Berkley Forum

Building by Being Bridges: A Foundational View of Jesuit Mission Today

Responding to Jesuits as Bridge Builders

At its inception, the Society of Jesus received a mission to propagate and defend the Christian faith as a bridge to salvation for all. They undertook this mission with the conviction that the papacy was the favorite principle of unity of that same faith, despite historical contradictory evidence. The first missionary fire was therefore about helping souls find or meet the savior, but it paradoxically was already at work everywhere. The most recent General Congregations (GC) of the Society, that is from 34-36, have emphasized the word "reconciliation." The specifics of this reconciliation’are threefold: (1) to God, (2) to others, and (3) to nature. In this understanding of our identity as servants of Christ’s mission and of our task as reconcilers because of the same patterns in Christ, we are bridge builders by definition.

The second decree of GC 35 can refresh minds about this self-understanding of Jesuits in the twenty-first century. The five apostolic priorities thereby elucidated—Africa, China, the intellectual apostolate, international houses in Rome, migrants and refugees—express the Society’s clear intention to build bridges of solidarity and love, of goodness and creative presence in the world and in its cultures. The title of the document states it all: “Challenges to our Mission Today.” This challenge is primarily understood as standing at the frontiers, to connect realities from their extreme ends. One possible interpretation of this precarious position is the question of how to solidly build on quicksand. We submit that cultures and development are fast-changing phenomena and that the metaphysics of the world could be summed up as groundlessness or change as supreme value. Where do our bridges stand? How do we meet world citizens within the technological flux and communication overflow of today’s world? Wherever our in-the-making new priorities will direct Jesuits today, they will be bridge builders through being bridges of integral humanity, groundlessly grounded in our identity. “My people perish for lack of identity” was the message of Pope Francis when he addressed GC 36 on October 24, 2016. 

There is no doubt about the way of excellent professionalism all Jesuits must embrace in their various areas of apostolic deployment. The concern is rather about finding the way of authentic Ignatian religious and priestly life grounded in the master Jesus who makes the world new every day. This amounts to being solid and happy in fragile and even unacceptable cultural circumstances that we challenge not with wrath and protest alone, but also with deep understanding and uncompromising compassion. Ite Inflammate Omnia (Go, set the world on fire), our mission motto, will be possible if the individual Jesuit bears real fire within and is aware of swimming in watery cultures, which need some warmth of joy and consolation. The good news for which Jesuits are missioned today is to see and show that this evolving and often painful fragmentation of persons and families is akin to the grain of wheat that falls to the ground and dies in John’s Gospel. That anticipated vision of resurrection is not cheaply granted to untrained eyes. Only fruit-bearing dead grains of wheat can build bridges by being bridges.

The remaining challenge will then lie only in the use of those bridges. Jesuit spirituality is simply a life of detachment and freedom favorable to the greater good. We find this understanding in all founding texts from the principle and foundation to the general motto, “All for God’s greater glory!” The help Jesuits offer others consists of building a capacity to use resources without being used by any of them. In that sense, the charism or characteristic nature of this order traversing all its operations and members is itself a bridge towards possibilities beyond the current state of affairs in terms of dominant ideas, possessions, and life situations. Succinctly said, Jesuits expose or should expose students of their educational institutions to the freedom and possibility of being a part of other entities: poorer or richer, weaker or stronger, in unbounded holy ambition. In the above priorities where Africa shines with bright somber colors, namely migration, the whole Jesuit Conference of Africa and Madagascar is challenged to orient Jesuit education towards greater freedom for self-reliant development and for keener environmental betterment along with personal social success. Writings and efforts are beginning to appear in this area, making bridges more attractive and leading into stronger life or saved life.

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