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Jesuit Identity and Lay Collaboration for Our Times

Posted on: 1 Dec, 2014

Modified on: 1 Dec, 2014

By unknown

Jesuit Identity and Lay Collaboration for Our Times

1.Dynamics of Identity:

1.1.The study of identities has a complex trajectory from psychology to anthropology, from individual to collective, from self to communal.
1.2.There are two traditions of discourses on identity, namely psychodynamic, and anthropological. They emphasize on the 'creation' and 'construction' of identity. This is obviously in sharp contrast with the essentialist notion of identity that is 'unique', 'essential', 'coherent', and somewhat permanent. Both the traditions reject the notion of primordial, permanent and fixed identity. Identity is a multiple and an open-ended construction and not a water-tight, compartmentalized, single, closed entity.
1.3.These multiple identities refer to a variety of social phenomena, such as caste system, strong cultural values and ethnicity, nation, religion, descent group, class, occupation, lifestyle, gender, sexual orientation, and so on.
1.4.Despite multiplicity of identities each one of us has a dominant identity enabling us to read the world. While the universal aspect of Jesuit identity is inclusive of the lay people committed to a common cause, the particular dimension of Jesuit identity asserts its boundaries, necessitating laity's exclusion from its framework. Relationship between the Jesuits and the laity is dichotomized as "insider-outsider", "same-different", "other-non-other", etc
1.5. Nevertheless, the demand for inclusion of the laity in the Jesuit structure is not the Society's need (for its own survival) but that of the people, as a response to the challenging signs our times. It is indeed a process of Jesuit identity formation from below.
1.6.The Jesuit-lay collaboration is a question of two separate identities. Can laity participate in the mission vision and structure of the Society, which is characterized by Jesuit values, ethos, spirituality and charism? What makes a Jesuit, Jesuit and not a layperson? Can the boundaries between the two be merged? Should there be a line between the laity and Jesuits? What are the characteristics of a Jesuit? By virtue of following the Jesuit charisms can the laity fully identify themselves with the Jesuits, participating in the latter's way of proceeding? What then can be the degree of collaboration between the two?
1.7.Within the context of India the Jesuit-lay collaboration is confronted with the question of multiplicity. Hence the question of secularism arises. However, if we define secularism as being inspired by Jesus and the Gospel, there are lots of theoretical problems. The question is whether we are ready for collaboration from the Christian fold only or also from different religious and cultural backgrounds. If we have them as collaborators, how do we ensure respect for their beliefs and values? Any inclusions of the adherents of other faiths would entail certain respect for their values. How do we go for a very close collaboration with people of different religions with a view of Christian mission?
1.8.If we want an in-depth partnership there are several problems – social, cultural, economic and political. For instance, the incident of Loyola taking a decision to kill or not to kill the Moor if the mule turned left is indicative of the values system that is guiding us. The challenge, therefore is, how to develop democratic values in the Society with certain theology with specificity to various social groups in India.
1.9.The crucial question is whether the decision comes from top or from the community? Is the laity part of the process of discernment or just an implementing agency? If Christians can be part of the process why can't others? If Jesuits cannot become part of the decision-making process most of the time, how can the non-Jesuits, leave alone the non-Christians?
1.10.Jesuits in South Asia should explore the possibility of a new theology that makes space for a secular Jesus, who can bring different people together for concretizing the mission-vision of the Society of Jesus.

2.Jesuit Perspectives on Cooperation with the Laity in Mission (GC. 34. Decree 13)

2.1.The Society of Jesus began as a groups of Friends in the Lord on lay initiative. Most of the founding members were laymen. Their aim was to live a life radically close to the values of the Gospel and bring these values effectively to the Christian faithful.
2.2.We need to “listen to and learn from them” (§. 4) Can “our service be more humble” (§. 20) in order to be inspired by their life, to be evangelised by them, to be “accompanied by them”? (§. 24) “Most importantly we join with the laity in companionship: serving together, learning from and responding to each other´s concerns and initiatives, dialoguing with one another on apostolic objectives.” (§.7)
2.3 Our role would then be not so much in being managers of our works and heads of our institutions, as in our willingness “to take a supportive role as they become more responsible for our own apostolates” (18), in our “ability to draw out the gifts of the laity and to animate and inspire them.” (§.19)
2.4.“We offer the laity what are and have received. We offer Ignatian spirituality as a specific gift to animate the ministry of the laity.” A concrete way of doing this would be guiding them through the Exercises in daily life.(cfr. Sp. Exerc. Annot.18-19).
2.5.An effective family-based pastoral care is an urgent need of today, as family ethos is going through a crisis worldwide.
2.6.This universal crisis is a sign of the times, which we need to interpret. May be, the Spirit is demanding that entirely new and diversified forms of consecrated life should emerge in the Church! In this regard we can learn a lot from the centuries-old experiences of samnyasa in Hinduism and Buddhism. Laymen/women aspiring for intense spiritual life could, for instance in the later stage of their life (vanaprastha), be given a space for experimenting with radical forms of evangelical life either as hermits or in communities vowed to specific ministries. Could the inspiration of the Spiritual Exercises be help in forming the laity towards this possible form of consecrated life in the Church?

3.Issues in Jesuit-Laity Collaboration:

3.1.The discourse among Jesuits of south Asia of making a paradigm shift from Paternalism to a Participatory mode of functioning in their apostolate is not new. Lay collaboration is seen as an ideal domain in which this paradigm could be realized.
3.2.One of its manifestations is the institution of “Sole Trustee” in parishes. All authority and power have thereby been delivered into the hands of the parish priest. Traditionally the parish priest has seen no option but to exercise all authority and power by himself.
3.3.Canon law now mandates Parish Council, which should provide the necessary framework for, lay collaboration at all levels of parish functioning. The II Vatican council defined the church as “the people of God”. The goal of our lay collaboration is to hand over increasingly greater control of the local church to the People of God.
3.4. Parish Councils and Trusts in which lay people have been inducted can be effective instruments of furthering lay collaboration. They consider Trust laws an unnecessary burden and treat them as legal appendages. When we work in a non-Jesuit organization and being a Trustee for years we come to know how seriously the Trust deed is taken and accountability and transparency maintained.
3.5.Lay collaboration is not a matter of “they” working with “us” or even “us” with “them” but of laity and Jesuits sharing a common enterprise working in equal partnership with a mutual exchange of respect, trust, communication, accountability and transparency. The real question is: can we Jesuits work under lay people? Christian Brothers have already appointed a few competent lay principals in their schools with Brothers working under them.
3.6.Lay collaboration as equal partners implies that they are equally competent to do the tasks they are called upon to do. Hence they must be motivated to do the task and they must be qualified to do the task. Motivation comes from a shared vision and qualification and competence from training and formation.
3.7.Lay collaboration is getting people to share the vision of the institution/parish. If the institution itself does not have a vision, there is no scope for collaboration. If people don’t have a compelling cause to live for, it is because the leadership doesn’t have one or has failed to communicate it. Creating a culture behind a shared mission, vision and values is the essence of leadership.

3.8.The growth of an institution or parish is directly proportional to the growth of the people in it. By encouraging members to become massively competent, to assume responsibility for themselves and the situations that arise, they develop a sense of maturity and ownership in their work. Competence will come from constant leadership and skills training. By constantly investing in people, sending them to training seminars and courses, and exposing them to the latest developments in their field of work, we will sharpen their skills, develop their talents and help them to see that they can actually play a leading role in effecting a change in their institution.
3.9.In Asia, we have an increasing number of Jesuits and youthful ones too; however one cannot always vouch for their competence and skills. These fairly numerous Jesuits easily fill in positions and places without competing for them and not necessarily on merit. The sheer number of available Jesuits leaves little room for lay collaboration much as it is desirable. With our famed training are not many among us ending up as clerks and doing what laypersons could you with much cost-effectiveness?
3.10.Are Jesuits trained for teamwork in their formation? If Jesuits cannot work in a team among themselves much less will they work as a team with lay people except in a hierarchical position? Some Jesuits make no bones about it when they say, “It is easier to work with lay people than with fellow Jesuits.”
3.11.There is a vast difference between the work habits, subculture and life style of lay people and those of Jesuits. Lay people by and large learn through the daily grind of living with their wives and having to bring up children. A religious does not have this sobering experience that brings him down to reality. However lay people through creative cooperation have much to contribute through their unique experience of life and their different perspectives on issues and relationships that affect the institution.
3.12.Lay collaboration is feared due to our inability to trust lay people with real power, confidentiality and the funds of an institution. The benefits to be reaped from the synergistic potential of lay collaboration are huge. All Jesuits need is the courage to leave their comfort zone, and the humility to recognize that there are lay people out there with more talent and willingness than we can hope to garner from our very restricted numbers.
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