Like others interested in the fortunes of the Society of Jesus, I have been keeping up with the news of the 35th General Congregation -- the 35th meeting (in the last 450 years) of representatives of the entire worldwide order for the purpose of setting direction for the future. The Congregation began in Rome on January 4 and the first matter of business, accomplished this morning, was the election of a new Father General.
It's been a moving process to learn about and to watch, even from my tiny observation point at my computer somewhere toward the middle of the U.S. The election was preceded by four days of quiet discussion and prayer among the Jesuits as names of leaders emerged and were considered. (Anyone who shows the sighest interest in the office for himself is automatically disqualified. A novel idea.) The January 17 entry here gives some insight into the process and its meaning. (And, on a personal note, some insight into why I have been so grateful for Jesuit spiritual directors in my own life.)
Like other religious institutions, the Society of Jesus is plagued by declining numbers in the face of an increasingly secular world and divisions of opinion with respect to theological, social, and political issues. So it's fascinating to see the process by which it recreates and redefines itself. The next two events which I will be watching with a similar degree of intensity will be the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) this summer and the U.S. presidential election in the fall. If only we all practiced four day murmuratios before making the big decisons . . . .