Wednesday, July 2, 2008

GC 35: Decree 2

Decree 2 of GC 35, "A Fire that Kindles Other Fires," takes its name from a quotation of Saint Alberto Hurtado. With this note, the Society signals that it is continuing with this congregation the updating that Vatican called for from each religious order. This updating looks back to Nadal and Ignatius and other members of the early Society, but also to its most recent saint as models of its holiness and "way of proceeding."

Decree 2 is a decree on Identity, on what it means to be a Jesuit today. The second to last paragraph of the decree summarizes brilliantly what the document attempts to spell out: being a Jesuit means imaging Jesus:
There are new challenges to this vocation today. We live our identity as companions of Jesus in a context where multiple images, the innumerable faces of a fragmented culture, compete for our attention. They seep into us, take root in the fertile soil of our natural desires, and fill us with sensations that flow through and take control of our feelings and decisions without our knowing it. But we know and proclaim one image, Jesus Christ, true image of God and true image of humanity, who, when we contemplate him, becomes flesh in us, healing our inner brokenness, and making us whole as persons, as communities, and as an apostolic body dedicated to Christ’s mission.
This is the language of the early Society, the language of attachments, the greatest attack on Jesuit life and on any good Christian life. Finally, we are hearing strong language again from our congregation Fathers. Paragraph 1 of the Spiritual Exercises explains that what the Exercises are about is freedom from attachments. Period. Freedom from all that prevents one from following Christ. This paragraph above from Decree 2 nails the meaning of the Exercises, which is also the meaning of Jesuit Identity. In an authentic Jesuit life, Jesus becomes flesh in that individual Jesuit and community, and other images that creep slowly into so many Jesuit lives and communities, images that are not Christ, are rooted out. How profound! Jesuits have always been accused of being worldly, and this is the profound tension (I know, an overused word) within which they live. Nadal after all did say that "the world is our house." No cloister for us. We have a spirituality of worldliness, just as Jesus did, who loved the world. But we all know there are two worlds, and like a sign between the signifier and the signified, we move between the two, bridging them as we attempt to model Christ's incarnation, bridging the human and divine.

The quote above also echoes what is written in paragraph 2 of Decree 2, speaking similarly of images:
What unites us as Jesuits is Christ and the desire to serve him: not to be deaf to the call of the Lord, but prompt and ready to do his most holy will. He is the unique image of the unseen God, capable of revealing himself everywhere; and in a tantalizing culture of images, he is the single image that unites. Jesuits know who they are by looking at him.
Jesuits, as Gerard Manley Hopkins taught us so eloquently, examine each thing carefully, turning them over in their hands, looking for that aspect of it that images Christ. Typically, in a "culture of images," those things that most catch the eyes are those that least image Christ. We must learn again how to see. Such is Jesuit spirituality: a spirituality of new eyesight, of discernment. Thus, the first section of the decree is entitled "Seeing and Loving the World as Jesus Did." Ignatius came to this new capacity for sight only
through confronting, at an existential level, the falseness of the desires that had driven him. It was at Manresa that this confrontation took place. There the Lord, who taught him like a schoolboy, gently prepared him to receive an understanding that the world could be seen in another way: a way freed from disordered attachments and opened up for an ordered loving of God, and of all things in God.
"CONFRONTING at an existential level," challenging those desires that usually drive us. Such is the Ignatian way, to allow for a purifying of desire, since desire always effects the mode of seeing. Dorothy Day, influenced deeply by the spiritual conferences of Fr. Onesimus Lacouture, SJ, once wrote:
How shall we have the means to help our brother who is in need? We can do without those unnecessary things which become habits, cigarettes, liquor, coffee, tea, candy, sodas, soft drinks and those foods at meals which only titillate hte palate. We all have these habits, the youngest and the oldest. And we have to die to ourselves in order to live, we have to put off the old man and put on Christ. That it is so hard, that it arouses so much opposition, serves to show what an accumulation there is in all of us of unnecessary desires.
Accumulation is the rule of fallen life, whether in the "old" Society or in the "new" one. In the new one, people are blatantly self-indulgent. I will be the first to call the new Society bourgeois. Yet in the old Society, accumulation reigned supreme as well. Just go to an old Jesuit's room after he dies and dig into his walls and you will find the five and ten dollar bills from stipends and closets stuffed with odds and ends. But the Society called for by GC 35 must be done with self-indulgence, with bourgeois living, and must prepare for an "ordered loving of God" again as our first charism calls for.

The congregation Fathers then name the three characteristics of being a Jesuit who is thus ordered to the vision of La Storta:
These are: the following of Christ bearing his Cross; fidelity to the Church and to the Vicar of Christ on earth; and living as friends of – and thus in – the Lord in one single apostolic body.
First, following Christ and bearing his Cross. For a Jesuit this means that
Following Jesus, we feel ourselves called not only to bring direct help to people in distress, but also to restore entire human persons in their integrity, reintegrating them in community and reconciling them with God. This frequently calls for an engagement that is long-term, be it in the education of youth, in the spiritual accompaniment of the Exercises, in intellectual research or in the service of refugees. But it is here, aided by grace and drawing on whatever professional capacities we may have, that we try to offer ourselves to God fully, for his service.
Second, fidelity to the Church and the Pope. The Society is to be distinguished for its obedience:
It is in the nature of its obedience, above all, that the Society of Jesus is distinguished from other religious families. One need only recall the letter of Saint Ignatius, where he writes: “We can tolerate other religious institutes outdoing us in fasting and in other austerities that they practise according to their Rule, but it is my desire, dear brothers, that those who serve the Lord our God in this Society be outstanding in the purity and perfection of their obedience, the renunciation of their will, and the abnegation of their judgment.”
The congregation takes up the challenge of obedience in a later decree.

Third and finally, in Community. These three features make up Jesuit life, unique in their application to Jesuit living.

Thus, Jesuit identity is founded upon imaging Christ uniquely in a world of distorted images where, committing themselves to the following of Christ in obedience in the Church and in community, Jesuits offer to the world a new way of seeing, an eyesight blind to self-indulgence and addiction and open to passion for all that is Good, True, and Beautiful:
The consumerist cultures in which people live today do not foster passion, but rather addiction and compulsion. They demand resistance. A passionate response to these cultural malaises will be necessary and unavoidable if we are to enter into the lives of contemporary men and women.
The Jesuit houses I step into these days do not show me this "passionate response." I see more addiction than passion in the Society today, addiction to comfort, television, drink, and self-indulgent intellectualism. But the vision has been given, and the possibility for a renewed Society is present, one in which passion for the apostolate with a preferential option for the poor, keeping the unborn in mind, will be possible. Then finally will more people look at us as a whole, as a communal body, and sincerely ask “who are you, that you do these things…and that you do them in this way?"

Markel, SJ


semper fidelis said...

The Jesuit houses I step into these days do not show me this "passionate response." I see more addiction than passion in the Society today, addiction to comfort, television, drink, and self-indulgent intellectualism.

As previously, Markel, I can only recommend that you get to know a broader, more global cross-section of the Society of Jesus.

The situation you describe may be typical of a decadent section of the Society in the USA. If you travel to Africa, Latin America or Asia, you will find plenty of Jesuits living out the 'unattached' vision you describe.

Even in Europe, in very wealthy countries, I have come across many Jesuit communities giving eloquent witness through a simple, or even severe, lifestyle, and living/working with the most disadvantaged sectors of society.

You sound somewhat disillusioned, and given what you describe, I can well understand why. Have you considered exercising your ministry outside the USA? Or, alternatively, are there sufficient U.S. Jesuits ready to ask permission of their Superiors (if necessary, write directly to Fr. Nicolas) to live an authentic lifestyle among the poor?

Markel & Mason said...

Thank you for your advice and encouragement. I have worked briefly in Central and South America with Jesuit communities and have for the most part been very impressed and inspired. I'm sorry I come across as disillusioned. That is a tone that comes across in my posts that probably reflects more my own dissatisfactions with myself than with the Society as a whole. Christ's Peace.