Our educational institutions are part of the human effort to bring about the germination of the seed of the Kingdom of God in history. As we’ve contemplated in the meditation on the incarnation of the Spiritual Exercises, the triune God has committed deeply to the redemption of humanity; when he sees and hears the cry of humans, he returns it to us as a calling, invitation or appeal to collaborate in his commitment to redemption.
The 36th General Congregation took up this appeal and confirmed that we’re called to be companions in a mission of universal reconciliation and justice, born of the merciful love of God and put in motion by Him through the incarnation, so that all human beings can live in peace, with full lives and in harmony with the environment.
Aware of people’s difficult living conditions, we take on reconciliation as a mission of hope. As ministers of reconciliation, we’re messengers of hope for the future, called to cure personal wounds, to find new paths for producing goods and models of consumption that respect environmental balance. We seek new paths that generate a change in social relationships to favour improved living conditions for each human being, so that peoples can live in freedom and dignity, and with mutual respect.
Our mission comes from the Christian faith. It is a service of reconciliation and justice born of the life of Christ, and it must be completed in his way, according to the conditions of our world. Reconciliation and justice are but a single mission. True reconciliation demands justice. Therefore, the search for social justice and the creation of a culture of dialogue between cultures and religions are part of this service of reconciliation among human beings, between human beings and creation and between human beings and God.
These three faces of the service of reconciliation are always united. True reconciliation with God is impossible, unless it comes with reconciliation and justice among humans and between humans and creation.
Of course, service of reconciliation and justice means building bridges to allow for dialogue. We know that the task of building bridges, or of ‘being bridges’ in contexts of conflict, means being stepped on by both sides of the fight. That is the price of our service and, as we try and follow Jesus’ example, we’re ready to pay it.
This view of the mission asks us for personal and institutional conversion, it pushes us to rethink our evangelisation strategies, how we carry out our pastoral activity, our educational model and how we contribute to the transformation of current social, political and economic relationships that are obstacles to the possibility of a life of dignity for all.
Education that paves the way for understanding the world we live in
The service of reconciliation starts with understanding the world we live in, our home. In addition, the task of the educator, and in particular our educational institutions, is to help younger generations find their place in the world and before God, so that they can project their personal and social development, helping to build a better world.
This need to profoundly understand our world in order to offer the greatest and best service to the Glory of God is why we see our mission as an intellectual apostolate. We want to understand human beings and the world in all their complexity, so that human beings can configure the world in a way that is more compassionate, and therefore more divine.
If we make such a great investment in intellectual training, it is because we want Jesuits and our companions in this mission to be capable of understanding and thinking for themselves in each situation or context they face. In truth, we need to be true intellectuals in the world of human and social sciences, in social analysis, in education or in pedagogy, and in each apostolic field we find ourselves in. Simply working in higher education, in a school or in a research centre doesn’t make us ‘intellectuals’. Becoming a ‘thinker’ in a certain discipline requires an ongoing process.
For those that share the mission of the Society of Jesus, being an ‘intellectual’ means being an effective instrument of the apostolate. Being true ‘intellectuals’ in our apostolic mission allows us to understand the world and its challenges, so we can proclaim the Good News in a way that’s pertinent, attractive and transformative. Education is truly effective when it manages to incorporate this dimension of the intellectual apostolate.
This is an edited extract from Jesuit Fr General Arturo Sosa’s address to the International Congress For Jesuit Education Delegates in Rio de Janeiro, 20 October 2017. The full address, titled ‘Jesuit Education: Forming Human Beings in Harmony with their Fellows, with Creation and with God’, can be read here.