December 6, 2018
My first word to all of you is “Thank you.” I wish to offer my personal thanks, but also the gratitude of the whole Society of Jesus and particularly the Jesuits of Vietnam. Thank you very much for your generosity, your sharing of your time, your talents, and your treasure. Without you, the Jesuits cannot fulfill the mission entrusted to us by God and the Church.
But I want to insist that this mission is not a mission that belongs to the Society of Jesus. The Lord calls all of us to the same mission, even though we have different ways of fulfilling it. That is why the Society of Jesus today wants to emphasize “collaboration.” Let me emphasize only three points about collaboration.
First, we are all collaborators: both Jesuits and lay partners. Some years ago, when I was in a meeting in Peru, there were ID cards for the participants. Some said, “Jesuit”; others said “collaborator.” I joked and asked: “Are not the Jesuits also collaborators?” That was only half a joke. As you know, sometimes Jesuits don’t know how to work with others! But the point is: Jesuits do not have collaborators. You are not our collaborators. We are all collaborators, Jesuits and lay people alike, called to serve the mission of God together.
Second, collaboration is necessary because the Church is the People of God and the Body of Christ. Collaboration is not something we Jesuits are interested in simply because the number of Jesuits is getting smaller. If that were the case, then maybe we would not need to emphasize collaboration in Vietnam, where there are so many Jesuits! No, we promote collaboration, not because of our need, but because of God’s call. Every one of us here has been called by God to share in God’s mission of bringing new life, joy and hope to the world.
This is at the heart of the teaching of Vatican II, which insists that all the members of the Church form the People of God, equal in dignity and sharing the same vocation and mission. We have different ways of fulfilling that mission, which is why some of the baptized are lay, some are priests, others are religious. But what we have in common is more important than our differences. It is this call of God that makes us collaborators of one another.
We need to rediscover the beautiful image of St. Paul of the Church as the Body of Christ. By baptism, we all become part of the one body. We are different parts, and we play different roles. The eye is not the hand; the foot is not the ear. But we need all parts, working together, collaborating together, so that, in this world, the Church can act as the Body of Christ, the whole Body giving this broken, suffering, lost world, the loving care of the Good Shepherd.
Third, for collaboration to work effectively, we all need formation, especially in Ignatian spirituality and discernment. Collaboration does not simply meaning working together, but sharing the same spirit. We cannot truly collaborate with each other if we are not united by our personal relationship to Christ and our desire to follow Him and do God’s will. There are many good Catholics and Christians who have religiosity, but not spirituality! They go to Mass, they recite the rosary and their prayers, they have devotions to Mary and the saints, they serve in the Church—but they do not have a deep, personal relationship with the living God, with the risen Lord!
Ignatian spirituality helps us to encounter and to experience the God of love, to know Jesus personally, to love him more deeply and to desire to follow him more closely. It teaches us how to practice discernment, which means searching for God’s will in our lives and in our world. It involves learning to discern together, not just to have business meetings, but to pray together, to share, to listen to the Spirit moving in each one of us. If we are formed together in Ignatian spirituality, then we will not just be working together, we will truly be partners in God’s mission together.
I hope that in the different ministries of the Vietnamese Province, there will always be ongoing formation for the Jesuits and the lay people who work together. I hope that in the parish councils, in the student ministry groups, in the social ministries groups, there will be more time for prayer together, for spiritual conversation, for discernment in common, for seeking the will of God together.
Let me end by emphasizing that if we live and practice collaboration well, we give important witness to the Gospel in our divided world. If Jesuits cannot work together, if we compete with each other or treat our work as our private kingdom, we cannot inspire others to collaborate. If we are guilty of what Pope Francis calls clericalism, if we insist on our authority over others, and do not know how to listen to or serve with lay people, we create scandal and discourage others. Collaboration is not always easy, because we are different, and because we are all sinners. But, if all of us, lay and Jesuits, can work and serve together, in the same spirit, with care and support for one another, being patient and forgiving each other, this itself is a witness of the power of the Gospel. In a world of hatred and divisions, we can show that the Gospel gives us the power to become a new humanity.
Once again, thank you very much for your friendship and your generous partnership in serving God’s mission. Let us continue serving God’s mission together, as the People of God and the Body of Christ, sharing the same spirit and giving witness to the beauty and the power of the Gospel of Christ.