By Ignatius Plato
Father Brian Christopher, SJ, served as the delegate for the USA Central and Southern (UCS) Province at the most recent Congregation of Procurators (CP71) in May. As he carries the experience back with him to his ministry in Belize, he shares his hopes for a Society of Jesus that continues to listen to the Holy Spirit.
First and foremost, Fr. Christopher reflected on the Congregation’s spiritual focus.
“The Congregation typically lasts one week, but they extended it to two weeks so that we could begin with a weeklong retreat,” Fr. Christopher said. “This was the first time they had done it that way.”
This gave the Jesuits time to reflect on the Holy Spirit at work in their ministries and the global Society.
“The topics we were discussing can get a bit heady sometimes,” Fr. Christopher said. “The retreat allowed us to get out of our heads and into our hearts, so that we could do an honest discernment. It created an atmosphere of real listening both to the Holy Spirit and to the experiences of Jesuits from all parts of the world.”
While Fr. Christopher cannot reveal specifics about the Congregation before a final report is released by the Jesuit Curia, he did report that the conversations were cause for optimism. One topic discussed at length was collaboration, in all its forms.
“Collaboration is an important issue for us today,” he said. “On the one hand, it is very natural for us as Jesuits. We think of our mission in terms of co-laboring with Christ. On the other hand, in many of our works, we may only have one or two Jesuits present, and this challenges both Jesuits and lay leaders to understand our roles in collaboration.”
Part of this perspective comes from Fr. Christopher’s own ministry in Belize, in which collaboration and communication make big differences.
“In Belize, I’ve learned that our ministries are not these singular, personal missions, disconnected from one another,” Fr. Christopher said. “We serve one mission – Christ’s mission – Jesuits and laypersons alike. From the very beginnings of the Society of Jesus, lay partners have played key roles in our different works. We are beginning to understand, at a deep level, that collaboration is not just about compensating for having fewer Jesuits. Lay people bring something essential to the work.” But, he added, “Collaboration also brings challenges that need to be addressed, such as the definition of roles and challenges to our identity as Jesuits.”
Father Christopher also felt the Holy Spirit at work during discussions on the Universal Apostolic Preferences (UAPs). He noted that, while Jesuits have been using the UAPs as a guide in their ministries, there is a point at which some Jesuits struggle to look beyond the UAPs as a kind of checklist of “more stuff we have to do.”
“The UAPs are meant to guide our discernment as communities and as apostolic works,” Fr. Christopher said. “But not every Jesuit is going to work with the Spiritual Exercises, the poor, the youth, and the earth, all in one ministry – that would be too much. As I understand the Preferences, we are all – as individuals, communities, and works – expected to listen to the four cries that the Holy Spirit sends us though the UAPs. If we do that, we may begin to find invitations to change what we do and how we do it.”
Father Christopher hopes that Jesuits recognize the Holy Spirit at work in the Preferences.
“The UAPs came out of a very long process of discernment as a global Society, and they are meant to lead us back into discernment in our respective local contexts.” He added, “Some say that the UAPs are not very inspiring statements as they are phrased. Fair enough. But perhaps they are not meant to be inspiring in themselves; rather, it is the Holy Spirit that does the inspiring if we take this invitation to discernment seriously.”
Father Christopher said that in terms of his ministry in Belize, where he serves as the Jesuit superior, his biggest CP71 takeaway is communication.
“Learning how to talk honestly and frankly with one another is key,” he said. “Ideology can really get in the way of honest communication. Maybe it is a symptom of the world we live in. But if reconciliation is at the heart of our mission – reconciliation with God, with others, and with the earth. If we are going to be reconcilers, then we have to start ‘at home,’ so to speak. We have to begin in our Jesuit communities and in our works. I suspect this fills a lot of us with fear. I know it does me!”
But Fr. Christopher ended on a hopeful note. “Fr. Sosa encouraged us – as have our documents going back to the beginnings of the Society – to keep our eyes fixed on Christ, poor and humble. When we do that, we learn who we are. The UAPs help us do this. Discernment helps us do this. When we meet together at the foot of the cross like that, we are reminded that we are all in this mission together.”
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