In the Jesuit Province of Canada, we want our way of proceeding to be inspired by the Ignatian approach to spiritual accompaniment. This was discerned by the leaders of the apostolates and communities in the country and later confirmed in our province’s apostolic planning document, Pilgrims Together. Accompanying others is thus a model of our apostolic presence even outside the typical spiritual accompaniment setting. It is our way of being as a province at large, our way of relating to others.
This article is part of a series which seeks to elaborate on what this means. In this first instance we delve into Ignatian values, principles and other elements to live by. In other texts we will give examples of groups and organisations that try to embody this way of proceeding.
The characteristics of Ignatian spiritual discernment suggested in the annotations to the Spiritual Exercises include humility, listening, mutual encounter, hospitality, and engagement in an intentional and purposeful process. The fifteenth annotation, for example, reminds us to let the Creator “communicate himself to the devout soul.” And number 22 of the Spiritual Exercises urges us to always “put a good interpretation on a neighbour’s statement” and to strive to see the positive side of the remarks made to us.
This way of listening without prejudice or criticism is fundamental to social, cultural, and interreligious dialogue. We let the other person guide us, entering through the door that he or she prefers. We help others discover a direction, but we do not know in advance what the destination will look like upon arrival, because we are also transformed by those we accompany. In summary, spiritual accompaniment varies according to a person’s age, stage of life, and experience, so that it can meet people where they are.
Understanding Ignatian Spiritual Accompaniment
“The accompanier is like the needle of a balance that does not tip to one side or the other; he or she must let the Creator deal directly with the creature and the creature with the Creator. This is really what distinguishes Ignatian spiritual accompaniment,” says Father Mongeau. “For Ignatius, it is God who leads; the spiritual accompanier is more of a companion on the road. So when we say that accompanying others is a model of our apostolic presence even outside the context of explicit spiritual accompaniment, this is basically what we mean.”
Father Mongeau also points out that in the 22nd annotation, Ignatius wants us to enter into a conversation with the predisposition to receive and interpret positively what the other person shares. “If this is not possible, we ask questions to try to clarify. If we have understood well but believe that there may be something to suggest, we suggest without imposing.” This is a way to enter into dialogue with a positive attitude, a way to discover the starting point of a relationship that can be deepened.
In addition, in his Constitutions, Ignatius describes the superior’s accompaniment of the Jesuits in his community as a way to help them rediscover their own sense of agency, to find their own path/voice. “Too often in the contemporary context,” Father Mongeau explains, “the situations in which people live deprive them of the ability to be agents of their own well-being. In the Ignatian tradition, we want to foster true inner freedom, the capacity to act, the confidence that allows people to make their own decisions.”
Finally, we must not forget that this work of listening and transformation is bidirectional, as much for the individuals as for the works. Indeed, Fr. Mongeau points out, “listening in this way transforms our way of being in the apostolate.”
Pilgrims together: the province’s model
The apostolic planning document “Pilgrims Together” explicitly calls the members of our province to adopt this model. How can this be expressed concretely in the relationships of Jesuits and Jesuit works with people in Canada?
“There is no such thing as accompaniment of Canadian society in the abstract,” notes Father Gilles Mongeau, SJ. “We accompany people in different situations. In our relations with Indigenous peoples, for example, it is our Indigenous partners who take the lead in the dialogue, the relationship, the process of reconciliation. We offer what we have, but we do not impose anything.”
How do these principles translate into everyday life? We will present several examples in the articles of this series.