By Arturo Estrada Acosta SJ
The promotion and practice of discernment have always been key apostolic principles of the Society of Jesus. In his first years as Father General, Ignatius of Loyola urged his fellow Jesuits to discern their mission and seek the greatest good in all their actions. The recently promulgated Universal Apostolic Preferences (UAPs), particularly the first, emphasizing the activity of discernment, underline this permanent feature of Jesuit work since the very beginning.
In Comparte – a learning and economic development network comprised of 16 social centres and 5 universities of the Society of Jesus, in 11 Latin American countries and in Spain (see p. 7) – we welcome these preferences as our very own. From our perspective of alternative development, we recognize that the first preference, which centres discernment squarely in our action, is related to the second preference, which aims to promote social justice and change economic, political and social structures that generate injustice. Such change is a necessary dimension of reconciliation of human beings, peoples and entire cultures with nature and with God.
As a learning community exploring alternative productive economies, we believe that taking this task seriously is no easy matter, given the intrinsically unequal, exclusionary and unsustainable character of our current economic system. We know that we must work in this system, reflect deeply on it and transform it from within, beginning with institutions already active in seeking abundant life for all. It is imperative that we improve our studies, analysis and reflection in order to understand thoroughly the economic, political and social processes that create so much injustice. At the same time, we must contribute to the creation of alternative models, which is why our Comparte network includes social centres, universities and grassroots producers.
Over the last 10 years, the Comparte network has promoted and practised discernment with a twofold, concrete result. On the one hand, we have been invited to reflect on our own lives, putting them before the Lord and discovering in them what we are personally called to and what best advances the common good. On the other hand, we have found ourselves rooted in the suffering of the world, where we must ask what we can do communally to transform this hard reality. The promotion and practice of discernment have constantly shaped Comparte’s meetings, workshops, field visits, etc. We employ Ignatian discernment to improve our current economic methods.
We know that to live deeply, the Spiritual Exercises lead us to a personal and communal encounter with Christ that transforms us. In the context of economic injustice, we strive to experience the Exercises from the perspective of those who are excluded by the current system. By doing so we come to understand the Incarnation and its embodiment of redemption in relation to the productive organizations we support. In this way we help transform a hard reality and work toward reconciliation.