Tuesday, October 18, 2016

'Black Pope' urges Jesuits to be bold, men of depth

The first homily by the newly elected Superior General of the Society of Jesus, Arturo Sosa SJ, stressed his reflections on the mission of the Society of Jesus, writes Fr James Martin SJ, who observed three main points in the address.

Often a pope’s first homily after his election is seen as a preview of his pontificate. 

This is also the case for other Catholic leaders, such as cardinals and bishops, as well as superiors of religious orders. 

Their first homilies are often taken as programmatic overviews of their hopes.

Of course this overlooks the long tradition that the homily usually centres on the daily Gospel, which has its own particular theme. So, for example, if the Gospel for the day speaks about dietary laws, and the homilist speaks on that topic, it does not mean that his time in office will focus on dietary laws.

However, if he departs from the Gospel to emphasise certain themes, he may indeed be reflecting on his hopes for the future.

So it was striking that the newly elected Superior General of the Society of Jesus, Arturo Sosa SJ, touched only lightly on the Gospel in his first homily at the Mass of Thanksgiving at the Church of the Gesù in Rome on Saturday.

To me it seemed as if there were three main points:

First, Jesuits are to be bold. The theme of the 36th General Congregation is “Rowing into the Deep,” taken from the passage in which Jesus asks Peter in the Gospel of Luke (5:4) to take his fishing boat into deep water, a theme repeated by Pope Francis in 2014 on the 200th anniversary of the restoration of the Jesuit Order.

In the Gospel passage, Jesus asks Peter, who has been fishing all night with no success, to row into the middle of the Sea of Galilee.

There is an “audacity” in doing so, since we believe that with God’s help, we can do “not only the improbable but the impossible,” in Fr Sosa’s words. For Peter to return to the spot where he had just fished and find a plentiful catch would certainly have seemed improbable, indeed impossible, to the experienced fisherman.

But “nothing is impossible” for God, as the Angel Gabriel said to Mary (Lk 1:37). Jesuits and their colleagues are to be fearless as we confront things that seem almost hopeless, impossible, in today’s world.

Second, Jesuits are to be men of depth. Father Sosa emphasized a theme that Father Adolfo Nicolás, his predecessor as Superior General, repeatedly stressed. Jesuits need to have “extraordinary intellectual depth” to think creatively about how we can respond to Christ’s call. We are not meant to be dilettantes, but men deeply grounded in the spiritual life, in learning and, especially, in our relationship with Christ.

Third, Jesuits are to collaborate. We are companions with Christ (as the original name of the Society, the Compañia de Jesús makes clear) but we are also companions with other men and women. And we want to collaborate not in stingy way—as in “We will allow you to collaborate with us”--but in a generous way, knowing that the mission of Christ is one to be shared joyfully.

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