The Father General of the Society of Jesus, Father Peter Hans-Kolvenbach, said this week no religious congregation or institution has a guaranteed future and that each one “could disappear” if the work entrusted to it by the Lord has been fulfilled, as the history of the Church has shown.
“I am convinced that religious life should always be in crisis, if we really want to be constantly attentive to the Spirit, who never rests. It’s not enough to follow the constitutions, the rules, in order to have a certain future,” the Jesuit superior said in an interview with the magazine “Jesus” and quoted by the Spanish daily “La Razon.”
In this sense, he said, there must be discernment of what the Lord is asking of each congregation in the different circumstances of life and history, since for example, “He may ask of a certain group of consecrated a specific task during a determined period of time,” and when that is finished, “that institute may disappear. This is not something new in the history of the Church.”
Father Kolvenbach recalled that throughout history, the Holy Spirit has raised up in the Church new charisms to bring her out of periods of crisis. When the Church “ran the risk of erring with the Empire,” he explained, “the Holy Spirit inspired hermits to renew in her the value of spirituality and of prayer.”
He pointed to the examples of St. Francis of Assisi, who was called when the Church was suffering the temptation to riches and power, and St. Ignatius of Loyola, who responded to the Lord to bring the Church to the missions beyond the “known geographical and cultural confines.”
The Church will never lack “the gift of consecrated life,” he went on. “The number of vocations may worry us, but I agree with St. Ignatius: focus more on the quality than the quantity,” he said.
Father Kolvenbach stressed that God “has never left the heart of man,” and although “there are times in which we think we can live” as if He did not exist, when there is an insuperable difficulty, an ethical crisis, there is a return to spirituality.” Our forefathers said desperation leads to prayer,” he added.
Father Kolvenbach will leave the post of Father General in 2008 during the Society’s 35th General Congregation, after having led the Jesuits for 24 years.