Spiritual Conversation is a great gift for us in our way of proceeding. Ignatius specifically states in the Jesuit Constitutions that spiritual conversation is one of the apostolic works of the Society. This was primarily done through Confession and the Spiritual Exercises, but it was certainly not limited to that. Jesuits and their collaborators today reach all parts of the world and have the opportunity of engaging the people of God in spiritual conversation in their apostolate. The call for spiritual conversation indicates Ignatius’s care for the whole person (Cura Personalis) and desire to know them on a deeper level. With Jesus, conversion occurred when people had personal encounters with him through conversation. Jesus spent time with people, ate with them, chatted about matters of faith, and allowed friendships to form. After all, to be a person is to be in relationship.
Here is an attempt to understand what, why, and how of Spiritual Conversation in and through a 3 parts.
Spiritual Conversation and Communal Discernment – Part 1
Spiritual conversation is a great tool for communal and institutional discernment. Ignatian vocabulary tends to chisel its concepts with precision and sobriety. A review of the Concordancia Ignaciana of Ignacio Echarte, s.j.,1 shows us that when a term appears very often it is because it is either one that is used commonly or because it obeys a particular expressive intentionality. The terms “to converse” and “conversation” would be in this second group. They are used in the Ignatian literature with an unusual frequency: Altogether, the roots “converse” in its two forms (“conuersa” and “conversa”) used by Ignatius in the Spiritual Exercise and the Constitutions 39 times, and in his letters 316 times. We are faced with a typically Ignatian concept, consciously chosen both in the foundational literature of the Society, as well as throughout the letters composed during the chronological period this cover. Besides, it represents a technical term which implies an apostolic method essential to the Ignatian charism.
Conversation constitutes the essential core difference in the quality of the close and brotherly dealings of those who, besides living under the same roof, share life with a common purpose. He coins the expression converser según nuestro instituto [to deal according to our Institute]. This expression refers not only to a peculiar way of relating but also to a characteristic and essential dimension of the Society. In function of this Ignatius will establish particular requirements for the selection of candidates, for formation and for our way of proceeding, including the most external aspects for the conversation that is required with neighbors in our Institute and way of life.
Spiritual Conversation: What is it?
In communal discernment, Spiritual conversation concerns the quality of listening and the quality of speaking. it is about paying attention to the spiritual movements both in oneself and in the other participants. Such a quality of attention is an act of reverence and hospitality for oneself and for others. Spiritual conversation creates an atmosphere of trust and welcome. It allows all parties to express themselves frankly and allows all parties to pay attention to a theme and also to take seriously whatever is going on within each participant.
Presupposition and Purpose of spiritual conversation
That God is laboring in this world and the Spirit of God is in everyone. It is assumed that the Spirit of God is actively engaged with us through our interiority. The purpose of small group spiritual conversation is to strengthen the communion of hearts and minds, not to be confused with unanimity of opinion, so that the group may become a more discerning group, that it may discover how the Spirit of Christ is active in the group.
It is to give to each person the opportunity to speak in order to hear the infinite richness of what the Spirit wants to say and give to each one to discern what comes from the Spirit and what does not come from the Spirit and to allow ourselves to be more and more transformed by the Spirit. Spiritual conversation is a conversation in which the participants have a desire to be open to the Holy Spirit. It is not mere a discussion or a debate.
GC 36 – Decree 1: Renewed Governance for a Renewed Mission
Spiritual Conversation was a method used in the GC 36 for all the important decision making. “We are not the first to seek clarity concerning God’s call. The meeting of the First Companions in Venice is a powerful image, an important step in the formation of the Society. There, the companions confronted the frustration of their plans to go to the Holy Land. This droves them to a deeper discernment of the Lord’s call. Where was the Spirit drawing them? As they discerned new direction for their lives, they held fast to what they had already found to be life-giving: sharing their lives together as friends in the Lord; living very close to the lives of the poor; and preaching the Gospel with joy”.3 The GC delved deeply into the rich resources and legacy of the Society. It found that to face the contemporary challenges we need deep discernment. “Given the magnitude and complexity of contemporary challenges to the mission, and the declining numbers in our least Society, discernment is more than ever critical for apostolic effectiveness. Consistent and participative discernment is our way of ensuring that ongoing apostolic planning, including implementation, monitoring and evaluation, is an integral element in all Jesuit ministry. Given the crisis of authority in contemporary culture (family life, education, politics, religion), the practice of discernment is a gift that we can offer to others. By living discernment, we can impart its practice to others. Sharing in discernment leads to a shared vision. Forming collaborators for mission means first that we be formed for discernment”.4
Texts of the Society on Common Discernment
There are several texts which tell us about Spiritual Conversation. Fr. Arrupe speech to JRS workers in Thailand, on his last working day as General (6 August 1981), Letter of Pedro Arrupe on Spiritual Discernment (1971), Ignatian Hints about Discernment – Philip Endean, Communal Discernment – George Schemel Judith Roemer, and Discernimiento Ignaciano – Darío Mollá (only in Spanish) are the major documents talk about Common Discernment. All these documents emphasis the importance of Spiritual Conversation.
Ignacio Echarte, S.J., “Concordancia Ignaciana”. With the collaboration of The Institute of Jesuit Sources, St, Louis, Missouri, USA. (Ed. Mensajero, Bilbao España,1996; Ed. Sal Terrae, Maliaño, Cantabria, España, 1996).
Constitutions of the Society of Jesus .
GC 36 – Decree 1: no.4 Renewed Governance for a Renewed Mission
GC 36 – Decree 1: no.5