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Cooperation with the Laity in Mission

Posted on: 1 Dec, 2014

Modified on: 1 Dec, 2014

By Sebastian Painadath SJ

Cooperation with the Laity in Mission
Issues related to the Implementation of GC. 34. Decree 13 (Laity)
(References to Decree 13. of GC 34)

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. This original inspiration has to be the abiding norm in discerning our priorities. Hence we are “called on to support the laity in their initiative by Ignatian formation” (§.20). What change of attitude is needed in us for this service?

2. We can be formators of the laity, only if are prepared to be formed by them. As they “evangelise the structures of society” (§.6), they evangelise the structures of our Society too. They are our parents, sisters and brothers, friends and teachers, co-workers in the ministry and co-pilgrims in the Church. 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) Can we invite laymen/women to our communities to share with us their Christ-experience, their sense of belonging to the Church, their struggles and aspirations?

3. The Society of Jesus is canonically a sacerdotal Order. This seems to make a clerical psyche dominate us Jesuits and thus we tend to boss over the laity. What we need is a new culture of friendship: “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) “What we offer them is our friendship” (§.7) Can we really become friends in the Lord with the laity as the first companions were?

4. Our distinctive vow of poverty offers us the inner freedom and mobility to be available for the works of the Lord. But most of our works have an institutionalised pattern that stereotypes our attitudes and behaviour. We tend to be too possessive in holding to our works and too secretive regarding decisions and finances concerning them. Do the lay co-workers really feel “partnership with us in mission” (§. 26) by being taken into confidence, by being respected and promoted?

5. Cooperation with the laity demands “a shift of the focus of our attention from the exercise of our own direct ministry to the strengthening of laity in their mission.” (§.19). 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). “There are no limits to the sharing of responsibility with the laity.” (Arrupe). There is need for a systematically planned approach to enable laity to assume greater responsibility in our apostolic centres and institutions. Do we have the generosity and the skill to shift from the managerial role to this ministerial role? Are we prepared to work under lay leaders?

6. There is a general feeling in the Church that the clergy does not really trust the laity. Without mutual trust no effective process of “extending the missioning process of the Society to lay persons” (§. 24) can take place. Do we Jesuits really trust the laity, especially our co-workers? What are the causes of probable mistrust: emotional blocks, inbuilt prejudices, concerns of preserving the Jesuit priorities, pyramidal structures, theological presumptions, fear of losing our identity and power…??

7. There is one mission but several ministries in the Church. The “specific vocation of the laity”, according to the II. Vatican Council is the “renewal of the temporal order”. (AA.7). This world-transforming ministry respects the “autonomy of the secular” (GS. 36) and “penetrates and perfects the temporal sphere with the spirit of the Gospel” (AA. 5). For this the laity needs professional training as well as theological and spiritual formation. The latter could be a specific contribution we Jesuits can make. “We share with the laity our spiritual and apostolic inheritance.” (§.4) This world has to be experienced as the divine milieu in which the Spirit is restoring all things in Christ. Inspired by the Ignatian vision of seeing God in all things we could design effective programmes of a theology and spirituality for the laity. For this do we live out “our apostolic priority of the service of faith and the promotion of justice with a preferential option for the poor”? (§. 8)

8. “We offer the laity what are and have received. We offer Ignatian spirituality as a specific gift to animate the ministry of the laity.” (§.7) Three elements of our spiritual heritage seem to be a very significant in the formation of the laity: the Christic experience (interior knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ), the dynamic spirituality (contemplation in action), and discernment ( alertness to the Spirit) (§. 8) Are we investing enough time and resources in empowering the laity “by offering our apostolic and spiritual inheritance, our educational resources and our friendship” ?(§. 7)

9. A practical way of accompanying the laity in spiritual life is “to offer the experience of the Spiritual Exercises and our spiritual direction.” (§. 8) A concrete way of doing this would be guiding them through the Exercises in daily life.(cfr. Sp. Exerc. Annot.18-19). This process helps laymen/women discern the movements of the divine Spirit in the actual process of their professional/family life. An increasing number of Jesuits needs to get trained for this ministry. Could the Province put this on its priority?

10. Family is the primary cell of society, the domestic Church. The most natural way of communicating ethical values and faith experience has its locus in the family. An integral formation of the laity has to be related to family life. An effective family-based pastoral care is an urgent need of today, as family ethos is going through a crisis worldwide. Could our educational institutions and social centres, our spiritual ministries and pastoral programmes pay more attention to the psychological and spiritual care of families? May be, Jesuits need special training as well as healthy contacts with families for dealing with family-related issues.

11. The future of the traditional forms of religious life – including Jesuit life – is facing a lot of uncertainties. In most countries vocation to religious life is dwindling and consequently the religious communities are shrinking, several houses are being suppressed and important works given up. 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 a help in forming the laity towards this possible form of consecrated life in the Church?

12. In a world that is becoming more conscious of religious pluralism and cultural diversity Christians have to develop genuinely dialogical attitudes. Laity has to be trained to “respect the plurality of religions as the human response to God’s salvific work in peoples and cultures.” (GC 34, Dialogue §. 5.) With the Ignatian sensitivity to discern the work of the Spirit in the hearts of people, we could help the laity enter into cordial relationship with believers of other religions and of other Christian denominations as co-pilgrims. For this we Jesuits have to be initiated to “a culture of dialogue in our life and ministry.” (GC 34. Dialogue, §.9)