Pedro Arrupe, the Superior General of the Society of Jesus, issued the following letter to every Jesuit in the world on April 14, 1968. Arrupe uses the letter to express concern about some of the problems as related to a Jesuit’s vow of poverty. He also references the Statutes on Poverty, released in September 1967. Arrupe cautions Jesuits note to relax their own standards of poverty while working on behalf of the poor around the world.
For more sources from Arrupe, please visit The Arrupe Collection.
Dear Fathers and Brothers in Christ, P.C.
1. In this letter I would like to deal with some practical points concerning actual problems in the matter of poverty. I consider this useful because of various circumstances, such as the present desire for renewal, a greater sense of certain values of common life, apostolic concern for the poor and the working classes, and also because of the apparent novelty in the statement of the 31st General Congregation with regard to the remuneration for work done. The way in which this declaration may have been related could give rise to various regrettable and harmful misinterpretations, either with regard to the gratuity of our ministries or, perhaps more important, with regard to common life.
I do not intend to go into historical or juridical details. Nor will I deal with items that touch more directly on our apostolate. This could be done in another letter. While being fully aware of the apostolic nature of our vocation I shall in this letter avoid explicit mention of it, except where it seems opportune to do so.
Even at the risk of omitting many necessary distinctions, I would prefer this letter to be shorter. However, it is not right to sacrifice clarity for the sake of brevity, particularly when confusions have to be cleared up. And since adaptation and renovation of long-standing practices must be guided by a renewed understanding of the matters in question, we should first call to mind some fundamental points of our religious and apostolic poverty.
2. Religious Poverty
Expressions such as “poverty” and “witness to poverty” can create difficulties. Certainly, we desire to bear witness, not to some ideology or virtue, but to Jesus Christ, to His love, and to the freedom He has given us. We are called to be such witnesses by practicing the evangelical counsels. In this light, poverty must be considered as one aspect of these evangelical counsels according to the divine revelation culminating in the person and life of Christ as interpreted by the Church in the course of time, and not strictly with reference to some socio-economic condition as the prime model to be imitated.
Of course we do not close our eyes to the world around us, with all its forms of poverty: shortage of food, lack of human development, deprivation of lawful freedom, refusal to give human beings the respect and love which is due to them, rejection of God, denial of moral values.
Yet, all the recent studies on poverty together cannot give us a proper definition of poverty. Besides the victims of a poverty passively tolerated, we find others to whom we also refer as being poor, those who “with the freedom of the children of God” have freely adopted a position somehow analogous to the humble condition of the poor, thus transforming it.
3. These are the ones in whom the “poor of Yahweh” somehow live on. But above all, it is the Son of Man who lives in them, the Word of God born in the likeness of men, Who being found in the form of man, emptied Himself, became a humble servant, poor, hard-working, not claiming His own rights, yet free to the highest degree. It is from His very heart and life that the appeal comes to us to make ourselves poor like Him, working with great reverence for all that has been created, to serve with His humility and with His selflessness.
What this vocation implies is illustrated by the example of the disciples chosen and prepared by Christ to become His witnesses: “leaving everything behind, they followed Him.” Moreover when we contemplate the group of apostles living with Christ, and the Jerusalem community animated by the Spirit given by Christ at Pentecost, we notice the power of charity which united all those who wished to be brothers in Christ as well as witnesses to Him. By that same dynamism of charity they were moved to possess and share everything in common, so that all should be one: “Now the company of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things which he possessed was his own, but they had everything in common.”
4. Apostolic Character
Obviously it is the task of the entire Church to carry the Good News as God’s answer to the poor of this world, but within the People of God this mission belongs especially to those who have received the proper gift for it. The apostolic charism conferred on St. Ignatius and on the Society he founded supplies a particular note to our poverty. As with chastity and obedience, it is not simply juxtaposed to our apostolic words or achievements; it qualifies intrinsically our very mission, and it enters as a constitutive factor into our particular manner of rendering help to our fellow men. If, according to the inspiration of Saint Ignatius, the concrete types of poverty are subordinated to the apostolic aim of the Society, this “functionality” should be understood, not in relation merely to some kind of efficiency or productivity, but in relation to the influence which is most strongly exercised by the witness of living, thus making it possible for men to see and taste the sense of Christ humble and poor, the joy of the brotherhood in Christ.
This need we should feel, through and beyond the letter of our institutes if we would fulfill our mission of helping our fellow men to “observe the right order of values in their earthly activities, in faithfulness to Christ and His Gospel, so that their whole lives, both individual and social, will be permeated with the spirit of the beatitudes, notably with the spirit of poverty.”
5. Ignatian Charism
When Saint Ignatius and his companions sought the Pope’s approval for their new form of religious life they proposed a rule which comprised the teaching of the Lord, as also the Christian and religious tradition. It also contained the fruits gained by experience in this manner of life. It is still the fundamental norm for our apostolic poverty: “We have experienced that a life as free as possible of the contagion of avarice and as conformed as possible to evangelical poverty is more joyful, more upright, and more helpful for the edification of mankind. We know that our Lord Jesus Christ will look after the needs of His servants in regard to food and clothing, while they are exclusively occupied in seeking the kingdom of God. This is why each and everyone of us vows perpetual poverty….”
Our first Fathers wanted to be “poor priests of Christ,” not for purely philanthropic or pastoral reasons, but in response to the call of the Father inviting them to live together in a particular conformity to the Son, thus participating in His salvific mission.
6. It was with this in mind that they professed the evangelical counsels of which the Second Vatican Council says: “The religious desires to follow Him more closely Who made Himself poor for our sakes; he seeks to manifest more clearly the Savior’s self-giving, and to direct his affections rightly, lest by his use of earthly possessions and by a fondness for riches which goes against the gospel spirit of poverty, he be thwarted in his search for perfect charity.” This charity is at once love of God and love of neighbor. This is for us the meaning and sense of the profession of the evangelical counsel of poverty. Our vow is not merely a promise to observe a certain manner of living. By our vow we commit ourselves for the rest of our lives to live in a manner demanded by our dedication to further the coming of the kingdom of God, acknowledging indeed the value of earthly goods, but at the same time rendering a particular sacrifice in the use of them, especially by a real renunciation.
7. It is, of course, quite possible for a Christian to bind himself by vow to a purely individual practice of poverty, but this is not our vocation. For us, as religious, there is a necessary connection between the common life .which we profess and the poverty which we vow. This is an essential twofold aspect of common life where burdens are shared in common. The community is a bond of friendship and of common life, a center from which our apostolate spreads forth. For the Jesuit in particular it is a matter of wishing to be and act as a member of a body. It is properly the Society as a body which exercises the apostolate, even though we live in different parts of the world or are engaged in tasks which of their very nature are not connected with one another. This is, at least in principle, a different concept from that which governs a secular institute.
8. Sharing in common
Therefore it is because of our religious vocation as apostolic, and because of the witness to selfless charity to which our vocation urges us, that we share in common not only our lives and our efforts, but also all material goods. Fraternal charity among apostles expresses itself particularly by this sharing and by the spontaneous care of equality as much as this is possible.
Naturally, common life admits of changes in the concrete manner and norms in which it must be expressed. It is not necessarily tied to a group that lives under the same roof. Yet, it demands a real bond, one which is realized on the level of material things. We do not make it an end in itself, but it would no longer serve its purpose of fraternal and apostolic charity, in fact would disappear or be reduced to merely formal gestures, if an individualistic conception of the use of goods were to prevail. The authenticity of our apostolate cannot permit private appropriation. On the contrary, it necessarily requires a sincere and practical willingness to share goods integrally. If we seek to share with the poor, we must first of all share with our brethren in the Society. How could we call ourselves poor if we do not banish “mine and thine” from our lives?
9. Saint Ignatius and his companions saw this as quite obvious. Even before thinking of a religious life based on obedience they had embraced evangelical poverty with all its personal and common demands. This is why, in 1539, aware as they were of the consequences of their impending dispersal, they asked themselves in their famous “deliberations:” “Should we preoccupy ourselves with those who will be going forth, and should they be preoccupied with us; should we maintain mutual contact; should we continue to show more concern for each other than for externs?” A clear answer was given: “Mutual care must be fostered, even more than before. Now that they are going to set out for various parts of the world in the service of the Church, by order of the Vicar of Christ, they must rather confirm and render more stable the fraternal communion which now unites them.”
10. With regard to common life in the Society, the 31st General Congregation declared in the eighteenth decree: “Our community poverty includes two aspects: that common life which Saint Ignatius derived from a centuries-old tradition and current Church law still sanctions as an essential element for all religious families; and that mode of living which bears the mark of a special calling.” This mode of living is to be ordinary, and certainly modest; it should be the gauge by which Ours measure the use of things and money for their apostolic needs and the positive edification of their fellow men. In this letter I shall not deal with this aspect of our Jesuit poverty and its relation to common life so called. At the moment I want to insist on the “common life” in the classical sense of the term. It is a “common life” which consists of “living in common without anyone having personal property—living in a common possession of goods.” This is an essential point in our life of poverty.
The decree continues: “Our every use of material things should be such that by the sharing of these goods in common we express and strengthen the unity of mind and heart of all members of the Society….” That this norm has a solid foundation is clear from what I have said in the first part of this letter.
11. “Remuneration for work done as a source for living”
Does this imply that one demands remuneration, and that one individually appropriates the remuneration?
The 31st General Congregation declared it to be legitimate for the Society to accept remunerations as the fruit of certain labor. By this simple declaration, which is of a juridical nature, the Society did not establish anything new, but authentically acknowledged the legitimacy of a longstanding practice (e.g. the rights of authors). In fact, conditions were made quite precise, as I shall observe later. As a result of that statement some apparently formed the impression that such remuneration disregards, at least in part, the demand that all material goods be shared in common. This would lead an individual religious to act as if the remunerations for his work are acquired for himself, with only an obligation in justice to compensate his community for his daily sustenance. I do not have to describe the possible variety of abuses of this kind. Allow me to present a fictitious case: One of Ours, by reason of his work, receives a regular salary. Since he is in effect a member of a community he pays this community the amount of daily board and lodging charged in his Province to visitors. The rest of his income he spends practically as if it were his personal property, buying books, equipment, clothing, gifts or alms, a little relaxation, travel, or holidays. A great number of different cases could be stated, which in varying degrees would be deviations from our common life.
There is no need to look back into history to see how often religious life has been harmed and watered down by such practices. One could think here of “peculiar;” of money or other things withheld from common possession. It does not matter whether these abuses are covered up, whether they are somehow sanctioned by some strange ·sort of authorization, or whether they are disguised somehow (such as the Jesuit who receives from relatives or parents as a “loan” something that is intended to be for his own exclusive use).
To be sure, times have changed, and it is becoming rather accepted that a good number of religious have to handle money. Certainly, it is a proof of fidelity to ask for permissions even in lesser things (which one is almost sure to receive), but a more basic proof is to really act as a non-owner, as a member of a fraternal community, and therefore according to the directions and intentions of the Superior. The true Jesuit will spontaneously render an account of funds received and spent, and submit his plans for prior consideration and approval. It is one thing for a religious to act according to the circumstances as a kind of purse-keeper, it is quite another thing for him to arrange his own budget as he likes, in the way a lay person does, even if this were done along the lines of a discreet charity.
In the Society, no Superior can allow or admit of such private possession or use of private goods. Not only does our Jesuit rule and Constitutions expressly condemn this practice, but also it is contradictory to the spirit and demands of our vow of poverty and of an authentically common life. The law’s role is to clearly formulate that which is strictly in accordance with our proper type of a life of poverty, fraternal charity, and apostolicity.
I do not wish to be burdensome in my insistence, but it is necessary to correct erroneous concepts and interpretations in this matter, even if some of these errors may have been committed in good faith.
The Second Vatican Council rightly reminds us that “religious poverty requires more than limiting the use of possessions to the consent of Superiors,” and I myself have already alluded to the possibility of playing some kind of illusory game, and to the possibility that certain types of approval or tolerance by Superiors should be condemned as having no validity. The Council does not by any means suggest the abolition of the principle of dependence. Nor is there here question of pure and simple dependence. Actually, the Council adds “members of a religious community ought to be poor both in fact and in spirit, and have their treasures in heaven.” It belongs therefore to the essence of our poverty, in actual reality and in spirit, to have everything in common, without any reservations.
12. Poverty and Work in the context of Charity
The 31st General Congregation, recommending devotion to work, and sincere dedication to our tasks, placed this in the context of poverty. Yet, the Congregation did not equate poverty with the condition of a worker—still less of a paid worker, nor, narrower still, of a manual laborer working for pay. Such an equation would disregard the value of work in itself, and at the same time it would amount to a false concept of the notion of poverty. Therefore, we do not say that for us to be poor means to gain our living by means of our own work. Nor do we say that each must look after his own needs by means of the remuneration for his individual work, or to make his contribution to the necessary funds.
Quite evidently, our spirit of poverty would not be earnestly put into practice if we did not realistically and methodically employ our energies and opportunities, even the leisure hours and holidays away from professional and scholarly work. Certainly, the individual should willingly impose on himself a life of dedicated work, of reasonable care of health and self-discipline as the fruitful sources of energy. But the poverty of Christ and His disciples is lived in any type of activity, contemplative or intellectual, in strictly spiritual ministries no less than in practical work, whether our service is rewarded by remuneration or not.
The General Congregation emphasized that our work is apostolic since we are engaged in it not because of material gain, but because of selfless charity. The same charity, freeing us from personal gain, urges us to share with largesse: “The witness of our poverty today most aptly shines forth in our practice and spirit of work undertaken for the kingdom of God and not for temporal gain. This poverty should be filled with activity, by which we resemble men who must earn their daily bread; it should be equitable and just, ordered in the first place to giving each one his due; finally it should be generous, so that by our labor we may help poorer houses, our works, and the poor.” And again: “Our poverty, then, should become a sign of our charity, in that by our lack we enrich others. Nothing should be our own so that all things may be common in Christ.”
Accumulation or lavish spending should be avoided. Lavish spending particularly is an insult to the poor and a contempt for humans and human work. Let us prudently economize, especially in areas where goods abound, in order that more may be given to those who suffer deprivation. Our hospitality should be generous; we should be just towards our employees and helpers. While on occasion there may be good reasons to spend fairly large sums on accommodation and even on relaxation or entertainment, the decisions must be made in wisdom and in full responsibility. Such decisions always involve a choice between different possibilities of using the money. Hence we should have the courage to face the fact that in poor countries families could be fed or youth educated with the money we spend on dinners in restaurants, outings in private cars, purchases of the latest style of equipment, or replacement of furnishings. Natural honesty itself, human solidarity, Christian charity no less than religious poverty demand that spreading around of mutual help which, as the General Congregation recommends, ought to extend beyond the limits of the house, of the Province, and of the Society. Such is the broad and dynamic interpretation of the basic norm: “the common possession of everything in Christ.”
13. Human Dignity and the Voluntary Renunciation of Legitimate Rights
Human dignity seems to demand that a man assume personal responsibility and by the fruits of his own work provide for his material needs and even for his apostolic activity. It would therefore seem advisable or even necessary that a religious should keep what he earns so that he can have a better sense of values and spend it to the best advantage. In this way he would not only know the difficulties of human existence but also experience the personal satisfaction of providing for himself. He would feel the legitimate pride of a working man.
While these values cannot be denied we must avoid confusion about responsibility or human dignity. Praise for him who serves is different from the self-sufficiency and the sense of power of him who possesses. There is more to the value of human labor than the market price. At any rate, it is well to remember that not all Christians have been called to self-fulfillment in the same ways. Certainly we must work no less hard, rather more if possible, than men who are forced to gain their livelihood by their own toil. This will really put us into contact with our fellow men. Should we also receive a salary? Have those who render great help to humanity—researchers, philosophers, artists, philanthropists, statesmen—subordinated their work to the codicil of some labor contract with a prescribed pay, specific bonuses, fixed hours, guaranteed work, holidays, and so on? It will be for us as ministers of the Lord and apostolic religious in the service of all to accept with sincere joy and humble boast any alms or other aids by which those we serve indicate appreciation of our ministry and associate themselves with our surrender, or gifts contributed by the charity of benefactors. The true sense of gratuity is found in receiving. If this human and Christian value were lessened, serious harm would be brought upon the world today. It is a value that should not be separated from the exercise of rights and duties flowing from justice.
For Ours who are unable to contribute financially to the community, such as those in poor health, or priests who are totally dedicated to gratuitous ministries, very often for the benefit of the needy, it ought to be an evangelical joy of the highest order to depend for material needs on our community of goods and on the free offerings of the faithful. Nor can this really depress men except where an individualistic or naturalistic outlook prevails.
It is clear enough how rich in meaning is the practice of that “living without personal possessions” in the very commonplace activities of daily life, a human meaning to be sure, but above all an evangelical one. True to religious tradition, the Second Vatican Council teaches: “in imitation of Christ … a person shares in the poverty of Christ, Who became poor for our sake when before He had been rich, that we might be enriched by His poverty.”
Whoever would wish to share in this poverty cannot but desire freedom of heart and effective deprivation, the extent of which depends on the particular form of religious life and apostolic action. In a spirit of generosity he willingly sets aside the pride a man can take in providing for himself. He willingly becomes involved with his brothers; like them and with them he works, accepting the economic situation as it happens to be, with its joys and sufferings. In this way, full of confidence he abandons himself to the Father in heaven. His anxieties are measured by the degree of intensity with which he seeks the kingdom of God. By persevering in community life he cultivates forgetfulness of self and learns to open his heart to others. He will acquire an instinctive sense of sharing as well as a deep empathy with all who suffer in this world.
14. The Spirit and Reality of Free Service
The 31st General Congregation in the decree on Poverty treated of remuneration for work done in two distinct paragraphs according to the different aspects considered.
In paragraph fifteen it dealt with possible sources of material goods necessary for the life and apostolate of Jesuits. The material “ways and means” declared to be in conformity with our religious and evangelical poverty were alms, income, and remunerations for certain works.
By alms is meant every kind of help which derives from the free charity of people, and not from strict justice. There is nothing fictitious about mentioning alms. It is humble realism and a faithful reminder of the inspiration of Saint Ignatius. Many missions, important houses with libraries, institutions of education and social apostolate, excellent radio stations were brought into existence by gifts. Like many other communities, for a considerable part of their budget they continue to depend on other Christians who express their gratitude and generosity by means of contributions, large and small. Hence, if we should refuse to accept alms, many types of our evangelical and missionary apostolates would cease to exist.
In that paragraph the General Congregation did not have to state explicitly that, as in the case of alms and other gifts, the remunerations are acquired lawfully for the Society, and not for the individual religious. Nor is this a denial of the fact that individuals may have certain rights by civil law, which frequently does not recognize our condition as religious. But as religious, and therefore in conscience, a Jesuit knows that he always acts in the name of the Society.
In declaring that remunerations for work are a legitimate source of income, the General Congregation was motivated by a desire for clarity and honesty. But this same concern also determined the precise conditions to be observed with regard to the activities for which remuneration may juridically be accepted. The choice of such activities is not arbitrary. Obedience plays a part here, with all the personal responsibility and initiative that it supposes in the religious. At the same time, the choice must be made in accordance with Ignatian norms or “the principle that should govern the choice of our ministries.” Finally, the choice must be made without any spirit of gain and must be free from the desire of temporal advantage. In this matter the principle of gratuity and detachment prevails, as it always has in the Society.
In the second paragraph where the General Congregation dealt with the remuneration for work done, it did so under the aspect of gratuity, whereas before it had considered it from the aspect of lawful sources of income. When Saint Ignatius considered the apostolic activities of the Society he wished them to be specially characterized by the note of gratuity. While gratuity cannot be reduced to any particular norm, the General Congregation clarified a number of points, declaring: “that the rights of authors, emoluments, honoraria, grants, and other gifts which are considered to be the fruit of the talents and industry of Jesuits may be accepted; however, in the choice of ministries or works, let Jesuits not be influenced by the intention of making profits.” In the passage immediately preceding it was reemphasized that Ours could not demand remuneration for their spiritual ministries.
Therefore we should certainly not be motivated to undertake work by a desire for profit or a hope for that pleasure which is naturally involved in acquisition. We wished our lives and work to be free from a striving for gain—sometimes a tyrannical force. The modern world is in need of men who boldly bear witness that they have been liberated from this force. A much more urgent responsibility than the necessity of obtaining food or conveniences should urge us on, namely apostolic responsibility. We accept the risks involved in an indifference towards personal gain, so that, in whatever place God chooses, we may serve and love with full liberty and readiness for any work. As far as the meaning of Ignatian gratuity is concerned, the General Congregation states that it means “inner freedom (absence from seeking one’s own temporal advantage), outer freedom (independence from the bonds of undue obligation), and the edification of the neighbor which arises from this freedom and from the love of Christ and men.”
Thus, the Congregation showed its fidelity to the spirit of Saint Ignatius. In order to foster the vitality of that spirit, however, the Congregation had to renovate practical rules of the past. In the fifth paragraph of the same decree we read: “In order that this poverty may flourish the more, the Society seeks its adaptation and renewal both by a return to the true doctrine of the Gospel and the original inspiration of the Society, and by the adaptation of our law to the changed conditions of the times, in such a way that, insofar as it may be necessary, the letter of the norms may be changed, but not the spirit, which must continue undiminished.”
The General Congregation remained loyal to these ideals in the questions of gratuity and lawful acquisition of remuneration for certain works. But Ours would fail in this authenticity if they were to accept or reject ministries, depending on the size of the stipend or remuneration, or if Superiors were to allow themselves to be led by considerations of financial gain as they engage in apostolic service or assign Ours to some work or residence.
15. Poverty and Lack of Security
Before concluding this letter I would like to deal with some possible difficulties against our norm of having nothing of one’s own in order that all may be common in Christ.
Some consider that poverty as a condition of man should consist in a deprivation of security. For quite some time now sociologists have stated that the “proletariat” suffers more from this than from an actual lack of goods. Some conclude from this that we cannot experience true poverty unless each of us is forced to look after his own needs and depend on a wage which he personally earns, so that each should seek profitable employment and insure himself against loss of work, sickness, and old age.
Considering reforms of this kind, one can at first glance see some or other advantage flowing from them. One could hope that thus a certain spirit of carelessness or idleness, to which some members of a community may be susceptible, could be forestalled. Indeed, it has never been a secret that possessing all goods and obligations in common can promote a certain laziness; it can lead some to follow the “nouveaux riches” or act like those who profit from the resources of another. Similarly, the practice of obedience or celibacy can conduce to more or less lamentable or ludicrous aberrations in some. But it is not only the religious state which is subject to such dangers. Any form of personal or group life has its risks. Just as the religious state must be evaluated for what it is and constitutes, so too all the aspects of the activity of religious institutes in the Church and the endeavors of the Society must be considered in the entire course of history. If all these factors are taken into account, would anyone say that without “common life” the Society would have done more fruitful apostolic work, and that it would have been more available to the People of God than has been the case?
To be sure, it is not an integral component of the “common life” that a certain childlike ignorance be fostered among religious with regard to the financial standing of their own communities. Saint Ignatius himself expected each and every one to have that care of the temporal facilities of the house “which charity and reason demand.” In the same spirit of personal communication which Saint Paul took care to foster among his Christian converts, the General Congregation issued various recommendations on poverty, community life, and inter-provincial cooperation. It is hoped that in that same spirit also Ours will receive accurate information on the financial needs not only of their own house but also of the works of the Province, the Missions, and the entire Society.
16. If the individual Jesuit were to retain as his own the fruits of his endeavors, where would be the insecurity with regard to temporal matters—to say nothing about the internal freedom—of those endowed with excellent talents, health, specialized training, or even of those who restrict their works, all of whom could consequently receive greater remuneration for their professional performances? What would be the mind of other Jesuits and how could they be expected to be willing to assume gratuitous work? To what inauthentic expedients would they have to have recourse in order to fend for themselves? We know well enough what happens when a Superior’s words or attitude are understood in the sense of “you may have the equipment necessary for this work or undertake this journey provided you can gather the requisite funds yourself.” What could we say when discriminations between rich and poor Jesuits would disrupt fraternal love? The evil effects of such discrimination can be seen when Superiors tolerate violations of common life, even in trivial matters. At a time when newly formed associations of fervent lay people are led by a powerful impulse of the Spirit to try and abolish individual retention and ownership of possessions, should we be moving in the opposite direction?
One is free, of course, to imagine a form of consecrated life in which poverty does not demand sharing everything in common without exception. This would, however, be different from our vocation. On the other hand, experience teaches, sometimes very strikingly, that a person can strip himself of his sense of security by following the common life in all its perfection. If a member of the Society hands over to the community all of the considerable income that may have come to him by reason of his work; if before his last vows he renounces his patrimony in favor of works in whose administration he has no voice; if by process of civil law a large inheritance for which he had made no provision devolves on a formed Jesuit, do not these men experience a real and happy sense of insecurity about the future—all the more so since they do not bear it passively but embrace it freely?
This is no reason for encouraging less those of Ours who exercise a direct apostolate among the poor and who, moved more by apostolic charity than by any particular convictions regarding poverty, derive their subsistence from an income which is often very small. Among them they hold all things in common, and they share their goods with their fellow men in even greater need. They themselves will testify that what impresses outsiders is their surrender of goods to common possession, rather than the actual lack of goods or insecurity. Yet, these apostles of the poor do not refuse alms; indeed they occasionally seek them.
Would this manner of living be practicable only for a rather small group and during certain stages? Would it be feasible during the years of formation, for the old or sick, or for those of Ours whose ministry is laboriously performed in behalf of men unable to assist them financially, or for those who devote themselves to philosophical or theological research? Still, ministries of this type are considered to be among the foremost works of the Society today.
Consequently, evangelical and religious poverty cannot be reduced to insecurity. Nor can insecurity be reduced to an economic situation. Our norm of community of goods, which of course should be so adapted that its functioning really corresponds to modern circumstances, makes real and profound demands on us. Particularly salient is the quality of dependence and basically that of humility. Those who are close to poor wage earners and those who have examined the condition of poor nations or classes claim that the heaviest burden such people have to bear is their condition of subjection and humiliation. Among workers, those are deemed poorest of all who are not free to choose the place, time, or even the nature of their work, their foremen or their fellow workers, as well as those who are forced to emigrate from their native country. Therefore, even from the point of view of being made like the humble and the weak of the modern world, we grasp the value of the life of dependence which is ours by reason of common life and our vow of poverty. This dependence has nothing ignoble about it. Quite the contrary, for we have freely chosen this state, inspired not only by our love of Christ the humble Servant, but also by the love we share with Him for His “least ones.” This dependence in the material order contributes also to the unity of the community.
It is surprising not that the 31st General Congregation in its decree on community life remarked: “Community life aids and assists us in this surrender in a great variety of ways, and its own unique way is the support of poverty…. The standard of living with regard to food, clothing, and furniture should be common to all, so that, poor in fact and in spirit, difference among Ours may be avoided as far as possible…. While he applies himself intensely to his own work, let each one also recognize his responsibility for the spiritual help and material sustenance of other members of the community.”
While it is true that our sharing in common at times provides us with a relative security, this is not the reason why we have adopted this way of life. We have done so, rather, for spiritual and apostolic motives. Furthermore, this material security is for many of Ours considerably less than if they had been living as lay persons. Superiors and those in administration know all too well the concern and anxiety over certain financial conditions. But in quite a few countries the communities themselves too are well aware that their future is not at all assured. Often there is a real question whether the next day or the next year the necessary alms, subsidies, or remunerations will be received to enable them to continue to subsist, to prepare a younger generation of Jesuits, and to maintain apostolic works.
Whether this is called insecurity or not, the detachment implied in a realistic practice of common life receives its profound meaning from the fact that it goes hand in hand with the most radical inspiration of our poverty. By this inspiration we are moved to share the very poverty of Christ, to which the Second Vatican Council referred more than once as an attitude of not claiming one’s own rights: the right to dispose of material goods and of oneself, the right of self-sufficiency without having to depend on the generosity of others. Our resources are for a great part free gifts and assistance which we could not have claimed. If we receive remunerations we do not seek them for themselves. Our activities are chosen without asking whether they are lucrative or not. Thus in charity have we taken the risk of not being able to provide for our material needs. This of course is not human prudence. It is audacity of faith and Ignatian trust in the bounty of the Father. This forms the true assurance of continued existence for the person who seeks the kingdom of God and its justice which sanctifies us and those we serve.
17. Danger of Formalism
Some might say: “This general norm of poverty has led us in the past and will continue to lead us in the future to a rigidity of life burdened by observances and fears. In fact, all too often have religious reduced their poverty to obedience, perhaps rather to a certain caricature of dependence, by an abuse of the permissions game in order to justify the individual or collective acquisition or use of superfluous or useless things. A kind of legalism has served to cover up habits of comfort.”
The Society has not been unaware of this sort of deviation. The Fathers General have often denounced the abuses indicated above. I do not have to restate all that is implied by a sincere practice of common life. With or without institution, witnesses to a higher ideal can, if they opt for the easy way, end up in some type of pharisaism or in some other type of scandal. In reality the charism of a religious group needs an institution for its realization.
The evangelical poverty which a hermit or a person in the world is able to practice individually can be lived quite really if we share everything in common. If we sincerely accept the human condition and the duty to work where God wants us to for the good of our fellow men, and if we also adopt the basic demands of common life and action which lift us out of egotistic attitudes, uniting us in a fraternal effort, this could ensure a better distribution of material goods, but above all, it guarantees a more powerful union in our apostolic action. Poverty is therefore clearly an organic and necessary element in our mission. Our activity will bear fruit if the members of the community truly fo.rm one body in which the Spirit lives, manifesting its divine dynamism.
18. If we aim for this and if we live according to the Christian, religious, and apostolic orientation of our vocation we shall progressively find the concrete solutions by which our life is truly rendered poor and by which we come closer to those who are poor. We shall discover that our freedom can be exercised, not because of an absence of statutes or common obligations, but in and through wise and believing obedience which is at once responsible and active, humble and realistic. We shall freely accept observance for the value which derives from its end: to foster the life of poverty. Once we have interiorized this experience we shall find ourselves capable of exploring the necessary renovations. These renovations are the responsibility of all, whatever their age or task. Effective adaptations require a general climate in which are found the desire of belonging to the poor of Christ, a profound unanimity as regards values to be promoted, a fraternal exchange of ideas, and an ever-growing interior freedom, in the spirit of the Exercises.
19. We must thank God that the modern community spirit is growing, for it will be a great help in dialogue and revision. As far as the subject of this letter is concerned, this powerful and favorable spirit, this desire to share integrally among brothers is bound to lead to a renewed understanding of poverty in its aspect of common life, and to adopt this as truly necessary for our charism. In several places it has already led to very happy and valuable initiatives with regard to fraternal equality in houses where, for example, Jesuit students from different Provinces live together.
The inadequacy of certain formulas, referred to as “traditional,” together with certain rather uninspired interpretations might tempt us to re-examine everything and start all over again from zero. However, there is no opposition whatever between the present need of creativity and an intelligent adherence to the essential elements of our poverty and of our fraternal and apostolic union. The confluence of these forces guarantees the power of our dynamism which will be fostered by this letter in which I have called to mind a focal point around which it should develop. The value of our adaptations should not be measured merely by their newness nor by a type of social initiation which would always run the risk of being a little behind the times. The problem is not simple, particularly since with regard to poverty it is a matter of incarnating the Gospel in very material realities. At any rate, any true progress depends necessarily on the authentic love which inspires projects and on the fidelity with which they will be put into execution.
This is not a fidelity towards the past, but towards Him who in the company of His Father invites us today to conform ourselves to Him. In order to make Himself more acceptable in faith, He makes use of the Church and of the Society as a community united by love. In particular, He makes use of our life of work, free of self-interest, thus continuing in us the process by which He emptied Himself to the despoliation on the Cross, so that He may give Himself to us in the power and richness of His resurrection. Saint Ignatius loved to contemplate poverty in the Paschal mystery and in the Eucharist. Our Lord, who here on earth was totally free in the use of things in order to be entirely at the disposal of the Father’s will and available for others, now allows us to anticipate and manifest by our poverty the freedom of the children of God in glory.
We must believe in His fidelity. By Him all material and spiritual goods are given us. From Him we receive in particular that grace of religious poverty—a free gift like the gift of consecrated chastity. From Him we expect all we need here below as well as the possession of the earth, and we rely on Him for our plenitude. That hope, together with the gratitude and the love we owe Him, urges us to make ourselves really poor by giving everything to our brethren and by freely despoiling ourselves of everything.
Your servant in Christ,
General of the Society of Jesus
April 14th, 1968
Challenge to Religious Life Today: Selected Letters and Addresses—I, ed. Jerome Aixala. St. Louis: The Institute of Jesuit Sources, 1979, “On Poverty, Work and Common Life,” pg. 11–34.