In the Society of Jesus, the consult is a place where the provincial can have serious conversations about what is happening at all levels of the province, receive advice from the consultors who are appointed by the superior general to support him, and make decisions. The expanded consult allows for the participation of a greater number of people and thus for a greater sharing in the governance and leadership of the province. It is a place of discernment with the provincial assistants appointed by the provincial superior. These assistants bring to the provincial their expertise and knowledge of an apostolic sector of the province and animate the commissions that bring together the works of the province by sector. Their presence in the expanded consult makes it a place where all the sectors of the province have a voice.
Last January, the provincial held a meeting of the expanded consult. He shares here the fruits of that meeting (which can also be found in the provincial’s latest letter), as do the socius, Fr. Gilles Mongeau, and three Jesuit assistant provincials, Fathers Michael Knox, John Meehan, and Greg Kennedy.
Discerning the signs of the times and setting goals
Fr. Oland describes the work of the various sectors as a source of consolation:
I was very consoled by the richness of the reflections from each sector, especially regarding a phrase from Cardinal Michael Czerny that spoke of “being artisans of a culture of encounter.” It really challenged the participants. I was also consoled by the fact that it seems that the sectors are working better together and that the exercises that were done to prepare for the meeting of the expanded consult have contributed to this.
Michael Knox, SJ, assistant provincial for pastoral ministries, speaks of his sector’s discernment process, which was shared with Fr. Provincial before the meeting of the expanded consult.
First, we will create a pool of common practices from the various representatives of the pastoral commission, whether concerning sacramental formation, a particular problem the parish may be facing, or simply to have resources from various Jesuit and church sources. Second, it is important that all members of the pastoral sector be properly trained to facilitate the use of various media to reach parishioners, people working on college campuses, etc. Third, there is an awareness of the increasing diversity of needs: part of the role of the commission would be to bring people together to reflect on this and find common practices. Finally, there is a desire to reevaluate the composition of the commission, with the idea that we could perhaps include other lay leaders who work very closely with priests in different contexts.
This involvement of the sectors reflects a structure that has been in place since the beginning of the new province. According to Fr. Mongeau, the consult dynamic moves from the ground up; the discernment at the grassroots level makes its way up to the provincial.
There is always a process of deepening that takes place. During the meeting of the consult, for example, each sector was asked to read the signs of the times according to its own experience and expertise. What emerged was a reading of the signs of the times of justice, of the formation of young people, etc., and we then tried to see how these different experiences of the reality of our mission came together and what was emerging from the interaction among these different experiences.
The other focus of the meeting was to learn how the sectors set tangible goals in light of this reading of the signs of the times and the Universal Apostolic Preferences (the dimension of apostolic planning). Pilgrims Together will be lived at the level of communities and apostolates.
Fr. Meehan gives an example of the question of the UAPs in the intellectual apostolate (whose members met on Zoom after the meeting of the consult to discuss its role in the province’s discernment process).
The two Jesuit colleges (Campion and Regis) and the three approved institutions (St. Paul’s College, the University of Sudbury, and Corpus Christi/St. Mark’s College) have reaffirmed their commitment to the Jesuit mission and the Universal Apostolic Preferences. There is an openness to adapt the Mission and Priority Examen (MPE) process, which is currently used in the United States and Belize, to fit our Canadian context. Combined with the revised document of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities (AJCU), “Several Characteristics of Jesuit Colleges and Universities,” this offers a means to deepen the sense of Ignatian identity and mission in each college. In addition, opportunities for collaboration and formation of board members, faculty, staff, and students are also provided by AJCU, as well as a global network through the recently established International Association of Jesuit Universities (IAJU).
Starting from the base, starting from experience
A significant point in what was shared by the provincial and the socius concerns the importance and autonomy of the members of the provincial body. If in the past the superior could be like a puppeteer who controls the works, the question today is how the sectors can help each other by networking, and how the province, by identifying its specific priorities, can support this.
“The main orientations adopted by the province will support this apostolic way of life at the base; it is always a return to the base,” notes Fr. Mongeau. “The role of the superior in the Society of Jesus is to empower the Jesuits and the works; he governs above all by giving life, zeal, and energy.”
One call that came out of the expanded consult, for example, is that the pandemic has opened up new opportunities and new ways of thinking, despite the tragic circumstances. “Perhaps it has created the time and space to pause and reflect, which could have an impact on how parishes operate after COVID-19,” says Fr. Knox, adding that perhaps the idea of using Zoom more frequently for meetings within the province will catch on.
“Every group, every sector, every region is becoming more and more animated,” notes Fr. Oland.
The regions: the new engine of the province
The new idea of “region” is of great importance, explains Fr. Oland:
We continue to work with the sectors, but also increasingly with the regions. Canada is a big country with Haiti! These are regions, not just sectors, that will begin to come together so that people in a particular region (for example, Toronto) who work in different sectors (spiritual, academic, etc.) are increasingly engaged in networking to define the mission of the Society in that place. The goal is that the works in a sector no longer operate in isolation.
The provincial would like to structure his provincial visits according to the regions, even if this means that the visit will last a few weeks, and then write a letter afterwards to all concerned in the region to encourage the work of the different sectors there. “A region may also have superiors and directors of works, and they too must assume some responsibility for animating the entire region,” explains Fr. Oland.
According to Fr. Mongeau, people are becoming more and more aware of the need to work together. “It’s certainly in Pilgrims Together.”
In a way, it has to be lived. I think there is a keen, growing interest in the annual retreat offered not only to Jesuits but also to colleagues and friends. It is an example of the desire to go deeper, to be in order to do.
Being and becoming
Fr. Sosa’s conviction that “being is fundamental to being able to do” came up several times in the conversation about the expanded consult. According to Fr. Oland:
This means that we must constantly return (as individuals, as apostolates, and as the Society) to faith and to the conviction that God is leading us. This is part of the work of governance. It is not MY work, it is God’s work, it is the work of all humanity to make the world a better place.
Fr. Mongeau adds that this emphasis on the importance of being and conversion before doing has emerged from Pilgrims Together; it’s one of the fruits that continues to appear.
People are beginning to see with greater clarity that it’s not just that we have to do something or even to act differently. In our planning process, we need to become something. Jesuits and others who serve in the mission need to become something. The works must become something. Communities need to become something.
“It is the call to move forward with energy and flexibility in order to respond to new challenges that may arise unexpectedly,” the provincial emphasizes in his apostolic letter.
Example of the experience of Greg Kennedy, SJ, Assistant for Spiritual Ministry
“Conversions, even the little ones, always come as surprises. Several small conversions have happily caught me unawares since the pandemic broke. The first snapped my innate resistance to computer-mediated communications. While far from a technological zealot, I have become much more grateful (and much closer to a solid Principle and Foundation) for the potentials of connection through online platforms. The Spirituality Sector now congregates monthly over Zoom to share information, ideas, support and dreams. This deepened sense of collaboration and unity in mission is a direct result of the pandemic, facilitated by the technology that until recently I eschewed.
About on par with my low threshold of tolerance for high technology was my enthusiasm for lengthy meetings. At the risk of sounding blasphemous, I have often experienced communal discernment exercises as tedious. My second recent conversion fixed that. Prepared to grin and bear the last expanded consult, I found myself swept up by the spirit of fraternity and care for the province, its people and Creation in toto. Consultors, sector assistants, the socius and the provincial listened deeply and spoke authentically. That particular contribution to my communal discernment conversion (always ongoing), inspired the following little rhyme:
never get us far
from where we start.
we fly away
to lovely Nowhere.
Hearts and heads
hand in hand
reach the border
of promising lands.
The Spirituality Sector continues to converse and discern about the future of our apostolates. Lockdowns have hit retreat houses hard, both in terms of finances and sense of mission. As with parishes, sitting on a house empty of retreatants unsettles those of us whose calling is spiritual hospitality and accompaniment. How have people’s sense of faith changed under the shadow of Covid? Do they or will they relate differently to God, the Church and prayer? What wisdom does Ignatian Spirituality have to help disclose order within the many disorders of current circumstances? More than ever, we feel the need for greater, decolonized awareness and practice of social and ecological justice in our spirituality. They may be weak and cold this winter, but still in many ways we feel our hands touching the borders of promising lands.”