Feb. 20, 2020 — During his visit to the West Coast earlier this month, Fr. Arturo Sosa, SJ, Superior General of the Society of Jesus, sat down for a wide-ranging conversation with AMDG Podcast host Mike Jordan Laskey.
They talked about Father General’s visit, the four Universal Apostolic Preferences that are guiding Jesuit life and mission for the next decade, and what it’s like to see his photograph on the wall of every Jesuit community on every continent he visits.
Highlights from the conversation, edited and shortened for clarity, appear below.
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Mike Jordan Laskey: Father General, welcome to the United States! How has your visit to the West Coast been?
Father General: Well, it has been a very helpful visit. It has allowed me to meet most of the Jesuits of the Jesuits West Province. The directors of works have been very helpful for me to encounter. I have also been able to visit the bishops of the area, who have strengthened the relationship between the Society of Jesus and the local church we serve.
I have seen substantive progress in the collaboration between Jesuits and lay people, united by a missionary passion. And I have tried to encourage them to continue growing in this way of doing things together, feeling part of the same body, serving the same mission, trying to take advantage of the diversity they have and the Society has. So, it has been a very successful visit.
MJL: Traveling all over the world takes up a lot of your time. What is most valuable to you in those visits?
Father General: The face-to-face contact and the local Jesuits’ perception of the social, economical, and political situation where they work. The visits allow me to work with the picture of the universal body of the Society. For a General, the first task is to understand that big picture and to really have an experience, a direct experience, a face-to-face experience, of the Jesuits all over the world.
MJL: As you just mentioned, there are Jesuits all over the world in every different socioeconomic and cultural context. How do you begin to lead a community, a body that is so diverse?
Father General: Well, it's very exciting to do that. It's not a task for one person. The leadership of the Society is a shared leadership. The Society depends on a lot of people aligned in the same mission. We have to all the time try to be more clear about what we really need to do and what the Holy Spirit is asking us to do.
When you hear the situation of others, you understand that your situation is not the only one and maybe it's not the most important one. Our diversity allows us to support each other and to exchange experiences.
MJL: You've been serving as Father General for about three years, and while there are many people who you share leadership with, when you visit Jesuit communities around the world, every community has a photo of the pope on the wall and a photo of you. What is that like, to see that?
Father General: It's a surprise all the time: “What are you doing there?” This is a way to remember that one of my most important challenges is to be a face of unity.
MJL: What has been an especially meaningful or profound thing about being Father General that you might not have expected? What has surprised you?
Father General: I think that what is really amazing about this Society of Jesus is creativity in facing new situations or tough situations. I think Jesuits and partners do that with real sense of doing something important for the service of the others.
MJL: You've talked about the Biblical figure of Abraham as being an inspiration for you in this role. What about the story of Abraham resonates with you?
Father General: Abraham was an old man, a wealthy man, a man who had been very successful in his life, and he had arrived at a moment that was very tranquil. Then, he feels the call of the Spirit and the message was, "You have to leave that behind you and go to the road." And a normal person would say, "Why? I'm already in my last part of my life. I don't want to move around. I'm very satisfied with my life." But he didn't do that. He just said, "Okay," and he left behind everything to go out on the road.
So there is this idea of having total trust in God and only in God. And for a man or a woman of our cultures, we are self-supporting; we are proud that we can do things by ourselves. So to leave all things in the hands of God, that is the attitude that the Gospel is asking of us. Abraham is a model of a person of faith.
MJL: Where do you see the Holy Spirit leading the Society of Jesus today?
Father General: If I knew that I would be the Holy Spirit! I see that the process of the Universal Apostolic Preferences was really led by the spirit. The General Congregation asked us to do a process that never before had been done in the Society of Jesus: that the whole body of the Society make discernment in common, including our lay partners.
MJL: I would love to talk about the Universal Apostolic Preferences now that you've mentioned them. (For the unfamiliar, the UAP are four guideposts for Jesuit life and mission over the next 10 years: 1. To show the way to God through the Spiritual Exercises and discernment. 2.To walk with the poor, the outcasts of the world, those whose dignity has been violated in a mission of reconciliation and justice. 3. To accompany young people in the creation of a hope filled future. 4. To collaborate in the care of our common home.)
So you go around and speak to groups about these Universal Apostolic Preferences that were received just about a year ago. How do you begin to introduce them to people who might not be so familiar with them?
Father General: We have received a road map. We have not designed the road map; we have received it from the Spirit. We have a light that can illuminate our life, our mission, to walk in that path.
We have to understand the four preferences as a group, as a whole. I like to use the image of the hand. Your hands have different parts, and the parts really can move independently, and you can use one finger or two for some activities, but the real function of the hand is when you can use all the fingers together and the palm of the hand in coordination. So the four preferences are part of the hand, and the fifth finger — that is collaboration.
MJL: After a process of discernment in common throughout the whole Society of Jesus, a draft of the UAP were presented to Pope Francis, who reviewed them, added his comments and returned them to you as a mission from the Holy Father himself. What did Pope Francis emphasize in his reflections on the UAP?
Father General: He stressed that if you are not man of prayer, the UAP make no sense. He went directly to the fundamentals. If you are not really united to God, the four preferences make no sense. If you are not on the path to God, you cannot show the path.
MJL: I know that for me as a young adult, I'm drawn to Ignatian spirituality because it provides great, practical tools for finding who God is calling me to be. And it seems like that is something that a lot of young people hunger for. They want to know what they're called to do, what their meaning is.
Father General: The principal fruit of the Spiritual Exercises is interior freedom. Through the Exercises, you gain interior freedom and you feel yourself healed by the forgiving God and able to make elections. The Exercises lead you to make elections, and they give you the capacity to be a discerning person, the capacity to find God in everything.
MJL: What are sources of hope for you?
Father General: I mentioned before that I have found a very creative body. I have found a body that is alive: not surviving, but living. And they get this life from the spiritual experience and giving their life. It's very moving to find so many people really giving their life — giving their life so others can have life. Our work is not our property, it is something that we have received as a gift.