I will spend the next week commenting individually on the decrees of GC 35. All of the decrees can be found here. The document begins with Decree 1, "With Renewed Vigor and Zeal," the Congregations response to Benedict's letter sent previously. It truly is a wonderful letter, perhaps most exceptional for its extremely humble tone, and tone that many Jesuits throughout the world would do well to pray with and emulate. I will only pull out some small portions that I found especially interesting.
The Congregation first expresses its reason for writing new decrees, namely, "to provide guidance that will enhance and increase the spiritual and evangelical quality of our way of being and proceeding." It has become something of a habit now for the Society since GC 31 to write decrees at every subsequent Congregation, which have taken place roughly every ten years since 1965. This Congregation, like the others, also thought it necessary to write a few things. They are brief however, and much to the point. Initially I thought them unnecessary, but I have come to change that opinion for reasons I will express further on.
In paragraph 6, the Fathers acknowledge the affirmations given to the Congregation by the Pope:
6. With such strong words, the Pope definitively placed the future of our mission before us. This mission has been expressed with complete clarity and firmness: a defense and a proclamation of the faith, that we should explore new horizons and reach new social, cultural and religious frontiers, borderlands that, as Father Adolfo Nicolás related in his words to the Holy Father, can be places of conflict and tension that endanger our reputation, our peace, and our security. That is why we have been sensitive to the evocation of our Father Arrupe, whose proposal of service to refugees was mentioned by the Pope as "one of his last far-sighted intuitions."
As Jesuits, we are called to live on the frontiers at the heart of the Church, in tension often, and misunderstanding. Jesuit Refugee Services has been one of the best examples of this work, as the Pope names above. The document then continues to what I think is the meet of this decree, the response to Benedict's letter. Below are these two paragraphs:
14. We call each Jesuit to consider in the light of Decree 11 of the 34th General Congregation and the final speech of Father Peter-Hans Kolvenbach to the Congregation of Procurators in September 2003, "the proper attitude of service in the Church", which should be ours. This means recognizing, with honesty to ourselves and before God, that some of our reactions and our attitudes have not always been expressed as our Institute demands of us: to be "men quite humble and prudent in Christ." With deep regret and conscious of our common responsibility as an apostolic body, we call on each Jesuit to help the Pope, with a resolutely constructive attitude, to create a spirit of "communion" so that the Church can make the Gospel of Christ heard in a world as complex and troubled as ours.
15. Recalling the Examen and asking the Lord for the grace of conversion, we ask each of our companions to examine his own way of living and working at “the new frontiers of our time." This examination will include the following: the demands of our mission "among the poor and with the poor;" our commitment to the ministry of the Spiritual Exercises; our concern for the human and Christian formation of "the most diverse;" “that harmony with the Magisterium which avoids causing confusion and dismay among the People of God" about the " themes, continuously discussed and called into question today, of the salvation of all humanity in Christ, of sexual morality, of marriage and the family." Each Jesuit is invited to acknowledge humbly his mistakes and faults, to ask the Lord's grace to help him live his mission and, if necessary, the grace of forgiveness.
These truly are remarkable paragraphs, if they are read seriously and lived out by individual Jesuits. Paragraph 14 honestly states that many Jesuits have not sought communion with the Church, have actively not desired to act with the Church. This is a deep and humble confession, acknowledging the failings of the Society and asking forgiveness. Paragraph 15 continues this confession in light of the Examen, asking not that Jesuits ask pardon for working at the margins and frontiers, but for how they have done so. The examination of conscience has four parts:
1. the demands of our mission "among the poor and with the poor;"
2. our commitment to the ministry of the Spiritual Exercises;
3. our concern for the human and Christian formation of "the most diverse;"
4. “that harmony with the Magisterium which avoids causing confusion and dismay among the People of God" about the " themes, continuously discussed and called into question today, of the salvation of all humanity in Christ, of sexual morality, of marriage and the family."
First, have we as Jesuits kept the service of the poor as a priority. In a society and Church even that has not done so, and that has continued to serve the comfortable, have we remained with Christ's favorites in voluntary poverty, living with them and working to remove the structures of sin that dominate them.
Second, do the Spiritual Exercises continue to influence all the ministry that we do with their emphasis on a personal love of Jesus Christ.
Third, do we serve the most diverse, the outcasts, as Jesus did, giving them good spiritual and human formation. Three goes closely with four, since how we offer formation to the most diverse is important. And so,
Fourth, in regards to sexual morality, marriage and the family, are we working with the Magisterium or causing confusion and dissension. Sadly, we are causing much dissension, which means we are often not offering good spiritual and human formation. The hot example of course is in regards to homosexuality. I know many Jesuits who will go to the gay pride parade this year in San Francisco, as they have gone to many around the country. No little confusion is caused by such actions, actions that betray that these Jesuits have not read and taken to heart the humble and prudent decrees written by the Fathers at GC 35. Pastoral care in this regard is difficult, and there is much research and study that must be done. However, GC 35 is clear that this cannot be done in a way to cause confusion within the Church. As I quoted from the beginning of this decree, its purpose is "to provide guidance that will enhance and increase the spiritual and evangelical quality of our way of being and proceeding." Let us take up this decree and obey it.