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 Jack Deeney entered the Jesuits’ California Province in 1949 and finished his Jesuit training in 1965 in Asia.  He taught and lectured on Chinese-Western Comparative Literature in various Chinese universities (in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and China) for more than 32 years.  He left the Jesuits about half way through his academic career, but continued his teaching and research in Hong Kong until his retirement in 1997.  He is now affiliated with the University of Pittsburgh’s Center of International Studies.

Asked to write about the future of the Jesuits, Deeney comes up with a suggestion – that the Order could have a greater impact on the world by setting up a global think tank. We hope his argument triggers some discussion in the forthcoming issues of JUST GOOD COM PANY.

A Jesuit Think Tank for the World?

John J. Deeney

                                     O would some Power the gift to give us,

                                      To see ourselves as others see us.

                                                       --Robert Burns (modernized)

            In reviewing the copious notes I have taken for over 50 years, I came across one dated August 17, 1965: “The editor of the Jesuit magazine, America, went to some promotion gurus on Madison Avenue, seeking advice on increasing the quality of  the magazine as well as its circulation, etc.  They answered, ‘We’d be ashamed to take your money.  You have already got what every magazine needs most—wide and numerous experienced contacts throughout the country and the world.  Why you have the biggest network of potential correspondents in the world!  What you seem to lack is simple organization of all this talent.’”

More facetiously, in the words of a young Jesuit,  “Why do we remain such a group of overdeveloped underachievers?”   In short, how might the Jesuits better realize their great potential?  In addition to the many good works they are currently engaged in -- the social and lay apostolates, the missions, education, pastoral ministry, etc. -- I would like to suggest that more attention be given to the organization of an international “think tank,” nourished and inspired by affective communities continuing the esprit de corps vision of St. Ignatius.

Global “Think Tank”

Contemporary society has become so complex that it is very difficult for even a very well educated Christian to understand or cope with the problematic issues we view daily on TV or read about in our newspapers.  We are left feeling helpless about what a responsible “citizen of the world” should and can do regarding the victims (especially women and children) of violence, poverty, famine, war, terrorism, AIDS, environmental disasters, etc., to say nothing of other social injustices and exploitation that often accompany political and economic globalization. To counter tendencies towards America’s “imperial overreach,” the next generation or two would be well advised to study other cultures and do more “listening and learning” than “talking and teaching.”  There is a desperate need for this kind of “Think Tank” or research bureau to monitor and comment on the world’s megatrends.  Members of such a group would be representatives of different cultures and assigned to key aspects of world problems according to their areas of expertise. 

With the assistance of these experts from different disciplines (including, of course, the laity), they would try to keep their focus on the larger issues and attempt to sort out the implications of such problems from a Catholic perspective, but without imposing these views on others.  But this Catholic viewpoint has to be “catholic,” and would have to exercise itself in the context of a wider kind of ecumenism, not just the Judaeo-Christian tradition, but including the views of other thought-systems such as Islam, Buddhism, Confucianism, Hinduism, etc.  As serious scholars of internationalism and contextualization, they would, of course, tap into other “Think Tanks,” sacred as well as secular, and compile useful lists of outstanding writers, international organizations, and conferences that could provide important information on specific issues from all major language groups.  This broader spatial view would be matched with its temporal counterpart: not only knowing the historical past but also looking into the future with a long-term perspective.  This would also require great discernment in coming up with new strategies and paradigms, while managing the rapidization process that is ever more accelerated by Information Technology.

A necessary corollary to the “Think Tank” idea is the organization of a Virtual House of Writers that would disseminate the results of theological reflection by dialoguing with the modern world through an attractive website.  This marvelous new means of rapid, global communication would have to be professionally maintained (including a public relations effort) in order to be a useful and attractive clearinghouse of prioritized information on world issues which would both inform as well as lead to other pertinent publications and resources (including other websites).  An additional service might be to provide abstracts of outstanding books, articles, speeches, etc

Local Community

   The spiritual energy required to best implement the above suggestions cannot reside in a single Jesuit, but in the concentrated efforts of an apostolic group who are motivated by the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius and, in the words of St. Paul, “loving each other, supportingly.”  Although individual members of a given community might be engaged in different apostolates and may represent any point on the liberal/conservative scale, they should be one in spirit.  If not close friends, at least they could be comrades dedicated to a common cause and accountable to each other, rather than resembling isolated individuals of some cozy bachelor’s club.

In addition, whatever differences there are in age, temperament, and personality, fellow Jesuits should be able to say to each other: “We are in this together.  I will be there to celebrate with you on your achievements or to commiserate with you in failure.”   This is the primary definition of a community: a group of people who are together because of common interests and mutual support; not merely “a group of people living in the same locality and under the same government,” nor, least of all -- and, a bit sardonically -- “a group of plants and animals living in a specific region under relatively similar conditions” (American Heritage Dictionary). 

With the ubiquity of e-mail, one can easily keep in contact with former members of a given Jesuit community to maintain this mutual support and reduce somewhat the feeling that one is alone.  If there is no community spirit animating the Jesuit apostolate, but only a group of individuals whose sum is not greater than its parts, can there be any lasting continuity in their apostolic enterprise?

To end on a seriously pious note, I should like to think that all Jesuits could at least be “one in the spirit” through participation in some kind of communal liturgy, whether it be a scriptural service or, preferably, in the eucharistic celebration.  The Jesuits are also called, “Companions of Jesus.”  Etymologically, “companion” means “with” plus “bread.”   What could be more appropriate for Jesuits to find their greatest strength and inspiration in a breaking of the bread with each other at Mass . . . and, in the Liturgy of the Word, to share with each other the hopes and aspirations of the day.

Note. The above-mentioned “spiritual energy” of local communities seems to be flourishing in the Jesuit California Province. I just recently stumbled across a Webpage describing the careful preparation for their “Convocation 2003” http://calprov.org/convocation.html. There are eight prayerful gatherings scheduled, of all the Jesuit communities, leading up to August, 2003. These meetings are to be characterized by prayerful discussion of “Where is the Spirit leading us?”

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