The Constitutions of the Society of Jesus, republished in 1995, note that our community life should aim at being not only fellow workers in the apostolate, but truly brothers and friends in Christ (311-§2). What is said here of Jesuit companions can be extended to all their friends who strive to live according to Ignatian spirituality.
The expression ” in Christ ” reminds us that it is in Him that the “union of hearts” sought and maintained even in the dispersion imposed by the mission is founded. It is the intimate union of each companion with Christ that makes possible – as a necessary condition and not as a means – the union of companions among themselves. On this foundation, the means that will help to unite hearts can be developed with happiness: community meetings, work teams, times of prayer, retreats or holidays for several people, collaboration in many forms to overcome individualism, mutual help, any initiative that can compensate, at least in part, for the distance in time and space.
The Union of Hearts
According to the excerpt from the Constitutions quoted above, “union of hearts” aims at more than a friendship between fellow workers; it seeks brothers and friends in Christ. To get a better sense of what is at stake, it is suggestive to return to one of the Gospel sources of this expression. Three passages in the second part of John’s gospel show a significant evolution in the way Jesus refers to those he has called to follow him. In the first two, we find the demand for mutual love.
A new commandment
Here is the first one I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so love one another. By this all will know that you are my disciples by the love you have for one another (Jn 13:34-35). Towards the end of the foot-washing scene, after Judas has left to betray Jesus, and just before Peter’s denial is announced, Jesus speaks to some disciples. The disciple is the one who learns from a master how to live by his example. By living a mutual love, the disciples will show everyone that they are putting Jesus’ teaching into practice. Just before he enters his Passion, Jesus gives the commandment of mutual love to men who will all abandon him when he is arrested a few moments later!
Here is the second, set during Jesus’ second farewell talk before his arrest:
This is my commandment: love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than he who gives up his life for those he loves. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I no longer call you servantsfor the servant remains ignorant of what his master is doing; I call you friendsi call you friends, because all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you (Jn 15:12-15).
The demand for mutual love, repeated here, is accompanied by its ultimate manifestation: to give one’s life. Loving to this extreme of self-giving leads to friendship with Jesus. The disciple is no longer just a servant; he becomes friend. He knows with intimate knowledge how far obedience to the commandment of mutual love leads. He shares this secret with Jesus.
Brothers in Christ
And here is the third passage, which takes us beyond the Passion. It is done, Jesus has given his life for his friends. But to Mary Magdalene, distraught before the empty tomb, he shows himself raised from death, and makes himself known Jesus said to her, “Mary. she turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabboni”, which means “master”. Jesus said to her, “Do not hold me back, for I have not yet ascended to my Father. For your part, go and find my brothers and tell them that I am ascending to my Father, who is your Father, to my God, who is your God” (Jn 20:16-17). It is thus on the morning of the resurrection that, for the first time in John’s Gospel, the disciples, having become friends, are called brothers by Jesus himself.
Servant disciples, friends, brothers… It is clear that these shifts in the designation of the disciples describe a progression in the relationship with Jesus. The movement of this progression is that of a growing intimacy that even death does not interrupt, but which is transformed by the resurrection. It is striking to discover that Jesus calls my brothers men who have all abandoned him, even to the point of denying him(I do not know this man).
How better to say that brotherhood is founded on forgiveness and is the fruit of it? There is no real fraternity without forgiveness. The expression “see how much they love each other” can only refer to a sentimental imagination which suppresses the inevitable roughness of a relationship inscribed in duration. But it only refers to reality from the point of view of forgiveness, which is the crossing of the suffering experienced. Given in the flesh, fraternity is founded and fulfilled only in the Spirit who makes it live from the beginning through all contradictions. Fraternity is a communion which is the accomplishment of the “union of hearts” in the difference recognised and maintained, in spite of all that opposes it in us and between us. It is a spiritual struggle, not just a social or political one.
Brotherhood in Christ
The union of hearts sought in Christian communities – whether Ignatian-inspired or not – insofar as it is founded on an intimate relationship of each person with Christ, finds its truth only in the lived experience of forgiveness “up to 77 times 7 times” (Mt 18:22). Forgiveness received and shared leads to progress from companionship in the apostolate to a fraternity in Christ which thus bears witness to his resurrection.
Michel Kobik, SJ
Michel Kobik has been involved in the spiritual exercises of St Ignatius for many years and is currently a member of the animation team of the Jesuit Spiritual Centre “Le Châtelard”, in Francheville, near Lyon. He has published Rencontres au fil de l’Évangile de Jean (2009) and Il les aima jusqu’au bout (2011).