A Commentary regarding the “Universal Apostolic Preferences of the Society of Jesus 2019-2029” is indicated.
In Japan, unfamiliar words and expressions linked to Catholicism or the Society of Jesus are generally clarified, so as to enable people to acquire a better grasp of their significance.
A. To show the Way to God through the Spiritual Exercises and Discernment
Concerning ‘Spiritual Exercises and Discernment.’
The founder of the Society of Jesus, namely St. Ignatius of Loyola, on the basis of his own experience of religious conversion or mystical experiences that he underwent in the course of his ascetical practices, composed a guidebook for prayer. On the basis of this book he offered guidance to those who desired it, and this guidebook in later years, saw completion as the ‘Spiritual Exercises.’ The term ‘Spiritual Exercises’ literally implies ‘exercises of the spirit.’ When engaged in different forms of prayer, the individual undergoing the exercises experiences a diversity of movements within his heart. At times he feels enlivened, he feels imbued with gratitude, his heart is raised high in praise, and he senses the very profundity of love. On the contrary however, there are other times when he feels physically drained, he finds his mind prevaded by sinful thoughts, his desire for atonement becomes strong, and he experiences sentiments of misery and gloom. Such movements are referred to as ‘movements of the spirit.’ We need to acquire an awareness of such movements, we need to know where they lead us, and we need to judge for ourselves as to what in these situations would be the better thing to do (what is referred to as magis). This type of decision-making is what we call ‘Discernment.’ These Spiritual Exercises and this idea of Discernment constitute the most distinctive features of the spirituality of St. Ignatius, and the Jesuits too have held them in high esteem.
These are what the Universal Apostolic Preferences (UAP) chiefly signify. Namely, by attaining familiarity with the Spiritual Exercises and the concept of Discernment, we come to acquire a knowledge of God, we gain an understanding as to what is expected of us in our present-day world, and the means of realizing those expectations.
Also, by his official proclamation of the four items of the UAP, Fr. General underscored the fact that they were the outcome of repeated Discernment, that is, Discernment that was both Personal and Communal, or Discernment in Common. Communal Discernment refers to the Discernment each Jesuit conducts, either with the community he is attached to or the companions he works with. Prior to his establishing the Society of Jesus, St. Ignatius and his companions discerned together the issue as to the type of religious congregation they needed to have. As an upshot of this Discernment they decided that their congregation be known as the ‘Society of Jesus,’ and traits typifying their congregation’s lifestyle and work were decreed. Communal Discernment thus came to be characterized as a feature of the Society of Jesus, and this was subsequently acknowledged and proclaimed in the 36th General Congregation, held in 2016.
B. To walk with the Poor, the Outcasts of the world, those whose dignity has been violated, in a Mission of Reconciliation and Justice.
Concerning a ‘Mission of Reconciliation and Justice.’
Reconciliation is a task highlighted even in the letters of St. Paul (cfr. 2 Cor. 5:10). Observing the rapidly advancing state of Globalization in the world, the 35th General Congregation, perceiving the light and shade evolving therein, chose to focus on the shade, and with a view to tackling the diversity of issues in evidence, the General Congregation decided upon using the term ‘reconciliation.’ Without reconciliation, namely mutual reconciliation between human beings, reconciliation with creation, and reconciliation with God, wars, religious fights, the rise in the numbers of refugees, ecological ruin and other adverse issues facing the world, are bereft of any critical solution. By our immersion in this task of reconciliation the dignity of all mankind will be equally sustained, and political stability, economic balance, and the mission of justice in ensuring the wellbeing of society, will arise. It was with issues such as these in mind that Fr. General presented us with the second item of the UAP.
C. To accompany the Young in the Creation of a Hope-filled Future.
Recently the Catholic Church held an assembly, with ‘youth’ as the topic. Here, taking a hard look at the state of affairs of young people in the world today, it endorsed a stance of high significance for them, a stance whereby we may walk in consort with them. At the General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops held in 2018, “Young People, Faith, and Vocational Discernment” was the theme chosen. The fact that it is the youth who will hereafter create and sustain the future, is obvious. Yet, in many cases, the situations in which they are placed and the issues they have to confront are arduous to resolve, and daunting to overcome. Yet the Catholic Church has squarely faced this situation. It has lent an attentive ear to the voices of the young, and ‘walking along with them’ is a task the Church has embraced as a guiding principle.
It is in response to movements such as these that Fr. General presented the third item of the UAP. Among apostolic activities adopted by the Society of Jesus those associated with youth occupy a prime place, of which educational activities are the most notable. The Society of Jesus since the time of its founding has paid special heed to the education of the young, a fact that is included even in the vows Jesuits take. This is also a reason for their involvement in the service of the youth, and walking along with youth, is something expected of Jesuits today.
1 The word ‘creation’ is used here with reference to the first verse of the first chapter of the Book of Genesis in the Bible, namely, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”
2 A Synod is an assembly comprising representative Bishops from all over the world. It serves as an important decision-making body that determines the mission policies of the Catholic Church.
3 The word Mission is used to refer to a task a person engages in on receiving a call from God to do so. The word Mission stems from the Latin word mittere, meaning ‘to send.’ It is also referred to as Vocation, from the Latin vocare, meaning ‘to call.’
D. To Collaborate in the Care of our Common Home
Ever since His Holiness Pope Francis proclaimed his encyclical Laudato Si in 2015, the Catholic Church the world over, needless to say, has made earnest efforts to highlight the issue of ecological devastation, as well as the need on our part to strive for the resolution of this issue. Responding to the crisis of ecological devastation is a concern that is long overdue. It is a matter abounding in alternate repercussions, for it has the capacity to generate crises in our societies. It indicates the existance of an intimate link between ecological devastation and social crises, and calls out for ecological conversion on our part. The fact that issues like these are active in the world today, is something we are all aware of.
Basing himself on the mission of ‘Reconciliation with Creation’ that was also raised in the 35th General Congregation, Fr. General has presented in the form of these four items the care and consideration that need to be offered to the earth, the work of God’s creation.
What we saw thus far was a commentary on the UAP, and I shall proceed hereafter to explain the specifics that led to their proclamation. A knowledge of these details will enable us to reconfirm the gravity of these items, namely the reason why there was a need for them to be publicly proclaimed.
After the 36th General Congregation (of 2016), our Superior General Fr. Arturo Sosa, was advised that in order to evaluate the approach that had been adopted with regard to the priority issues of that time, namely issues he had taken over from the former Superior General Fr. Kolbenbach, he should if necessary, send out a request calling for the identification of fresh priorities.
The priority issues inherited from Fr. Kolvenbach were affirmed in January 2003. They were five in number, specifically Africa, China, the Intellectual Apostolate, International Houses in Rome, and Migrants and Refugees. According to Fr. Kolvenbach, of these, on the basis of prayerful Discernment, the most vital and urgent needs, universal needs, and the needs Jesuits are called to willingly respond to, are the ones to be chosen.
4 These concern urgent issues in the Catholic Church that His Holiness the Pope has to deal with. Here he expresses his own views and presents the fundamental position of the Church. They are meant for distribution to Churches the world over, and are referred to as encyclicals.
5 What we refer to as ‘Ecological Conversion’ is to consider the problems facing the environment, and adopt the kind of lifestyle that would be more protective of it.
6 What we refer to as ‘Intellectual Apostolate’ is work related to academics and learning that the Society of Jesus has pursued with zeal, ever since the time of its founding. Not just theology and philosophy, but also mathematics, atronomy, geography, linguistics and other fields were viewed as vital, when viewed from the standpoint of the overseas missions.
7 The Jesuit Residential Houses in Rome have to cater not just to members of Jesuit Provinces in Italy, but to members of Jesuit Provinces all over the world. Examples of such residences are Gregorian University, the Pontifical Biblical Institute, the Jesuit Refugee Service headquarters, and so on. In order that such residences and communities may be maintained, the cooperation of Jesuits all over the world is necessary.
8 These words are crucial. When it comes to choosing a place or work that Jesuits may be assigned to, St. Ignatius offers us four criteria to judge them by. These are: Are there chances of attaining the universal good? Does there exist a necessity? Does there exist a situation of urgency? Have none have attempted this work so far?
It was with these criteria in mind that Fr. Kolvenbach made his choice of the five items.
In October 3rd 2017, Superior General Fr. Sosa dispatched a letter to all Jesuits. In that letter he called on them to ponder over and decide as to what issues merited priority in view of the current world situation, and elucidated the process whereby those issues would be made public. He called upon each member of the Society of Jesus to initially discern as Jesuits as to the issues that merited priority and needed to be dealt with, and he also called on them to conduct Discernments at the province level after having probed the issues on a group basis, either with members of communities they belonged to or groups they worked with. He also asked that these priorities be formalized and presented to him as proposals, after they had been deliberated over via Communal Discernment, at meetings of Jesuit provincials held at the Assistancy level. Eventually however the General himself, after receiving the views of Jesuits all over the world gave them an official form, after he had conducted a personal Discernment over them. This being done he communicated them to His Holiness the Pope, and sought his sanction. Actually though this process was conducted over a two-year period, and the outcome was publicly presented as ‘Universal Apostolic Preferences’ (or UAP).
In point of fact though this process was used earlier. It was the process used by St. Ignatius and his companions at the time of the foundation of the Society of Jesus. That is, individual Jesuits first discerned the issues, and this was followed by Community Discernment. The General then collecting the outcome eventually presented it to the Pope, so as to obtain his approval. The fact that the mission of the Society of Jesus was conceded by His Holiness the Pope, the envoy of Christ, indicates that it was a mission assigned by Christ, and consequently a process that General Fr. Sosa sought to follow.
Fr. Arturo Sosa in his letters makes repeated use of the words ‘resolve’ and ‘commit.’ Such words appear as verbs in all four items, and they are linked to phrases such as ‘to show, to walk, to accompany’ and ‘to collaborate.’ When he employs the term ‘preferences,’ using it as something resulting from Discernment, he prefers to use the word ‘resolve,’ to express the implication of a strong will or commitment. Furthermore, his fixing of a period of ten years starting from 2019, is indeed rare. We have to understand this as a present-day mission of the Jesuits, something the Society of Jesus has in truth to grapple with.
Catholic Jesuit Center