It was rumoured that prior to the Suppression and his imprisonment Father General Lorenzo Ricci managed to hide the great riches of the Society of Jesus so as to keep it safe. As General Treasurer of the Society, I am still trying to locate that stash! In the meantime we have to have other ways of managing our resources!
It the times of predominantly agrarian economies the goal of our financial administration was to preserve our assets for our livelihood, and as religious we did not amass wealth but retained only what we needed for a lifestyle that was communal and simple. In those days the treasurer (known then as the procurator) “kept” what he could obtain for the community and meted it out only as needed. The focus was surviving a year, and in most regions that meant surviving the winter or until the next harvest. Given the unknown of the severity or length of the season it is not strange that these managers came to be known as secretive, controlling, and perhaps even miserly. But it was their responsibility to see that the community (that often was “the work”) had enough. Our individual poverty was one of dependency upon the community.
Today we find ourselves in an era where the dominant economic model is more global and macro. We make decisions that are more strategic: we begin to use our resources for long term sustainability of our works. The decisions today are not only about immediate exigencies but also about long range implications for the service of the Church and the poor. Good financial management calls us to plan for the future, and store resources for future eventualities (i.e. a building fund, an arca praevisionis for health care, or an arca apostolorum for future needs of the apostolates). Yet surpluses are not for security, but for the sake of the greater good. Perhaps the treasurer of the global economies will be known as strategic, generous, and visionary. And we will be called to live simply – not to make it through the winter, but to live with less so that others who have less may have what they need. No longer a poverty of dependency but rather of interdependency.
Should we ever find Ricci’s gold we will be grateful that he put it away for the needs of the future!
Fr Thomas McClain SJ is the General Treasure of the Society of Jesus