“The Christ of the Exercises,” Pedro Arrupe (1971)

Pedro Arrupe conducted extended visits of Spain, the United States, and East Asia in 1970 and 1971. The Jesuits’ superior general routinely spoke to groups on the topic of spirituality during a time, which editor Jerome Aixala has noted, that consisted of “rapid changes and the feeling of uncertainty among some.” From those various remarks the following text was compiled and, finally, was approved by Arrupe.

For more sources from Arrupe, please visit The Arrupe Collection.




With these presuppositions, let us try to answer the fundamental question: “What can the Jesuit be or ought to be today? What can the Society of Jesus be or ought to be today?”


1. Special Approach to the Gospel

We all know well how the consciousness of the vocation to the Society was awakened in each one of us. We know also that the Society itself originated historically in the same way. The decisive element of our own particular charism resulted from an access to the light of the Gospel and to the Person of Jesus Christ, afforded us by the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius.


In the Exercises St. Ignatius foresaw his future dedication to the Church and to the neighbor. From the exercises sprang forth the group which one day was to offer itself to Paul III “desiring to be called Company of Jesus” and asking “to be sent to any part of the world where there was hope of greater service of God and greater help for the neighbor.” From the Exercises have come forth, one by one, all the Jesuits, from the beginning until today. This is what marks them and constitutes them, before any law or constitution. The Constitutions and the rules are to be understood always as the concrete application of the spirit of the Exercises to the exigencies of an apostolic Order, flexible and available for the service of the Church and of men.


The Exercises are not a stereotyped mould, a machine to fashion wholesale men completely uniform, with subdued personalities. They constitute a simple method of prayer, of meditation and contemplation of the life of Jesus Christ, of examination to know oneself and conquer oneself, “to order one’s life without being affected by any inordinate attachment.” They are a spiritual experience, which ought to be personal, though under direction, and allow oneself to be guided by the Spirit, learning to discern Him; tarrying where one meets Him “without being anxious to go further.” It is not strange, then, if within the common inspiration, the Exercises engender, in each of those who make them and in each epoch of their application, a diversity of orientations and of concrete determinations in the Christian and apostolic life. Just as personal experience, the experience of the Exercises is historical in character, always old and always new, ever the same and changing with the circumstances.


In reality, this variety stems from the infinite efficacy of the Gospel, to which the Exercises give access. The Exercises have, certainly, their own special manner of access to the Gospel. They suppose on the part of the man the personal decision, the generous commitment of himself even to the “folly” of the third degree of humility, the reflection and maturity, the apostolic dynamism of love. They lay stress on the humanity of Jesus Christ, on the appeal to the love of friendship and to following Him closely, on the enterprise of the Kingdom. But all these particular features have not limited much the spectrum of possibilities opened up by the Exercises. In fact, though holding the Exercises as a family treasure, the Jesuits have not guarded it jealously; they have understood that it was a common good, and they have offered it to the Church. And much of recent spirituality has been fostered by the Exercises.


2. Jesuit Formula: Universality and Adaptability

Thus we come to a paradox, very enlightening when one thinks of the essential nature of the Society: it is the fruit of the Exercises, and yet the Exercises are in fact universal. Logically, the Society had to mark its particular nature by some communitarian rules to realize the spirit of the Exercises; she did so from the beginning by the “Formula of the Institute,” and then by the Constitutions. But, as one could hope, granted the source of the inspiration, these rules are very flexible and adaptable. It is perhaps the most distinctive characteristic of the Society. And we know how many afflictions it cost St. Ignatius and his first companions to break as they did with many of the ordinances judged essential in the tradition of the existing religious Orders.


With certain limits, the Society possesses an undeniable universality. Its concrete history has involved the forging of a series of determinations on the manner of procedure, with rules and customs. No society can subsist without a minimum of regulation and discipline; much less still an apostolic society of men, who profess obedience and wish to be disposable for common enterprises. It would be suicide, therefore, to wish to simply prescind from these concrete determinations, the fruit of tradition (often going back even to the beginnings) and sanctioned as rules. But with respect to these it is the charism of the Society to possess a great liberty and flexibility, a great power of accommodation. No other Institute could have understood or welcomed more the appeal of the Second Vatican Council to seek renovation and accommodation to the changing circumstances of the times. In the 31st General Congregation the Society has taken great steps in that direction, in tracing out very broad norms.


Perhaps we cannot say that the whole of the Society has already assimilated them. Some Jesuits pay attention only to what is precise and restrictive in these norms, without accepting the new spirit that animates them. Others, on the contrary, seem attentive only to the horizons they open up, in order to launch out boldly towards those, without heeding details, which are prescribed quite precisely. Both of these attitudes are understandable, at the present time· in both cases the Jesuits ought to know how to understand themselves in their own manner of viewing the common ideal. It is necessary to be on guard that our social reality is not rent by extreme tendencies, and that a bad example in not thus given others in the present difficult circumstances.


But perhaps the best way of understanding and experiencing our deep unity, and correcting thereby what could be a deviation towards one or other extreme in our positions, is to return to the spirit of the Exercises, from which everything has grown; to return to what is most essential in spiritual experience, from which our vocation sprang, and what had fostered it and advanced it from year to year. To return thus to the Exercises is to return to Jesus Christ.


3. Christ’s Saving Message to the Man of Today

Jesus Christ is all in all for the Jesuits; it is the only key possible for the understanding of his life, of the enterprise to which he has consecrated himself. Here again we meet with the paradox of universality. For Jesus Christ belongs to all Christians. The Jesuit knows this, and he is not jealous or disconcerted. Some follow Christ by seeking Him in a special way by contemplation, others in the practice of corporal charity towards the neighbor, others in the rigor of poverty…. The Jesuit would exclude nothing save in so far as his clear dedication to imitate Jesus in one of these aspects would suppose the necessity of neglecting the others. The different features of the figure of the historical Jesus center about His prophetic mission as messenger of salvation. This is the Jesus which the Jesuit puts in the first place before his eyes.


Today the prophetic mission of the announcement of salvation will undoubtedly have to be exercised in conditions very different from those of Palestine of the first century; conditions diverse too, when there is a question of peoples with an old Christian tradition of peoples in the missions; of developed countries or of underdeveloped countries, which constitute the vast majority of the Third World, so important today. In all these cases it is necessary to follow Jesus with complete generosity, in the renunciation of marriage for the Kingdom, in poverty (according to circumstances and one’s specific work), in obedience (since there is question of forming a group active and available to its milieu, like that group of disciples whom Christ formed and sent “to all towns and places he himself was to visit”).


Enthusiastic, captivated by Jesus Christ, the Jesuit of today, as always, will try to realize in the midst of the men of today something comparable to what He Himself realized among the men of His day. He will try to imitate not so much this or that particular aspect as the essential profile of His historical figure. Thus, in union with companions who have conceived the same ideal, he will continue the group of those who were attracted by Jesus to share in His life and mission.


4. Subordinate Service in Anonymous Role

The Jesuit knows very well that he has no monopoly on this continuation of the evangelizing mission of Jesus. He knows that in the Church which He founded there is a Hierarchy established by Him on which primarily falls the duty of continuing His mission, and at its head the Successor of Peter; the Vicar of Christ on earth; for this reason the Jesuit makes a special vow of obedience with regard to the concrete aspects of his mission, to be more sure of ascertaining what Jesus Christ wants of him. The Jesuit also knows today more than ever that the whole ecclesial community has the duty of continuing the mission; he knows the importance of the role which falls to the laity; he knows that only he who lives within the structures of human life (those of the family, marriage, paternity, those of the economy and of politics, those of the civil professions in all their variety) can give therein an authentic Christian witness; and he is called too to deliver a message which can be more authoritative because of his greater involvement.


The Jesuit has contributed historically to the advancement of the laity; and he is happy, today, to cooperate fraternally, without paternalism, in the enterprises which are properly those of the layman. But he remembers that his vocation always is to follow Christ more deeply and closely in the absorbing work of the prophetic vocation. This vocation implies the leaving to others tasks that are truly important and urgent; but, keeping to his own place, the Jesuit does not forsake them completely, since he animates the laity who bring them to realization.


The Jesuit knows, finally, that many others, priests and religious concur with him today in the fundamental conception of his prophetic vocation to imitate Jesus. If in his day the Society conceived by St. Ignatius was an innovation, this ideal of life has since become, fortunately, that of many other Institutes, and is even shared and lived by the best priests. The Jesuit of today feels himself in fraternal cooperation with all, without any privilege or advantage. His identity, in this respect, comes to him simply from the historical involvement and from the fidelity to Jesus Christ, in the Institute founded by St. Ignatius; this involvement is a family affair, a tradition fashioned by some norms, certain works undertaken in common and—this is truly decisive—guidelines of an obedience lived in the faith.


5. Specialization: Total Availability

Should the Society aim at specialization among the many Institutes which today profess dedication to the prophetic mission and to the kind of life which Jesus lived? As a group, there will be no better “specialization” than is universal availability to the orders of the Church and the Pope. But it is certain also that this very availability disposes it for some arduous missions which we would speak of today as being “on the frontier.” This orientation is already underscored in the Formula of the Institute: “For the defense and the propagation of the faith:” it is thus that in the first place the end of the new institution was formulated. And to express the content of the special vow of obedience to the Sovereign Pontiff, the words speak of the sending “to any provinces whatsoever,” “whether it be to the Turks or any other infidels, even in the regions called the Indies, and to any heretics or schismatics, as well as to any faithful whatsoever.” In these words can be felt throbbing the desire to work “under the standard of the Cross,” the disposition to what is most arduous and difficult, the participation in the social ostracism of Christ and of him who wishes to work with Him, “to follow Him in suffering” and in His humiliation. It is a way of expressing the search for “the greater service,” which in most cases is the most arduous and difficult, which demands the exaltation of love, the only force that can give the key to this rational involvement. The history of the Society has not been unfaithful to this engagement.


In our days, Pope Paul VI has said very explicitly where the new frontier has to be for us: “To the Society of Jesus, whose principal duty is the defense of the Church and of holy religion, we entrust in these calamitous times the mandate of vigorously opposing atheism.” It is an immense task, which obviously we cannot realize alone. But it is to this that the Society of today will have to consecrate its best efforts. The last General Congregation, accepting the mandate of the Pope, has demanded that “all of Ours, resolutely though humbly, with prayer and action, devote themselves to this Task”—the task of all and in all places, although not in the same degree nor in the same manner. It will be necessary to take account of this mission in the choice of ministries. It will be necessary to devote Jesuits to the serious study of the causes and the methods of atheism. But, more universally, all Jesuits will have to recognize and perceive that they are in a world whose spiritual crisis goes as far as atheism. They will have to reckon with this reality in all their apostolic works. They will have to prepare believers to meet this crisis. Above all, they will have to give living testimony of their faith in God, so that “in their whole manner of living and acting there may appear, as far as possible, that which is God.”


The same Decree of the 31st General Congregation on atheism contains and important allusion to another field very appropriate for the apostolic preoccupations of the present-day Jesuit, towards which his love for Jesus Christ ought to call him at once today: it is that which we are wont to call under the general name of “the Third World.” Numerically, it is the greater part of mankind; in its immense majority it is in a state or economic and cultural under-development, subject to flagrant injustice due to the selfish structures of our world. On the other hand it is also the part of humanity with the most vigorous potential on the spiritual level, and capable of giving lessons of faith and hope to the old world with its skepticism and inclination to atheism.


In looking at the map of the distribution of the Society, one should ask if it is sufficiently orientated towards this Third World, or too firmly entrenched in the western world. Would it not be a way of solving its crisis, and particularly the decrease of vocations, by a more real and more generous opening to the immense Third World? Is it not there that Christ calls today?




6. Christ the Key to Human History

To enter more profoundly into the present reality of our vocation as Jesuits—and thus help us more to surmount what constitutes a “crisis of identity” in our time—we ought to consider above all these realities and these pressing problems of atheism and the Third World, which ought to be the center of our attention. But besides, we must engage in a serious Christological reflection, derived likewise from the vital experience of the Spiritual Exercises.


If up to now, to get an insight into the image of the Jesuit of today, we have fixed our attention particularly on the historical figure of Jesus—and we have evoked thereby the spirit of the “Second Week” of the Exercises—we must now go beyond this view and the perspective of the personal imitation of Jesus, to consider, according to our faith, the integral reality of Jesus Christ at the center of the whole creative and salvific plan of God. Jesus Christ, key of creation and of the history of the human community.


Such is the orientation of the Exercises in their Third and Fourth weeks. After “knowing Jesus Christ intimately, in order to love and follow Him more” comes the identification with His redemptive Death and with His Resurrection.


The Jesuit seeks not only to imitate Jesus Christ; he seeks also to Christify the world, to contribute in the small measure of his powers and of the grace with which God calls him to the realization of the plan of God who wishes “to recapitulate all things in Christ.”


It is from hence, from this Christocentric theology, assimilated in the contemplations of the Third and Fourth Weeks, and crowned in the total vision of the “Contemplation for obtaining love,” that he looks at the world, attempting to explain the crisis of development which he sees in the world, and by which he feels himself affected—from hence he catches a glimpse of what he can offer by way of solution.


It is a theology of history, theology of a world in development that is thus unfolded before our eyes. It is a theology not only of the creative Logos, but also of the incarnate Logos in exaltation, and of the incarnate Logos as redeemer. It is necessary· to consider all the aspects that the vision may not be one-sided. We are attempting to evoke that balanced vision of the world in the faith, and then draw the consequences for our concrete vocation. It is best to fix our attention first on the aspect revealed to us by the Resurrection and the Contemplation for obtaining love: it is the theology of the incarnate Logos in exaltation. We will then find the unforgettable place of the Cross, and the theology of the Logos redeemer.


If the ultimate end of all things is “the glory of God,” this glory is realized in man and through the medium of man. “The glory of God, it is living man,” as “the life of man, it is the vision of God.” It is man who really gives meaning to the world. “All things were created for man.” The world receives its destiny from man; the relation of the world to God depends entirely on man as intermediary.


This elemental theology of the Logos creator is in no way annulled but elevated by the Christian theology of the Logos incarnate. What this adds—leaving out the question in what sense God destines man for Himself—is that in Christ, Son of God incarnate, God calls each man also to be his son. The grace of Christ, Head of all mankind, has been given to all of us to share, to each one in the measure of the generous plan of God.


This grace, which unites us to God as Christ, makes us His Mystical Body, His “brothers,” sons of the Father, possessors of the Spirit; this grace is a reality for the faith. Our whole vision of things, of our possibilities and aspirations, ought to take account of this; otherwise, we will be fearful, and lose courage in the face of a world which, after having felt itself immensely great and powerful by the unfolding of its science and technology, finds itself often helpless to realize love and justice. The believing Christian has the consciousness of being immensely strong by the grace of God that lives in him, and capable of following the infinite example of love given him by the whole life of Jesus Christ.


And as we know by faith, grace is destined to culminate after death and beyond all the bounds of human life, in the vision of God, in which finally will be revealed also what we are, in love without limits and without selfishness; God will be all in all, and we shall realize ourselves in Him, the Total Christ attained in plenitude.


7. Harmonious Development: Individual and Community

Perhaps in times past Theology considered these realities of faith in a manner excessively individualistic, as well as in a dualistic manner, exaggerating the separation of the world from nature and nature from grace. We have reacted today against both excesses; yet we must be careful not to fall into another extreme, the naturalistic abolition of all distinction, or the reduction of grace to nature.


The principle of balance was always present in Catholic theology, though all the consequences were not drawn. “Grace does not destroy nature but supposes it and perfects it.” In this light we see today clearly that the supernatural elevation and grace do not have to be thought of as realities external to man, like artificial additions. It is not necessary to imagine the history of salvation as if it were subsistent by itself, and absolutely independent of human history, as if the facts of human history were indifferent, and salvation followed another road, purely individual and internal, which was to appear only at the end, at the hour of judgment and sanction. Against this whole conception, in the measure in which it permeates spirituality and apostolic activities, there have arisen today the just protests of those who see in it a rending of the unity of the plan of God, a division between “God Creator” and “God Savior” and finally, a disparagement of the work of salvation. The universal primacy of Christ, of which St. Paul speaks, seems to them to demand another vision of history.


And it is this theology, now not dualistic, this integral theology, which permeates and governs the splendid developments of the Constitution Gaudium et Spes of Vatican II; it is particularly evident in the explicit references to Jesus Christ concluding the different sections.


Such theology is very important for the thorough understanding on the part of the Society today of its mission in relation to atheism and in relation to the Third World. It will be good to assemble some underlying features of the image of man. For to realize “the Glory of God” in Christ and by the grace of Christ implies fundamentally the harmonious personal and communitarian development of man. And the believing Christian and the apostle ought to feel themselves today as the promoters of this development.


Personal development. It is in effect by his interior and spiritual world that man is superior to all the universe; he comes back to this interiority when he enters into his heart, where God, the searcher of hearts, awaits him. Development in the world. Man has need of the world for his own improvement, for the development of his creative power and for the indefinite increase of his liberty. To aid man to accept and to realize his obligation to transform the world is to prepare him to go towards God; it is the Christifying labor of pre-evangelization.


Communitarian development also. For man is essentially a social being, and for that reason the development of his own person and the growth of his society condition each other mutually. Finally, development of the social structures, according to the postulates of personal dignity, and of justice founded on the recognition of the rights of all men and of their fundamental equality.


All this, we insist, is not simple humanism in the eyes of those who have faith in Christ and a correct theology. According to faith, man exists only to have his end in Christ. The world exists only to have its end in Christified man, and in ultimate term, in Christ. The transformation of the world by human action is really ordained to bring about the participation and the expression of the glory of Christ; to go further, from this moment on there is preparation and anticipation of that glory. For the believing Christian the progress of man in history attains its final dimension in the plenitude of Christ.


8. The Concrete Reality of our Vocation

This theology, at once encouraging and exacting, enlightens us all today in the search for the concrete reality of our vocation. It is surely that which stimulates our youth, when they wish to see the Society less bound to structures which permit such general injustice; on the contrary they would like to see the Society more involved in effective activities along the lines of progress. Who could deny that in this aspiration there is a profound Christian impulse, completely in keeping with the spirit of the Jesuit? All of us have to revise our action continually; perhaps the Society ought even to abandon some of its activities to undertake others; or else, proceed to transform profoundly the spirit of current activities.


Before the impatience of the young, fundamentally sound, often importune in its forms, frequently a little unrealistic, it is necessary to ask them to remember this: it is impossible to do everything quickly, and things should not be done lightly; further, it is necessary to keep in mind always those theological principles which will prevent the proposed vision from leading to contradictory consequences:


i) One cannot simply identify progress and the history of salvation, as if the latter would automatically follow from the former; we would run the risk of reducing salvation to something natural and immanent; besides this would destroy the best hope of nature itself, which aims always beyond itself. Natural progress is basic and Christian salvation cannot disassociate itself from it, nor promote it as a simple instrument, in an apologetic manner; but it is necessary to recognize that, in promoting it, it goes beyond it.


ii) Terrestrial realities have their autonomy and should be developed according to their internal laws, without outside interferences.


iii) If these two reasons are combined, it follows that a distinction is necessary between the natural service of humanity and its progress (which we have already said is per se a service in keeping with the plan of God in Christ) and a service more specifically supernatural; this consists in aiding men to discover the ultimate meaning of all their activity, in cultivating in them Christian faith, hope and charity, in realizing the sacrament which is the Church in their community life.


The prevailing note in the vocation of the Jesuit and in his service of the neighbor for love of Christ, goes under the heading of the most supernatural service. We ought not to forget it, even when involved in the actual undeniable urgencies of other more immediate services. It is true that the Society has always assumed many of these, and in the very formula of the Institute the list of our activities concludes with the very broad expression: “the other works of charity.” We exclude nothing except what, in definite circumstances, prevents greater good. But if we seek a true and ordered effectiveness, we should learn rather to divide the tasks, by favoring the advancement of the laity and leaving to them the most direct promotion of human development, reserving for ourselves the duty of animating them with Christian sentiments, in keeping with the specific nature of our vocation.


This is what they expect most from us, and anything else could cover anew a paternalistic activity. It is true that there are many ambiguous situations, where it is impossible to define the boundaries clearly; it is true that at times temporary expedients are necessary, and we must make an effort to give visible witness, in order to dissipate prejudice. But perhaps it is not good to stabilize and perpetuate what is provisional; today we have to experiment continually in the search for new ways; let us learn also to revise them without cease, in the light of our ideal. In any case, the many Jesuits, who must still employ a good part of their energies in the human advancement of their neighbor, should be happy in the consciousness that this also is necessary for the edification of the total Christ.


Perhaps it is fitting to conclude our reflections on the Christian meaning and value of human development—in the framework of an integral Christology, of a theology of the Word incarnate—with a consideration of the integral development of the Jesuit himself. The honest search for a full growth of one’s natural powers and talents is in the Ignatian tradition. Identified in heart with Christ and with the humanity he wishes to integrate in Christ, the Jesuit will not consider his own development as something private, with a selfish view that would belittle and tarnish it. He regards it as a patrimony of Christ and the Church, as something sacred, which does not belong to him, and which he cannot let lie fallow. His desire will be to be able to make the maximum return, according to what Jesus Himself did. But by doing this without egoism, he will be disposed to sacrifice definite aspects of his own development for the greater development of other superior values, in himself or in others; and he will not refuse to share in the mutilation that underdevelopment imposes today on so many men.




9. Christ and Him Crucified

Thus we come to the second aspect of the Christology, which St. Ignatius has made live for us in the Third Week of the Exercises, and which we could in no way neglect without betraying the Gospel. It is the theology of the Logos Redeemer, theology of the Cross.


If there has been, in the past, a defect in emphasizing one-sidedly this aspect, in the theological presentation of the figure and the role of Jesus Christ, it would be likewise a fault and harmful to fall into the opposite extreme, and forget that only through the death on the Cross did Christ come to the exaltation of the Resurrection, which merited for Him the name of Lord. Whoever wishes to follow Him in glory has to follow Him in humiliation and in sorrow. For the humanity to which we belong, and in which the divine Logos became incarnate, is a sinful humanity, which dwells in a world beset with evil. It is not possible to disregard this nor to release oneself from that situation. Only by accepting it such as it is, by confronting evil and struggling against sin, even to the Cross and even to death, do we share in the Redemption, for our own personal profit as well as for the good of all mankind.


Evil is an undeniable feature of our world. And man can and ought to struggle against it always, by trying to overcome it and convert it into a good of a higher order; but very often he makes it worse, for himself and for his fellowmen, by the very selfishness with which he pretends to escape from it. Called to love by the best part of his very nature, made by God to His image, called to a higher vocation of love by grace and the example of Christ …, man, inherently low-spirited and cowardly, evades that call, withdraws within himself and, “wishing to gain all, loses all.” Such is the drama of sin, present in human history from the beginning. Since his appearance upon the earth, man is a sinner.


The ascetic Christian tradition has never forgotten this. And it has understood, that for that reason the believer must turn ever anew to God by sincere conversion, from his condition as sinner. He has to struggle, inspired by grace, to bring about, in himself and in others, the triumph of good over evil, of love over selfishness. But, above all, he must feel himself identified with the death of Jesus, in which He offered Himself to the Father in expiation for the sin of the world, that man might thus be reborn with Him to new life.


10. Steering between Two Extremes

We have no reason to forget this today, quite the contrary. Is there less selfishness in our world? Is it more free from the dominion of sin?


What offends the young, perhaps, in the classic presentations of sin and penance, of the ascetic necessity of mortification and the cross, is its one-sidedness in not putting forward the integral plan of God, the elevation of mankind by the Incarnation and the Resurrection of Christ, the call to the love of charity. Taken by themselves, certain aspects of that classic presentation and certain ascetic examples of the past appear individualistic, manifesting obsession with individual salvation, without sufficient perspective for the more complete reality of the Total Christ.


These defects have been overcome today. Starting from the new perspective, more sound, more profound and more comforting, it is necessary to recover the whole insuperable truth of the cross and its redemptive value, the necessity of struggle and mortification, to put an effective limit to selfishness, to recognize the necessity of profound humility and continual conversion towards the Lord.


There is an aspect of sin, which used to be put less in relief, but whose importance we see today more than ever and whose comprehension can help us to understand better the mystery of the Cross, and what is demanded of us today by way of participation in this mystery. In its strictest sense, sin is an act of the personal will, which, called to good by grace, deliberately closes itself to that call under the impulse of selfish attraction. But this sin of man, by the inevitable social projection of all that is human, tends to “objectify itself,” and in union with the similar sin of others, to establish social structures which perpetuate and protect the selfish attitude of individuals; these structures engender situations difficult for others—in which they can with difficulty retreat even from the temptation to sin—and they go so far as to make very difficult or even practically impossible the practice of good and the following of the voice of conscience.


11. The Problem of Collective Sin

Does not that description, unfortunately, fit great aspects or sectors of the social reality of our time? Do not the miseries of the Third World come from there? The young often feel it very keenly. That is why they consider hypocritical the diatribes against certain individual sins, when these omit these other greater social sins. They are not right in what they deny, but right in what they affirm, that is to say: the existence of that other greater sin. Every sin ought to be denounced and combated by those who wish to share in the prophetic vocation of Jesus. The Church and the Society ought to be very clear in the position they take in the face of the grave collective sins of today.


It is clear, however, that if it is not a question of concrete personal sin, the remedy is more difficult. Besides, everything is not resolved by denunciation, unless it is followed with personal example and with concrete action opposed to sin. “The mystery of iniquity” is in the world, and it will not leave it tomorrow or the day after tomorrow. It is necessary to take account of it, and to undertake against it an action that is broad in scope, patient and well directed.


Such an action should not neglect any support that the human sciences and techniques, especially psychology, sociology, economics and politics, can offer. It is necessary to know how to cope with the psychological defects of man, and remedy them in the measure possible. It is necessary to know how to convince men that their happiness does not lie in selfishness; it is necessary, however, to know how to reckon with those cold laws of sociology and economics that emanate from the selfishness of man—without remaining prisoner, on the other hand, of this motif, but trusting that there are in man better resources than those he has manifested up to now. It is necessary to make a prudent effort, combining the techniques of realism and possibility with the courage essential for renewal. None of these things can be neglected. But it would be extremely naive to believe that all that is going to establish order in the world at once, or that it is going to settle it in a definite way.


The way of the Cross of Christ continues, then, to open up for us the other way, that of participation in the redemptive suffering. We will all meet it in our life, as He met it, however little we may feel ourselves honored to struggle with Him against our own selfishness and that of others, and provided that we do not flee cowardly when it knocks at our door. Traditional asceticism has a repertory of concrete forms of mortification the result of positive research, and has presented them, with insistence, as exercises of penance and as participation in the Cross. We have come to realize today that the important thing is to accept the evil that comes our way and which makes us share, conjointly with our brothers, in the suffering caused by injustice and selfishness. If we wish to be ready for this participation, we will certainly find it opportune, and essential, in addition to the voluntary asceticism which prepares us for it, to accept the suffering that will come to us, with a view to being faithful, as Jesus Christ, to our vocation, and in order to feel our solidarity, with Him and as He does, with the suffering endured by mankind.


An exaggerated preaching of resignation to evil—above all to that caused by human selfishness—would be judged, and with reason, by men of today as evasion and culpable complicity. It is necessary to struggle against injustice in the name of God, and of man, son of God, and of the solidarity of the total Christ. But it is necessary also to continue to teach men that evil can be transformed into good through love, fidelity, sacrifice and even death. Jesus of Nazareth was not a politician. But with His death on the Cross and fidelity to His prophetic mission, concentrating against Himself the forces of sin and of human selfishness, He vanquished them more effectively than by any political action, through His redemptive love and His example. One does not, for that reason, exclude the vocation of politics for the Christian; quite the contrary. But the Jesuit ought to leave to the laymen action more specifically political, and illumine for him with the light of the faith the principles to guide that action; and, at the same time, he will confront evil on the level of those who suffer it, by his solidarity with them, as far as that is possible.


Jesus “being God, did not wish to present Himself as God, but emptied Himself, to assume the condition of a slave—and became a man as all men are, and humiliated Himself even unto death, and death on the Cross.” It is thus that He was able to redeem us, sharing with us the structures of evil in which we found ourselves. The Jesuit will do honor to the name which he bears when he knows how to renounce the privileges that are not strictly necessary for his mission and his work, and when he shares the lot of the majority of the mankind that he wishes to save. In a world in which the poor are still a majority—look no further—you have a decisive reason for being poor.




To bring this reflection to an end, we could conclude by saying that if anyone seeks a definition of a Jesuit, he will encounter a fundamental difficulty: no one wants to answer him and give a definition, according to “genus and specific difference.” Besides, such a definition would not free him from his doubts nor would it resolve the problem. The difficulty comes undoubtedly from the fact that it is impossible to rationalize anything vital. The manner of being a Jesuit comprises elements that escape cerebral speculation: all those which proceed from a generous attitude of radical and permanent commitment to Christ and to the service of the Church.


Such attitudes are not “definable.” And still less would they be expressed by an identification which would attempt to conform to the logical effort of a definition. There is question of something completely alien to such schematism. The very design of seeking an “identity” through an effort of speculation on what is not a matter for reasoning but a life (or a form of life not subject to rationalization), can imply ambiguities or even apparent contradictions. It is difficult to succeed in expressing concepts which, like life, each one of us perceives in the ultimate experience of our own behavior.


Ultimately, the Jesuit is he who is a member of the Society of Jesus. The Society of Jesus is a dynamic, not an abstract body. It is a reality embodied in men; that is why the Society is a Society, in the measure in which there are incorporated in it men who embody a concrete spirit, inspired by the Exercises and formulated in the Constitutions. The living source of this Spirit should be Jesus Christ, the Word of God lived in the Exercises (adapted vitally for a whole lifetime), and the historical readjustment of that spirit to its own authenticity should be effected by the Constitutions.


The true Jesuit goes along under the interior guidance of that spirit. It is what in each situation inspires him and directs him. Neither is the “identity” of that spirit attained to by reasoning. It is something which is born to life in the Exercises, and which grows by the experience of each one incorporated into the life of the Society. The spirit is never completely realized since its formation, development and growth are perpetual, being continually fostered by the personal and corporate experience of the spirit itself. That is why Ribadeneira wishing to define the Jesuit, conceives it thus, descriptively, as an attitude and motive for life: “That we be men crucified to the world and to whom the world itself is crucified, that is what our rule of life demands; new men, I say, who have stripped themselves of their affection that they might put on Christ … etc.”


We can hope that the crisis in the world, in the Church, in the Society will lead to a happy end only if we count seriously and effectively on grace. Only by counting on grace can we put our shoulders to this difficult task which is the vocation of Jesuits. To count on grace is to pray, to be men of prayer, who come “to meet God in all things” and who can be called “contemplatives in action.” If there is to be any truth in what we propose in the way of bold and generous renovation and accommodation, in fidelity to our original charism and to our tradition, it will be necessary for each and all of us, with God’s help, to find the way to make operative and joyously conscious in our inner being that presence of the Spirit, which translates itself into faith, hope and love.




Original Source:

Other Apostolates Today: Selected Letters and Addresses—III, ed. Jerome Aixala. St. Louis: The Institute of Jesuit Sources, 1981, “The Jesuit and the Christ of the Exercises,” pg. 254–274.