Before the delegates to the 31st General Congregation set out “for the four corners of the world,” Pope Paul VI welcomed the Jesuits to the Sistine Chapel. His remarks urge the delegates “to renew in [their] hearts in an almost palpable and solemn way the sense of the apostolic mandate that characterizes and strengthens your mission.” The pontiff voices his concerns (questioning whether the Jesuits still wished to devote themselves to “the service of the Catholic Church and of this Apostolic See”) but also his confidence in the Society, declaring, “Who is better suited than you to devote study and effort in order that our separated brethren may know and understand us, may listen to us and with us share the glory, the joy, and the service of the mystery of unity in Christ our Lord?” “Yes it is time, my dear sons,” Paul VI closes. “Go forth in faith and ardor; Christ chooses you, the Church sends you, the Pope blesses you.”
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It was Our desire that you concelebrate and share with us in the Eucharistic Sacrifice before departing, each to his own land, at the conclusion of your General Congregation and before setting out from Rome, the center of Catholic unity, for the four corners of the world. We wanted to greet each and every one of you cordially, to hearten and encourage you, and to bless each of you, your entire Society and your various works which you undertake for the glory of God and in the service of Holy Church. We desire to renew in your hearts in an almost palpable and solemn way the sense of the apostolic mandate that characterizes and strengthens your mission, as though it were conferred and renewed by your blessed Father Ignatius, a most faithful soldier of the Church of Christ; or as though Christ Himself, whose vicar We are here on earth in this Apostolic See, unworthily but truly, confirmed and mysteriously aided and extended your mission.
For that reason, We have chosen this place that is sacred and awe-inspiring in its beauty, its majesty and especially in the significance of its paintings. This is a place especially venerable by reason of our prayer pronounced here, a most humble prayer but a Pope’s prayer, a prayer which gathers together not only the praise and longing of our spirit but also of the whole Church throughout the world and even of all mankind, which We represent before God through our ministry and to which We bring the message of Him Who is most high. We have chosen this place where, as you know, the destinies of the Church are discerned and decided upon at certain periods of history, destinies which we duly believe are ruled over not by the will of men but by the mysterious and most loving assistance of the Holy Spirit. Here, today, when this most holy rite has been finished We shall invoke that same Holy Spirit for our Holy Church which is summed up, as it were, and represented in our apostolic office, as well as for you, the members and superiors endowed with the authority of your and our Society of Jesus.
By this prayer in which we shall implore the Holy Spirit together, all those things which you have so carefully done during this most important period will receive a special approval. You have subjected your Society and all its works to a critical examination, as though concluding four centuries of its history just after the close of the Second Vatican Council, and beginning a new age of your religious life with a fresh outlook and with new proposals.
This meeting therefore, my brothers and most beloved sons, takes on a particular historical significance in that it is given to you and to us to define by means of reciprocal clarification the relationship which exists and which should exist between Holy Church and the Society of Jesus. Through divine mandate We exercise the pastoral guidance of this Church and sum up in ourselves and represent it. What is this relationship? It is up to you and to us to furnish a reply, which will follow a twofold division:
1. Do you, sons of St. Ignatius, soldiers of the Society of Jesus, want even today and tomorrow and always to be what you were from your beginnings right up to today, for the service of the Catholic Church and of this Apostolic See? There would be no reason for asking this question had not certain reports and rumors come to our attention about your Society, just as about other religious families as well, which—and We cannot remain silent on this—have caused us amazement and in some cases, sorrow.
What strange and evil suggestions have caused a doubt to arise in certain parts of your widespread Society whether it should continue to be the Society conceived and founded by that holy man, and built on very wise and very firm norms? The tradition of several centuries ripened by most careful experience and confirmed by authoritative approvals has shaped the Society for the glory of God, the defense of the Church and the admiration of men. In the minds of some of your members, has the opinion really prevailed to the effect that all human things, which are generated in time and inexorably used up in time, are subject to an absolute law of history as though in Catholicism there were no charism of permanent truth and of invincible stability? This rock of the Apostolic See is the symbol and foundation of this charism.
Did it appear to the apostolic ardor which animates the whole Society that your activities could be made more effective by renouncing many praiseworthy customs pertaining to spiritual, ascetical and disciplinary matters, as though they no longer helped but rather impeded you in expressing your pastoral zeal more freely and with more personal involvement? And so it seemed that the austere and manly obedience which had always characterized your Society, which made its structure evangelical, exemplary and very strong, should be relaxed as though opposed to the human person and an obstacle to alacrity of action. This is to forget what Christ, the Church, and your own school of spirituality have taught in so outstanding a way about this virtue. And so there might have been someone who judged that it was no longer necessary to impose spiritual practices on his own soul, that is, the assiduous and intense practice of prayer, a humble and fervent discipline of the interior life, examination of conscience, intimate conversation with Christ, as though the exterior action were enough to keep the soul wise, strong and pure, and as though such activity could achieve by itself a union of the mind with God. It would be as though this abundance of spiritual resources were fitting only for the monk and not rather the indispensable armor for the soldier of Christ.
Perhaps some have been deceived into thinking that in order to spread the Gospel of Christ they must take on the ways of the world, its manner of thinking and acting, and its worldly view of life. On the basis of naturalistic norms they judged the customs of this age and thus forgot that the rightful and apostolic approach of the herald of Christ to men, who brings God’s message to men, cannot be such an assimilation as to make the salt lose its tang and the apostle his own virtue.
These were clouds on the horizon, but they have been dispersed in large measure by the conclusions of your Congregation! It was with great joy that we learned that you, in the strong rectitude which has always inspired your will, after a careful and sincere study of your history, of your vocation, and of your experience, have decreed to hold fast to your fundamental constitutions and not to abandon your tradition which in your keeping has had a continual effectiveness and vitality.
By introducing certain modifications to your rule—this renewal of religious life which was proposed by the Council not only was permissible but recommended—you in no way violated that sacred law by which you are Religious and also members of the Society of Jesus. Rather you remedied your circumstances insofar as they showed the wear of time, and you brought new strength to all the undertakings you will assume in the future so that this happy result will stand forth among all the others which you have decided upon in your laborious discussions; this happy result, We say, which has brought about not only a real conservation and positive increase of the body but also of the spirit of your Society. And, in this regard, We fervently exhort you that also in the future you give pride of place in your program of life to prayer, not turning away from the wise directives which you received from your forebears. From where, if not from divine grace, which flows to us as living water through the humble channels of prayer, of dialog with God, and especially of the sacred liturgy, from where will the Religious draw heavenly counsel and strength for bringing about his supernatural sanctification? From where will the apostle receive the drive, guidance, strength, wisdom and perseverance in his struggle against the devil, the flesh and the world? From where will he draw the love by which he loves souls for their salvation and builds a Church along with the workers who have been entrusted with and are responsible for this mystical building, the Church? Rejoice, dearest sons, this is the way, old and new, of the Christian dispensation; this is the form which produces the true religious disciple of Christ, the apostle in His Church, and teacher of His brothers whether believers or not. Rejoice; our goodwill, indeed our very being, joined in communion with you, comforts and accompanies you.
And thus We should receive your particular deliberations—on the formation of your scholastics, on respect for the teaching and the authority of the Church, on the criteria of religious perfection, on the norms by which your apostolic activity and pastoral works are properly directed, on the correct interpretation of the decree of the Ecumenical Council, on the way by which they are to be put into effect, and on other matters of this kind-as the replies to the question We asked above. Yes, to be sure; the sons of St. Ignatius who are honored by the name of members of the Society of Jesus are still today faithful to themselves and to the Church! They are ready and strong! Arms that are used up and less efficient have been cast aside and they have new ones in their hands along with the same obedience, with the same spirit of dedication, with the same desire for spiritual victories.
2. And now the second question arises, that of determining the relationship of your Society to the Church and in a special way to the Holy See. There is a second question which We can almost read on your lips: does the Church, does the successor of St. Peter, think that the Society of Jesus is still their special and most faithful militia? Do they think this is the religious family which has proposed as its particular purpose not so much one or other Gospel virtue to be cherished, but rather has set out, as a guardian and stronghold to defend and promote the Catholic Church itself and the Apostolic See? Are the goodwill, trust, protection which it has always enjoyed still assured? Does the Church assert through the mouth of him who speaks to you now that it still needs and is honored by the militant ministry of the Society of Jesus? Is the Society still strong and suitable for the work of such widespread and such diverse apostolate of today? Here, my dear sons, is our reply: Yes! We have faith and we retain our faith in you; and thus We give you a mandate for your apostolic works; We show you our affection and gratitude; and We give you our blessing. In this solemn and historic hour you have confirmed with your new proposals that you wish to cling very closely to your Institute, which, when the restorative work of the Council of Trent burned bright, put itself at the service of the Catholic Church. Thus it is easy and enjoyable for us to repeat the words and acts of our predecessors at this time which is different but no less a time of renewal of the life of the Church, following the Second Vatican Council. It is a joy for us to assure you that as long as your Society will be intent on striving for excellence in sound doctrine and in holiness of religious life and will offer itself as a most effective instrument for the defense and spread of the Catholic Faith, this Apostolic See, and with it, certainly the whole Church, will hold it most dear. If you continue to be what you have been, our esteem, and our confidence in you will not be lacking.
And the people of God will feel the same about you. For what was the mysterious cause that carried your Society to such great growth and success if not your particular spiritual formation and your canonical structure? And if this formation and structure remain the same and nourish in ever-new strength, virtues and works, the hope for your progressive increase and perennial effectiveness in preaching the Gospel and building modem society is not in vain. Are not the structure of your evangelical and religious life, your history and your character, by which you have been an example to others, your best argument and the most persuasive note of credit to your apostolate? And is it not on this spiritual, moral and ecclesiastical firmness that confidence in your work and also in your collaboration is founded? Permit us to say toward the close of this address that We place great hope in you. The Church needs your help, and is happy and proud to receive it from sincere and dedicated sons as you are. The Church accepts the promise of your work and the offer of your life; and since you are soldiers of Christ, it calls you and commits you to difficult and sacred struggles in His name, today, more than ever.
Do you not see how much support the faith needs today, what open adherence, what clear exposition, what tireless preaching, what erudite explanation, how much testimony full of love and generosity?
Do you not see what opportunities are furnished by modem ecumenism to the servant and apostle of the holy Catholic Church for happily creating close relationships with others, for entering prudently into discussions, for patiently proposing explanations, for enlarging the field of charity?
Who is better suited than you to devote study and effort in order that our separated brethren may know and understand us, may listen to us and with us share the glory, the joy, and the service of the mystery of unity in Christ our Lord?
As for the infusion of Christian principles in the modem world as described in the now celebrated pastoral constitution Gaudium et Spes, will it not find among you able, prudent and strong specialists? And will not the devotion which you show to the Sacred Heart be still a most effective instrument in contributing to the spiritual and moral renewal of this world that the Second Vatican Council has urged, and to accomplishing fruitfully the mission entrusted to you to confront atheism?
Will you not dedicate yourselves with new zeal to the education of youth in secondary schools and universities, whether ecclesiastical or civil, something which has always been for you a cause of high praise and eminent merit? You should keep in mind that you have been entrusted with many young persons who one day will be able to render precious service to the Church and to human society, if they have received a sound formation.
And what shall we say of the missions? These missions where so many of your members labor admirably, bend every effort, put up with hardships and strive to make the name of Jesus shine forth like the sun of salvation, are they not entrusted to you by this apostolic see as they were once to Francis Xavier, in the assurance of having in you heralds of the faith sure and daring, full of the charity that your interior life renders inexhaustible, comforting and beyond expression?
And finally, what about the world? This ambivalent world which has two faces: the one is that of the compact entered into by all who turn from light and grace; the other, that of the vast human family for which the Father sent His Son and for which the Son sacrificed Himself This world of today is so powerful and so weak, so hostile and so well disposed; does not this world call you and us to itself imploring and urging us to a task to be fulfilled? Does not this world, groaning and trembling in this place, in the sight of Christ, now cry out to all of you: “Come, come; the longing and the hunger of Christ await you; come, for it is time.”
Yes it is time, my dear sons; Go forth in faith and ardor; Christ chooses you, the Church sends you, the Pope blesses you.
Original Source (English translation):
Jesuit Life & Mission Today: The Decrees & Accompanying Documents of the 31st–35th General Congregations of the Society of Jesus, ed. John W. Padberg. St. Louis, Mo.: Institute of Jesuit Sources, 2009, “Address of His Holiness Pope Paul VI to the Members of the General Congregation, November 16, 1966,” pg. 233–238.