One of the under-lying charisms of the Society of Jesus has been preaching the Word of God. Early in its history, members of the Society would proclaim the Gospel in the streets or anywhere there might be a crowd of listeners. Obviously this preaching moved indoors as schools were built and churches were offered as places of Jesuit ministry.
Wherever there was a Jesuit church or parish, there were two things upon which believers could rely: Beautiful architecture, and theologically-sound and philosophically profound preaching. The faithful came to be nourished by the Word and the surroundings. Liturgy was confined to a something more observed and then interiorised through an understanding of the homily and emotionally responding to atmosphere, including music. In general, believing was an individual experience and so was the experience of attending, hearing, or going to a Jesuit church. People came to a Jesuit parish to be assisted in their thinking, and their faith was supported by well-thought-out preaching and comforted by the aesthetic supports of the buildings. People came as individuals and left confirmed in their faith and their personal ways of making choices and living. They were challenged to live a faithful moral life which meant personal choices and actions involving the doing of actions or refraining from other actions.
Since Vatican II and the consequent movements within religious communities to return to their origins, the Society of Jesus has communally been moving towards a more radical understanding and living of the Gospels. Our schools have changed their emphases from personal advancement to a more communal or world-view advancement. Education, as with liturgy, as with preaching and writing, has its implications and consequences beyond the individual. Jesus and me now forms me into a we.
For our parishes, the church buildings should still remain places of beauty and spiritual nourishment through preaching. Whereas in the past the emphasis was placed on “going” to church, “hearing” mass, and “receiving”, there is now an “ad extra” or “an outwardness” as necessary elements of Jesuit parish liturgy, parish life, and more basically, Catholic faith. As in the past, the “going” is obviously important, but the “leaving, the “being sent” by the Word and the Eucharist is inseparable from the liturgical and parish experience. The Jesuit parish cannot simply be a dispenser of the seven Sacraments, but a place where believers gather so as to live their lives as dispensers of God’s grace and service. The “eighth” sacrament of the church is not the building but the “living stones” which form the Body of Christ.
The real first name of Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus, was “Inigo”. I take the liberty here of playing with his name as it relates to our topic. Allow me this liberty please. “In ya go” for the purpose of “Out-ya-go”. Ignatius himself went into his cave in northern Spain for about a year to be able to come out and go more freely beyond himself. As with Henry David Thoreau, many years later, Ignatius went into his spiritual woods to find out how to live more deliberately, so as not to come to the end and find out he really had not lived at all. For Ignatius, relating deeply with himself involved relating deeply with Jesus and the ever-creating God. This in turn moved him to relate more deeply with the ongoing creative work of God through his every action. He came out of His cave, as did Jesus to bring others out of their darkness and indeliberately-lived lives. Inigo went in to come out and then go beyond.
As with ourselves and our own Christian development, the Jesuit parish moves through the process of awareness, acceptance and ultimately donation. We ask ourselves what has been given. It is limited, but if there is to be “community” there must be first, a growing awareness of the gifts which each believer has been offered. Community comes from the Latin words meaning "with" ”and "gifts".” Unity then is consequent to the sharing of these gifts. The problem is always the individual’s becoming aware of what gifts have been given. For the most part, individuals are more aware of the gifts they wish they had and others do have.
If there is a parish renewal, there has to be first a personal renewal of the awareness of personal gifts. This is only the first step; next comes the acceptance of those gifts. Each member of the community needs help from God and from others to accept what has been given and what has not. Acceptance is a constantly renewing experience and as it happens, the re-offering or “donation” of these accepted-gifts becomes a spiritual and communal prayer. Discernment by the parish then is so important in the area of whose gifts will be employed, where, and how.
St. John’s is a beautiful building and the homilies are still faithful to the charism of the Society to preach the Word. The renewal of the parish is in keeping with the renewal of the members of the Society of Jesus. It is not easy for us members, either, and we are inviting our parish-partners into this not-easy struggle. Our Jesuit orientation is slowly changing to embrace more the awareness of the conditions surrounding the poorer members of Christ’s Body. Poorer means more than the financially disadvantaged, of course. The doors of the church are getting wider so as to allow those coming into the church to more easily and energetically be sent back out through them. While we come into St. John’s Church to be nourished, we ourselves become food for those outside. This is renewal at its heart. We will do it within ourselves, among ourselves, and all with God’s creating-Grace. Renewal is not a program or project, but a Catholic way of living; God is the only One Who has it all together. We have to come together to assist God in the process of getting the Kingdom together again.