Monday, July 14, 2008

GC 35: Decree 3

I decided to liven things up a little with a Van Gogh sketch. Hope you like it.

Decree III of GC 35 is entitled "Challenges to Our Mission Today: Sent to the Frontiers." The second part of the title is taken from Benedict's letter to the Congregation Fathers prior to its commencement in which he praised the Society for its work on the margins and the frontiers, not just in terms of mission territory, but more precisely on intellectual and religious frontiers. Decree III picks up this challenge and runs with it, though with much caution and care. Parts I-III re-establish the mission of the Society, place it in a new "postmodern" context, and propose the primary mission of the Society in our times as one of establishing right relationships.

The document begins by quoting from GC 34 concerning the primary mission of the Society:
“the aim of our mission received from Christ, as presented in the Formula is the service of faith. The integrating principle of our mission is the inseparable link between faith and the promotion of the justice of the Kingdom.”
This has become standard speak for Jesuits since GC 32. No surprise here. The Fathers then go on to set the context for the mission of the Society in our times, and thankfully they turn to Benedict for guidance, quoting from his letter again:
“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 more intense communication among peoples, of new possibilities of acquaintance and dialogue, of a deep longing for peace. All these are situations that challenge the Catholic Church and its ability to announce to our contemporaries the Word of hope and salvation.”
Ethical, cultural, environmental problems, conflicts and possibilities. That is our context. Paragraph 10 continues:
In the midst of this cultural upheaval, post-modernism, mentioned also by GC 34 , has continued to shape the way the contemporary world and we Jesuits think and behave.
This is a slippery word, postmodernism, and should be used carefully. I understand that committee documents like this one have to use words fairly loosely, but let me comment briefly on it. Postmodernism often means, in simple terms, the rejection of the metanarrative offered by modernity. This metanarrative was guaranteed by and presided over by the priests of modernity, namely, scientists and machiavellian political thinkers. When Christians embrace forms of postmodern thinking, they do so only insofar as they reject most forms of modernism -- which is a good thing as far as I am concerned. However, along with that rejection must come a nuanced acceptance of a metanarrative, since that is precisely what the paschal mystery is. I consider myself a postmodern, but I do not reject the narrative of salvation that is mine as a Catholic. When "Jesuits think and behave" according to this loose theory, they should be aware of what they accept.

The Society's apostolic response to our world is threefold: It seeks to build in the world right relationships with God, with one another, and with Creation. Each of these three has its perspective set by the one prior, so that just as in the Contemplatio, the order of love is maintained. I think one interesting way to help unpack these three sections is in terms of the vows that Jesuits take. A right relationship with God is maintained by Obedience; with others by Chastity; and with Creation by Poverty. This template will help us unpack the body of decree III.

Building right relationships with God, the Jesuits, as Benedict says, are called to “reach the geographical and spiritual places others do not reach or find it difficult to reach." This involves risks and mistakes. Jesuits have made many mistakes in this regard, overstepping the bounds of orthodoxy. And yet, unless de Lubac had pursued his theology with the courage that he did, we may never have seen Vatican II. Sometimes the sensus fidei is only uncovered through trial and error, and Jesuits, in full humility and obedience, must be open to exploring the bounds of theology so that they can thus discover its boundaries and aid others in seeing those more clearly, especially in our "postmodern" world. However, without obedience, this is no longer a service to the Church, but only to ourselves, and becomes no more than indulgent intellectualism.

Their relationships with God firmly in place by means of the Exercises, Jesuits attempt to help others through the Exercises to discern their service of others. The Decree begins this section with a Composition of Place, providing a birds eye analysis of the problems effecting peoples:
From the perspective of those living at the margins, globalisation appears as a massive force that excludes and exploits the weak and the poor and has intensified exclusion on the basis of religion, race, caste, and gender. A political consequence of globalisation has been the weakening of political sovereignty by many nation-states all over the world. Some states experience this phenomenon as a particular type of global marginalisation and the loss of national respect. Their natural resources are exploited by transnational interests, unconstrained by national laws and often abetted by corruption. Violence, war and arms trafficking have been fomented by powerful economic interests. Our commitment to establish right relationships invites us to see the world from the perspective of the poor and marginalised, acting with and for them. In this context, the Holy Father reminds us that the preferential option for the poor ”is implicit in the Christological faith in a God who for us became poor, to enrich us with his poverty (2 Cor 8-9)” . He invites us with a prophetic call to renew our mission “among the poor and for the poor”.
It is hard to deny any of this, or to say that it is especially helpful. Yet a reminder of our place with the poor is never misplaced in the Society of Jesus. Just as our greatest sins against chastity are the result of compartmentalized living, so with the Society in its work for Justice. It must become an integral mission, not a bourgeois liberal hobby that it often appears to be. Our apostolate of education, of course, bridges the gap beautifully between rich and poor. Decree III points to it as a central part of healing relationships.

Finally, "ecological solidarity." With Benedict XVI, Decree III focuses on the effects that misuse of the earth's resources has had on the poor and third world countries, making them the guinea pigs and dumping grounds for first world waste and experimentation. In summarizing this third step, the Fathers state, quoting from Benedict's powerful message for peace in January, 2008:
In our preaching, teaching, and retreat direction, we should invite all people to appreciate more deeply our covenant with creation as central to right relationships with God and one another, and to act accordingly in terms of their political responsibility, employment, family life, and personal lifestyle.
Here, "ecological solidarity" is inextricably bound up with poverty, with the lifestyle of Jesuits communities, but also to those to whom we preach and teach. "We should invite all people," and for Jesuits that often means the rich. What employment to they choose? All the CEO's coming our of our schools, do they respect the dignity of human labor and the dignity of creation, or does that come second to the concern for money? Sadly, it often comes second. History has shown much of our education in faith blunted by concern for success.

The document names as our five apostolic priorities: Africa, China, Intellectual Apostolate, Roman Houses, and Refugees. An example of the combining of the intellectual apostolate with service of the poor and ecological concern is offered in Salmeron and Laynez who attended the Council of Trent as theologians, but who were told by Ignatius to live and work in a hospital. The two forms of ministry for us must remain inseparable. The Decree concludes with a call for integration in living this apostolate in our communities:
Our mission is not limited only to our works. Our personal relationship with the Lord, our relationship to one another as friends in the Lord, our solidarity with the poor and marginalised, and a life style responsible to creation-- all play an important role. They authenticate what we proclaim and what we do in fulfilling our mission. Indeed Jesuit community is not just for mission, it is itself mission.
Personal lifestyle in community must follow. No more expensive dinners for our own benefit. No more TV's in our own rooms that expend so much energy. No more wasted car trips, personal cars for community members. Such things must be of the Society of the past. As Benedict has urged on his way to Australia, the Spirit who inspires us to work with the poor and to serve creation also calls us to make that an integrated element of our lifestyles. This is a call primarily to Jesuit houses in the U.S. and Europe. Many in the southern hemisphere already live this way. Yet where we live comfortably, we do not want to afflict the comfortable. Or if we do so, we often do so as Democrats and not as priests of Christ and religious men. Our witness for the poor and for the protection of God's creation must cease then to be a Democratic stance, or the stance of middle class yuppies. No, it must be a sign of our total commitment to Poverty and to the restoration of the earth called for by Paul in Romans 8.

Sadly, this document on Mission once again makes no mention of the unborn. The mention of abortion seems to remain something of a taboo in Jesuits circles. The majority are pro-life, yet many are uncomfortable speaking about the issue. Often I think, their "postmodern minds" are split between liberal and conservative jargon. Sadly so. What relationship needs more healing than the one between fathers and sons mentioned in the last verse of Malachi?

In the end, this document is fairly weak, but points toward a solid future of mission for the Society if we will follow it. Most encouraging are the number of footnotes taken from JPII and Benedict. They show that our mind is back with the Church, while we continue doing extremely important work on the frontiers of ministry.

Markel, SJ


Ryan Duns, SJ said...

"For everyone who does wicked things hate the light and does not come toward the light, so that his works might not be exposed. But whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done by God." (John 3:20-21)

Under which Standard does an anonymous blog fall?

Markel & Mason said...

It's called a pseudonym or pen name. Precedents go back to Mark Twain or even to Qoheleth in the Bible. Seems to be a standard blog approach.

Jesuit John said...

Gotta go with Ryan here... If you have something to say about others in particular, give your name (or an easy way to connect with your real identity) so that you:

a) will be better able to avoid the temptations that go with impunity

b) give your contemporaries an avenue to put you under the same scrutiny

Just my $0.02

Markel, SJ & Mason Slidell said...

Jesuit John,

I can understand that. However,

a.) I hardly feel like I have impunity now. Anyone is free to disagree with me (Markel) and to do so at the level of discussion. Having a pseudonym, whether the person is known or not, keeps the discussion at the level of ideas and away from ad hominem (where it often reverts to on blogs). And

b.) I never mention names, and all scrutiny I direct toward the Society I also direct toward myself as a member of the Society. Again, I don't mean this to be discussion about how particular people live, but what I see as trends. If anyone disagrees with my analysis, I am open to discussion. But as I do not personally impugn any particular person, I see no reason for our blog to open the possibility to be also personally impugned. That is not the purpose of a blog, but of personal sharing.

Markel, SJ

Jesuit John said...

I just posted something and it didnt show up... Let me try again:

I agree that this blog's tone is civil and sticks to the realm of ideas etc...

But y'all aren't always so great when it comes to comment boxes on other people's blogs. I can remember y'all saying things like "grow up" or calling someone "pumpkin" or something to that effect.

I know that I spend a lot more time thinking about my comments when my name will be next to them. Even more so, I identify myself as a particular Jesuit who will answer for what he says as an individual.

Markel, you have the SJ after your naming adding the weight of the Society of Jesus, without the responsibility. We could be the same person for all anyone knows...

And no one can take the conversation to level of a private email in y'all's case.

Just some things to think about.

On a side note, a lot of what y'all write is refreshingly honest. Thank you for that.

Markel, SJ & Mason Slidell said...

That's the great thing about the com box, you can actually say what you think. If I remember correctly, "Pumpkin" and "grow up" were in response to not very nice things and names directed at Mason.

"We could be the same person for all anyone knows."

Not really, they know that I am Markel. Unless other Jesuits use that name, it refers to one Jesuit only, not many.

People can write us at

I appreciate all of your comments and will definitely give them thought. Peace,

Markel, SJ

Jesuit John said...

"Not really, they know that I am Markel. Unless other Jesuits use that name, it refers to one Jesuit only, not many."

Refers to one Jesuit, sure, but how many other names refer to that same Jesuit? I'm being picky, I know...

And surely you see the problems with "That's the great thing about the com box, you can actually say what you think" when it comes to anon commenting.

Anyway, I'm probably picking this topic to death. Y'all are thoughtful guys and will eventually come to see it my way, I am sure ;) hahahahahahahahah

Anonymous said...

for true...