According to good Jesuit tradition, the time has now come for a repetitio!—a summing up. I have sought to reflect with you on the challenges of globalization to Jesuit universities as institutions of learning, service, and research. First, in response to the globalization of superficiality, I suggest that we need to study the emerging cultural world of our students more deeply and find creative ways of promoting depth of thought and imagination, a depth that is transformative of the person. Second, in order to maximize the potentials of new possibilities of communication and cooperation, I urge the Jesuit universities to work towards operational international networks that will address important issues touching faith, justice, and ecology that challenge us across countries and continents. Finally, to counter the inequality of knowledge distribution, I encourage a search for creative ways of sharing the fruits of research with the excluded; and in response to the global spread of secularism and fundamentalism, I invite Jesuit universities to a renewed commitment to the Jesuit tradition of learned ministry which mediates between faith and culture.
From one point of view, I think you can take everything I have said and show that the directions I shared are already being attempted or even successfully accomplished in your universities. Then, one can take what I have said as a kind of invitation to the “magis” of Ignatius for the shaping of a new world, calling for some fine-tuning, as it were, of existing initiatives, asking that we do better or more of what we are already doing or trying to do. I think that is a valid way of accepting these challenges.
I would like to end, however, by inviting you to step back for a moment to consider a perhaps more fundamental question that I have been asking myself and others over the past two years: If Ignatius and his first companions were to start the Society of Jesus again today, would they still take on universities as a ministry of the Society?
Already in 1995, General Congregation 34 saw that the universities were growing in size and complexity, and at the same time, the Jesuits were diminishing in number within the universities. In 1995, when GC 34 spoke about the diminishing number of Jesuits in universities, there were about 22,850 Jesuits in the world. Today, in 2010, there are about 18,250—about 4,600 fewer Jesuits. I need not go into further statistics to indicate the extent of this challenge. I am very aware of and grateful for the fact that, in the past 15 years, there has been much creative and effective work aimed at strengthening the Catholic and Ignatian identity of our institutions, at creating participative structures of governance, and at sharing our spiritual heritage, mission, and leadership with our collaborators. I am also very aware of and delighted to see how our colleagues have become true collaborators – real partners – in the higher education mission and ministry of the Society. These are wonderful developments the universities can be proud of and need to continue as the number of Jesuits continues to decline.
I believe we need to continue and even increase these laudable efforts of better educating, preparing, and engaging lay collaborators in leading and working in Jesuit institutions. I can honestly say that this is one of the sources of my hope in the service of the Society and of the Church. If we Jesuits were alone, we might look to the future with a heavy heart. But with the professionalism, commitment, and depth that we have in our lay collaborators, we can continue dreaming, beginning new enterprises, and moving forward together. We need to continue and even increase these laudable efforts.
I think one of the most, perhaps the most, fundamental ways of dealing with this is to place ourselves in the spiritual space of Ignatius and the first companions and – with their energy, creativity, and freedom – ask their basic question afresh: What are the needs of the Church and our world, where are we needed most, and where and how can we serve best? We are in this together, and that is what we must remember rather than worrying about Jesuit survival. I would invite you, for a few moments, to think of yourselves, not as presidents or CEOs of large institutions, or administrators or academics, but as co-founders of a new religious group, discerning God’s call to you as an apostolic body in the Church. In this globalized world, with all its lights and shadows, would – or how would – running all these universities still be the best way we can respond to the mission of the Church and the needs of the world? Or perhaps, the question should be: What kind of universities, with what emphases and what directions, would we run, if we were re-founding the Society of Jesus in today’s world? I am inviting, in all my visits to all Jesuits, to re-create the Society of Jesus, because I think every generation has to re-create the faith, they have to re-create the journey, they have to re-create the institutions. This is not only a good desire. If we lose the ability to re-create, we have lost the spirit.
In the Gospels, we often find “unfinished endings”: the original ending of the Gospel of Mark, with the women not saying a word about the message of the angel at the tomb; the ending of the parable of the prodigal Son, which ends with an unanswered question from the Father to the older brother. These ambiguous endings may be unsettling, and precisely meant to provoke deeper, more fundamental questioning and responses. I therefore have good precedents to conclude my talk in this open-ended way. I hope I leave you reflecting to what extent the challenges I have offered this morning are about improving our institutions and the mission and ministry to help shape a more humane, just, faith-filled, sustainable world or are calls to, in some sense, re-found what Ignatius called “the universities of the Society.”