January 18, 2019 — The first Expanded Consult for Canada met on January 11th in Montreal, to reflect on our first six months of experience as a new Province of Canada and to participate in a first community discernment exercise to prepare ourselves for the reception of the Apostolic Preferences of the Society in March, and also to begin the apostolic planning of the new Province for next fall. The group brought together the consultors, the assistants from all the apostolic sectors of the Province and the Superior of Haiti.
For the Society of Jesus, governance is always for the sake of mission, for the greater service of our sisters and brothers. Thus, as provincial Erik Oland recently wrote to the superiors and directors of works across Canada, “mission guides governance.”
In the years since Vatican II, the Society of Jesus has been recovering ever more elements of its charism; most recently, in many parts of the world, Jesuits have been rediscovering the practice of communal discernment. In communal discernment, members of a group learn to be attentive, not only to the movements of the Spirit in themselves as individuals, but also AMONG themselves as members of the group; this helps them to experience the unity God is fostering among them for their common service of the poor and marginalized, and to better understand the “signs of the times” so as to better serve reconciliation with God, with one another, and with creation. The provincial superior’s “consult” is one of the oldest instruments of communal discernment in the Society of Jesus.
Every Jesuit Provincial superior relies, in his exercise of care for Jesuits and for their apostolic service, on the advice of four “consultors” (and in Canada two additional “consultants”) who have been appointed by the superior general to help him in his discernment. They serve as a sounding board, as a source of information and deeper understanding, and as an instrument of communal discernment in support of his leadership.
Today, the exercise of communal discernment has taken on a greater urgency for the Society of Jesus. As the 36th General Congregation put it in 2016, “We Jesuits today are engaged in a great variety of apostolates, which often demand specialization and a great deal of energy. If, however, we forget that we are one body, bound together in and with Christ, we lose our identity as Jesuits and our ability to bear witness to the Gospel…. In our individualistic and competitive age, we should remember that community plays a very special role” in our lives and ministry, “since it is a privileged place of apostolic discernment.”
This new reality of mission has given rise to a new form of the province consultation, the “expanded consultation.” This larger body is called together (usually at least once a year) when there is a need for a wider and deeper discernment of the action of the Spirit in the life and work of a Jesuit province. The expanded consultation allows for a greater contribution of the various parts of the province, “from below upwards,” to the provincial’s exercise of leadership and care for the mission.In Canada, the expanded consultation gathers not only the consultors, but also the assistants for every apostolic sector of the province, plus the superior for Haïti. The first expanded consultation for Canada met this past week, on January 11th, to reflect on our first six months of experience as the new province of Canada, and to participate in a first exercise of communal discernment to prepare for the reception of the Society’s universal apostolic preferences in March and the beginning of apostolic planning in the fall of 2019. The conversation throughout the day was rich and deep, the tone was hopeful and there were many expressions of gratitude. At the same time people acknowledged that there have been challenges to our growing in community for mission; many recognized that it will take time and generosity to reach this goal. But as one participant remarked, ‘’reconfiguration can spark a new spiritual process.’’