The following document, based on points issued to various provincials’ conferences, was issued to all members of the Society of Jesus by their superior general in 1971. Pedro Arrupe addresses the kind of spiritual life that he believes is necessary to support Jesuits’ works.
For more sources from Arrupe, please visit The Arrupe Collection.
Speaking about the “spiritual renewal” of the Society is not an easy task:
1. Because renewal cannot be considered in isolation from other problems that emerge on every level—of the person, the community and the Society as a whole.
2. Because the different areas of Jesuit life are so interlocked that it is futile to hope for the renewal of one while the other is in decline; in particular the spiritual renewal of the Society must have an apostolic dimension which is at once a stimulus and a goal and this calls for an interior renovation both personal and communal. A re-focusing of our apostolic goals is now of great psychological importance.
Four principal themes stand out in relation to all the others:
I. Experience of God in Christ (God as “absolute” in our lives).
II. Work for the salvation of the world (apostolic dynamism).
III. Habitual union with Christ (safeguards and progress of the spiritual life).
IV. Sharing with “companions” (community life).
I. Experience of God in Christ
The first question to put to ourselves and to repeat again and again at each stage of our Jesuit life is this: what point have we reached in our experience of God? (“Curet primo Deum, deinde huius sui Instituti rationem quae via quaedam est ad Illum”)
The world is in the process of secularization. The Society accepts the fact. More than that, it follows up by adapting its style of life and the forms of its apostolate and it is ready to continue to do so. But one condition is necessary. Our personal encounter with God must give to our lives the stamp of totality, of radical exigence, of unconditional response.
This meeting with God evidently will take varying forms according to the variety of graces and temperaments. But it will always be close union with Christ, the discovery through him of the love of the Father, and a readiness to respond to his Spirit. In the Society of today this basic relationship to God, to Christ and his Spirit calls for reaffirmation and this may require real courage. That reaffirmation, however, is a condition of our life and at the same time a criteria for judging our actions:
1. What is the personal experience of each one of us in this encounter with Christ? Nothing can turn us away from the fundamental challenge which is that of every Christian: “… Because it is by grace that you have been saved, through faith; not by anything of your own, but by a gift from God …”; “This is why we are bold enough to approach God in complete confidence, through our faith in him.”
2. What does the Gospel mean to us? Is it a personal revelation of the Word of God, or is it simply a collection of “values” (religious or social) for us to defend?
3. Our apostolic activities (seen from the viewpoint of the ministerial priesthood, of professional involvement, of the proclamation of the Word, of aid to the “development” of peoples, etc.): are they marked by that “mission” which means revealing to men the love God bears them?
4. Does our behavior, in its psychological, affective, intellectual, artistic, and social dimensions, reveal without it being necessary (or even possible) to name it, this interior presence by which we live and which is the only guarantee of our effectiveness for the Kingdom of God?
5. Even if the words “renouncement” or “abnegation” are for us full of ambiguity, do we really accept participation in the “kenosis” of Christ and of his mission as “servant?”
These questions and many others we can ask in order to judge the realism of our life style as Jesuits. Too often we speak of living in Christ, discerning his spirit, of humility, of poverty and even of prayer, without such words corresponding to an experience, the exigencies of which we wish to live to the very end: they remain empty words. They represent theories unknown to or perhaps in contradiction with our personal experience. Any spiritual renewal should in the first place depend on sincerity, authenticity, and rejection of pharisaical hypocrisy. It should be grounded in this profound unity of personality interiorly transformed or transfigured by the presence of an active grace that we are willing to recognize and express.
II. Apostolic Dynamism
The whole vocation of the Jesuit is dominated by the “sending” or the apostolic mission (cf. The Kingdom and the Two Standards; The Decrees of the 31st General Congregation, Deer. 1, n. 4, Deer. 13, n. 3. “A life simultaneously and indivisibly apostolic and religious.”) In virtue of that which is most profound in their vocation Jesuits, in today’s difficult conditions, often feel the need to discover again that apostolic drive which is an indispensable condition of their spiritual fidelity. For this:
1. They need an apostolic orientation, that is to say, goals both general and precise (a particular work in union with the universal church); they need to have the role of the Society and its options made clear to them; they need to have their “status” presented to them rather in the light of a “mission.”
2. The Society, at all levels, must be capable of perceiving the “signs of the times” and of creating new models for the apostolate, without allowing herself to become imprisoned in ancient modes or even more recent ones which have already seen their day.
3. For the individual Jesuit, his apostolate should be at the heart of his relationships with other members of the Society, with his community and finally with Superiors (who should understand that the account of conscience is directed above all to “mission,” and to the workings of the Spirit in the soul of the apostolic man).
4. We must insist on the universality and the mobility of the Society—especially today. We are a “corpus universal,” “companions of Jesus,” “cives mundi” who reject all narrow provincialism and nationalism. This universal vision with its sense of belonging to a world-wide body greatly helps us to avoid that turning in upon ourselves which narrows our horizons, while aggravating and multiplying our problems.
5. Interior liberty (indifference) or positive readiness to accept the direction of the Holy Spirit is absolutely necessary for adaptation and apostolic renewal, since we cannot rest with mere wishes like the “second class of men.” The greater the interior liberty the wider the opening for a dynamic apostolate. The man who is interiorly free can set his apostolic course without fear of anyone or anything.
The basic requirements for the apostolate are also crucial for the Jesuit who seeks freedom from that nagging insecurity which can cripple his apostolic work and weaken his confidence in the Society. The consequences for spiritual renewal are great for we are dealing with a certain resiliency of our vocation, a certain “taste of living for God,” a confidence in the role assigned us, etc. Certain states of dejection, of desolation, of apostolic lethargy, can only be overcome by this deep-rooted hope, ceaselessly revivified by an apostolic dynamism, founded on Christ, but stimulated too by the joy of a task whose direction is clearly perceived. The hope of the Jesuits, in this difficult period for the Church and the Society, can only come from a total confidence in God who carries on his work, rather than from a trust in our own forces and generosity: “We are only the earthenware jars that hold this treasure, to make it clear that such an overwhelming power comes from God and not from us.” Provincials have a key role to play in this effort at renewal of our theological hope.
III. Habitual Union with God
A life of consecration to God and apostolic dynamism cannot thrust forward or even stand still, unless God acts in us and we, on our part, continuously open ourselves to that action. St. Ignatius speaks of being with Christ: “Mecum,” “to be placed with the Son,” “instrumentum conjunctum cum Deo.” Once again, we must go beyond the barriers of a language to which many are so sensitive today, to find once again the imperishable basic demand: “I have not yet won, but I am still running, trying to capture the prize for which Christ Jesus captured me.” “Your mind must be renewed by a spiritual revolution so that you can put on the new self that has been created in God’s way, in the goodness and holiness of the truth.”
1. “In Christo”
What type of encounter, dialogue, or union, or docility to the spirit of Christ, are we trying to bring into our lives? Behind the words (always approximations), we must find once again the simple truth, and draw forth its consequences: Christ lives, speaks, acts by receiving from the Father his being, his word, his action. And so it is with us, “in Christo.” By participating in his relations with his Father our whole existence unfolds.
From this proposition there flow certain questions:
a) What is our attitude towards prayer and that which it necessarily implies, of adoration, of purification, of availability, of the call to labor for the universal reign of Christ? One must repeat over and over again to all Jesuits that their vocation itself obliges them to prayer, entirely independently of any rule or control. Their personal responsibility is in fact deeply involved and the Society takes it as a criterion for judging of the fidelity to their vocation.
b) A Superior should remind himself of his responsibility in this area: let him dare to speak to each one about his life of prayer in a true account of conscience. He should give effective aid so that all can find the time, the means and the conditions for a type of prayer which makes it possible for them to “find God.”
c) “Directors of Formation” should learn how to explain prayer as a way of life with its rhythms and exigencies, with its development by stages, which are themselves related to appropriate levels in the cultural and spiritual development of each individual; they should be able to explain that prayer is always to be seen in relationship to other aspects of the life of God in us, and with the apostolic life.
2. “To find God in All Things”
For the Jesuit, this formula expresses an ideal, which the apostolate should, little by little, allow him to attain. “Work” is a means of union with Christ, and of deepening this union, through the radical mortification of oneself. Work produces this effect provided it be accomplished in charity, that is to say by a love which is given to us from God and which we continually receive. That should remove two possible misunderstandings:
a) the all-too-ready belief that conditions of work which are sanctifying have been reached when in fact there is really only a display of human energy;
b) the concept that prayer comes first and that work comes afterwards, when in fact the task accomplished under the action of the Spirit carries in itself a means of progress in union with God.
Provincials should provide for careful consideration of these points of the spiritual life of their communities, so that all may find again the true meaning in prayer in its relationship to apostolic action. Serious research in the areas of history, psychology and Holy Scripture should help us to translate for our times traditional spiritual language which may have become, for the most part, out of date and unintelligible.
3. Annual retreats, recollections and meetings
Certain concentrated periods should be provided, or made more effective:
a) Retreats, truly well-ordered for each, by assuring in each Province the presence (and therefore the formation) of men capable of aiding in the advancement of the Exercises and especially of the practice of spiritual discernment.
b) Retreats should be made under favorable conditions: not only with respect to the provision of a suitable Director, but also with concern for physical and psychological needs: a period of relaxation, without correspondence to handle, without personal work to do. The retreat should lead to an “election” that is to say to a decision which truly engages the whole man and gives a sense of submissiveness to the action of the Holy Spirit in his daily apostolic life.
c) These retreats may even be communal, provided that one is sure of the presence (and therefore the formation) of a man competent to direct them.
d) Reunions or sessions to learn and adapt oneself to new developments both doctrinal and spiritual should be encouraged. Doctrine is even more necessary today than formerly to nourish the spiritual life. Other topics would include the foundations of our faith, the reading of the Sacred Scripture, the sense of the Church, and the meaning of the priesthood, as well as serious research on the relationships between faith and the human sciences (especially psychology).
IV. Community Life
Our age is sensitive to the values of fraternity, of participation, of group work or research, etc. That tendency is in line with one of the fundamental principles of the Society, which forms a body in which all members should be conscious of one another as brothers united in their apostolic tasks as well as in their spiritual ideals.
1. To favor exchange of views within the community: What can one do to foster the conditions for the development of community life? (cf. the Decree on Community Life—little known and little applied): the composition of communities, the number of members, the quality of meetings, the value of the diffusion of information and discussions during the give and take of every day life, the style of life necessary to create a climate of friendship and goodwill.
2. To create links between communities so that the life of the Society may “circulate” between the houses, between work groups; on a regional, national and international level (against the nationalism which affects us all today). To promote reunions, assemblies, sessions with the participation of several houses or of an entire Province, in a climate that is at once spiritual and fraternal, with shared prayer.
3. To favor energetically exchanges and communication on the spiritual level. The practice of a true discernment of spirits and community deliberation will help here, for intercommunication of interior experience is a powerful means of unifying a community.
4. The opening of communities to others (lay people, priests, Jesuits); organization of daily order, of places of prayer, so that the community may “live” without artificiality in itself and in its good relations with others.
5. Welcome younger members into the communities of the older: How can provision be made for their spirit of creativity and of imagination? How can older members come to understand them in depth in spite of difference of mentality and feeling? This problem is a serious one today given the relationship of numbers between the young and the old.
6. To multiply the possibilities for each Jesuit, even for the Scholastics, to participate in the decisions of the Society. Within the present legislation, opportunities are there to make known to all, the problems that are being treated, and their various aspects, to introduce new men into commissions, consultations, etc.
7. To foster a climate of openness which can lead to a communal discernment able to express itself through “communal deliberations” on apostolic tasks, on community life, on the changes which make possible new orientations in the service of the Church.
Conclusion: The Choice of Men
1. Spiritual renewal cannot be brought about “by command” nor by any specialized set-up. It calls first of all and above all for men who have the gifts or the special graces of inspiring (peace, balance, creative dynamism) and of expression (sensitivity to actual problems, a manner of speech adapted to our times). These men exist in all the Provinces, more numerous than one would sometimes think, but it is necessary to place them in the positions where they can exercise a real influence, that is to say:
—where they are not confined to administrative tasks;
—where their action can be exercised in the line proper to them (government, spiritual direction), and not primarily in works which are for them works of sacrifice;
—where their spiritual action is not counteracted by another role of an “authoritarian” type which they must exercise at the same time.
It is true that a man in whom God is at work always manifests this life of God. Such a man can, in any post, be a witness for others a kind of summons: we should, however, respect the normal conditions by which one man influences other men. In the Society authentic Jesuits do not always find themselves in a situation where they can, through their own religious personality, aid other Jesuits in their journey towards God. Provincials could do a great deal if they were more alert to this factor when they are assigning men to their posts.
2. On the other hand, certain men are put in positions of influence by reason of their professional or administrative qualities without their having the religious qualities necessary to oversee, maintain and develop the spirituality of those whom they have under their care:
—failure of respect for others in government,
—priority given to values of prestige and efficiency,
—inability to arouse that confidence which paves the way for dialogue,
—negative attitudes and at times destructive ones, etc.
The choice of men responsible for formation, of Superiors of communities of men in charge of apostolic teams, etc., is of the highest import. Some failures in the exercise of authority cause great spiritual harm to communities. Here too Provincials could have a decisive influence. In particular, they should examine anew the list of those in charge of formation in order to judge who among them are genuinely capable of promoting effectively a spiritual renewal.
Pedro Arrupe, S. J.
General of Society of Jesus
24 June 1971
Challenge to Religious Life Today: Selected Letters and Address—I, ed. Jerome Aixala. St. Louis: The Institute of Jesuit Sources, 1979, “Spiritual Renewal,” pg. 41–50.