Reconciliation is a key aspect of Jesuit life and ministry today. We speak of working to bring about a three-fold reconciliation: with God, with one another, and with creation. This mission can be understood, too, as the setting right of relationships, particularly where these have become marred by selfishness, violence, or other sinful behaviour. Our aim in all of this is to serve the God who “In Christ was reconciling the world to himself” (2 Corinthians 5:19). It is easy to see that reconciliation must also have been at the centre of the lives of those Jesuits who came together in the second decade of the nineteenth century when the Society was restored. They were called to put themselves at the service of a Church which, for forty years, had denied their existence. They needed to move back into countries which had expelled them, and into dioceses where their property had been confiscated and their ministries taken over by others. And all of this in a Europe (still at that time the centre of the Jesuit world) torn apart by the conflict with Napoleon. The Jesuits called upon to officiate at the funeral of Pombal, a chief architect of the Suppression (see yesterday’s blog) stand as a fitting symbol of this desire for reconciliation.
Yet it is one thing to want the establishment of right relationships, and another to achieve this goal. I may genuinely want to be able to forgive someone who has hurt me deeply, but find myself in practice powerless to do so. I might feel that it is impossible that God will really forgive my most shameful wrongdoing. Many of us would like to live ecologically responsible lives, respecting God’s creation; yet at the same time unable to imagine life without the car, the central heating, or the latest computer hardware. Anyone who believes that reconciliation is an easy aspect of Christian living has probably failed to understand what it truly involves.
Those who make the Spiritual Exercises spend a considerable time praying for the gift of being reconciled, with God, with other people, and with the whole of creation. That perhaps offers a vital clue to grasping what reconciliation really means. It is a gift, a grace, one that ultimately can only come from God. I cannot make myself forgive a painful injury, or prove myself worthy of God’s continuing love. I can, though, ask for the gift, and trust that God will grant it. The way in which the gift is given, and the length of time I have to wait for it, both are outside my control. What I can do is to continue to ask, in prayer, and live in expectation of my damaged relationships being restored. The decades following the Restoration of the Society saw an astonishing growth and flowering of renewed Jesuit life and ministry, a demonstration of the fact that reconciliation is possible even in the most unlikely situations.
Fr Paul Nicholson SJ