General Congregation 36

Three words from Pope Francis

Fr Brian McCoy SJ reflects on the Pope's message to the delegates at the General Congregation.

I find I am easily moved when I listen to Ennio Morricone’s soundtrack to the 1986 film, The Mission. This is probably because the film and its music capture a particular Jesuit and indigenous context of joy and suffering I can identify with.

How much more was I moved one morning during the General Congregation when I found myself listening to a fellow Jesuit and violinist begin our morning prayer with this music. Of course, I was also being moved by being in the company of Jesuits from around the world, along with Pope Francis.

The music to The Mission captures for me something of what Francis once said of us, that we Jesuits are ‘contradictory and inconsistent men, sinners, all. But men who want to walk under the gaze of Jesus.’

It was as though the music was reminding us of our past — a mixture of joy, sin and suffering in our mission, along with the mix of discernments and decisions, good and bad. It seemed to prepare us for what lay ahead: a Jesuit Pope’s reminder of what we are now called to be in mission.

GC36_Pope Francis

Fr McCoy meets Pope Francis in the Aula.

We began with our usual morning prayer including, this day, prayers in different languages for the Pope now among us. After we finished the morning prayer we received his blessing. He then delivered a prepared formal statement.

After a coffee break we had a session where we could ask him questions and then, finally, we met him individually. He gave up his morning to be with us.

His statement is now available in a number of languages (translated from the original Spanish) and can be summarised in three key words: consolation, compassion and discernment.

He reminded us of ‘the true work of the Society: to console the faithful people of God’. Then, ‘we can always take a step forward in letting ourselves be moved by the Lord crucified, by him in person, by him present in so many of our brothers and sisters who are suffering — the great majority of humankind!’

Finally, discernment: ‘Service of the good spirit and of discernment makes us men of the Church — not clericalists, but ecclesiastics — men “for others”, with nothing of our own which cuts us off from others, but rather everything that is ours placed in common and for service’.

Consolation, compassion and discernment: three words now richer in meaning.

Instead of telling us what to do in mission, as he could have, or where to go in mission, as he might have, he was now guiding us. He did not give us a new mandate or suggest new apostolic priorities.

What he did do was return us to our Ignatian foundations, encouraging us to remember our tradition and now follow the paths of consolation, compassion and discernment.

Consolation: seeking joy with others. Compassion: bringing mercy to those who suffer injustice and violence. Discernment: seeking the grace of the Good Spirit in all we do.

Over the coming days I am sure, individually and as a Congregation, we will spend more time praying and reflecting over these words from Pope Francis. I know I will.

I might also return to listen once again to the soundtrack of The Mission. It will remind me of the graces and sins of our Jesuit past but now with a Jesuit Pope inviting us into the future: ‘walking together — free and obedient — going to the peripheries where others do not reach, under Jesus’ gaze and looking to the horizon which is the ever greater glory of God, who ceaselessly surprises us’.

By Fr Brian F. McCoy SJ, Provincial