Father Adolfo Nicolás, SJ, Superior General of the Society of Jesus, has spoken in many public forums not only as a Jesuit leader but also as a theologian and Catholic intellectual. Here are a few of the topics and concerns that have engaged his attention, typically in addresses to Jesuits and at Jesuit universities as well as in published interviews.
In Search of Depth
When one can access so much information so quickly and so painlessly; when one can express and publish to the world one’s reactions so immediately and so unthinkingly in one’s blogs or micro-blogs; when the latest opinion column from the New York Times or El Pais, or the newest viral video can be spread so quickly to people half a world away, shaping their perceptions and feelings, then the laborious, painstaking work of serious, critical thinking often gets short-circuited.
One can “cut-and-paste” without the need to think critically or write accurately or come to one’s own careful conclusions. When beautiful images from the merchants of consumer dreams flood one’s computer screens, or when the ugly or unpleasant sounds of the world can be shut out by one’s … music player, then one’s vision, one’s perception of reality, one’s desiring can also remain shallow. When one can become “friends” so quickly and so painlessly with mere acquaintances or total strangers on one’s social networks — and if one can so easily “unfriend” another without the hard work of encounter or, if need be, confrontation and then reconciliation — then relationships can also become superficial.
Religion is “Musical”
Religion is first of all very much more like this musical sense than a rational system of teachings and explanations.
We are not in education for proselytism but for transformation. We want to form a new kind of humanity that is musical, that retains this sensitivity to beauty, to goodness, to the suffering of others, to compassion. But of course, this is a sensitivity that is threatened today by a purely economic or materialist mindset which deadens this sensitivity to deeper dimension of reality.
Just as this musical sense is being eroded and weakened by the noise, the pace, the self-images of the modern and postmodern world, so is religious sensitivity.
I suggest that mission today … must first of all work toward people helping discover or rediscover this musical sense, this religious sensibility, this awareness and appreciation of dimensions of reality that are deeper than instrumental reason or materialist conceptions of life allow us. …
Competition, the search for higher rankings for the sake of even more economic gain, has become the driving force for some institutions. It would be a tragedy if our [Jesuit] universities simply replicated the rationality and self-understandings of our secular, materialist world. Our reason for being in education is completely different.
"The Globalization of Superficiality”
The world is becoming very superficial. We have more information than ever, but less ability to think, to reflect, to digest that information. So there is a globalization of superficiality. … And even if the first news are totally biased or prejudicial, that's what sticks in the mind. And we don't have the ability to confirm, to study, to see whether this is true or whether this is balanced. …
This is happening in the Church as well.
Europeans have been great at some aspects of the human journey. But we have neglected other aspects, that other human groups in other parts of the world have nurtured and developed. To think that human progress and development have to follow the European model as the best, only indicates how deep and insensitive our ignorance of humanity can be. Fortunately I have always known Europeans who approach with great respect other Eastern or Southern [Hemisphere] Traditions, and who know that the best response to lack of understanding, when it happens, is silence.”
—Compiled by William Bole