The Jesuits in the Philippines have decided in principle to shift the center of gravity of their apostolic works from Manila to Mindanao. When Pope Francis was here he asked the Philippine Jesuits to go to the poor, go to the peripheries. In the Year of the Poor, in the Year of Renewal of Consecrated Life, the Jesuits have responded with “The Philippine Province Roadmap to the Poor and the Periphery: Mindanao.”
It is based on the Jesuits’ apostolic tri-focus of new evangelizations, service to the poor, and protection of the environment applied to Mindanao, and beyond Mindanao, to the Asia-Pacific Region. The Mindanao focus, in my view, includes the resolve to work directly with the Muslim peoples within the Bangsamoro or ARMM territories towards a genuine peace and inter-cultural harmony in Mindanao. It also includes working with the indigenous peoples of Mindanao, whether Islamized or non-Islamized, towards genuine implementation of the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act (RA 8371), and with communities adversely impacted by environmental destruction due to human investments and climate change
The Roadmap was approved in principle. It foresees major structural changes with the Philippine Province of the Society of Jesus towards this shift, including the manner in which Philippine Jesuits are formed, missioned and governed. Though many specifics are mentioned on the Roadmap, the approval includes an entire year of communal prayer, reflection and discernment.
“While maintaining the apostolic status quo, a year of communal prayer and discernment. Through Evangelii Gaudium a return to the encounter with Jesus Christ who looks on us individually and corporately with love. A year of renewal in response to that love. A year of spiritual exercises, including 30-day retreats. A desire to hear and understand his will for us in the Philippine Province. Prayer for apostolic freedom and liberation from attachments which may prevent us from hearing his word. A year of recovering deep apostolic desires and of apostolic dreaming. Among Jesuits of various grades and apostolic engagements, conversations about where the Lord is leading us. Conversion experiences. Conversion from sin and alienation to Jesus’ forgiveness. Conversion from a tired “long pull of fidelity” to the challenging kairos moment of today. Experiences of gratitude and joy. A consideration of the proposed Province Roadmap over the year as indicative of the Kingdom of God, and its eventual modification. At the end of the year, adoption of the roadmap in the light and freedom of shared consolation. The Provincial missions the Province to this roadmap with the express endorsement of Fr. General. “
The roadmap is calling for communal discernment. It is not just calling for strategic, rational planning. It is calling for prayer and reflection. But not only on a personal level, as crucial as this personal level is. Individually, Jesuits seek God’s will when they ask God to disclose this to them not only in Sacred Scriptures, the teachings of the Church, and the signs of the times, including the plight of particular human beings on whose lives their ministries impact, but also through the interior movements they experience in personal prayer. These are motions of consolation or desolation, motions of felt intimacy with the Lord or of felt distance, of deep joy and enthusiasm in his discipleship or of sadness and tepidity. The Lord discloses his will through such interior motions, and it belongs to the individual in discernment to recognize his will and accept it.
Ignatius’ “Rules for the Discernment of Spirits” in his Spiritual Exercises are a treasure chest of wisdom for discerning God’s will. They are based on his own personal experiences of wrestling with the Spirit; they help us in our own struggle – especially when the manifestations of the Spirit are only apparent.
But individual discernment is different from communal discernment. The Proposed Province Roadmap foresees that the Jesuits come together in shared discernment. It proposes that the Province discern God’s will as a community. If I am not mistaken, this includes not only the religious community, but the expanded Jesuit apostolic community. Today this can no longer be conceived without the Jesuits’ partners-in-mission – laypersons, Muslims, Lumad, secularists, non-believers, yet all persons deeply committed to the advancement of the human community in Mindanao with the Jesuits. The Proposed Roadmap refer to these as co-Jesuits. They too, I believe, must be – to the extent possible and meaningful to them – be part of this discernment.
There may not be a fixed formula for shared communal discernment in this sense. Nevertheless, I believe we can be certain that if we come together as friends and partners in mission and open ourselves to God’s will for us in or for Mindanao, God would only want to manifest this clearly. He may already be manifesting himself in this regard. What we must make sure of is that we do not block it with our unfreedoms, our pettiness, our fears, our personal and institutional attachments, our rationalizations, and our sin.
I presume that Fr. Provincial will convene some of our Jesuit and lay experts in Ignatian Spirituality and discernment – Fr. Vic Baltazar, Fr. Chris Dumadag, Fr. Joe Quilongquilong, Fr. Mon Bautista, Fr. Noel Vasquez, Eva Galvey, Inge del Rosario, Janet Badilla, Elvi Tamayo – to structure and guide this Year of Communal Discernment. Following up on the Extended Consult, he will call for this Year of Prayer and Reflection.
The Roadmap suggests that the Year of Prayer and Discernment be accompanied by the song: In omnibus amare et servire Domino. – In all, to love and serve the Lord. It should end with the Ignatius’ offering at the high point of the Spiritual Exercises: “Take and Receive….”