SOME MUSINGS OF FR. ADOLFO NICOLAS, S.J.
ON ACCOMPANYING FORMEES
In approaching pastoral theology, I was particularly puzzled by creativity: What makes a pastor creative? I wondered. I came to realize that very often we accept dilemmas where there are no dilemmas. Now and then, we face a true dilemma: We don’t know what to choose, and whatever we choose is going to be wrong. But those situations are very, very rare. More often, situations appear to be dilemmas because we don’t want to think creatively, and we give up. Most of the time, there is a way out, but it requires an effort of the imagination. It requires the ability to see other models, to see other patterns.
In studying that issue, I found one concept developed by psychologists particularly helpful: floating awareness. Psychologists study Sigmund Freud, Erich Fromm, and others from different schools of psychology to develop what they call “floating awareness.” When psychologists encounter a patient and diagnose the person, they choose from different methods of helping people, deciding on the process that is going to help most. I think this is exactly what a Spiritual Father should do. And I wish we had this floating awareness when we celebrate the liturgy: the ability to see the community and grasp what it needs now. It’s a very useful concept when it comes to education as well.
It strikes me that we have problems in the Society with formation because, perhaps, our floating awareness is not so well developed. For about 20 years or so, we have been receiving vocations to the Society from groups that we didn’t have before: tribal groups, Dalits in India, and other marginal communities. We have received them with joy because we have moved to the poor and then the poor have joined us. This is a wonderful form of dialogue. But we have also felt a bit handicapped: How do you train these people? We think they don’t have enough educational background, so we give them an extra year or two of studies. I don’t think this is the right answer. The right answer is to ask: From where do they come? What is their cultural background? What kind of awareness of reality do they bring to us? How do they understand human relationships? We must accompany them in a different way. But for this we need tremendous imagination and creativity – an openness to other ways of being, feeling, relating.
I accept that the dictatorship of relativism is not good. But many things are relative. If there is one thing I learned in Japan, it is that the human person is such a mystery that we can never grasp the person fully. We have to move with agility, with openness, around different models so that we can help them.
For education, I would consider this a central challenge. Our universities are now teaching a population that is not only diverse in itself; it’s totally unlike the former generation. With the generational and cultural change, the mentality, questions, and concerns are so different. So we cannot just offer one model of education. As I said, the starting point will always be the real. Within that reality, we are looking for change and transformation, because this is what Ignatius wanted from the retreatant, and what he wanted through education, through ministry: that retreatants and others could be transformed. Likewise, Jesuit education should change us and our students.
We educators are in a process of change. There is no real, deep encounter that doesn’t alter us. What kind of encounter do we have with our students if we are not changed? And the meaning of change for our institutions is “who our students become,” what they value, and what they do later in life and work. To put it another way, in Jesuit education, the depth of learning and imagination encompasses and integrates intellectual rigor with reflection on the experience of reality together with the creative imagination to work toward constructing a more humane, just, sustainable, and faith-filled world.
The experience of reality includes the broken world, especially the world of the poor, waiting for healing. With this depth, we are also able to recognize God as already at work in our world.
Picture in your mind the thousands of graduates we send forth from our Jesuit universities every year.