Monday, July 31, 2006

Father's Day

On this, the 450th anniversary of the death of Ignatius of Loyola, a happy patronal feast to the many, many Jesuit readers and friends of these pages.

Ostensibly to commemorate the milestone, the Superior-General of the Society, Fr Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, gave an interview to Zenit.

Observant readers will remember that plans are underway for the 35th General Congregation of the Company of Jesus, which will open in Rome in the first week of 2008.

The marquee agenda item of GC35 is the election of Kolvenbach's successor (previously reported on here).

Snips from Father-General:
[Kolvenbach on retirement]: St. Ignatius saw valid reasons to prescribe that the office of superior general be for life. And, of course, it cannot be denied that it entails certain advantages.

However, that decision of St. Ignatius was made in the 16th century when life expectancy was much shorter than now. Ignatius died at 65, a rather advanced age for the time, after having been superior general for 15 years. His two immediate successors died respectively at 53 and 62 years of age, after a generalate that in both cases was reduced to seven years.

Compared to them, my period as superior general is already longer than 22 years, and if God so wills, in 2008 I will be about to celebrate 80 years of age and 25 as superior general. These are circumstances which question legitimately the appropriateness of putting an end to such a long period.

Q: There have been ups and downs in the relationship between the Society and the Pope. Why?

Father Kolvenbach: In the framework of a special relationship between the Pope and the Society of Jesus -- desired and professed by both parties -- it is understandable and human that historical circumstances influence the tenor of this relationship.

On the other hand, as Pope Paul VI said so affectionately, in an address in which points of attention were not lacking in regard to certain tendencies he observed in the Society. The Jesuits have always been in the trenches, at the crossroads where problems have been debated that did not always have a clear answer.

It is not strange that, in the service of the Church, some abandoned the security of the trenches to launch themselves defenseless beyond the orthodox demarcations in search of new answers to new problems.

The case of Father Mateo Ricci is enlightening. Profoundly knowledgeable of the Chinese culture and mentality, he made the effort to show that reverence to ancestors was not an idolatrous worship as was said in the West, but a social and family custom which did not contradict the Christian faith or justify the denial of baptism to those who remembered their ancestors in that way.

This position made him the target of criticisms by other religious and, finally, of Rome's condemnation. There is no doubt that this closed the door to many possible converts. Only in the 20th century was Ricci recognized as ahead of his age in the proclamation of the Gospel and as a precursor of inculturation in the missionary endeavor.

Not all the Jesuits who have been called to Rome can attribute to themselves Ricci's preparation and nobility of intentions, but neither have those who have served the Church with faithfulness and dedication been few, who were not recognized until a long time after. Father Teilhard de Chardin is, perhaps, one of the most representative cases....

Q: Will some juridical formula be studied, during the next congregation, to integrate lay men and women in the Society of Jesus?

Father Kolvenbach: The last general congregation gave it a green light so that for a decade, on an experimental basis, the provinces were able to establish groups of men and women associates united with a contractual agreement without that implying integration in the body of the Society.

In this way their lay vocation is safeguarded even when they take part in the Jesuits' apostolic work. The experience of these last years will be subjected, without a doubt, to discernment by the general congregation.
Again, a happy founder's day to all the sons of Ignatius.