Last week we held the Extended Consult at Peter Canisius House in Sydney. There were around 75 people present from around the Province: consultors, superiors, delegates, chairs and heads of ministry. There were more lay people than Jesuits, all leaders within the Province.
We were fortunate to have with us Mark Raper SJ, current president of our Jesuit Asia Pacific Conference; Tony Moreno SJ, presently Provincial of the Philippines, who is replacing Mark as president later this year; and Danny Huang SJ, Father General’s Assistant for Asia Pacific. Each of them provided an international perspective during our gathering. Their presence reminded us of the international Society we belong to.
The days were full: group conversations, plenary sessions, input, prayer and a Eucharist each day. However, what struck me most over the days was the importance of spiritual conversation and how deeply it was appreciated.
Spiritual conversation goes back, at least for Jesuits, to our early beginnings when Ignatius and his close friends were trying to hear what God was asking of them. They used this process as they wrestled with making important decisions.
Spiritual conversation encourages people to gather in small groups and listen attentively. It works best when people have time to pray and consider a particular topic or question before they meet as a group.
Each person in the group is then invited to share their reflection in turn without comment or response from anyone else. After everyone has shared, the group might pause in quiet before moving around the group listening once more.
The process works. It allows everyone to share while it also disciplines the group, allowing each person to only speak only for a short time, e.g. three to five minutes. It invites deeper and more personal sharing, avoiding comment or discussion.
It lays a good foundation for decision-making because it encourages each person to listen attentively to what stirs or touches them and what stirs or touches others.
We live in a civil society and church where issues can quickly become polarised and political and where people can feel pressure to argue for a particular side. Holding that ground where one can listen to many, sometimes conflicting, voices is not easy.
Yet, in seeking that space we find our hearts can open. In protecting that space others’ hearts can also open. Our personal and collective freedom is enlarged and deepened in such encounters.
While important decisions lie before us in the Province, I believe the Extended Consult confirmed that we will make better decisions if in a structured way we first pray and then listen carefully to ourselves and one another.
Fr Brian F. McCoy SJ, Provincial