There are some experiences we never forget. Some go deep. We not only remember their key messages but even where we were, and with whom, when we heard them. This past week provided me with one of those moments I hope I won’t forget.
I came to breakfast last Wednesday 9 November where one of my fellow Jesuits informed me of the results of the US election.
Now, I need to admit, I am still waking up at breakfast but this information did have an effect. His message certainly helped to wake me up for the table conversations that inevitably followed but it also prepared me for an even more surprising and ‘awakening’ moment later in the day.
Some of the Jesuits at the Congregation live and minister in war zones. Their lives, like those of their collaborators, face great and daily risks. So, too, do the lives of the families and church communities who live in these zones.
As we heard two of them speak about their particular situations, both quite different, a voice started to emerge within the Congregation. It was one that felt the power of their words and something of the fragile worlds in which they and many others now live.
Their stories encouraged a response, something for us to say to them and those who share with them such dangerous, unpredictable and volatile situations.
That day and in the ones that followed, this new voice became stronger and clearer. It came from our hearts. We agreed we wanted to send something out from the Congregation, a message of prayer and solidarity to those living in these and other war zones.
This resonated with those present and put heart and flesh to the more dry work of our other discussions and the demanding task of drafting new documents.
It became a counter-cultural voice, one that spoke in a challenging way to others we had shared over past weeks, particularly to that message which started my day. This voice spoke of a universal, not local, mission; as Jesuits we are prepared to go beyond our own countries to new frontiers, where needs are greatest.
It sought to repair bridges, not build walls; as Jesuits we want to courageously enter into dialogue and reconciliation, particularly seeking peace and justice in our world. It offered the sacrifice of our lives in preference to seeking personal gain or self-interest; as Jesuits we are all asked to offer such a sacrifice.
This voice calls us to that deepening of our faith journey joining us to that mission given by the Father to Ignatius, to walk with Jesus carrying his cross.
After this Congregation I will give thanks for many things; the privilege of meeting many Jesuits and learning more of their gifts and the treasures of our diversity; the hospitality of the Canisio community where I stayed; the morning prayer and liturgies; new, cross-cultural and sometimes robust conversations.
Especially, I give thanks for the opportunity to listen to Pope Francis and our new Fr General.
I will also remember those two voices I heard on 9 November. The one I prefer was a challenging word of prophecy, that ‘distinctive sign of consecrated life’ that Pope Francis has encouraged us to claim, live and use to ‘wake up the world’.
I pray the gift of this voice will remain with me and the other members of this Congregation long after we return home.
By Fr Brian F. McCoy SJ, Provincial