Wednesday, 23 January 2008

A New Jesuit General


The General Congregation of the Society of Jesus continues but there is now a new Superior General- Fr. Adolfo Nicolas.


He has spent most of his time in ministry in Asia, especially in Japan, where the Jesuits have a long and noble history. I had never heard of him before now, so naturally when I heard the news I hot-footed it to the nearest Internet access to do a bit of background on him. Not sure what to make of the man yet- he hasn't had time to do anything yet as Superior General, after all. However, I must confess, having read some interviews with him, I don't think the Society of Jesus is going to experience much renewal in the days to come.


Take, for example, statements made during an interview with the Australian Express last year.


Asked if people from a culture like Japan experience Ignatian Spirituality differently than those in the West, Father Nicol├ís says the experience was indeed different, but it had yet to be formulated.‘I think the real experience of the Japanese is different. And it should be different. But the formulation continues to be very much a Western formulation’, he says.


So far, so good. I could agree with that. But wait, what exactly does "Western" mean?


A Japanese Jesuit, Father Katoaki, has recently translated and added comments on the book of the Exercises from a Japanese-Buddhist perspective. Father Adolfo says there has also been some discussion on whether the Exercises could be presented to non-Christians, and how that might occur.‘The question is how to give the Ignatian experience to a Buddhist’, he says. ‘Not maybe formulated in Christian terms, which is what Ignatius asked, but to go to the core of the experience. What happens to a person that goes through a number of exercises that really turn a person inside-out. This is still for us a big challenge.’


So, evangelisation becomes, not the spreading of the good news about Jesus Christ, a message which the Spiritual Exercises are designed to interiorise and impact upon a person, but the "Ignatian experience". Not the Christ that the Exercises proclaim and try to make present, but the subjective experience of them. A subjective experience that we should try to reproduce in people who don't know Christ without even trying to introduce them to Him. Let us throw Christ out of the Spiritual Exercises and do a Buddhist version! Ignatius would weep.


Is it just me or does it sound like when Fr Nicolas says "Western" what he actually means is "Christian". If that is indeed the case, he gives the lie to the Church's consistent teaching that "there is no salvation in any other [but Christ] for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved." (Acts 4:12) Salvation comes to European and Asian alike through Jesus Christ and no other. The saintly Jesuits of past centuries believed that truth and were prepared to sacrifice much for it. Would that today's Society had chosen to do likewise.


The next paragraph is telling.


While some work has been done comparing the Ignatian experience with that of Hindus, he says there hasn’t been a lot of work on finding similarities say in Japanese, Chinese or Korean cultures. He says East Asia has been more slow to do this than India, partly because the East Asians have a strong respect for tradition, and hence a respect for Christianity’s European traditions.


Isn't it curious that Fr Nicolas will respect the Buddhist ways of the East Asians, but not their respect for tradition when it comes to how they treat Christianity and the cultures it has permeated. Some East Asian customs are worth emulating, but not so for others.


Perhaps I have been hasty in judgement and things will turn out differently. Perhaps I have read too much into statements that could be misinterpreted. I pray God it might be so. In any case, the news of the election of this new Superior General causes me to pray even harder for the future of the Jesuits.

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