Sadly, we are causing much dissension, which means we are often not offering good spiritual and human formation. The hot example of course is in regards to homosexuality. I know many Jesuits who will go to the gay pride parade this year in San Francisco, as they have gone to many around the country. No little confusion is caused by such actions, actions that betray that these Jesuits have not read and taken to heart the humble and prudent decrees written by the Fathers at GC 35. Pastoral care in this regard is difficult, and there is much research and study that must be done. However, GC 35 is clear that this cannot be done in a way to cause confusion within the Church. As I quoted from the beginning of this decree, its purpose is "to provide guidance that will enhance and increase the spiritual and evangelical quality of our way of being and proceeding." Let us take up this decree and obey it.

Markel, SJ

9 comments:

Joseph Fromm said...

Thank you for your candor, good will and honesty.

JMJ
Joe

Anonymous said...

You might learn something about those three things yourself, Joe.

Also, the spelling, the spelling.

Markel & Mason said...

I have been away from the internet for a few days. Thanks Joseph for the note.

Anonymous, I apologize for the speeling mstakes. I'll be sure to proofread more closely.

AMDG,
Markel, SJ

semper fidelis said...

"Sadly, we are causing much dissension...."

Who, exactly are "we"?

I know of many Jesuits, in various parts of th world (including the U.S.A.) who have placed their energy and talents at the service of the poor and marginalized, who live in genuine Evangelical poverty, who are guided and inspired by the Spiritual Exercises, who offer integral and excellent formation to all who desire it, irrespective or social class or condition, and who exercise their ministry in complete fidelity to the Magisterium.

It is unfair to deem these faithful Jesuits guilty by association, collectivizing them as components of a problematic "we".

SOME Jesuits may be causing dissension, may be unfaithful to their religious vows, may live and work in a manner that is incompatible with the Spiritual Exercises, etc. Such 'lapsed' Jesuits need help. If they refuse to seek or accept the necessary help, their Superiors must have the courage to take whatever action is necessary in order to preserve the good character of the Society of Jesus.

Based on my experience of working with a wide range of Jesuits, I have no doubt that many (I hope the vast majority) will have no difficulty whatsoever in welcoming and obeying the GC35 decrees.

Markel & Mason said...

Semper Fidelis,

I am not so optimistic as you. The longer my short time in the Society grows, the more I believe that there are grave theological separations that undergird our unity. As you well know, the unity of the Society is well served semantically by a large number of slogans and words. One such phrase, for example, is "the evil spirit." In the novitiate, it was explained to me that by this phrase I could understand the devil, i.e., a personal evil force, a dark part of human nature, a psychological phenomenon, etc. Semantically, we remain united, but we often mean very different things by these terms that serve to unite us.

Things are much worse when it comes to sexuality. I have not lived in a community yet where the majority of Jesuits held to the Church's teaching on sexuality. And so when GC 35 makes a statement of fidelity as it does in this first decree, requiring all Jesuits to council in accordance with the Church's teaching on sexuality, I have little optimism that the congregation Fathers will be heard. Jesuits think what they want to think. They don't listen well in my experience. They are not trained to listen, since when they are young in the Society, they are not given superiors with backbones.

I use "we" because I think it's high time we get away from the idea that we are not guilty somehow by association. Too many "orthodox" Jesuits separate themselves ideologically and geographically from their brothers, as if they were not members of the same family. If my brother or sister in my family were to commit a crime, I would not be legally guilty, but I would feel responsible to some degree for what took place. And I would say that "we" as a family had somehow failed. It is time for faithful Jesuits, however hard it may be, to say "we" when other Jesuits screw up and stop acting as if they form another club, with their own mass e-mails, gatherings, etc. That does not help our Least Society.

Markel, SJ

semper fidelis said...

"If my brother or sister in my family were to commit a crime, I would not be legally guilty, but I would feel responsible to some degree for what took place."

Well, Markel SJ, there is a difference between FEELING responsible and actually BEING responsible. A wise old person once advised me never to accept responsibility without the necessary accompanying authority. Feeling responsible, but helpless to effect change, is a recipe for debilitating guilt trips.

If I know that someone is acting erroneously, I think I should have the courage to speak up (with all due discretion) and point out the fault, to the person concerned and, if necessary, to a competent authority. Unless I have formal authority to do more than this (e.g., by virtue of being a designated religious superior), it would be pointless for me to feel responsible should the person at fault decide to ignore my counsel. I may well feel disappointed or sad, but I should not feel responsible.

At this stage of your Jesuit training, I am not sure how wide an experience you have of the worldwide Society. Having had the good fortune to witness Jesuits at work in several continents, there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that the Society is an immense force for good in the Church and the world. Where there are serious problems, the main cause may well be ill-chosen superiors.

Having said all of that, your concerns are admirable, and I wish you every blessing in your vocation.

Markel & Mason said...

Thank you. Dostoevsky said that we are all responsible for all. He didn't feel that way, as you correctly point out, that is just how things are, and even more so in a group where men make a commitment to one another and to God. This should result in impotent feelings of guilt, but rather in acts of penance and prayer. Such acts renew religious life. Without the feeling of responsibility, they will not be done.

I do think and know that the Society is an immense source for good in the world. I have no doubt about that, and I apologize if that sense came across.

Markel & Mason said...

sorry, I meant should NOT result in impotent feelings of guilt

semper fidelis said...

"sorry, I meant should NOT result in impotent feelings of guilt"

Phew!! :)