David Lonsdale SJ rounds off our series on religious orders with a look al the Ignatian life
RECENTLY six of my fellowJesuits at the University of Central America in San Salvador, together with a member of their domestic staff and her teenage daughter, were brutally murdered in the early hours of the morning. The murders were carried out by a gang of about 30 armed men at a time when the university campus was under strict curfew and surrounded by government troops.
One thing seems clear; the Jesuits were murdered because of their commitment to the poor people of El Salvador and to justice. In
this they were following in the footsteps of Archbishop
Romero, assassinated in San Salvador in 1980, and of others who have died in the same cause.
How does the Society of Jesus respond to the challenges of the present age? That is one of the questions 1 was asked to consider in this article. The martyrs of El Salvador are an eloquent answer.
In the mid-1970s the Jesuits as a body committed themselves to meeting the challenges of the modern world which they characterised in terms of faith and justice. The contemporary world has two notable features: on the one hand, practical and ideological atheism, an absence of faith, both in traditionally Christian countries and among the millions of people to whom the gospel has never been preached. On the other hand, we witness institutionalised injustice, oppression and contempt for human dignity on a scale so vast as to be almost beyond comprehension.
For the last 15 years the Society of Jesus as a body has committed itself to a response to this world: preaching the gospel together with and inseparable from the promotion of justice.
What is it to be a Jesuit? It is to know that one is a sinner, yet called to be a companion of Jesus as Ignatius was . . . What is it to be a companion of Jesus today? It is to engage, under the standard of the cross, in the crucial struggle of our time: the struggle for faith and that struggle for injustice which it includes, (Society of Jesus, General Congregation 32, Decree 2).
The forms in which Jesuits in different parts of the world embody this commitment naturally vary considerably, according to local needs and the resources available.
The martyrs of San Salvador are outstanding examples of an explicit dedication to the poor and the search for justice with integrity. For many Jesuits, a commitment to justice with faith has meant moving into entirely new areas of ministry and radical changes of lifestyle as expressions of solidarity with poor and oppressed people. For others, it has meant giving existing apostolates a new direction, so that the pursuit of faith with justice explicitly permeates their lives and ministries.
All these developments are entirely in line with what Ignatius Loyola (1491-1556) envisaged for the order which he and his companions established in the mid-sixteenth century. Ignatius's personal attachment to Jesus led him to evangelisation, to proclaiming the good news of God, in imitation of Jesus.
His vision was universal in scope. He saw the need bra body of apostolic men which would have the flexibility and the resources to respond readily to the needs of people both within and outside the Church anywhere in the world.
Mission was to have first priority, and through 450 years Jesuits have engaged in mission, both in conventional settings within Church structures and in the more marginal and sometimes dangerous borderlands where faith meet unbelief, the Church meets the world, Christianity meets culture and science, and Christian spirituality and theology meet those of other faiths, sometimes in friendly dialogue, sometimes in violent confrontation.
In the forms in which Ignatius structured and developed the Society of Jesus, he broke both with monasticism and with the conventual religious life of the friars, though he wanted to retain a mendicant type of poverty and a community life. The emphasis on mission and being ready to travel to any part of the world in response to apostolic needs meant dispensing with choral office in common, and searching for forms of government which are flexible and allow decisions to be made speedily, wisely and effectively.
Giving priority to mission, however, does not mean that Jesuits are merely activists. Ignatius insisted that they are to be truly contemplative, with an ability to find God in the solitude and silence of the mountain top but especially in the hubbub ot the market place.
Another major part of Ignatius's legacy, and one which has once again come into its own, is the slim book of the Spiritual E■ereises. It is essentially a handbook for retreat guides and spiritual directors, based largely on Ignatius's own experience, especially during his ten-month stay in a cave at Manresa in northern Exercises T are a school of prayers, discipleship and discernment. In them Ignatius offers a framework which enables one person to accompany and guide another through a critical time of conversion, personal reorientation and commitment in Christian discipleship. [hey are a distillation of the central elements of lgnation spirituality, and a key factor both in Jesuit formation and in an Ignatian approach to apostolic ministry.
What responses, however, are the Jesuits in Britain making to the challenges of today? For a century up to about 1970 the British Jesuits, along with other religious orders, committed resources to education.
More recently the trend is towards greater diversity in ministries, according to the resources and talents of the members of the order.
But there is another dimension that also needs to be stressed: the recognition that the Society of Jesus is not the only embodiment of the lgnatian spirit, and that it should not try to carry out its mission in isolation. For greater effectiveness, Jesuits increasingly need to collaborate in ministry on an equal footing with other members of the Ignatian 'family', both lay and gio addition the social justice religious. s.
issues in Britain are less clear-cut than in other societies where abject poverty, repression and contempt for human dignity are more obviously built into the social and political fabric. This complexity in itself calls for nuanced and varied ministries from Jesuits who want to preach the gospel and who see the search for justice as an integral part of that task.