One of Pope Francis’ recent documents has as its title and opening words, Praedicate Evangelium, “Preach the Gospel.” That happy task – really that happy grace – of proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ applies to all members of the Church, in the ever-changing circumstances of his or her own life. It surely applies to every Jesuit. For 75 years now, the Lord has given me as a member of the Society of Jesus that grace. And for that blessing I can only thank him.
It is still that same gospel that the Church teaches. But especially since Vatican II, how wonderfully different in so many ways is that Church. A few examples: I as a Catholic have seen the Church now acknowledge all of ourselves first and foremost as the “People of God” with the Scriptures and the liturgy as the center of our prayer. We preach the gospel of Christ while praying with other Christian communities and non-Christian religions. In gratitude we point to our roots in and relationship to the Jewish people, while asserting religious freedom as a basic human right for all. Who, 75 years ago could have predicted all that – and more? Not I.
As a Jesuit in these 75 years, I have also seen a renewed spiritual heritage as we more deeply both returned to our roots and engaged with our world. I think that in so doing we are better able to know and follow Jesus and to preach in word and deed His good news than when I entered the Society of Jesus in 1944.
And through all those years, among the accompanying graces that for me have made the Society of Jesus what it is today are its members, my brother Jesuits. The brethren may not yet all be canonizable, but in teaching me how to be a member of the Society of Jesus, they surely “preach the Gospel.”