In the film The Agony and the Ecstasy Pope Julius II (Rex Harrison) repeatedly asks Michelangelo (Charlton Heston), “When will you make an end of it?” to which the constant reply is, “When I am finished.” The resident staff here in the communities where we stay, Jesuits back home, even the delegates themselves, are asking, “When will the Congregation end?” And we could well reply, “When we have finished!” But what does “finished” entail?
The artist reaches a point when he knows that another stroke of the brush will ruin the picture. The author knows when to hit the ‘save’ button, not another word, text complete. At the General Congregation we have begun the process of wrapping up the texts — two drafts, three, even five drafts, and we are now beginning to say, “Enough, any more amendments will murder the text”. So, sometime in the near future we are going to put down our pens and say, “It is accomplished, text complete.” But that won’t be the end. That’s the point at which the text takes on a life of its own — semantic autonomy, they call it — and the dialogue with the world of the reader begins. This afternoon, during the lunch break, the South-Asian delegates met to talk about precisely this: How do we share this experience with our Jesuits and collaborators back home?
Back to the film: Michelangelo (Heston) is high up on the scaffolding, busy painting the ceiling of the Sistine chapel, and Pope Julius II (Harrison) comes in with a bunch of critical cardinals, who object to Michelangelo’s fleshy nudes. “Why can’t you at least paint like the Greek classics?” A visibly agitated Michelangelo replies, “I’ll tell you what stands between us and the Greeks, two thousand years of human suffering stand between us, Christ and his cross stands between us…”. This morning in the Aula we experienced very strongly the bonds that bind us as Jesuits — human suffering and the Mystery of the Cross, even though we may be separated by two thousand kilometres and more. This morning we remembered very especially Jesuits and our collaborators in ‘war zones’ across the world, so many, whose lives are on a thin edge, so many in countries now engulfed in forgotten wars, while the world media has moved on. We remembered them, our brother Jesuits, our collaborators, those we collaborate with, and the millions of people we serve, with pride and with a deep sense of gratitude, for in their pain and suffering, their hope and faith, we too are blest.
So when will it end? Two thousand years ago He said, “It is finished”, and the mystery of the Cross lives on, embracing more and more people across history. Very soon we too will say, “It is finished”, and we will disperse, knowing that we are bound ever closer by the mystery of the Cross.