[Editor’s Note: The Society of Jesus will hold the first plenary assembly of its 36th General Congregation, the highest governing authority in the order, in Rome on Oct. 3. The assembly will elect a new superior for the order, as Father Adolfo Nicolas has announced his intention to resign, and will also set policy for the Jesuits around the world.
In this essay, Father Kinley Tshering, superior of the Jesuit province based in Darjeeling, India, lays out his hopes for the General Congregation and the broader direction of the Jesuit order.]
The Society of Jesus has reached its 476 year since its foundation in 1540. It has had 35 General Congregations and elected 30 Jesuit Father Generals. This General Congregation is the highest legislative body of the Jesuits, higher than even the General when the congregation is in session.
So on October 2, 2016 when these Jesuits who are elected or by virtue of their office meet in the 36th General Congregation, they will elect the thirty-first Father General and also new legislative guidelines.
They’ll discuss the new challenges that face the world today and strategize among themselves for the immediate and long-term future. This time, they’ll do all that against a huge backdrop.
The “Francis Effect” which is viewing the Church from a totally different perspective is also challenging the Jesuits. Not only is Francis a pope, but he is a Jesuit pope, and therefore the challenges are doubled in many ways for the Jesuits.
He knows the Jesuits as an insider and can make demands now as the outsider, the pope. He will ask the Jesuits to “to smell like the sheep.” How far will the Jesuits want to go, and how deep, are the important questions.
In the 32nd General Congregation, the Jesuits faced a huge paradigm shift towards promoting a faith that does justice. Many individual Jesuits laid down their lives all over the world for this cause, but did we go far enough as a body?
This issue will remain very relevant as long as there are poor in the world. The gulf between Lazarus and Dives is still very much a chasm.
Today we are faced with dwindling numbers like all other religious groups. We cannot keep doing the same things like yesterday. With limited men and materials, we need to focus our energy on only what we can do. We should leave the areas where others are capable of doing the work, and doing it even better than us.
We must let go of our securities and venture into the deep, with trust in the Lord as the logo of the general congregation depicts.
The greatest tool the Jesuits have is our spiritual heritage, the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. We need to use this instrument with all our heart, mind and soul and let all our actions flow from this wisdom. However, it might be costly!
We might have to leave our boats on the shore again and move into the deep. We have to be unencumbered by the baggage of our own history and be once more men on the move, never satisfied with the status quo but hungering and thirsting for more, the Magis.
I am confident that the Society of Jesus is going to come out stronger from the 36th General Congregation with the blessings of the Holy Spirit and the charism of Pope Francis. We will continue to make a difference in the world, in serving the Church faithfully and humbly leaving our own individual lives in his hands.