A new General.
This morning in Rome, the delegates of the 36th General Congregation elected Father Arturo Sosa as the 31st Superior General of the Society of Jesus. A political scientist by training, the 67-year-old Father Sosa taught in his native Venezuela before serving as provincial superior of Jesuits in the country. Since 2014 he has served as Father General's Delegate for the Roman Houses of the Society, a position which gives him oversight of the various Jesuit communities and institutions in Rome. This range of experiences has given Father Sosa a sense of the global scope and diversity of the Society, and this will certainly serve him well as General. For my part, I'm also happy to note that Father Sosa has a link to my alma mater, having served as a visiting professor of Latin American Studies at Georgetown in 2004.
Following the customary prescriptions of the Society, later today I will offer Mass for the intentions of the new General. I am sure that I will also continue to pray for him in the days ahead, and I invite others to do the same. (As an aside, praying for the new General reminds me that Father Sosa is the third General I've served under as a Jesuit, after Father Peter-Hans Kolvenbach and Father Adolfo Nicolás; I'm starting to feel "old in the Society," as Jesuits sometimes say.)
As leader of the largest religious order in the Catholic Church, the Superior General of the Society of Jesus holds a position of great responsibility as well as visibility; whereas the leaders of most religious orders are little known outside their own communities, the "Black Pope" is often seen as a figure with influence beyond his own order and as something of an institutional bellwether. Though our last three superiors general have been permitted to resign, the General of the Society is still elected for life, and being elected to the office inevitably changes one's life forever. The sense in which the General is called to be "the Successor of St. Ignatius" must be both humbling and intimidating, challenging the man to serve as a model and an inspiration as well as an administrator.
In anticipation of today's election, one of the delegates to the Congregation wrote a "Letter to an Unknown Soldier" addressing the then-unknown General. In this letter, Father Dermot Preston exhorts the new General to take heart in spite of his own doubts in the face of a monumental task. Here is some of what Father Preston writes:
I write this on Thursday and you will be elected as Father General on Friday. Whether you are old or young, or whether I know you well, or whether we have only exchanged a smile and a few words in these last days, I will speak.Once again, my prayers are for Father Sosa as he assumes his new office as General of the Society. May God grant him great consolation and the wisdom and strength he needs to govern the Society, and may the Holy Spirit continue to guide the work of the 36th General Congregation. AMDG.
Firstly, the days of murmuratio will have been gruelling for your soul: as the hours have unfolded, you will have grown aware that people have been inquiring about you and scrutinising you, and those people who know you. For any sane person this scrutiny will have been near-intolerable: it will have invaded your inner space, broken into your precious time of prayer and cut across your discernment as you, too, looked into our midst for a possible successor to St Ignatius.
Yet, as others have been probing, you also (perhaps unwillingly) will have been forced to probe deeply and explore the ambiguities of your own personality, history and spiritual life; and almost certainly you will have perceived much within that is amiss – the failures of love, the compromises with life, the sins of omission and commission. These will be high on your agenda, even if others don’t appear to have seen them.
So, when you take your seat as General and look out over the Aula, almost certainly, at some level, you will feel yourself to be a fraud and not fit to untie the sandals of any of the Generals who have preceded you and inspired you.
Please do not ponder unduly on these inadequacies; like the rest of us you are a broken human-being seeking the healing & inspiring graces that the Lord offers to those He loves. God will provide those graces in so many ways – directly through the heart, certainly; but also indirectly through the very imperfect structures of the Church and the Society of Jesus which, as Ignatius knew, would hold and protect its General and allow him graciously to do great things for God.
Secondly, continue to learn who you are, and then be who you are; don’t brood about what you are not. That might seem a rather simple instruction, but it is imperative and will either lead to an inner contentment or a huge frustration.
. . .
True humility is seeing yourself as God sees you – with all your strengths & weaknesses, lights & shadows. The more you realise how God sees you, and the more you delight in that realisation, then God will rejoice in your uniqueness and, working through you, will Make All Things New.