Challenges to Jesuit Higher Education Today
Adolfo Nicolás, S.J.
I AM VERY HAPPY TO BE WITH YOU THIS MORNING, ON THIS REMARKABLE OCCASION, AS COLLEAGUES OF NEARLY ALL OF THE ROUGHLY 200 INSTITUTIONS OF HIGHER EDUCATION OPERATING UNDER THE BANNER OF THE SOCIETY OF JESUS GATHER TO CONSIDER THE IMPORTANCE OF JESUIT EDUCATION AND ITS FUTURE.
I am happy to greet all of you – collaborators in the mission and ministry of the Society, Jesuits, friends of the Society and of Jesuit higher education, and any students who might be present. I thank Father José Morales, President of the Iberoamericana, and the staff of the Iberoamericana for their hospitality and extraordinary efforts in ensuring all the arrangements for this conference. Finally, I thank all of you for your participation in Jesuit higher education and in this conference, which some of you began before arriving here by authoring the excellent papers that served to stimulate our discussions.
For the sake of simplifying language, I will use “universities” when referring to the wide range of higher education institutions represented in this assembly, ranging from specialized research centers to technical institutes, to colleges and to large, complex universities.
In the past two years in my present service, I have traveled to many parts of the world to encounter Jesuits and our collaborators, and I have always emphasized that I am as eager – in fact, more eager – to listen and to learn, rather than to speak from the lofty – and mythical – heights of Borgo Santo Spirito 4. I bring this same dialogical spirit to this meeting of Jesuit higher education. As I listened yesterday to your discussion of regional challenges and the three frontier challenges that you selected to address, I could see that you already tackle many of the “serious contemporary problems” that Pope John Paul II identified for us in his apostolic constitution, Ex Corde Ecclesiae, and that you are doing so with the depth of thought, imagination, moral passion, and spiritual conviction that characterize Catholic and Jesuit education at its best.
What I wish to share this morning, therefore, should be taken as adding my perspective to what I hope will be an ongoing and ever deeper conversation on the future of Jesuit higher education. My own experience is that university people, especially university presidents, are not shy about sharing their points of view, so I am confident as you continue your consideration of important issues that your conversations will, at the very least, be spirited and insightful!
The theme of our conference – Networking Jesuit Higher Education: Shaping the Future for a Humane, Just, Sustainable Globe – involves a bold proposal. It suggests that we have today an extraordinary opportunity to have a hand in helping to shape the future, not only of our own institutions, but of the world, and that the way we can do that is through “networking.” That word, “networking,” so often used these days, is, in fact, typical, of the “new world” in which we live – a world which has as its “principal new feature,” what Pope Benedict XVI calls “the explosion of worldwide interdependence, commonly known as globalization.”1
The 35th General Congregation also saw our interconnectedness as the new context for understanding the world and discerning our mission. I am aware that the word “globalization” carries different meanings and evokes different reactions for people of diverse cultures. There has been much discussion on both the positive features and the negative effects of globalization, and I need not review them here. Rather, what I wish to invite us to reflect on together is this: How does this new context challenge us to re-direct, in some sense, the mission of Jesuit higher education?
You represent very different kinds of institutions from every part of the world, serving students, regions, and countries with widely divergent cultures, religions, resources, and having distinctive regional and local roles to play. Clearly, the question of the challenge of globalization for the mission of Jesuit higher education needs to be answered by each institution, in its unique social, cultural, and religious circumstances. But I wish to emphasize that it is also a question that calls for a common and universal response, drawn of course from your diverse cultural perspectives, from Jesuit higher education as a whole, as an apostolic sector.
How then does this new context of globalization, with the exciting possibilities and serious problems it has brought to our world, challenge Jesuit higher education to re-define, or at least, re-direct its mission? I would like to invite you to consider three distinct but related challenges to our shared mission that this new “explosion of interdependence” poses to us. First, promoting depth of thought and imagination. Second, re-discovering and implementing our “universality” in the Jesuit higher education sector. Third, renewing the Jesuit commitment to learned ministry.
I. Promoting Depth of Thought and Imagination
I will begin quite forthrightly with what I see as a negative effect of globalization, what I will call the globalization of superficiality. I am told that I am the first Jesuit General to use e-mail and to surf the Web, so I trust that what I will say will not be mistaken as a lack of appreciation of the new information and communication technologies and their many positive contributions and possibilities.
However, I think that all of you have experienced what I am calling the globalization of superficiality and how it affects so profoundly the thousands of young people entrusted to us in our institutions. When one can access so much information so quickly and so painlessly; when one can express and publish to the world one’s reactions so immediately and so unthinkingly in one’s blogs or micro-blogs; when the latest opinion column from the New York Times or El Pais, or the newest viral video can be spread so quickly to people half a world away, shaping their perceptions and feelings, then the laborious, painstaking work of serious, critical thinking often gets short-circuited.
One can “cut-and-paste” without the need to think critically or write accurately or come to one’s own careful conclusions. When beautiful images from the merchants of consumer dreams flood one’s computer screens, or when the ugly or unpleasant sounds of the world can be shut out by one’s MP3 music player, then one’s vision, one’s perception of reality, one’s desiring can also remain shallow. When one can become “friends” so quickly and so painlessly with mere acquaintances or total strangers on one’s social networks – and if one can so easily “unfriend” another without the hard work of encounter or, if need be, confrontation and then reconciliation – then relationships can also become superficial.
When one is overwhelmed with such a dizzying pluralism of choices and values and beliefs and visions of life, then one can so easily slip into the lazy superficiality of relativism or mere tolerance of others and their views, rather than engaging in the hard work of forming communities of dialogue in the search of truth and understanding. It is easier to do as one is told than to study, to pray, to risk, or to discern a choice.
I think the challenges posed by the globalization of superficiality – superficiality of thought, vision, dreams, relationships, convictions – to Jesuit higher education need deeper analysis, reflection, and discernment than we have time for this morning. All I wish to signal here is my concern that our new technologies, together with the underlying values such as moral relativism and consumerism, are shaping the interior worlds of so many, especially the young people we are educating, limiting the fullness of their flourishing as human persons and limiting their responses to a world in need of healing intellectually, morally, and spiritually.
We need to understand this complex new interior world created by globalization more deeply and intelligently so that we can respond more adequately and decisively as educators to counter the deleterious effects of such superficiality. For a world of globalized superficiality of thought means the unchallenged reign of fundamentalism, fanaticism, ideology, and all those escapes from thinking that cause suffering for so many. Shallow, self-absorbed perceptions of reality make it almost impossible to feel compassion for the suffering of others; and a contentment with the satisfaction of immediate desires or the laziness to engage competing claims on one’s deepest loyalty results in the inability to commit one’s life to what is truly worthwhile. I’m convinced that these kinds of processes bring the sort of dehumanization that we are already beginning to experience. People lose the ability to engage with reality; that is a process of dehumanization that may be gradual and silent, but very real. People are losing their mental home, their culture, their points of reference.
The globalization of superficiality challenges Jesuit higher education to promote in creative new ways the depth of thought and imagination that are distinguishing marks of the Ignatian tradition.
I have no doubt that all our universities are characterized by the striving towards excellence in teaching and learning and research. I want to put this in the context of the Ignatian tradition of “depth of thought and imagination.” This means that we aim to bring our students beyond excellence of professional training to become well-educated “whole person[s] of solidarity,” as Father Kolvenbach noted.2 Perhaps what I mean can be best explained by reflecting a bit on the “pedagogy ” in the contemplations on the mysteries of the life of Jesus in the Spiritual Exercises – which pedagogy Ignatius later applied to Jesuit education. One might call this “pedagogy” of Ignatian contemplation the exercise of the creative imagination. The imagination works in cooperation with Memory, as we know from the Exercises. The English term used for the acts of the faculty of memory – to remember – is very apropos.
to break it into small pieces, that is, to DIS-member before we can remember. And this is why Ignatius separates seeing from hearing, from touching, from tasting, from smelling, and so on. We begin to RE-member – through the active, creative imagination – to rebuild ourselves as we rebuild the scenes of Bethlehem, the scenes of Galilee, the scenes of Jerusalem. We begin the process of RE-creating. And in this process, We are RE-membering. It is an exercise. At the end of the process – when the jigsaw puzzle is formed again – the face is no longer ours but the face of Christ, because we are rebuilding something different, something new. This process results in our personal transformation as the deepest reality of God’s love in Christ is encountered.
The Ignatian imagination is a creative process that goes to the depth of reality and begins recreating it. Ignatian contemplation is a very powerful tool, and it is a shifting from the left side of the brain to the right. But it is essential to understand that imagination is not the same as fantasy. Fantasy is a flight from reality, to a world where we create images for the sake of a diversity of images. Imagination grasps reality. In other words, depth of thought and imagination in the Ignatian tradition involves a profound engagement with the real, a refusal to let go until one goes beneath the surface. It is a careful analysis (dismembering) for the sake of an integration (remembering) around what is deepest: God, Christ, the Gospel. The starting point, then, will always be what is real: what is materially, concretely thought to be there; the world as we encounter it; the world of the senses so vividly described in the Gospels themselves; a world of suffering and need, a broken world with many broken people in need of healing. We start there. We don’t run away from there. And then Ignatius guides us and students of Jesuit education, as he did his retreatants, to enter into the depths of that reality. Beyond what can be perceived most immediately, he leads one to see the hidden presence and action of God in what is seen, touched, smelt, felt. And that encounter with what is deepest changes the person.
A number of years ago, the Ministry of Education of Japan conducted a study in which they found that modern Japanese education had made great advances in science and technology, mathematics, and memory work. But, in their honest assessment, they saw that the educational system had become weaker in teaching imagination, creativity, and critical analysis. These, notably, are three points that are essential to Jesuit education.
Creativity might be one of the most needed things in present times – real creativity, not merely following slogans or repeating what we have heard or what we have seen in Wikipedia. Real creativity is an active, dynamic process of finding responses to real questions, finding alternatives to an unhappy world that seems to go in directions that nobody can control.
When I was teaching theology in Japan, I thought it was important to begin with pastoral theology – the basic experience – because we cannot ask a community that has been educated and raised in a different tradition to begin with speculative theology. But in approaching pastoral theology, I was particularly puzzled by creativity: What makes a pastor creative? I wondered. I came to realize that very often we accept dilemmas where there are no dilemmas. Now and then, we face a true dilemma: We don’t know what to choose, and whatever we choose is going to be wrong. But those situations are very, very rare. More often, situations appear to be dilemmas because we don’t want to think creatively, and we give up. Most of the time, there is a way out, but it requires an effort of the imagination. It requires the ability to see other models, to see other patterns.
In studying that issue, I found one concept developed by psychologists particularly helpful: floating awareness. Psychologists study Sigmund Freud, Erich Fromm, and others from different schools of psychology to develop what they call “floating awareness.” When psychologists encounter a patient and diagnose the person, they choose from different methods of helping people, deciding on the process that is going to help most. I think this is exactly what a Spiritual Father should do. And I wish we had this floating awareness when we celebrate the liturgy: the ability to see the community and grasp what it needs now. It’s a very useful concept when it comes to education as well.
It strikes me that we have problems in the Society with formation because, perhaps, our floating awareness is not so well developed. For about 20 years or so, we have been receiving vocations to the Society from groups that we didn’t have before: tribal groups, Dalit in India, and other marginal communities. We have received them with joy because we have moved to the poor and then the poor have joined us. This is a wonderful form of dialogue.
But we have also felt a bit handicapped: How do you train these people? We think they don’t have enough educational background, so we give them an extra year or two of studies. I don’t think this is the right answer. The right answer is to ask: From where do they come? What is their cultural background? What kind of awareness of reality do they bring to us? How do they understand human relationships? We must accompany them in a different way. But for this we need tremendous imagination and creativity – an openness to other ways of being, feeling, relating.
I accept that the dictatorship of relativism is not good. But many things are relative. If there is one thing I learned in Japan, it is that the human person is such a mystery that we can never grasp the person fully. We have to move with agility, with openness, around different models so that we can help them. For education, I would consider this a central challenge.
Our universities are now teaching a population that is not only diverse in itself; it’s totally unlike the former generation. With the generational and cultural change, the mentality, questions, and concerns are so different. So we cannot just offer one model of education.
As I said, the starting point will always be the real. Within that reality, we are looking for change and transformation, because this is what Ignatius wanted from the retreatant, and what he wanted through education, through ministry: that retreatants and others could be transformed.
Likewise, Jesuit education should change us and our students. We educators are in a process of change. There is no real, deep encounter that doesn’t alter us. What kind of encounter do we have with our students if we are not changed? And the meaning of change for our institutions is “who our students become,” what they value, and what they do later in life and work. To put it another way, in Jesuit education, the depth of learning and imagination encompasses and integrates intellectual rigor with reflection on the experience of reality together with the creative imagination to work toward constructing a more humane, just, sustainable, and faith-filled world. The experience of reality includes the broken world, especially the world of the poor, waiting for healing. With this depth, we are also able to recognize God as already at work in our world.
Picture in your mind the thousands of graduates we send forth from our Jesuit universities every year. How many of those who leave our institutions do so with both professional competence and the experience of having, in some way during their time with us, a depth of engagement with reality that transforms them at their deepest core? What more do we need to do to ensure that we are not simply populating the world with bright and skilled superficialities?
II. Re-discovering universality
I would now like to turn to a second challenge of the new globalized world to Jesuit higher education. One of the most positive aspects of globalization is that it has, in fact, made communication and cooperation possible with an ease and at a scale that was unimaginable even just a decade ago. The Holy Father, in his address to the 35th General Congregation, described our world as one “of more intense communication among peoples, of new possibilities for acquaintance and dialogue, of a deep longing for peace.” As traditional boundaries have been challenged by globalization, our narrower understandings of identity, belonging, and responsibility have been re-defined and broadened. Now, more than ever, we see that, in all our diversity, we are, in fact, a single humanity, facing common challenges and problems, and, as GC 35 put it, we “bear a common responsibility for the welfare of the entire world and its development in a sustainable and life-giving way.”3 And the positive realities of globalization bring us, along with this sense of common belonging and responsibility, numerous means of working together if we are creative and courageous enough to use them.
In today’s university world, I know that many of you experience this breakdown of traditional boundaries in the contemporary demand that you internationalize, in order to be recognized as universities of quality – and rightly so. Already many of you have successfully opened offshore or branch campuses, or entered into twinning or cross-border programs that allow your students or faculty members to study or work abroad, to engage and appreciate other cultures, and to learn from and with people of diverse cultures.
When I travel, I am often asked why the number of Jesuits fully involved in social centers or social apostolate has come down; we are far less than we were before. This is true. But also in our schools we have far fewer Jesuits. And yet, at the same time, in our universities and our schools, we have many more programs than before with a social relevance. When I visited California last year – my first visit to the United States – I was greatly encouraged to see that in every one of our schools there was an outreach program, a broadening of horizons: bringing students to other countries, to other continents, to heighten their awareness and concern.
You have also been able to welcome more international students into your own universities, and all of these cross-cultural encounters and experiences surely enrich the quality of scholarship and learning in your institutions, as well as help you to clarify your own identity and mission as Catholic, Jesuit universities. Internationalization is helping your universities become better.
It is not this, however, that I wish to emphasize at this point. What I wish to highlight flows from your discussions yesterday. I will break down my argument into three points.
First, I am sure that all of you will agree with Pope John Paul II who, in Ex Corde Ecclesiae, observed that in addition to quality teaching and research, every Catholic university is also called on to become an effective, responsible instrument of progress –for individuals as well as for society.4 For Ignatius, every ministry is growth, transformation. We are not talking about progress in material terms but about progress that supposes the person goes through a number of experiences, learning and growing from each of them. I know that, in different ways, every Jesuit university is striving to become what Ignacio Ellacuría, the Jesuit rector of the Universidad Centroamericana Simeon Cañas, who was martyred 20 years ago, called a proyecto social. A university becomes a social project. Each institution represented here, with its rich resources of intelligence, knowledge, talent, vision, and energy, moved by its commitment to the service of faith and promotion of justice, seeks to insert itself into a society, not just to train professionals, but in order to become a cultural force advocating and promoting truth, virtue, development, and peace in that society. We could say every university is committed to caritas in veritate – to promote love and truth – truth that comes out in justice, in new relationships, and so forth. We would be here all day if I were to list all that you do for your regions or countries, all the programs and initiatives in public education, health, housing, human rights, peace and reconciliation, environmental protection, micro-finance, disaster response, governance, inter-religious dialogue, and the like.
Second: however, thus far, largely what we see is each university, each institution working as a proyecto social by itself, or at best with a national or regional network. And this, I believe, does not take sufficient advantage of what our new globalized world offers us as a possibility for greater service. People speak of the Jesuit university or higher education system. They recognize the “family resemblances” between Comillas in Madrid and Sanatadharma in Jogjakarta, between Javieriana in Bogota and Loyola College in Chennai, between St. Peter’s in Jersey City and St. Joseph in Beirut. But, as a matter of fact, there is only a commonality of Ignatian inspiration rather than a coherent “Jesuit university network”: Each of our institutions operates relatively autonomously of each other, and as a result, the impact of each as a proyecto social is limited. The 35th General Congregation observed that “in this global context, it is important to highlight the extraordinary potential we possess as international and multicultural body.”5 It seems to me that, until now, we have not fully made use of this “extraordinary potential” for “universal” service as institutions of higher education. I think this is precisely the focus of many of your presentations and your concerns here.
This brings me to my third and main point: Can we not go beyond the loose family relationships we now have as institutions, and re-imagine and re-organize ourselves so that, in this globalized world, we can more effectively realize the universality which has always been part of Ignatius’ vision of the Society? Isn’t this the moment to move like this? Surely the words used by the 35th General Congregation to describe the Society of Jesus as a whole apply as well to Jesuit universities around the world:
“The new context of globalization requires us to act as a universal body with a universal mission, realizing at the same time the radical diversity of our situations. It is as a worldwide community – and, simultaneously, as a network of local communities – that we seek to serve others across the world.”6
To be concrete, while regional organizations of cooperation in mission exist among Jesuit universities, I believe the challenge is to expand them and build more universal, more effective international networks of Jesuit higher education. If each university, working by itself as a proyecto social, is able to accomplish so much good in society, how much more can we increase the scope of our service to the world if all the Jesuit institutions of higher education become, as it were, a single global proyecto social? So it is expanding already the awareness that you and we all have.
Before coming here, I met with the Provincials of Africa in Rome; some other Provincials from Latin America were passing through as well. A couple of them mentioned, “Since you are going to Mexico for this meeting, can you tell the directors and the deans and the universities to share the resources they have? We who have only beginning institutions – if we could access the libraries and resources that are offered in universities with tradition and know-how and resources that we cannot afford, that would be a great, great help.”
As you know, the Society of Jesus is moving from having a historical institute in Rome to having branches or small historical institutes around the world. I hope that these branches can network, because this is the time that every culture, every group can have its own voice about its own history – and not have Europeans interpreting the history of everybody else. In Rome, we are going to work in our own archives to copy, digitalize, and do whatever we can so that this can be shared with other centers. Likewise, it would be a tremendous service if the universities possessing tremendous resources of materials, libraries, etc., could open these to universities that could not hope to build a library in 10 years.
Your presence at this conference indicates your openness to a more universal dimension to your life and service as universities. My hope, however, is that we can move from conferences and discussions like those we had yesterday to the establishment of operational consortia among our universities focused on responding together to some of the “frontier challenges” of our world which have a supra-national or supra-continental character. The three discussion groups you participated in yesterday could serve as the start of three such consortia.
First, a consortium to confront creatively the challenge of the emergence of aggressive “new atheisms.” In Europe they don’t use this term. They use “new aggressive secularism” and it is very anti-Church. Interestingly, Japan has been secular for 300 or 400 years, with total separation of church and state, but they have a secularism that is peaceful and respectful of religions. In Europe I have found a very aggressive secularism, not peaceful. Secularism without peace has to be anti-something or against somebody. Why have we come to that? We see it particularly in countries that have been most Catholic: Spain, Italy, Ireland. There, secularism goes against the historical presence of a church that was very powerful and influential. These new atheisms are not confined to the industrialized North and West, however; they affect other cultures and foster a more generalized alienation from religion, often generated by false dichotomies drawn between science and religion.
Second, a consortium focused on more adequate analyses and more effective and lasting solutions to the world’s poverty, inequality, and other forms of injustice. In my travels, a question that comes up over and over again is: What are the challenges of the Society? The only answer is: the challenges of the world. There are no other challenges. The challenge is looking for meaning: Is life worth living? And the challenges of poverty, death, suffering, violence, and war. These are our challenges. So what can we do?
And third, a consortium focused on our shared concerns about global environmental degradation which affects more directly and painfully the lives of the poor, with a view to enabling a more sustainable future for our world.
This third consortium could further network the already existing ecology network currently under the direction of the Secretariat for Social Justice and Ecology of the Curia Generalizia. We have been very blessed with very a imaginative and active Secretary, who is here. And we are now developing a section on social justice and ecology. So this would also be a point of reference in this networking.
Let me end this section by reminding you that universities as such came very late into Ignatius’ understanding of how the Society of Jesus was to fulfill its mission in the Church. What is striking is that, in the Constitutions, Ignatius makes clear why he is won over to the idea of what he calls “Universities of the Society”: the Society of Jesus accepts “charge of universities” so that the “benefits” of “improvement in learning and in living . . . be spread more universally.”7 The more universal good is what prompts Ignatius to accept responsibility for universities. With all the means globalization makes possible, then, surely more effective networking in the manner I have described will allow us to spread the benefits of Jesuit higher education more universally in today’s world.
III. Learned Ministry
In a sense, what I have described thus far as challenges to Jesuit higher education in this globalized world correspond to two of the three classic functions of the university. Insofar as universities are places of instruction, I have stressed the need to promote depth of thought and imagination. Insofar as universities are centers of service, I have invited us to move more decisively towards international networks focused on important supranational concerns. This leaves us with the function of research – the genuine search for truth and knowledge – but what is often called today “the production of knowledge” – a theme that, in today’s university world, has generated much discussion on questions like the modes of research and its communication, the centers of knowledge production, areas of study, and the purposes of research.
I am sure you will agree that, if we are true to our Ignatian heritage, research in our universities must always ultimately be conceived of in terms of what the 34th General Congregation calls “learned ministry” or the “intellectual apostolate.” (This is Jesuit jargon. And a tangential but important point to note is that the intellectual apostolate, sometimes a confusing term, applies to all Jesuit works and apostolates.)
All the virtues of the rigorous exercise of the intellect are required: “learning and intelligence, imagination and ingenuity, solid studies and rigorous analysis.”8 And yet, it is always “ministry” or “apostolate”: in the service of the faith, of the Church, of the human family and the created world that God wants to draw more and more into the realm of his Kingdom of life and love. It is always research that is aimed at making a difference in people’s lives, rather than simply a recondite conversation among members of a closed elite group. Again, I am sure that if I were to enumerate all the serious scholarly work and discussion being done in Jesuit universities to address “the serious contemporary problems” Pope John Paul II enumerates in Ex Corde Ecclesiae – that is, “the dignity of human life, the promotion of justice for all, the quality of personal and family life, the protection of nature, the search for peace and political stability, a more just sharing in the world’s resources, and a new economic and political order that will better serve the human community at a national and international level”9 – if I were to enumerate all that is being done, my allotted time would not be enough, and both you and I would faint in the process!
In keeping with my approach throughout this reflection, I would now like to ask what challenges globalization poses to the “learned ministry” of research in Jesuit universities? I propose two.
First, an important challenge to the learned ministry of our universities today comes from the fact that globalization has created “knowledge societies,” in which development of persons, cultures and societies is tremendously dependent on access to knowledge in order to grow. Globalization has created new inequalities between those who enjoy the power given to them by knowledge, and those who are excluded from its benefits because they have no access to that knowledge. Thus, we need to ask: who benefits from the knowledge produced in our institutions and who does not? Who needs the knowledge we can share, and how can we share it more effectively with those for whom that knowledge can truly make a difference, especially the poor and excluded? We also need to ask some specific questions of faculty and students: How have they become voices for the voiceless, sources of human rights for those denied such rights, resources for protection of the environment, persons of solidarity for the poor? And the list could go on.
In this connection, the work-in-progress of the “Jesuit Commons,” which you will discuss tomorrow, is extremely important, and it will require a more serious support and commitment from our universities if it is to succeed in its ambitious dream of promoting greater equality in access to knowledge for the sake of the development of persons and communities.
Second, our globalized world has seen the spread of two rival “ism’s”: on the one hand, a dominant “world culture”10 marked by an aggressive secularism that claims that faith has nothing to say to the world and its great problems (and which often claims that religion, in fact, is one of the world’s great problems); on the other hand, the resurgence of various fundamentalisms, often fearful or angry reactions to postmodern world culture, which escape complexity by taking refuge in a certain “faith” divorced from or unregulated by human reason. And, as Pope Benedict points out, both “secularism and fundamentalism exclude the possibility of fruitful dialogue and effective cooperation between reason and religious faith.”11
The Jesuit tradition of learned ministry, by way of contrast, has always combined a healthy appreciation for human reason, thought, and culture, on the one hand, and a profound commitment to faith, the Gospel, the Church, on the other. And this commitment includes the integration of faith and justice in dialogue among religions and cultures. The training of the early Jesuits, for example, included the study of pagan authors of antiquity, the creative arts, science and mathematics, as well as a rigorous theological course of study. One only need consider the life and achievements of Matteo Ricci, whose 400th death anniversary we celebrate this year, to see how this training that harmoniously integrated faith and reason, Gospel and culture, bore such creative fruit.
Many people respond, “Please, don’t compare me to Matteo Ricci. He was a genius.” I take the point. But at the same time, the formation he received gave him the tools to develop his genius. So the question is: The formation that we give today – does it offer such tools? Are we that integrated? Are we that open in our training? As secularism and fundamentalism spread globally, I believe that our universities are called to find new ways of creatively renewing this commitment to a dialogue between faith and culture that has always been a distinguishing mark of Jesuit learned ministry. This has been the mission entrusted to us by the Papacy in the name of the Church. In 1983, at the 33rd General Congregation, Pope John Paul II asked the Society for a “deepening of research in the sacred sciences and in general even of secular culture, especially in the literary and scientific fields.” More recently, this was the call of Pope Benedict XVI, to the Society of Jesus, its collaborators and its institutions during the 35th General Congregation. The Holy Father affirmed the special mission of the Society of Jesus in the Church to be “at the frontiers,” “those geographical and spiritual places where others do not reach or find it difficult to reach,” and identified particularly as frontiers those places where “faith and human knowledge, faith and modern science, faith and the fight for justice” meet. As Pope Benedict observed, “this is not a simple undertaking” (Letter, No. 5), but one that calls for “courage and intelligence,” and a deep sense of being “rooted at the very heart of the Church.”12
I am convinced that the Church asks this intellectual commitment of the Society because the world today needs such a service. The unreasoning stance of fundamentalism distorts faith and promotes violence in the world, as many of you know from experience. The dismissive voice of secularism blocks the Church from offering to the world the wisdom and resources that the rich theological, historical, cultural heritage of Catholicism can offer to the world. Can Jesuit universities today, with energy and creativity, continue the legacy of Jesuit learned ministry and forge intellectual bridges between Gospel and culture, faith and reason, for the sake of the world and its great questions and problems?
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, at 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.”
1 Caritas in Veritate, n. 33.
2 Rev. Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, S.J., “The Service of Faith and the Promotion of Justice in American Jesuit Higher Education,” lecture at Santa Clara University, Oct. 6, 2000. See also Kolvenbach, “The Jesuit University in the Light of the Ignatian Charism,” unpublished lecture from the International Meeting of Jesuit Higher Education, Rome, May 27, 2001.
3 GC 35. Decree 2, n. 20.
4 Ex Corde Ecclesiae, n 32.
5 GC35, Decree 3, n. 43.
6 GC35, Decree 2, n. 20.
7 Constitutions of the Society of Jesus, n. 440.
8 GC 34, Decree 26, n. 20.
9 Ex Corde, ibid.
10 Cf. GC 35, Decree 3, n. 10, n.20.
11 Caritas in Veritate, n. 56. 12 GC 35, Decree 1, n. 13.
Nicolás, Adolfo, S.J. Challenges to Jesuit Higher Education Today. Mexico City, Mexico: Networking Jesuit Higher Education: Shaping the Future for a Humane, Just, Sustainable Globe, 23 Apr. 2010.