March 1, 2017 - by Henry Frank
Collaboration is at the heart of the Ignatian mission.
As a buzz word, “collaboration” is familiar to most of us. The word is plastered on ads for the latest cloud services or project management apps, right beside “efficiency” and “innovation.” But familiarity sometimes breeds vagueness, so let’s clarify its meaning in relation to the Ignatian life.
To some extent, the intended meaning is straightforward. Glance at the history of Jesuit missions around the world, and you discover no shortage of examples of Jesuits collaborating with kings and queens, governments and politicians, business people, merchants, other cultures, and other religious traditions in service to their mission. That fact alone, that Ignatius encouraged his followers to be savvy, is not particularly profound – it’s good business practice for an effective organization.
“Resourcefulness” is a bit closer to an Ignatian definition, but it lacks the sense of a genuine encounter that Ignatius has in mind. He said about Jesuit missionary activity, “We go in by their door, in order to come out by ours.” As we begin to grasp the depth of this statement and what it demands of us, we come to understand what true Ignatian collaboration means.
We ought to start by taking Ignatius at his word – he is not endorsing guile or duplicity. He earnestly encourages his followers to “go in by their door”, fully aware of the vulnerability and imagination necessary for that kind of collaboration.
Ignatian collaboration, therefore, requires honesty both with ourselves and with our partners – the type of honesty that comes from self-reflection. We must be attentive to the movements of the Spirit in our lives. We must listen to the people God puts in our lives, discover their challenges as well as their strengths, and engage them in their own space. For individuals, this entails more listening than speaking. For organizations, it requires that they analyze studiously the needs they seek to address, before offering solutions. Once we fully understand the circumstances, we can begin to imagine a way forward.
Ignatius expects that entering through “their door” will change us, if we do it honestly. He expects his followers to dress, think, speak, and act differently as a result. He probably would not have guessed, for example, that 75 years after his death, his followers would paddle up the St. Lawrence river in birch bark canoes, dressed in beaver pelts for warmth, and preaching the Gospel to Algonquin boys in their own language – but it certainly would not have surprised him.
Of course, the change wrought by Ignatian collaboration is not absolute. Collaboration is done with a purpose, and not for its own sake. The goal of missionary activity, after all, is to spread the Gospel – hence, “…in order to come out by our door.”
Imagination is the companion of this type of honest encounter. What it looks like differs with circumstances, but the object remains the same. Can we imagine, can we see, how God is calling us to spread the Gospel among those around us? Have we listened to the needs of our brothers and sisters, and are we brave enough to enter through their door? Are we prepared for the arduous task of working together for a better church and a better world?
Each of us may answer these questions differently, but all of us have an opportunity during this Lenten season to reflect on our own work and recognize the people with whom God is calling us to collaborate.
It is trite to say that we can make a difference together, but Ignatius believed it. Our challenge is to summon the courage to be vulnerable and the creativity to imagine what it looks like to “come out by our door.”