BY A SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT POPE PAUL, still clearing up the debris after the blitz of Vatican II, has now the 31st General Congregation of the Society of Jesus to deal with,
Until a day or two before the 36,000-strong Congregation wound up its 'work the 230 delegates from some 85 pro-• vinces were beginning to think that they had made a good hand of a very difficult task.
They went a long way to updating themselves although constitutionally committed to a 400-year-old policy of nonupdating.
As if this were not a delicate enough operation, they also had to find a way of maintaining their special obedience to the Pope, while somehow keeping step with a Church that is purposefully becoming less centralised.
They succeeded in this, too, and Pope Paul has given his full blessing to their reaffirmation of being wholly at his disposal.
DISHEARTENING It must, then, be as disheartening to them as it is confusing to the Catholic public to read of the Pope's reaction.
From these reports the average reader—Catholic and non-Catholic — must be wondering whether the Jesuits are still the "Pope's men" of mythology, or an Order doomed to suppression for a second and final time?
The answer, of course, is neither. And it would not be quite fair to put the blame for the confusion entirely on the Press. The fact is that since Vatican II got going, the Church has needed a highly effective public relations service —one that will process the experts' findings for general consumption and assimilation — and we simply haven't got such a service.
If there had been a proper public relations service, this phoney story about the downfall of the Jesuits would hardly have broken. But something that is not phoney has happened, that is for sure.
NOT FOR LIFE During the first session last year for instance, the Fathers re-wrote a constitution that St. Ignatius was most adamant on: that the general ' had to be elected for life. Now he may retire, or even be voted out by unanimous General Congregation.
In that session, too, they outlined a programme of approach to the atheism of our times.
The Vatican Council was then still in progress and one reason for postponing certain business to the Congregation's second and final session which started last September, was that the Jesuit Fathers wanted to have the Council's final directive to the religious orders.
As a result they have now decided to change the rule that a Jesuit's seniority in the order entitled him to sit in a provincial congregation. Now he will be there by election. This move has been described as "increasing the degree of democracy in the order".
On Church unity they made a special point of expressing their regrets for any errors any individual Jesuits may have made in the past to the offence of other Christians and the obstruction of Christian unity.
Since they are deadly serious in their work for ecumenism, this was a necessary gesture. But it was also a touching one in the light of the persecution from non-Catholics (let alone Catholics).
OBEDIENCE And they reaffirmed their special obedience to the Pope. This special dedication does not mean the Society of Jesus sees itself as the Pope's personal task force. What it does mean is that the Jesuits corporately put themselves at the Pope's disposal for any particular apostolate he has in mind.
A practical example of the connection between the Pope and the Jesuits may be drawn from the relations between Pope John and Cardinal Bea, who between them thought out much of the ideology that inspired Vatican Cardinal Bea happens to be a Jesuit, yet Pope John shortly after his election had already made it clear he was not going to make a pet of the society, as Pope Pius XII did (though it was Pius who stopped them smoking at one time).
There is no doubt that the Pope wanted the Society to put itself through some measure of updating, and the extent to which that was done at the official Congregation level met with his full approval.
But his stricture against a number of unnamed doubters within the Society who have been going too far in their quest for reform gives lie to the question: How far is too far? The short answer will be: As far as the Congregation's rulings have gone.
But people in and out of the Society of Jesus will continue to ask whether rulings are the final answer to a particular widespread and growing misgiving: The suspicion that more legislation is not the way nowadays to bring people face to face with the Gospel.
The Pope, in his insistence on obedience and interior discipline, condemned expressly the apparent belief of some Jesuits that exterior action alone is enough to maintain an enlightened, strong and pure spirit and sufficient to preserve union with God."
At the same time the General Congregation which he has ratified has shifted a lot of the stress from interior to exterior action, because it is this kind of action that is being more and more demanded of Christians today.
If individual Jesuits have gone further in this direction than the congregation has, it may in certain cases be a fall
ing away from "austerity and virility". But the general move is to reinstate the maxim: "By their fruits you shall know them".
The Society's 16th century founder St. Ignatius was faced with a Christendom whose religion had largely become an outward show of meaningless practices. His life work was to help restore the religion of the head and heart—religion that meant what it did.
The motive behind the present bid for visible rather than interior activity is the equally important truth that religion should also do what it means.
And since the civilised world can no longer be called Christendom, the growing feeling is that Christians should not only act out their Christianity but that they should also act it out in a style the nonChristian majority will understand.
BLIND CHARITY The movement might be called a shift from blind obedience to blind charity. Is it certain that the one is more dangerous or less Christ-like than the other?
Whatever the answer, it seems plain that the work of the 3Ist general congregation is just beginning. (As the work of Vatican II was just beginning when the Council Fathers were checking out of their Roman hotels a year ago.) Few of the Jesuits themselves could have wanted the case to be open and shut anyway. For in a growing world even the most vital organism can shut once too often.