At the heart of our work within the Society of Jesus is a journey—the search for a deeper commitment to Christ’s mission. Whether professed religious or lay colleagues, we are called to be Pilgrims Together, partners in mission nurtured by a culture of greater participation and communal discernment in the Spirit.
The State of the Society
This journey was given renewed vitality last spring at the 71st Congregation of Procurators in Rome.
- Preparatory dialogues: Prior to this crucial gathering, procurators engaged in meaningful and fruitful dialogues with various members across their provinces.
- Father General’s mission: Father General specifically tasked the delegates with assessing the impact of the Universal Apostolic Preferences, conferred on the Society of Jesus by Pope Francis in 2019, on life and ministry at a global level.
- The Outcome of the Congregation: These dialogues were woven together into a fundamental tapestry of perspectives that guided the process of communal discernment during the congregation.
The congregation produced a profound document, meticulously elaborated by the Superior General.
- Exploring the DSS: As you delve into the pages of this latest De Statu Societatis (DSS), you enter into a shared realm of reflection—a space that invites deeper participation in Christ’s mission.
- Using the DSS: The document is now in your hands (see Father General’s video for a summary), and you are invited to read and use it to review your work individually and collectively.
Weekly guidance and communal participation
To help navigate the document, the Communications Office will feature a section of the DSS each week, accompanied by questions for prayer and reflection.
As we near the end of this process, you will be invited to participate in an online spiritual conversation to share the fruits of your prayer and reflection.
In this interview, Socius Gilles Mongeau, SJ, explores the significance of the DSS for our apostolic body and for each of us as individuals.
We have the Universal Apostolic Preferences, Pilgrims Together, the provincial’s annual pastoral letters, and now De Statu Societatis. What is the importance and place of each of these documents for the works and members of the province?
Since the 36th General Congregation, the Society of Jesus has been in a process of conversion. We have understood that in order to better respond to Christ’s call, to participate more fully in Christ’s mission that we share with him, we must all engage in this process of conversion, not only individual Jesuits but also communities and works. The first step on this path of conversion was the Universal Apostolic Preferences, which are truly the expression of the movement of the Spirit at the grassroots level.
We’ve taken these key orientations in our province and put them into practice in our own context, giving birth to Pilgrims Together. It’s not a series of decisions but a resource to help us discern which attitudes and paths to conversion will enable us to better participate in Christ’s mission in Canada, wherever we are, whatever our institution, whatever our individual reality.
Each year, in his pastoral letter, the provincial offers the province a reflection of what he has heard, of what those involved in the works at the grassroots level have said, which is shared by the superiors and directors of the works in the autumn and by the expanded consultation in January. All this is brought together in order for us to make an Ignatian examen, to see where we are on the path to conversion.
Now, what Father General is trying to do with the DSS is to continue this path of conversion from the point of view of the global Society.
How does the DSS contribute to this process of conversion?
When we begin to really live Ignatian spirituality as individuals, one of the hardest challenges is to practice the daily examen. This is true for everyone, Jesuits and laypeople alike, who commit themselves to the daily examen. It’s a practice that takes time to take root in our lives, but once it’s well established, this attitude of reviewing, reflection and conversion continues. Because that’s what the examen is: a daily exercise that helps us to better participate in the process of transformation that Christ offers us.
“It’s not a series of decisions but a resource to help us discern which attitudes and paths to conversion will enable us to better participate in Christ’s mission in Canada, wherever we are, whatever our institution, our individual reality.”
There’s a point at which the practice of the examen becomes second nature, as if we were doing it constantly. What the Superior General is trying to do with the DSS (and what we’re trying to do in the Province of Canada) is to deepen this culture of reviewing our experience, which is very difficult at first—because we’re not used to it, we’re so busy—so that it becomes a habit, a personal, communal or institutional habit. In this way, we participate more fully in Christ’s mission, living our mission more deeply, in a manner that is richer and much more interesting.
Does the work I do participate as fully in Christ’s mission, in the Society’s mission, as it could? Probably not. How can our areas of engagement—administration, teaching, pastoral work, intellectual research, communications, and service to the poorest—become places of conversion, personally, communally and institutionally? Through the examen. And that’s precisely what the Superior General is proposing.
We did this for the 36th General Congregation, with the Universal Apostolic Preferences, with the examen on Jesuit poverty, and now we have a new instrument, a new examen, that will help us continue to deepen this practice of reviewing and reflection at every level.
Why should the DSS be of interest to a director of works or a layperson involved in a work?
Because it offers a way for each person to live—in a manner that is more authentic and more Ignatian-grounded—the specific mission they received when they accepted their role. This has required, and continues to require, an enormous change in the culture of our works, in the culture of our province. Not because we’re doing it badly, but because it’s a habit that’s very difficult to sustain.
“That’s what the examen is: a daily exercise that helps us to better participate in the process of transformation that Christ offers us.”
It’s really a change, a cultural transformation that requires a great deal of energy, commitment and generosity. If the Society of Jesus really wants to make a more profound impact—as individual Jesuits, Jesuit communities or institutions of the Society—we have to live this cultural transformation in order to engage in a process of review and reflection, the apostolic examen. It’s a normal, ordinary means of participating in the work of Christ in an Ignatian, Jesuit manner.
Some works already do this, others much less so. The call here is to go even further, to gather together the individual inner movements and the movements within the group that help us to understand where grace is present, what fruits are emerging, what the obstacles are.
To note: Nowhere in the DSS does the Superior General say that things are going badly. It’s not about saying that we’re not doing well in our province. The DSS is a call to go deeper, so that the examen becomes part of our corporate culture, enabling us to engage in this culture of conversion.
The DSS notes in several places that laypeople, like Jesuits, are collaborators in Christ’s mission. What does this mean in concrete terms?
If we participate in Christ’s mission, this means that neither Jesuits nor laypeople are at the centre. Christ is at the centre. This work of “decentering” is relatively recent. So we have the religious body of the Society of Jesus, namely the Jesuits, and the wider apostolic body; and all are integral parts of the whole body.
“The DSS is a call to go deeper so that the examen becomes part of our corporate culture, enabling us to engage in this culture of conversion.”
In this context, the DSS is certainly a text that can be used as a valuable resource in formation so that lay colleagues feel more capable of animating spiritual conversation and discernment in common. The Service for Discernment in Common has been offering training courses for a year now, and for the past six years, the provincial has been encouraging works and communities to use the services of the Service for Discernment in Common. The DSS could be a further step in helping colleagues develop an understanding of how their work contributes to the Society’s global mission.
Finally, how should we read and use DSS?
I recommend doing a first reading from beginning to end, then taking the time to do a thorough reading of each chapter, with a pen or highlighter to note reactions (even “ah, yes” or “I don’t understand”) to a word, a sentence, an image, or an expression in order to capture the inner movements that you experience while reading. And even take time to write down what moves you at a specific moment, to develop the practice of being aware of inner movements, before using the questions at the end of the chapter to deepen the understanding of your reactions. How is the Spirit engaging, challenging me? Where are the consolations in reading this? Where is there resistance, desolation?
“It’s really a change, a cultural transformation that requires a lot of energy and a lot of commitment and generosity.”
Then, at the level of a work, the entire administrative team or key members can get together to share what they have experienced during their reading, to try to discover together what is emerging. And the same exercise can be carried out in a sector.
The notes taken during these spiritual conversations will be useful in two ways. First, for us as a province, because it’s a process that will inform, for example, the expanded consultation in January and the provincial’s Easter letter; this will help the next provincial to be well grounded in the reality of the province. Second, the Superior General has asked that this information be included in the province’s annual letter to the Roman Curia. For him, this is also a way of reviewing the situation starting from the ground up.