When Ignatius sent Francis Xavier to the Indies, he spurred him on with “Go and set the world on fire.” Ignatius had set him afire with God right from his days with Francis in Paris. That fire had been simmering within Francis only eager to sparkle and kindle other fires. Right from his embarking in Lisbon for the Indies he was on call, ministering to those on board. He spread the gospel not only to the coastlands of the peninsular India, but beyond – to Indonesia and Japan. The gospel-fire within him would not let him take a respite. His frontier ministry got cut short on Sancian Island overlooking China when God took him home.
Francis Xavier is one of the many who have made voyages to different parts of the globe, be it China or Philippines, North & South America or Africa. When they left their homeland and families, they left for good, intending never to return, and made the places they went to their homes and the people they lived with their families. They have shed their sweat and blood, laid down their lives having toiled to enkindle the good news of love and dignity to human beings around them. And today, we are graced to have the mortal remains of many interred in our land.
Pope Leo XIII (1878-1903) had said, ‘India, your sons shall be your salvation.’ (Filii tui saluti tibi). Today Indian Christians are functioning as messengers of the Good News not only in different parts of India, but also in many countries round the world.
Discernment is a key-word in the Ignatian lingo. In the initial years of the Society, human development through education seemed the need of the hour. And hence, religious and secular education took the centre stage in the Jesuit apostolates round the world. Over the centuries, the Jesuit educational apostolate has bloomed into many universities in countries the world over, specialising in diverse fields. And these universities are known for quality education. Commendable, indeed.
Discernment always needs to be ongoing. That is Ignatian – pondering and responding to the need of the place, the people and the hour. In our country, though the educational apostolate takes a lion’s share of the Jesuit personnel, we do have other apostolates such as pastoral, spiritual, social-justice, ecology, refugee-service, health-services, human development etc. All these are diversified ministries evolved from the contextual exigencies.
Ongoing discernment requires that we assess our apostolates with the Kingdom perspectives and priorities, periodically or as needed, to be attentive to the call of the Spirit and need of the hour. This attentiveness implies an open mind, and courage to take bold steps. Such openness of mind and sensitivity to the Spirit may, at times, beckon us to wind up some apostolates that may be redundant, or venture into new areas or initiatives that need our presence and attention.
The Society of Jesus has been known for pioneering efforts – whether it was Francis Xavier venturing out to the unknown Indies, eventually wanting to reach the wisdom-minds of China, or Matteo Ricci and Johann Adam Schall von Bell who tried to dialogue with the Chinese literati, men who were educated in Confucianism and the Chinese classics, or the Jesuits who reached the Guarani tribes in the unreachable jungles of Paraguay, or Robert de Nobili, or John de Brito who tried to reach the intelligentsia in what today is Tamil Nadu, India.
The call to frontier ministry today, therefore, assumes two major factors for us Jesuits:
One: to be fired within with love for Christ whose face is seen in the faces of people we are sent to minister. This presumes a Jesuit’s daily contact with Christ in the Eucharist and in one’s personal prayer.
Two: personal and communitarian dialogue and discernment for apostolate, taking into focus: the needs of the people, place and the hour. This sounds like the Jesuit adage: ‘Read the signs of the times.’ Be attuned.