Sacred Heart Hall, Zagreb, March 22, 2019
I want to emphasize that the mission given by the Lord is not a mission that belongs exclusively 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 stresses cooperation with others as a necessary dimension of how we conceive and practice the apostolate.
This is not simply due to the dwindling number of Jesuits. Rather, it is because of our vision of the Church, the vision of the Second Vatican Council which Pope Francis wants to carry into effect in the Church. We are all the People of God, sharing the same dignity and mission through baptism, even though we have different ways of responding to the Lord’s call.
The opposite of this vision is what Pope Francis has called over and over again the sin of “clericalism,” the attitude that believes that only an elite group of ordained men are the real Church, that they have all the answers, all the power and authority, with no need to listen, to learn, to be accountable. It is clericalism that has created the crisis of abuse in the Church, and the only way to heal the Church is to overcome clericalism.
I would also point out that it is not only priests and clerics who can have clericalist mindsets. Sometimes, lay people can be more clericalist than priests. For example, those who distrust lay leadership in ministries, and only want Jesuits to be heads, might be guilty of clericalism in some way.
I have shared this story with Jesuits, but I want to share it with you now. Two years ago, when I was in visiting a Jesuit province somewhere, there were ID cards for the participants. Some said, “[helpers]”; others said “Jesuit”. I joked and asked: “Are not Jesuits also “[helpers]”?” That was only half a joke. As you know, sometimes we, Jesuits, don’t know how to work with others, even with other Jesuits! However, the point is: Jesuits do not have “[helpers]”. Laypersons are not our “[helpers]”. We are all “[helpers]”, Jesuits and laity alike, called to serve the mission of God together.
The latest General Congregation, GC 36, articulated that mission as one of reconciliation: Reconciliation with God, within humanity and with creation. Let me just briefly say a word about each aspect of our shared mission.
Reconciliation with God. Even in a so-called “Catholic country” like Croatia, as most of you are aware, there is a growing secularism and distancing from the faith as well as increasing ignorance of it, a distrust of the Church, partly because of the recent scandals. This secularism is, however, a sign of the times. One good aspect of secularism is that faith now is no longer simply a cultural given, but it becomes a free choice once again. In some ways, we are returning to the situation of the early Church, and we are called to practice in word and action what Pope Francis has called “first proclamation.”
“First proclamation” means proclaiming the heart of the Gospel, the mercy and compassion of God in Christ, by word and action. Many people, even those who are supposedly Catholic, have not really heard the Gospel as Good News, identifying the Church only with rules, practices, institutions... How can we accompany better those who are searching and practise first proclamation, the convincing, attractive proclamation of the Good News of God’s love and mercy, in our different ministries and professions?
Second, reconciliation with humanity. Many of us are deeply disturbed by a world in which divisions, polarization, violence, fear of those who are different seems to be growing. In so many places of the world, populist leaders come to power promoting hatred and fear, saying that certain kinds of people are not really fully human, whether they be migrants, refugees, so-called drug addicts, indigenous peoples. Part of our mission today then means paying special attention to those who are being excluded, marginalized, and dehumanized, so that we can be near them, walk with them, serve them, defend them.
Finally, reconciliation with creation. As Pope Francis has emphasized in Laudato Sí’, the way human beings now produce and consume and the spread of a “throw-away” culture have gravely harmed the environment and threaten the sustainability of our planet for future generations. Those with the expertise need to search for and promote more sustainable economic models and policies. Nevertheless, all of us need to begin where we are, with lifestyles that counter the “throw-away” culture, in our personal lives, our families, and in our institutions and places of work.
Friends, we are helpers sharing the mission of God, and because of that, we can go forward together with hope, because we know that it is God’s mission, not ours. We can only really cooperate in mission if we believe that our God is the living God who is at work in this world with all its challenges, and that the Spirit of the Lord is doing something to bring about new life, joy and hope in the world.
Thank you very much once again. I end by thanking you for your friendship, your love and concern for us Jesuits, and your great patience with our weaknesses as well. Let us continue to support one another and encourage one another, as servants of Christ’s mission and friends in the Lord.