JESUIT COMMUNITY: CREATED FOR JOY
‘For the body is one and has many members and all the members of the body, being many, are one body, so also in Christ.’ (1 Cor. - 12:12)
As Jesuits we gather together in community in service of the Lord and of our fellow men and women. In our lives, in community we are friends in the Lord. The Phrase ‘Friends in the Lord’ has increasingly stood out in the recent years. It has been the topic for discussion at the General Congregations, national and local level meetings and every time new ideas and new feelings have emerged out of it. Personally I believe that Jesuit communities are creation of joy and created for joy. We, as friends in the Lord ought to create joy. If we do not do so, then we cannot be friends in the Lord.
St. Ignatius of Loyola has very beautifully used the phrase ‘Friends in the Lord’, which Fr. Pedro Arrupe brought to light once again to express in succinct form the character of the men who were at the origin of the Society as a religious community and what ought to be the character of those who followed them.
In the contemporary world we talk of friends and friendships more than ever. Friends are generally born out of friendships and without this experience of friendship, being merely friends is unthinkable. Experiences bring two souls together. In this secular world we are called to be religious. As religious and as Jesuits, what meaning do we give to friendship or the phrase ‘friends in the Lord’? To me, friendship within the Society of Jesus is both an experience and a gift. It is first and foremost, an invitation from God to become a member of the Society which, as the Formula of the Institute says, is for those who have entered the Society a pathway to God (Formula #1). When we accept and know that it is an invitation from God, we also realize that it is a companionship within the Society which draws us to the Lord who has created that union.
Every morning when I wake up, I say to myself: I wish to live this day in the present and more fruitfully, with genuine smile as I encounter the other companion of mine. I wish to discover that companionship/friendship at every step. Then I recall the fact of my past life. I know theoretically that companionship is something I discover, cherish, extend and value from the encounters that I have day by day with others. Like every human being, I too have discovered and realized that I am fallible, fragile. Therefore, I need God’s grace to strengthen my very self. In other words, I have failed to be instrumental in my doing and being in the community. I have failed to create joy, happiness, peace, and love in the community. Every time I failed, I interrogated myself: Can I be communitarian? Can I be the peace-bearer, just, joy-giver, happiness-emitter in and around my community? I introspect for answers. Though unsatisfied, I rest in Him who can help me and only then I draw the satisfaction as he deems it possible. Logically speaking, a lot is possible for the divine, if not everything.
I would like to dwell upon, three important points which primarily shapes the lives of every Jesuit:
1.) The routine of everyday life and together.
2.) How can my superior and other companions enrich my Jesuit life?
3.) My life in the Jesuit body.
1.) The routine of everyday life and together:
Routine life is not ritualistic; it is rather a pattern which directs life. When I observe my routine what feelings take place in my interior being is very important. Perhaps I faithfully observe it, and I fair well with people who love and care for me. Certain reciprocity is been created. It is a human need. However, as to the routines of everyday life in community, there is a common human need for a gradual deepening of relationship and the need for time and opportunities where I can grow in the knowledge of the other.
Building community is a process. It is not a product. It is through this process, I ought to become a means and an end of the creation of Joy. This gradual rhythmic process of friendship in the Society of Jesus takes time like other religious or lay persons and this demands a certain amount of freedom.
I sometimes am led to bewilderment about the way we go about in life. We live, work, pray, play, eat and share much together in our communities. We also spend a lot of time together doing the perfectly ordinary and simple chores. We brush shoulders with one another which at times create humour or friction. I believe that these ordinary realities of our life and existence can give us a variety of structures for developing our friendship in the Lord, if we know how to use them.
Learning to live together as good friends indeed, is a better way to be creators of joy. We need to accept the fact of living together, learning from one another’s joys and sorrows, work and play, prayer, laughter and above all the beautiful image of God which is present in every one of us. We can grow in trust of each other, when we feel the intimacy and love, respect and reverence for one another. This factor is the need of the hour.
2.) How can my superior and other companions enrich my Jesuit life?
We all are on the lookout for an exemplary personality. We try to emulate that model and enrich our living. In the Society of Jesus, there are innumerable personalities of that caliber. They are exceptionally good, humble and guiding. The past glory of the society is wonderful. In the present too, we are gifted with such persons. However, we cannot bask in the past glory. What is the present and real situation in and around me/us?
Community is alive only when there is union of hearts and minds between the superior and the subjects. No doubt, misunderstanding, frictions, jealousy, anger come in the way of goodness. Proper discernment, spirit of brotherhood and forgives, sense of belongingness to one another should enable us to transcend our human weakness. Years of training, Gaining knowledge and growing in wisdom should enable us to be humble, polite and considerate towards others. Besides, the fact that formation is life-long remains the reality, whether we are aware/unaware of it or accept it or be judgmental.
It is not simply a matter of orders being given on one side and being obeyed on the other. In our Constitutions # 667, Ignatius says ‘The superior should also leave some matters up to them when it appears likely that they will be helped by this and other times he should go along with them in part and sympathize when this might seem best.’ At the depth of the Constitutions, Spiritual Exercises, Spiritual Diary, Autobiography and the Letters there is an atmosphere of mutual trust, respect and love between the superior and the subjects because that is the emotional bond that makes it possible for the Society to hold together. Superior often makes the ultimate decisions where and when it pleases or displeases the subject. But when superior has to do so, he needs to try to employ love, modesty and charity that the Constitutions talk about. When there is success at the decision-making level, it means that we do pray for one another but if at all he fails to discern the will of God and in the decision-making process, there must be the spirit of forgiveness and healing. It makes us more trustworthy.
A few months back, there was an article in the Jivan based on the community life which logically reasoned out how community can be a hindrance to ministerial life. I do not wish to agree or disagree with the views of the author. The author has put forth his own perspective. To me, the apostolate I am part of, speaks volumes of my routine life. When individuals take up the ministry as the part and parcel of community activity, it builds-up the community spirit. Apostolate is the felt-learnt-integrated and shared experience. After all the goal of the society is to be at the service of humankind: for the poorest of the poor. Jesuit friendship in the Lord, our union with one another and our apostolate can tremendously enhance each other. By living together, we learn that our lives contain joy and pain, success and failure, the experiences of wisdom or foolishness, tolerance or bias, courage or fear, forgiveness or enmity. We need ultimately to remember that we are gifts to one another. This is felt when we speak simply to one another of what has been part of our ordinary living.
May be at the end of our life we will be rewarded not based on the degrees that we gain but the kind of life we live as human beings and as Jesuits.
3.) My life in the Jesuit body
We need inner transformation to live a worthwhile life in the Jesuit body. To find happiness when I converse with the other, I need to be open to changes. The spiritual ups and downs, the consolations and desolations, all become part of me when I accept them as an experience to be transformed into a better Jesuit.
In the technological world, electronic gadgets rule us. Cell phones, I-pods, radios, Laptops, flights, cars etc. own us. Perhaps we come over and turn on the television to hear an important news item but do not notice others. In other words, I fail to talk to a companion who is there by my side perhaps reflecting on something or experiencing inner turmoil. Much could be said about the human experiences of conversation, about its context, about our own experiences of it, about scriptures, reflections, dialogue, prayer etc. However, if my practical Jesuit life is not exemplary enough, then I should make an attempt to seek guidance from others. For, God is joy, happiness and love. In him we live, move and have our being.
To do justice to the topic: Jesuit community is indeed created for joy. Here we necessarily need to think and feel out of the box. We may not be able to perform what Francis Xavier or Ignatius of Loyola did. But if Francis Xavier was won over by Ignatius by those simple, humble and yet powerful biblical words- ‘what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world but suffers the loss of his soul!!?’- We too can enthuse one another, win each other over, help transform to be better human beings and Jesuits.
To converse with one another, we need sympathy. For, the soul of conversation is sympathy. This can happen only when the person is deeply interested in the other. Along with sympathetic heart, we need attentiveness and broadmindedness. It is much easier to speak than to listen. Often, we ignore the fact that in conversation we give birth to new ideas which enhances the growth of the community. We often fail in our community life; we fail to see the good in another’s views. Therefore, if we genuinely listen to another’s views and cull out the goodness then we truly will build Jesuit communities. We become the bearers of joy, peace happiness and prosperity.
The future is in our hands, the future of our lives, our work, our Society, ourselves. We as individuals and communities can answer how fruitful have we been in our communities? What do I need to learn and unlearn? What more can I do to be a communitarian, creator of joy? Effort is ours. A genuine effort will not be frowned upon and left unanswered. God will always take care of our needs. Let us be the creator of joy and happiness, peace and prosperity in our Jesuit communities.