About two months ago, we celebrated the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the conversion of Ignatius of Loyola. This commemoration inaugurated a period of renewal and reflection for the Society of Jesus and those with whom we collaborate that we are calling theIgnatian Year. It is in the context that the Superior General of the Jesuits, Fr. Arturo Sosa, has released Walking with Ignatius. The book takes the form of a collection of interviews of Fr. Sosa with journalist Darío Menor and covers a wide-range of topics.
The Covid-19 pandemic. The struggle of refugees and migrants around the world. Economic inequality. Climate change. Polarization. Fr. Sosa discusses all these things, though this book is not the place for easy, pre-packaged answers. Sr. Jolanta Kofka, president of the International Union of Superiors General, presents the weight of these questions in the preface she wrote for this book: there are questions “about how we should live and what we should do, about how to pray, how to build fraternity, how to be with and close to the poorest of the poor, what we should hold onto, what we should let go of, who to involve in our quest and our discoveries… Where is God?”
“Where is God?”
This is not a question of despair; but one of hope. The challenges we face, as individuals and as a society, are invitations to journey together as pilgrims towards a deeper life in the Kingdom. They are invitations to conversion. And conversion, Fr. Sosa reminds us, “never really happens in one fell swoop but is really a life-long process.”
We all must remember that we are members of one humanity, called together by Christ as surely as we are each personally called. The key to keeping this in the forefront of our minds and hearts is remembering that God is with us now, in this very moment. “Our time is now, with the challenges and opportunities of today, even though we might wish the situation were different. It is in the here and now that the grace of God that sustains the mission of the Church is made manifest.”
One of the points which Fr. Sosa returns to throughout the book is that receiving the grace of God inevitably leads to movement outwards towards service of others and of the world. One way this outward movement has taken shape for Jesuits and the Ignatian family is through the “Universal Apostolic Preferences” (UAPs), a series of guiding principles which are to influence every Jesuit mission and work. Much of the second half of Walking with Ignatius is dedicated to a discussion of the UAPs and how they might help anyone (Jesuit or otherwise) live the Gospel. These guiding principles are:
1. Showing the Way to God
The first UAP provides the lens through which the others are to be understood. For Jesuits in particular, showing the way to God involves sharing the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius as well as practicing and teaching the discernment of spirits. Fr. Sosa stresses that what is most important for all of us, however, is direct communication with God. This is a process of both talking and listening, and it determines everything else. “If we are not open to God speaking to us, there is no way forward,” he writes.
2. Walking with the Poor, the World’s Outcasts
“If it is not Christian to deny God, neither is it Christian to deny the majority of people a life that is truly human,” remarks Fr. Sosa. Care for the poor is something central to the Christain life. Including it as one of the UAPs is, for Fr. Sosa, a way of stating that it is one of the “non-negotiables” of the Church’s mission.
3. Accompanying Young People in the Creation of a Hope-Filled Future
At 72 years old, Fr. Sosa recognizes that there are differences between how he approaches the world and how many young people do today. It is precisely for this reason that he encourages them especially to speak up, and for older people to take the time to listen. When asked what message he would like to communicate to young people, Fr. Sosa offers “a clear and simple one: don’t be afraid to set out on the path you feel drawn to.”
4. Growing in Awareness of our Common Home
“No one lives in isolation, and we all depend on an environment that we continually create and transform,” he writes. The fourth UAP rests upon the recognition that, just as we are all brothers and sisters in the Lord, so we all share one common home. Fr. Sosa stresses that questions of care for the environment and of responsible management of natural resources are intimately tied to our care for each other.
Walking with Ignatius is concerned more with the kind of conversion that leads us to new questions than to firm answers. The UAPs are one way of approaching the question posed by Sr. Kofka at the beginning: in today’s world, “where is God?”
Each chapter ends with a series of reflection points, selections from Scripture, and points for prayer. This book could well be used for reading groups, parish communities, and classrooms. And the dialogue is, after all, the point. For Fr. Sosa, conversation, with God and with each other, is the key to conversion.