Conversion, Communal Discernment, and Mission

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[Fr. Joel Tabora, S.J., Ignatian Conversations, 11 September 2019]

Welcome to you all to this special edition of the Ignatian Conversations.  Thank you for gathering here from our Grade  School, Junior High School, Senior High School, and our higher education units.  I know that others would have liked to attend this sharing, but for the material we have to tackle, I thought a more intimate setting would be more appropriate than Martin Hall.

Our topic will touch on “conversion, communal discernment, and mission,” as is relevant to our shared process of strategic planning for ADDU.  I hope it will add to your appreciation of the plan even as you consider it for its ratification.

Our reflections will be based on:

General Congregation 36, Decree 1:  “Companions in a Mission of Reconciliation and Justice” (GC 36, Decree 1)

Fr. Arturo Sosa’s “Universal Apostolic Preferences of the Society of Jesus, 2019-2029”

“One Ateneo, One Plan”

Copies of these documents were sent to you digitally.  I hope you have had the opportunity to go through them.

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GC 36, Decree 1: Companions in a Mission of Reconciliation and Justice

GC 36, Decree 1: “Companions in a Mission of Reconciliation and Justice” is addressed to primarily to Jesuits.

But also to their partners in mission.

“This Congregation is deeply convinced that God is calling the entire Society to a profound personal renewal” (18).

What concerned the Congregation was “…why the Exercises do not change us as deeply as we would hope.”

While this is addressed primarily to Jesuits, it applies also to those of us who make the Spiritual Exercises – or other retreats and recollections – regularly, or who engage whatever we may do by way of weekly Masses, or daily prayers to keep in contact with God.

Here we may recall the “secrets” of Gina Lopez.  When in 20ll we at Ateneo de Naga conferred on her an honorary degree for her achievements in environmental advocacy, we all thought that she would speak about the environment.

But she got up and told the students, “I have a secret that I want to share with you.  Never forget this secret!”  She said, “If you forget the secret I will tell Fr. Joel to take away your diploma!”  She then leaned into the microphone and almost whispering said:  “There is a God!  And because there is a God, no matter who you are, no matter what your profession might be, you must find your way to get in contact with this God.”

“My second secret,” she said,  “is this:  Every person needs silence in his or her life.  Because without silence, the forces in this world will tear you asunder, and you will no longer know who you are.”

Gina’s secrets may move us as we consider our topic.

GC 36 called for a profound personal renewal “in a world losing its sense of God”

We need a profound personal renewal – or conversion –  to “acquire [or re-acquire] the style of Jesus, sensitivity to his feelings, his choices.”  This comes from a grace we pray for in the Spiritual Exercises.  In the Second Week, over and over we beg for “intimacy with the Lord.”

Through this renewed relationship with God, this silence, this intimacy with the Lord, we ask:  What is God’s will for us?

Our response is inspired by the Contemplation on the Incarnation, also from the Spiritual Exercises.  In this contemplation, the exercitant is invited to contemplate the Trinity responding to the world of human beings as human beings conduct themselves in their everyday lives, many alienated from God, alienated from one another, and alienated from Creation.  This is not a contemplation that looks at the Trinity and the world “out there” and at the Incarnation as if it were finished, and as if we were mere spectators.   GC 36 suggests it is done “from the heart of the Church gazing at the Father gazing on the world…”  We gaze at the Father, gazing at us.  We are invited to gain insight into that gaze, which is not a gaze of anger, rejection, and condemnation.  It is rather a gaze of compassion and love.  It is the gaze that is of the Holy Spirit, that recalls the Son, and that “all things were made through him, and without him was made nothing that has been made.”  We are gazing at the Trinity therefore from within the world he gazes on, from within ourselves as we gaze in awe, and from within the Trinity whose gaze does not remain a mere gaze.

The Incarnation is God’s response to the world and to us beyond gazing.  Through the Incarnation, God enters into our world.  And labors in our world.  And in our lives.

In this contemplation, ““We recognize the signs of God’s work, of the great ministry of reconciliation God has begun in Christ, fulfilled in the Kingdom of justice, peace and the integrity of creation” (3).  Being God’s work of reconciliation, it is accomplished, but being God’s work in which we are invited to participate, it is a work in progress.

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The is a  pivot in GC 36:  it is not we, but God who initiates the work of reconciliation.  It is not about us, it is about God.

“Rather than ask what we should do, we seek to understand how God invites us – and so many people of good will – to share in that great work.  Alone, we find ourselves humbled and weak, sinners.  That is our experience, moving from task to task, assignment to assignment, sin to greater sin, burning ourselves out doing so many things, making the same mistake over and over.  As long as it is just about us, it is a source of despair.   But we experience joy in knowing ourselves as sinners who, in God’s mercy, are loved and invited to be “companions of Jesus and ‘co-workers with God’” (3)

There is a paradigm that GC 36 points to in the experience of the First Companions in Venice.  They had set their hearts on going to the Holy Land.  But they were prevented from going due to the topsi-turvy political situation.  So they needed to discern what God’s will for them now was:  discernment.  They did not do this alone but in their diversity as a community of friends in the Lord who was in the service of the poor:  discerning community.  It was through this discernment in community that they discovered their mission.

The call to conversion discloses a paradigm of three interlocking elements in GC 36:  discernment, discernment in community, and mission. 

Discernment, emerging from doing so many things with such great passion;  emerging from where we have been, from where we have tried and failed; emerging from where we have succeeded, yet need to understand the call of the magis;  emerging from communities.

The discerning Jesuit community close to the poor as at Venice is the home of mission, and therefore itself a mission.  Consisting of friends in the Lord, the community is “a privileged place of apostolic discernment”.  This is not only individual discernment but communal discernment.  The communities are homes therefore for spiritual conversation, homes for the reign of God, where apostolic work is encouraged by our brothers and mission is supported by the Society of Jesus.

But this has not only been the experience of the ADDU Jesuit community.  It has been the experience of the University community.


From the many things that we have done which such great energy and passion in the pursuit of our mission:  in providing excellent instruction, vibrant research, in reaching out to our communities;  from all we have done in the service of the faith,

in the service of social justice, in fighting large –scale open-pit mines, in opposing the use of illegal drugs, in rejecting illegal extra-judicial killings, in fighting for a green city, in making or own campus greening working for peace here in Mindanao,

in working for a reversal of historical injustices brought on the Bangsamoro people

in advocating the approval of the Bangsamoro Organic Law, the need is yet to find God’s will.  But not alone.

Discerning Community

We recall with gratitude our experience of communal discernment in our “Shared Passion, Shared Mission” experience in Eden, when as friends in the Lord we sought God’s will.


Freely, we appropriated the Jesuit Mission:  the service of the faith, the promotion of justice, sensitivity to cultures, inter-religious dialogue, and the protection and promotion of the environment.

The Eden experience allowed us to find our institutional mission:

The Ateneo de Davao excels in the formation of leaders for the Philippine Church and society, especially for Mindanao.

It excels further in the promotion of the faith that does justice, in cultural sensitivity and transformation, and in interreligious dialogue, particularly with Muslim and Lumad communities of Mindanao. 

It promotes social justice, gener equality good governance, the creation of wealth and its equitable distribution.

It engages vigorously in environmental protection, the preservation of bio-diversity, and the promotion of renewable energy.

It leads in Philippine educational reform, espeiclly fo the peoples of southern Philippines. (Aug. 13, 2011)

Today, before the Crucified Lord, we ask, “What have we done for you, what are we doing for you,  what ought we do for you.”

Even if too often we are enamored by all the things we do.  The “For you” is often left out”   The “In you” is often not there. We forget Jesus’ words:  “Without me you can do nothing”  (Jn 15:5).

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Reformulation of the Jesuit Mission

The pivot of GC 36 – it is not about us, but about God – ushered in a reformulation of the Jesuit mission,  We are called to participate in the Father’s work of reconciliation in a broken world.  We are called to walk with Jesus, resurrected yet still carrying his cross, in carrying out his Father’s work of reconciliation and bringing to humankind the “fullness of life.’ (Jn 10:10).  We are called to the love and compassion of the Spirit.

First call:  reconciliation with God.

“Reconciliation with God roots us in gratitude and opens us to joy, if we allow it.”

Pope Francis said:  “The joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus … With Christ, joy is constantly born anew.”

The lack of it may indicate our need for reconciliation with God.

Announcing the Good News of God’s work of reconciliation is the reason for the Society’s existence and mission.  It is arguably the inner soul of our work at ADDU.

In many different contexts, reconciliation with God is needed:

Secularization:  reconciliation of estranged humanity with God

A plural world:   reconciliation of different believers with God through inter-religious dialogue

A world where believers are abandoning the Church:  reconciliation of lost believers with a wounded Church itself in need of reconciliation with God.

The shallow understanding of the Gospel:  reconciling the shallowness of one’s reception of the Gospel with the joy of its understanding in depth

Accompanying peoples to God from the depth of their spiritual traditions.

Second Call:  reconciliation within humanity.

“We hear Christ summoning us anew to a ministry of justice and peace, serving the poor and the excluded and helping build peace”.

Daily we experience shocking forms of injustice and suffering of millions:

the displacement of peoples,  the lack of hospitality for peoples fleeing violence and war, marginalized people thrown away by society, inequality, the vulnerability of youth, the vulnerability of women, the intolerance that accompanies fundamentalism, ethnic-religious-political conflicts, violence, distorted religious convictions, war.

We experience them daily, and we are no longer shocked.

Third call:  reconciliation with creation.

GC 36 points out the fundamental connection between the environmental crisis and the social crisis.

We recall Laudato Si’s insight into the interconnectedness between overconsumption, gargantuan production machines, environmental destruction, and poverty and exclusion.

GC 36 states, “The direction of development must be altered if it is to be sustainable”

And if we are to “Heal a broken world.”

We are to “Promote a new way of producing and consuming which puts God’s creation in the center.” (29)  This involves a change in our personal and communal lifestyles and remaining close to the most vulnerable.

It is in this context that we have reformulated the Mission of the Ateneo de Davao University:

It participates in the reconciliation by the Father of humanity with Himself, of human beings with one another, and of humanity with the environment.

It strengthens faith.  It promotes humane humanity.

It engages in inter-cultural, inter-religious and inter-ideological dialogue, especially in Mindanao.

It responds to the needs of the Bangsamoro, the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao,  as well as the needs of lumad communities. 

It promotes the creation of wealth and its equitable distribution.

It strengthens its science and technology instruction, research, and technopreneurship  in Mindanao.

It promotes cultural understanding and friendship with its Asian neighbors.

It promotes lifelong learning and the dialogue between academe and the world of work. 

It protects and promotes of the environment as “our common home.”.

It develops ADDU sui generis leaders who appropriate this mission for life.

It treasures and works with its alumni/ae.

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The Universal Apostolic Preferences (UAPs) 

The Universal Apostolic Preferences (UAPs) emerge in the spirit of GC 36

They are the result of the communal discernment of the universal Society of Jesus, and they are proposed to us as partners in mission of the Society of Jesus.

Fr. Sosa’s letter: The Universal Apostolic Preferences of the Society of Jesus, 2019-2029 begins with an important scriptural quotation:  “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us to the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Cor 5:18)

“We hear the urgent summons to join the Lord.”   It doesn’t happen without us, in many cases.

But in GC 36, it is emphatically:

Not about us, but about God
Not about our work, but about God’s work
Not about our spirit, but about the Holy Spirit

The spirit of GC 36 is the Holy Spirit:

A call to conversion, impossible without the Spirit
A call to discernment, impossible without the Spirit
A call to discerning-community. impossible without the Spirit
A call to communally-discerned mission, impossible without the Spirit
A call to participation in God’s work of reconciliation, impossible without the Spirit

We now discuss “The Universal Apostolic Preferences (UAPs)” based on Fr. General
Sosa’s “Universal Apostolic Preferences of the Society of Jesus, 2019-2029.”

Under previous generals, because of the manifold mission of the Society of Jesus – faith, justice, cultures, inter-religious dialogue, and the environment – it was necessary for the Society’s leadership to articulate priorities.  First, it was Africa, then China, then in the intellectual apostolate, then refugees, the Roman Houses like the Gregorian University.  But the priorities did not really work.  China was the priority in this part of the world, but we were sending our people to East Timor and Cambodia.  GC 36 mandated Fr. General Sosa to address this problem.

Using the Venice paradigm, he called for discernment of the entire community of Jesuits throughout the world, in order to be able to gain insight into mission.

The output of this year of communal discernment was the four Universal Apostolic Preferences:

To show the way to God through the Spiritual Exercises and discernment;

To walk with the poor, the outcasts of the world, those whose dignity has been violated, in a mission of reconciliation and justice;

To accompany young people in the creation of a hope-filled future;

To collaborate in the care our Common Home.

They emerge as an output of:

  • Discernment
  • Discerning community
  • Communally-discerned mission

On “Preferring” in the Universal Apostolic Preferences

But allow me some remarks on “preferring” in the UAPs.

Webster defines preference as a priority.

But the “preferences” of UAPs are not to be confused with priorities.

Priorities have to do with agenda:  the choice of these over those.

Prioritization belongs to a plan, where the human planner is in control.

It belongs to the realm of human rationality.

The preferences of the UAP are not used in this sense.

They do not place walking with the poor over accompanying students who pay tuition in our schools to succeed in their preparation for life.

They are, I think, more profound than that.

Sometimes, “preference” is a weak word – close to the expression of an arbitrary choice.  One can prefer chocolate over strawberry; but the preference is not of great consequence.  One prefers a Nissan over a Toyota.  But a Suzuki would have done just as well.

But “preference” in the UAPs is a strong word, expressing a deep discerned personal desire in communion with the body of the Society of Jesus, finding mission – as soon as one allows the Spirit to lead oneself to “prefer” in this way.

This is, indeed, a bit tricky, because my spirit, my rationality, my wisdom, my defenses, my smugness and self-satisfaction tend to resist the urgings of the Spirit towards this way of “preferring.”

They are a preferring against what I unguardedly prefer, an “agere contra” [working against] in the range of possible preferences.  In unguarded moments I prefer to lead people to the wisdom of a worldliness insulated against a God and the promptings of His Spirit; I prefer to walk in the company of the wealthy, the decision-makers, the honored and admired, even should they be compromised by their inhumanity;  I prefer to be in the company of the adult, sophisticated, important people of this world who create the despair of the present;  I prefer the consumption and the wastefulness of a comfortable life.  Even as a Jesuit.  I prefer it even against the intrusions of guilt and shame.

Preferring “to show the way to God through the spiritual exercises” is not an arbitrary choice over “showing the way to God through prayer and meditation over scriptural passages.”  It is an active desire of the Jesuit leading to discernment with the community of the universal Society seeking God’s mission.

It is in this personal preferring in the communion of the SJ that one discerns the SJ mission within, not without.    What is discerned is accompanied by consolation and joy

It is not, therefore, an external, rational, appreciation of mission and its many strategic aspects that precedes my “preferring.”

But it is in my free “preferring” any of the UAPs that I am led to the “necessities” and “commitments” and “resolutions” described in each of the UAPs,

Already in Preference 1, “To show the way to God through the Spiritual Exercises and discernment,” the whole mission of the SJ is discerned in the Contemplation of the Incarnation through the Spiritual Exercises.  It is the same with “preferring” to walk with the poor, the outcasts of the world, those whose dignity has been violated in a mission of reconciliation and justice.”  Here, the preference explicitly mentions the mission.

Therefore, not preference between faith, justice, cultures, inter-religious dialogue, environment arbitrarily or even “rationally”, but an active preferring… desiring…with the communion of the SJ…which discerns in the Spirit the Jesuit mission within.

The preference is the manner in which an individual, a Jesuit or a partner in mission, appropriates an external mission in interiority.

It is only in this context that one “implements the preference,” which is at first glance a jarring agendum since one intuitively implements a mission.

But one does not implement an arbitrary or indifferent preference of an aspect of our mission against its other aspects.  In preferring…

One implements the exigencies of mission freely appropriated in preferring.    It is, surprisingly, not a dismaying proposition in its demands, but empowering in its freedom and joyful in its possibilities.

Finally, even as we can better appreciate the special Jesuit nuance in the “preferences” of the UAPs as expressed by Fr. Sosa, it is empty without arriving at a fresh appropriation in freedom of the Society’s profound mission of participating in the Father’s three-fold work of reconciliation.

Here, the GC 36 pivot: the initiative is not with the apostolic zeal and power of the individual Jesuit, but in the compassion of the Father who “prefers” …

  • dialogue and reconciliation with humankind through love over condemnation,
  • walking with sinners and failures and esp. Jesuits who’ve messed up and sinned,
  • walking with the old as well as with the young,
  • and laboring to restore a destroyed earth to a common home.

Here, the surprise is the awesome vocation given to each of us to be a part of this work of reconciliation, despite our unexamined preferences.

Its joy is revealed in what the Spirit leads the communion of Jesuits to prefer.

An invitation to ratify the strategic plan

It is in this spirit that we are invited to consider and ratify the strategic plan:

As a result of our own felt need for conversion.


  • To show the way to God through the Spiritual Exercises and discernment;
  • To walk with the poor, the outcasts of the world, those whose dignity has been violated, in a mission of reconciliation and justice;
  • To accompany young people in the creation of a hope-filled future;
  • To collaborate in the care of our Common Home.

Preferring our strategic plan as our communally discerned way of doing God’s will.

As our yes to our university’s concrete way today of participating in the Father’s work of reconciliation of humanity with himself, of ourselves with one another, of ourselves with creation.


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About Joel Tabora, S.J.

Jesuit. Educator
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