A pathway to God

Last month, two representatives from Jesuit and Ignatian Spirituality Australia (JISA), Frances Tilly and Br Ian Cribb SJ, attended the CIS conference in Rome to spend time exploring Ignatian spirituality.


By Frances Tilly, Coordinator of Mission Formation, Jesuit and Ignatian Spirituality Australia (JISA)

The Secretariat for the Service of the Faith, under the leadership of Fr James Hanvey SJ, convened the recent June conference, held in the Aula of the General Curia of the Society of Jesus in Rome, a first step towards re-establishing the CIS conferences on Ignatian spirituality. In the past, these have provided an important opportunity for scholars and practitioners to spend time exploring the riches of Ignatian Spirituality and the foundational texts of the Society.

Just over forty participants came together from across the world, witnessing to the global Society, many of whom work in Jesuit formation and Ignatian spirituality, also academics, and some younger Jesuits engaged in higher research degrees. Four women participated, academics and practitioners, from Italy, Spain and Australia. Ian Cribb SJ, Provincial Assistant for Jesuit and Ignatian Spirituality Australia (JISA), and I attended the conference. 

Fr General Arturo Sosa SJ proposed the key source text, the Formula of the Institute, as the focus. The Formula is the first written text of the fledgling Society of Jesus, the fruit of the 1539 Deliberations of the First Fathers, which became shaped into the 1540 Formula document and further developed in 1550. The Formula of the Institute was presented to and approved by Pope Paul III in 1540, and in 1550 Pope Julius confirmed the Society of Jesus. The Formula provides the foundation of the Jesuit Constitutions.

Scholarly presentations were given in English and Spanish by Jesuit academics, historians and experts in spirituality and canon law. Fr Sosa SJ gave an address about the importance of the Formula for the life and mission of the Society today. The program and dynamic of the three days took this further, with substantial and in depth considerations of the development and reading of the Formula; discernment, identity, and mission; the Spirit, the law and liturgy of Jesuit life-mission. Additional presentations were given about the Jesuit archives and the progress of the cause for the beatification of Pedro Arrupe SJ.

Br Ian Cribb SJ (left) and Frances Tilly (right).

So, as we like to ask in our Ignatian spiritual conversations, what did I hear, and what touched me, as a lay woman working in the ministry of the Spiritual Exercises, discernment, and formation, in the Australian Province? What was illuminated in the conference experience and this window into the Formula? Some personal impressions and reflections:

  1. Strength in vulnerability and openness.
    Fr General speaking of turning to this source text to find his way in his role. Saying plainly, ‘we are collaborators,’ and where would the Society be without collaboration? Naming collaboration as a means of renewing identity. Calling for serious study to be undertaken to reveal the distinctiveness of our vocations as Jesuits and lay people, affirming vocation more inclusively.
  2. Diversity and difference.
    Present from the start with the first Companions. Hallmark and strength. The imperative to bring forward the differences, not hide them, move more bravely into relationship this way, discern this way.
  3. The good spirit of our conversations.
    International small groups open, sharing, listening, with robust plenary remarks and challenges. Goodwill to engage and reflect. How can we deepen and embolden our conversations and ministry discernments?
  4. The primacy of humility, and its connection with obedience and poverty in la minima Compañía de Jesus.
    What is our giftedness, poverty, and availability, as men and women working together in our context? What freedom is invited this way, to loosen the grip of our attachments and take us deeper together in our service of others?
  5. Experience and study.
    Tremendous and infectious passion for study and research; the magis of depth inherent in the Ignatian way and its sources.
  6. Consideration of the body.
    ‘The Spirit looking for a body is often spoken of in regard to the Society and its corporate mission, incarnating it concretely today. What might be a new understanding of the nature of the body in Australia? What conversations might elicit this?
  7. Gift and the giver of the gift.
    It is God’s Society – from the beginning, the mission was experienced as given, a gift of God, as Jesus received his mission… What difference does this make to the way we hold what we do, live out our roles, and work together?
  8. Spirit in the text.
    So too, the Formula is a living text, a ‘saturated’ text, something given, inspired, with its own dynamism, greater than we experience, in excess of our control, opening new possibilities, moving us to a universal disposition.
  9. The Spiritual Exercises
    A key point of union for the first Jesuits; their common experience. They had received the Exercises from Ignatius and Peter Faber. The Exercises inform the Formula, the Constitutions. Embrace more fully being men and women of the Exercises today, and open this up, its possibilities and the lead of the Spirit for us in this dimension.
  10. Gratitude.
    I felt welcome and enlivened, and experienced curiosity, wonder, generosity, and kindness. Also confirmed in the good work and relationships of our Province.

Photo by Curia Generalizia della Compagnia di Gesù – Roma