“DO NOT SHRINK YOUR VISION!” – ARTURO SOSA, SJ
January 18, 2024
Almost half a millennium has passed since its foundation, yet passion, vibrance and a sense of renewal are pulsing powerfully through the heart of the Society of Jesus, and flowing into every aspect of its life and mission, as fresh energy is pumped into the formulation of Province apostolic plans the world over.
As we speak, over 120 delegates and expert speakers – Jesuits, lay partners in mission and other religious – are gathered in Rome from almost every Jesuit Province worldwide, listening, sharing and praying together at the conference for Apostolic Planning for Renewal and Transformation.
Today, on the second day of the four-day gathering, Fr Arturo Sosa SJ, Superior General of the Society of Jesus, addressed the assembly with strong and concrete words of encouragement, as he spoke of Province Planning as a pathway to hope and renewal – a vibrant and exciting opportunity, not simply an administrative requirement imposed from above, but a real opportunity for renewal and change.
The processes of deepening, growth and renewal have been ongoing in many different areas ever since the Society’s General Congregation (GC36) seven years ago, and Apostolic Planning has served as a vitally important instrument, Fr Sosa emphasised. It is indeed a call to conversion and overall renewal of the Society at every level.
One key ingredient to a process of real and lasting epochal change is effective grounding in a deep and living relationship with the Holy Spirit through prayer and spiritual communication. “We are not a company or an NGO,” said Fr Sosa, “but an apostolic body that plans spiritually and not only managerially.”
The Curia of the Society of Jesus has worked closely with Dr Christina Kheng, Lecturer at the East Asian Pastoral Institute and consultant in apostolic planning for the Jesuit Conference of Asia Pacific and the General Curia, to help share this process of apostolic planning with the Society worldwide, by passing on her unique way of blending key insights from managerial forms of planning with Ignatian charismatic inspiration. Dr Kheng addressed the conference yesterday, and the official launch of her book ‘Welcoming the Spirit – A Communal Discernment Approach to Pastoral Planning’ will take place later today.
Fr Sosa went on to address the Society’s Universal Apostolic Preferences which are now entering a second phase. He places them in a new light, placing a new emphasis on five different and radical calls to conversion.
1. A conversion to stop working sectorially
Fr Sosa called for a departure from the tendency for different apostolates to work in isolation, and to move towards a different way of working in synchronicity and collaboration with other works, resulting in integration and a far more effective outcome. These platforms, he said, require a balance between passionate commitment and indifference. This requires conversion of heart, mind and will at every level and will result in “the willingness of persons and works to make themselves freely available to enhance the common mission.”
“The apostolic secretaries at the General Curia (higher education, primary and secondary education, service of faith and social justice and ecology) are promoting networking as a way of exploiting the potential synergies between our apostolic works. But it is not enough, therefore, I would like to encourage you, as apostolic planners, to have as a key objective of these processes the convergence on common focuses of interest that will allow us to establish synergies and make better use of the resources we have at our disposal.”
2. A conversion to movement
The verbs used in the UAPs imply and call for ongoing action and every Province Plan requires forward-looking and permanent movement and agility “that allow us to keep up with the rhythm of the Holy Spirit”.
3. A conversion to the Holy Spirit
For the second time, Fr Sosa stressed the centrality of, and indeed the Society’s dependence on the Holy Spirit as the only guidance that will take us forward, through the use of spiritual conversation and real discernment. “This means that we need to learn and practice forms of discernment in common adapted to the particular conditions in which we make apostolic decisions, without being tempted to label any method we put into practice as discernment. What is fundamental is listening to the Spirit. Apostolic planning puts flesh on the inspiration of the Spirit”, Fr Sosa said.
4. A conversion to each other
With reference to his phrase “life-mission”, Fr Sosa explained “I am deeply convinced that our life and the mission to which we give ourselves are totally intertwined with each other.” Apostolic planning “cannot only look at what we do; it must drink at the source of who we are. We are not only human-doers but human beings.” Without this healthy balance, overtiredness becomes a threat, stealing away vitality and causing burn-out and fragmented relationships.
“Apostolic planning done in a discerning way is an effective help to overcome work overload and to find a restored life-mission balance in communities and teams, to find joy, consolation and happiness even in the midst of complex, socially tense and demanding situations. Moreover, it will be a way to attract vocations to the Society and authentic companions in mission.”
5. A conversion to planning itself
Good planning and the selection of clear priorities is essential. “We cannot hide the enormous difficulty we have in making choices, in making clear decisions, especially when it comes to apostolates with a long tradition over a period of time or in the Province”, Fr Sosa insisted. “You, as those responsible for apostolic planning in your Conferences/Provinces/Regions can contribute with your leadership to enthuse and accompany planning processes as spiritual experiences.”
And here, Fr Sosa had a word for those planning in contexts of downsizing. “Please do not shrink your vision. We need a vision that is broad, bold, creative… Keep this kind of vision alive and well nourished. Don’t let the pessimism derived from smaller numbers lead to shrinking and narrowing the vision.”
Fr Sosa stressed the importance and value of collaboration as crucial to the Society and its mission, and that misconceptions must be overcome. The perception of the collaborator as just an ‘emergency measure’ or the perception that Jesuits and collaborators are no different from each other collapses the richness of the diversity and potential that different partners bring to the table, each with their own unique identity and vocation.
“The proposal I make to you is to move towards a collaboration that starts from the recognition of and respect for particular vocations within the People of God and humanity”, Fr Sosa said. “Forming the same body in mission, made up of people who respond to different vocations or, better, to different states of life, and at the same time contributing to the mission of the Church through the apostolates born of the charism of the Society of Jesus, can open us to understand the richness and enormous potential of collaboration in mission as a characteristic of the Society of Jesus today. It can also help to confirm the identity of each of its members, as well as of the apostolic works.”
“We have a long way to go to develop a broader and deeper understanding of partnership and to put it into practice. I ask you to reflect on this and to ensure in ongoing apostolic planning processes that there is an understanding of what we are talking about when we refer to partnership.”
This prioritizes investment in the excellent formation of collaborators to become real companions and partners in mission, and a formation of Jesuits that goes beyond the traditional emphasis on theology and philosophy. Formation of companions in mission should be included in apostolic plans, Fr Sosa said, as should vocations promotion.
Contradictory as it may seem, rigorous planning, wide consultation and generous time frames will still not be enough for successful planning if there is no room for the element of surprise and space for the unexpected. Minority voices or extreme ideas may be among the very things we are being invited to embrace, that push us to change. “Sometimes the Holy Spirit unbalances us in order to push us to change”, said Fr Sosa.
In a time when reconciliation and justice are still at the heart of the mission of the Society of Jesus, Fr Sosa concluded, Jesuits are called more than ever to transform the hearts and minds of men and women of our time and, together with companions in mission, to explore new and exciting horizons and “make the best possible contribution to the evangelising mission of a Church that is becoming synodal, the People of God walking together, pointing the way to the reconciliation of all things in Christ.”