At the beginning of the year, Pope Francis approved the four Universal Apostolic Preferences of the Jesuits – Discernment and the Spiritual Exercises, Walking with the Excluded, Caring for our Common Home and Journeying with Youth. Anyone who is familiar with other Jesuit publications will almost certainly be acquainted with these Preferences and wondering why we have taken so long to refer to them. We are certainly not lacking in enthusiasm and we really are pleased that one of the Preferences is ‘Caring for our Common Home.’
Perhaps it has something to do with the relative newness of Eco-Bites or perhaps it is to do with the fact that these four Preferences are interconnected so just talking about our Common Home would not be doing justice to this interconnection.
The explanation of this Preference for our Common Home speaks of collaborating ‘with Gospel depth,’ for the protection and renewal of God’s creation. In Laudato Si’ Pope Francis speaks of ‘rapidification’ of our world and the need to slow down. There can be no depth if you are always in a rush. If Eco-Bites gives you a chance to slow down then it is doing a good job.
The four preferences, as mentioned above, are a kind of photograph of the Jesuits at a particular moment in their history. They are a result of two years of prayer and discernment and they are also an invitation to prayer for the next ten years. In that way, they will guide the decisions we make. One element of this ‘photograph’ is the reference to our ‘Mission Partners.’ Earlier generations of Jesuits would not have known what this phrase meant and how it changes the meaning of Jesuit identity.
The shrinking of numbers of Jesuits in some parts of the world, including Europe, belies the nature of Jesuit works which would not be Jesuit but for the many men and women who not only work with us but who have willing adopted our spirituality. This development has given those of us who have actually taken vows as Jesuits a healthy sense of our own incompleteness. There are not only individuals but entire projects in Europe, in which there are no Jesuits, but which truly have a Jesuit identity.
This is possible only because of the bond which comes from having been formed by the experience of the Spiritual Exercises. The first of these preferences – Discernment and the Spiritual Exercises – has primacy among the others. This preference is at the heart of who we are. It is about showing people ‘a way to God.’ How can we collaborate with gospel depth for the protection and renewal of God’s creation without revealing a way to God? How can we collaborate with Gospel depth, if we do not journey with youth? How can we accompany them in creating a hope-filled future if that future has no way to God? How can we care for our common home if we do not walk with the excluded and those whose dignity has been violated? How can we truly walk with them without bringing them the Good News of Jesus, the Way the Truth and the Life?
Edmond Grace SJ
Secretary for Ecology