The quality of our community life: Father General

Fr General on a visit to Jesuit communities in Vietnam, 2015
Fr General on a visit to Jesuit communities in Vietnam, 2015

The Jesuit Curia in Rome has published the first of a series of ‘Conversations with Father General Adolfo Nicolás SJ’, who will be stepping down at the Superior General of the Society of Jesus at the 36th General Congregation later this year. Each month, he will reflect on various aspects of Jesuit life in the modern world.

The January 2016 ‘conversation’ addresses community life, a topic which Fr Nicolás has in the past described as a type of “ministry”. Talking with Father Patrick Mulemi SJ, Director of Communications and Public Relations at the General Curia in Rome, he explained that the sense of community is closely allied to the Jesuits’ ministry to the laity and the visibility that they have as a community. “That means, among other things, that the quality of our community life, the depth and joy of our conversations and exchange, are now transparent and, as such, a service,” he said. “Consequently, to build community and to care for the members of the community can be a service of much worth in our apostolic life.”

Allow time for study and reflection

Fr Mulemi went on the discuss with Fr General some of the challenges involved in Jesuit community life – which is not the same as that experienced by saintly monks and other "monastics" of the past.  "'Community in general'" is not a theme in the New Testament,” Fr Nicolás pointed out. “ … In the New Testament we do not find definitions of what a Community is or is not; instead, we find many indications of Christian attitudes that build community, and injunctions to do what is good for the other. In the letters of Saint Paul, we find more than 80 such phrases, like ‘forgive each other’, support, help, be patient with, carry the burdens, encourage, and so on. I can understand the omission of what was yet to be researched.”

One of the greatest challenges in Jesuit life – both for individuals and communities – is to take on too much work, what Fr Mulemi described as "workaholism". Fr Nicolás responded by urging discernment, giving ourselves time and space to decide what are the priorities and indeed, permission to say ‘no’ if the burden becomes too great. “The more possibilities to serve you have, the greater the need will be to discern well the distribution of your time,” he said. “We cannot do everything. For a good ministry we need concentration, study, reflection and time. Dispersion of attention and energies does not help in the least to reach the evangelical depth and creativity that we want for our ministry.”

You can read the full interview with Fr General Adolfo Nicolás SJ on the website of the Jesuit Curia in Rome.