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FRONTIER MINISTRIES: CALLED TO TREAD THE UNTRODDEN PATH by Fr Jossie D’Mello, SJ

Ignatius06Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference” Robert Frost.

The above words from the well-known poem entitled “The Road not Taken” by the renowned American poet Robert Frost shed light on the theme of Frontier Ministries. “We are too much institutionalized” “We have become too much inward looking”. “I get a feeling that we have got stuck”. These were the feelings expressed by some young Jesuit priests who came together for a reflection on our mission. As Pope Francis constantly reminds us to go to the periphery, this should be a wake-up call for us who have often got stuck in the world of complacency and mediocrity in our ministries.

Ignatius and Frontier Ministries: We can mention ample incidents where Ignatius chose the frontier ministries during his life time. Simon Rodrigues one of the founding Fathers of the Society of Jesus narrates the corporal works of mercy that they were involved in just before their ordination in 1537 at Venice. Five each were sent to two hospices. “In the hospitals they waited on the indigent, made the beds, swept the house, cleaned out whatever was soiled, washed the pots of the poor who were sick, carried away the bodies of the dead honorably prepared for burial, dug their graves and buried them in a religious manner. Day and night they were present to everyone with such care, fervor, joy and happiness that all those living in the hospitals were greatly astounded”. The erudite men from the University of Paris were busy in doing menial jobs. They were able to do it because by now all had done their spiritual Exercises and they were affected by the person of Christ and their one desire was to identify with Jesus poor.

Church’s Appreciation on Frontier Ministries: Pope Paul VI made a moving statement to the delegates of GC 32 about the mission of the Society of Jesus: “Wherever in the Church, even in the most difficult and exposed fields, in the crossroads of ideologies, in the social trenches, there has been or is confrontation between the burning exigencies of humanity and the perennial message of the Gospel, there have been and are the Jesuits” (3 December 1974). Jesuits who are the companions of Jesus are called like Ignatius and his companions to choose not the trodden path but the untrodden, challenging and difficult one so as to make a difference in the lives of others.

Criteria for Frontier Ministries: The mission is part and parcel of our Jesuit vocation. Our mission demands that we read the signs of the times and ask constantly “what do God and the people of God want of us today?” The Constitutions of the Society of Jesus throw light on the criteria for our mission. Our choice of ministries should be governed by: greater glory of God [622], greater universal good [622], greater need [622], greater fruit likely to be reaped [622], where our indebtedness is greater [622], where the need is more urgent [623] and when there are no others to attend to it [623]. The desire for the frontier ministries should stem from our spirit of magis and availability which would offer us infinite possibilities provided we are ready to come out of our comfort zones.

We are called in the Jubilee year of Mercy to be the living images of the compassion of God by plunging into those ministries where the need is greater and urgent. We may be working in our institutions yet we can think outside the box, think about the frontiers and peripheries of our localities by taking initiatives, by choosing the untrodden path by taking effective actions towards the upliftment of the marginalized like slum dwellers, broken families, migrants, exploited women, orphans, child-labourers, etc.. Our mission includes not only our institutions but also the cry and the needs of the oppressed. Here we need an ongoing discernment.

Let me conclude with the quote from the General Congregation 34: “For us [Jesuits], frontiers and boundaries are not obstacles or ends, but new challenges to be faced, new opportunities to be welcomed. Indeed, ours is a holy boldness, ‘a certain apostolic aggressivity’ (Pedro Arrupe) typical of our way of proceeding” (d. 26, 561). Today new frontiers and peripheries beckon us. Are we reading the signs of the times? Are we ready to tread the untrodden path?

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