Discretion without seeking fame or fortune

POST BY SPower

Stephen Power SJ with brothers at the opening mass of GC36
Stephen Power SJ with brothers at the opening mass of GC36

There were several firsts at the 36th General Congregation of the Society of Jesus last year. It was the first time tablets had been used by the members for electronic voting, making it a ‘paperless’ Congregation. GC36 elected the first Superior General from outside of Europe: Fr Arturo Sosa SJ from Venezuela. It was the first time that a General Congregation had been addressed by a Jesuit Pope. And it was also a first for six Jesuit Brothers, who took part in the General Congregation as ‘electors’, those who vote for a new Superior General and his assistants.

The decision to involve Brothers so fully in this – the highest governing body of the Society – had been taken at the 35th Congregation; so each Jesuit Conference (in effect, each continent) electing a Brother to participate.  This development was a significant adaptation of ‘Our Way of Proceeding’, as Jesuits call the way we do business.

The Brothers who took part in GC36 in Rome held a variety of jobs as Jesuits. One was a spiritual director, while another was a Province Socius, the Provincial’s assistant. Two were teachers at various levels; I am the British Province’s Treasurer; and the North American delegate was the director of the Vatican Observatory.  The experience of being together in Rome led us as Brothers to reflect further on this particular vocation, especially on our Sunday evening pizza nights at a local trattoria!  We also had to regularly consider where to position ourselves at the big liturgies when surrounded by nearly 200 fully-vested priests.  Most Jesuits are flexible on liturgical preferences so this was not too difficult; and perhaps the best evaluation of the innovation of our presence was that very few, if any, Jesuits felt uncomfortable with it: it seemed a natural development.


One body – different functions

The question and answer session with Pope Francis gave us the opportunity to hear his views on the vocation of the Brothers.  “… In the brothers I knew,” he said, “I was impressed by their special sense, the ability to ‘smell’ that they had when they said, for example: ‘Watch that father, I think he needs special help …’ The brothers I have known often had great discretion.  And they helped!  The brother realised, before any other community members, what was happening.  I do not know how to express it.  I believe that there is a specific grace here and we must find what God’s will is for the brother right now, and we also have to find how to express it.”

At the time of the Congregation, both Fr Sosa, the new General, and Pope Francis strongly denounced forms of clericalism that still show themselves.  Francis said: “Clericalism, which is one of the most serious illnesses that the Church has, distances itself from poverty.” And when Father General met with us, he reaffirmed his personal gratitude to the Brothers in fostering his own vocation and said how he first and foremost sees the Society as one body of those with a Jesuit vocation, with some men having different functions within in.
 
On 31 October 2017, we will celebrate the 400th anniversary of the death of the Jesuit Brother, St Alphonsus Rodriguez.  This is surely a time to reflect on the characteristics of this particular vocation.  Much of our modern culture reflects an infatuation with celebrity status and ‘impact’ politics; it indulges in big claims or denouncements to create change.  By contrast, a Jesuit Brother’s vocation works quietly within the mission of the Society of Jesus, whose members are ministers of reconciliation through the Church, as most broadly defined.  It is not a vocation for someone seeking fame or fortune; but, for the would-be follower of Christ poor, it offers a wonderful opportunity to be imbedded in His life and work.

Stephen Power