by Reginald K. Venter
Over the past fifteen to twenty years, a solid and vibrant Jesuit Institute South Africa (JISA) spiritual accompaniment community has been growing silently in leaps and bounds.
This community is the fruit of a lifetime of ministry with humble beginnings. It started with the Centre for Ignatian Spirituality, which was later incorporated into the Jesuit Institute of Southern Africa. Small groups of people were initially trained to guide others in their prayer using the practical principles and characteristics of Ignatian Spirituality. Later, this ministry grew to include training others to accompany people on their spiritual journeys and leading individuals through the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius. (This is a beautiful and inspiring story on its own.)
I believe we were all brought together into this community by Jesus Christ to work alongside him and each other in building God’s Kingdom. Our numbers increase as we constantly draw one another into a closer friendship with God. From a small, primarily Catholic group, this community has, over the years, grown into a diverse group of people spanning church denominations, culture and background, nationality, gender, and ethnicity. The exciting thing about this growth is that, in recent years, after the Covid-19 pandemic and the popularity of online communication and learning, this community has expanded further to include a growing number of associates worldwide. This community now transcends culture and background even further, displaying more clearly a unity in Christ. Cross-nation and cross-continental bonds of friendship in Christ are vibrant and strong.
What is fascinating is that much of the interaction between members occurs online, even within national boundaries. So many of them will rarely meet face-to-face in this world. Yet feelings of mutual Christian love and support for one another in their work in spiritual accompaniment are often quite tangible. Observing the interaction between community members on social media like Facebook and WhatsApp, it is phenomenal and encouraging to see how the ups and downs of their everyday lives are being shared. Daily morning and evening prayers and devotions, poems, news snippets of what is happening in the local civil communities, etc., are being posted. Messages of cheer, help and reassurance during illness, personal and family crises, and a simple ‘How are you doing?’ are regular occurrences. Mutually inspiring and uplifting incidences of consolation are shared. This happens over and above the reinforcement of learning through an Ignatian online reading group and the sharing of resources, books, and articles on Ignatian Spirituality.
The disciplines of individual and communal prayer and reflection, service, teaching, and ongoing learning are all embodied in and undergird the community. In addition to their prayer and in true Ignatian tradition, individual members also attend spiritual accompaniment. They are supervised in their teaching, leading and accompanying of others on their journey with our Lord. This helps to keep one another accountable and encourages service to God’s greater glory. Bound together as the sister- and brotherhood of believers serving Christ as we encourage and support one another. This companionship along life’s journey is a source of strength as we journey through life. Each member has a sense of belonging and of ‘never being alone’ in the challenging and stressful ministry of a Contemplative in Action. Christ is indeed with us as he promised. The Spirit works in and through these associates to care for, support, encourage, help, and teach one another and to fortify and uplift one another in times of disillusionment, desolation, or temptation. Amazingly, this happens easily at a distance and across so many diverse ‘barriers’ between believers.
Is this not a true and tangible unity in diversity – the unity in the Body of Christ that we pray for?
If you want to learn more about this community, please visit www.jesuitinstitute.org.za.