The Jesuits of the Province of Turin met in Genoa in December 1973, in order to make preparations for upcoming 32nd General Congregation of the Society of Jesus. At this meeting, Pedro Arrupe first delivered the following remarks on “the simplicity of life,” which he considers “the measure of our spirit of poverty, the practical application of that spirit.” Arrupe goes on at length at what is excluded from the simplicity of life (“ostentation, vanity,” “elegance and fastidiousness,” and even “the most comfortable furniture, heating, air conditioning and so on”). His remarks close with a summation of “ultimate poverty: the giving up of everything, one’s own self included, which imitates the kenosis of Christ” and consider the experiences Ignatius of Loyola had with poverty.
For more sources from Arrupe, please visit The Arrupe Collection.
I. Why a question was asked
Among the questions asked of those who had to write ex officio letters this year was one on the simplicity of our life as Jesuits. Some may have wondered why. Simplicity of life? What is so important about that? Haven’t we got more important things to worry about? Well, no. Among the most important things we have, not to worry, but to think seriously about is simplicity of life.
Why? Because simplicity of life is the measure of our spirit of poverty, the practical application of that spirit. “Let me just say this,” Saint Ignatius wrote to his men in Padua, “whoever loves poverty should be glad to be poor; glad to go hungry, to be badly clothed, to lie on a hard bed. For if someone loves poverty but avoids penury, following poverty only from afar, is that not to be comfortably poor? Surely that is to love the reputation rather than the reality of poverty; to love poverty in word but not in deed.” What, then, is simplicity of life but the language in which poverty is expressed?
It is the language of example, the language people today understand and appreciate much better than fine words and exhortations. We are thus in duty bound to make a searching examination of our attitudes and norms regarding poverty and certain other aspects of our personal lives.
Simplicity of life, besides being the measure of our poverty, is also a help to preserve and enhance it. It is not unusual to hear one of Ours complain that “I would like to live in the strictest poverty, but am prevented from doing so by the style of life of my community.” As though to live in poverty is to go against the current of community life! But is this true? Should it be true? Should not community life rather be an inspiration and a help to the individual to really live his vow of poverty?
For instance, what does simplicity of life exclude? It excludes ostentation, vanity, and a preoccupation with creature comforts. A manner of life characterized by elegance and fastidiousness, whether it be in dress or personal effects, or living quarters, or means of transport, certainly cannot be described as simple; affluent would be the better word. Neither can a religious who takes good care to provide himself with the most comfortable furniture, heating, air conditioning and so on that may be available on the market be considered to be living modestly.
This leads us to recognize that the simplicity proper to our way of life is today menaced not by a single but by a double danger. It is menaced not only by our built-in egoism, but by the consumer society in which we are plunged: a society that provides with such facility almost everything our egoism craves. In a society characterized by penury, our egoism cannot have such spectacular success; we are compelled to live simply. And so, those of us who live in societies of affluence must be very conscious of the enslaving effects of an economy of abundance and its high-pressure salesmanship. If we really want to live the life of austerity to which we are called, we must be able to respond to its propaganda: “How many things there are I do not need! How many things there are I do not want!” To modify a little bit one of the four freedoms of President Roosevelt, we must cultivate freedom from “want.”
Are we cultivating this freedom? It is my impression that in the Society of Jesus today, our reactions range over a very wide spectrum: from the truly heroic to the regrettably scandalous.
If we look more closely into the matter, we find that simplicity of life is rooted in, and is a manifestation of, a basic spiritual attitude. This attitude can be cultivated—or, on the other hand, opposed—in diverse ways, in our personal lives as well as in our apostolic ministry. It is not merely a problem of poverty. In our personal lives, for instance, we can fall short of simplicity for many reasons: because of sensuality, or vanity, or an unacknowledged pride of social class.
Sensuality—if you will allow me to use that old-fashioned but still valid expression—makes us adept in avoiding whatever is inconvenient, and in taking full advantage of the opportunities offered by a consumer society to enjoy ourselves in comfort.
Vanity—again an old-fashioned but by no means out-dated term—inclines us not only to provide ourselves with superfluities, but even, in what we need for our maintenance or ministry, to choose only “the best that the market offers,” thus joining, whether we realize it or not, the number of those who have become enslaved to prevailing fashion.
And thirdly—whether we realize it or not—we all come under the influence of what has been called “collective passions”—of nation, or race, or the social class to which we belonged before God called us to his service. The trouble is that we fail to realize that we share these “passions,” precisely because they are “collective;” they find their unexamined justification in everything that surrounds us; and thus, without our full advertence, they condition our attitudes, our choices, our way of life, and even our ministry.
Our class-consciousness—if I may so refer to something that I think, that I hope, is largely subconscious—often makes us wary of even appearing to belong to an “inferior class;” namely, to the working class. It makes us unwilling to undertake ministries and activities whereby we “lower ourselves,” whereby we become identified in our manner of dress, transport, and everything else, with a class below that to which we belong.
And so we must ask ourselves: to what social class do I belong as a Jesuit? Are my spontaneous reactions still those of the social class—possibly a dominant, possibly an exploiting class—to which I used to belong before God called me to the Society of Jesus, but to which I no longer belong? Are these still my spontaneous reactions even if, intellectually and in the abstract, I consider myself liberated from all notions of social class?
Even in the choice of means for our apostolic ministries—communications media, transport, techniques, instrumentation—let us carefully scrutinize which of these means are really “for the help of souls.” Must we take for our overriding norm of apostolic efficacy the greatest variety and the most up-to-date model of technical means, when we know very well that the very complexity of such means is a barrier to attaining our objectives?
Let us not forget David, who refused to be weighed down by armor in fighting Goliath-and was proved right by the event. His primitive sling and rounded pebble were quite enough. I am reminded here of the missionary who was kept so busy maintaining his typewriter, his radio, his tape recorder, his fridge, his car, and all his mass of equipment, that he had very little time left to do any mission work!
A good way of bringing home to ourselves how superfluous are many of the things we now consider necessities is to recall the times when we were well able to do without them, for the simple reason that we could not get them. In war time, for instance, with how little we were content! We had to be.
And we have an even more striking instance today. The Arab nations decide to reduce their petroleum exports, and all of a sudden we have an energy crisis. Things that higher, more spiritual motives could not induce us to dispense with—top speeds on the highways, summer heat in winter, late shows, late suppers—we now find we can dispense with, because we must.
II. The poverty crisis
Reading the official reports sent to me this year from all over the Society, and noting what they say about the affluent style of life of some of our communities, the undisclosed sources of income, the private accounts, the expensive personal effects, the travelling for pleasure, the proprietary attitude towards and use of salaries, I am more than ever convinced of something which some have called in question, namely, that there exists in the Society today a serious problem of poverty: personal, communal, and institutional.
This is not the time to prove that the problem exists or to estimate how serious it is. Allow me, however, to put forward some considerations pf a more positive nature, assuming that we are all agreed that any problem concerning poverty is a capital one for the Society. I am greatly assisted in doing this by the replies received from Superiors and Consultors to my question concerning simplicity of life, and by the personal contacts I have made in the course of my journeys and visits.
It is true, of course, that for any religious congregation poverty is a matter of particular concern, poverty being one of the characteristic attributes of religious life as such. But we Jesuits have a special reason to be concerned, because of the special stress which Saint Ignatius placed on poverty as a result of the interior lights which the Lord gave him on the subject, and the spiritual experience he had of it.
III. Poverty a Mystery of Faith
Poverty is a Gospel mystery, and one must love Christ to comprehend it. In the replies to my inquiry, one is struck by statements such as this: “There are those who simply do not know Christ’s spirit of poverty, which is what makes one truly poor. Their living of poverty is not theological; it is not centered on Christ; and so it is merely an external, a material poverty.” Such an attitude is obviously unacceptable and needs to be corrected with the help of prayer and an effort to acquire the proper spirit of the Exercises and the Constitutions.
The mystery of poverty springs from the mystery of the kenosis of Christ, Christ’s emptying of himself. It is a mystery, something that human reason cannot fully comprehend, something we can approach only in the measure that we are enlightened by the Holy Spirit. The problematic of religious poverty is neither sociological nor financial. It is not even merely theological. It is a problematic of faith: of love for Christ poor, poor in the human life he chose for himself, poor in the life of his Mystical Body.
And so, to arrive at a measure of understanding of what poverty means, a double experience is necessary. A faith experience, first of all, of Christ’s emptying of himself; but also a lived experience of being really poor. If either of these two experiences is lacking, one cannot really know what religious poverty is. If the mystical experience of Christ’s kenosis is lacking, one can possibly know what human poverty and misery are, that poverty and misery which we are called upon to fight in themselves and in their effects; but one cannot know what religious poverty is and means. If the personal, lived experience of real poverty is lacking, one may possibly arrive at some knowledge of what the poverty of the historical Christ was and its characteristic traits; but one cannot know what the poverty of poor men is in actuality.
Hence, if we are to know religious poverty in its fullness, in the round, we must strive for an inward knowledge, an epignosis reached through prayer of Christ poor, Christ on the cross; this epignosis leading us in virtue of the Ignatian charism to that third mode of humility whereby we choose poverty with Christ poor rather than riches. At the same time, and by the same token, we must strive to live this poverty we have chosen, and thus experience what poverty really means for the indigent poor. Faith impels us to the imitation of Christ poor, and this in turn impels us to actual poverty: such is the upward spiral generated by the interaction of faith experience and lived experience which is the basic pattern in this order of being. Interaction: for the lived experience of poverty impels us to the love of Christ, a love which purifies and liberates. As Saint Ignatius puts it, “It is no small grace that the Divine Goodness gives us when it gives us the opportunity of actually tasting what we should always desire if we are to be conformed to our model Jesus Christ.”
IV. Reactions to the Problematic
It is clear that in the religious life in general and in the Society of Jesus in particular poverty presents problems of a theological as well as a practical nature, and there will be different reactions to the posing of these problems.
One reaction is what might be called the defensive reaction. It seeks to minimize the problem by putting forward reasons to justify existing situations, reasons which are either clearly fallacious or at least ambiguous. The requirements of the apostolate are adduced: if our apostolate is to be efficient, we must make use of the most efficient, that is to say, the most expensive means; if our apostolate is to be efficacious, we must work with the most influential social class, that is to say, the affluent elite. Or else, the Ignatian charism is invoked: the charism of Ignatius is not that of Charles de Foucauld. Or again, we are informed that the authentic Jesuit tradition is to employ whatever means will get us to the end. In short, every kind of exegetical, historical, and canonical argument is brought into play to persuade us to continue doing what we are doing. The problem is thus “rationalized” to make it ambiguous enough to tolerate the continuance of the status quo.
Another reaction is that of discouragement. For how many years have we been wrestling with this problem? For uncounted years. Have we arrived at an acceptable solution? We have not. Why, then, discuss it further? Let us simply do what we can and let the future take care of itself.
Then there is the radical reaction. An extreme position is taken, labelled “evangelical,” or “bearing witness,” and proposed as the only acceptable and apostolic solution to the problem. Fine! But if this radicalism does not derive its inspiration from the Gospel, it either leads to contradictions in the lives of those who practice it, or—since it ignores the complexity of human life and society—ends up in utter frustration, or generates polarizations destructive of brotherly love and more akin to the class-warfare model of society.
As far as I am concerned, the problematic of religious poverty and simplicity of life is situated at a much deeper level than that in which these reactions take place. For the problematic is caused, really, by a loss of spiritual sensibility. Not only the failure to practice evangelical poverty but the exclusively socio-economic and secularizing solutions to the problematic, leading at times to the advocacy of violence to fight justice, both indicate an insensitivity to Christ. There is no substitute for the kenosis of Christ either in philanthropy or in humanitarianism or in the Marxist analysis of social class and social conflict. Our present mediocre performance in the matter of religious poverty is the natural and necessary consequence of this dulling of spiritual sensibility, this lack of the sensus Christi. For if that is lacking, our mind-set becomes distorted, we choose the wrong criteria, and our application of them to our lives becomes “non-sense” in the light of the Gospel.
If we can speak of a lack as being present, how much of this lack is present in the world … and in the Society of Jesus!
V. Poverty the Foundation of the Life of the Spirit
We all know how much Saint Ignatius loved poverty. He looked on it as one of the basic virtues of the Jesuit apostle. Deriving this insight from interior illuminations of the Holy Spirit regarding the standard of the Cross, he lost no time in translating it into practice: we are to love poverty as a mother and defend it as the rampart of religion.
Let us spell this out, using the same terminology that Ignatius does. What does poverty do? It disposes the human instrument to union with God, and endows him with apostolic mobility. Union with God, effected by the theological virtues, is nourished by evangelical poverty, which is both founded in faith and increases faith, since Christ known by faith is the key to an understanding of what poverty really means, and poverty, in turn, is the supremely credible witness of what faith is: “faith without works is dead.”
Poverty means total detachment, at least in attitude; it means withdrawing trust from all things created and placing all our trust and all our hope in God, in the faith-certainty that our help can only come from him. It is to this total trust in the providence of God that poverty leads us by dispossessing us of everything and thus liberating us from attachment to anything. “The surest as well as the most needed contribution we can give to the reform of the universal Church,” says Saint Ignatius, “is to go about it as lightly burdened with things as possible, as our Lord himself has shown us.” The experience of human insecurity leads us to find shelter in the unfailing security of God.
Poverty prepares us not only to profess but to practice charity; for true poverty makes a man capable of giving for his neighbor’s sake not only what he has but what he is. “All for others” becomes his rule of life. All: Possessions, talents, time, labors, joys, griefs; saying with Saint Paul, “I am perfectly willing to spend what I have, and to be expended, in the interests of your souls.”
We thus arrive at ultimate poverty: the giving up of everything, one’s own self included, which imitates the kenosis of Christ. Rooted in the love of the Father, it is the highest degree of interior humility. To strip oneself in this way is to experience powerlessness in the presence of those who, having possessions, seem to have power. It is to experience humiliation, for to be poor is to be despised, to be cast aside, to be roughly treated.
In this connection, what a missionary must be ready to undergo in a pagan country is highly instructive. To find oneself alone in a great city, without a single friend or acquaintance; without provision of any kind, whether it be physical equipment or the support and, security one derives from ordinary human relationships; to be poor even as far as language is concerned, unable to express oneself, to tell people what one is, what one knows; always to be in a position of inferiority, a child just learning to speak, contemptuously dismissed in every discussion, painfully aware of the poor impression one is always making, and of the pity, or else the hostility, with which one is regarded—all this brings home to a man better than empty theorizings what poverty, in the radical sense of dis-possession, really means. Not only does it take away external attachments, it makes one truly humble of heart; for to be poor is to be humiliated, and it is from humiliations that one learns humility.
This is one of the most valuable experiences we can acquire by living as poor men. The poor man has no rights in a society built on self-interest and the profit motive. The poor man is the man without a voice; the last in line; despised, ignored, forgotten. To understand the condition of the poor, it is necessary to experience it. If this experience is lacking, abstract theory and grand resolves are of little use.
But now: what about us? We who live in the affluent West, maintaining a social standing and style of life that are considered appropriate in our milieu; we who are able to bestow favors or to get our friends to do so; is not our position that of the benefactor, a position of privilege and power? On the other hand, how different from this is our position in those non-Christian or atheist countries where we are accorded no recognition; worse still, where we are looked upon as useless or even dangerous elements of society, and as such earmarked for liquidation! To be thus considered redundant, to be at the mercy of others, to be worthless in the eyes of men, what is this but to be enrolled in a high-standard school of humility? This is the school in which the Holy Spirit himself teaches that lesson of the spiritual life which is the most advanced and difficult of all: that there is joy to be found in the poverty of the Cross.
I cannot tell you how deeply moving are the accounts I have received concerning those brothers of ours who live precisely, in these circumstances. In them, surely, if in anyone of our Company, God has found instruments that fit snugly, perfectly, into his almighty hands.
VI. Fruits of Poverty and Simplicity of Life
The advantages of that perfect detachment on which religious poverty and simplicity of life is based are manifold.
Perfect detachment confers an inner freedom which is unique: the freedom to respond to the call of the Spirit as soon as we hear it, whether in our own hearts, or in the voice of the Superior, or in the signs of the times. This inner “readiness for anything” is what gives us mobility; disposes us to go at a moment’s notice wherever God, obedience, or the need of souls demand.
How far removed such an attitude is from that of one who “has found his niche” and made himself thoroughly comfortable in it! He surrounds himself with an assortment of conveniences that for him have become necessities, cultivates powerful friends attentive to his slightest wish, and thus gives himself a sort of tenure, a permanent post from which, as Saint Ignatius remarks, “many men cannot move him.”
True poverty develops a spirituality that is joyful, vigorous, and virile, as the Roman poet Lucan observed long ago: “poverty, fertile mother of men.” Poverty does away with softness and with our natural tendency to loaf, to the dolce far niente. It generates spiritual vigor and an extraordinary endurance in apostolic enterprises, and, on top of that, confers an inward joy· and gladness in the midst of labors which one who has not experienced it finds hard to imagine.
Another characteristic of the life of simplicity and poverty is apostolic efficacy. For clearly, if one is united with God and relies on him alone, one is more open to receive the graces that render the pastoral ministry fruitful, since “neither the planter nor the waterer matters; only God, who makes things grow.” Moreover, such a way of life has the impact of irrefutable witness, especially today when the value of poverty as a “sign” has risen so dramatically.
Why have we lost so much credibility as ministers of the Gospel? Because people no longer see us as poor men. It is the witness of poverty sincerely lived that will restore credibility to our apostolate, and by so doing make it more effective. It may sound like a paradox, but to be sparing in the use of things has become in our time more efficient apostolically than to acquire an abundance of means.
This is best proved “ex contrariis,” from the negative effects of a lack of simplicity of life. If, in a society of economic progress, abundance, and consumerism, we lack the spirit of poverty and the detachment derived from it, we run the risk, more than at any other time in the past, of becoming slaves. Slaves in many different ways: slaves of propaganda, of that high-pressure salesmanship which is the distinguishing mark of a consumer society; slaves of acquisitiveness, the drive to accumulate possessions which begin as luxuries and end up as necessities; slaves of snobbery, which limits our apostolic activity, whether openly or tacitly, to a privileged social class. Poverty and simplicity of life, on the other hand, by reducing our needs to a minimum, sets us free—free to respond to any and every challenge of the apostolate.
Is positive proof required? We have it in what I mentioned earlier: the high regard given by our contemporaries to voluntary poverty. For what this comes down to is that the credibility of our apostolate has become directly proportional to our detachment of spirit and our simplicity of life.
Our choice of ministries and ranking of apostolic priorities must take this fact into account. If our aim is to change the unjust structures of our society, we cannot be effective agents of change if we restrict our action to the higher social levels. We must be active also at the lower levels, among the poor; and the poor will not listen to us if they do not see us sharing their poverty. Moreover, we should have a preference for the poor, as Christ had. There are so many more of them! But not only that. The change in unjust social structures will not come about unless we help the poor to help themselves, and we cannot teach them this unless we first learn from them what poverty really means.
Let us respect the dignity of the poor; let us take them for our teachers! What does Saint Ignatius say? “So great are the poor in the sight of God that Christ considered himself to be sent to them especially. He preferred them to the extent of choosing his apostles from among their number. He lived with them, he lived like them, and he constituted these apostles of his judges over the twelve tribes of Israel, that is to say, all the faithful. And who will sit with the apostles on the judges’ bench as their advisers? The poor. So exalted is their estate.”
We are much concerned today to build and to get people to accept new models of life, new models of society. Let us not forget the old adage, exempla trahuntj or, freely translated, “Let’s see you do it first.” But more than that, let us keep in mind that people put more trust in deeds than in words, and that any model we build must have a practical application, must point where to go, must give direction to a world that has lost almost all sense of direction.
Consider, then, what a precious witness to the Gospel can be given by a model or way of life that is simple and austere at every level: at the personal level (a minimum of personal effects), at the community level (sparing, and not too comfortable), and at the institutional level (relying neither on large estates, heavy investments, nor prestigious undertakings). Such a model, if sincerely and honestly put into practice and not put forward as a hypocritical façade will surely be effective.
Finally, poverty and simplicity of life, if animated by charity, bring about something of great value: solidarity. In the Acts of the Apostles we read that the first Christians formed “a group of believers” that by its common faith “was united heart and soul. No one claimed for his own use anything that he had, as everything they owned was held in common…. All those who owned land or houses would sell them, and bring the money from them to present it to the apostles; it was then distributed to any members who might be in need.” This solidarity of “koinonia,” this participation and sharing of material goods, was clearly a fruit of love, of the participation of all in the same Spirit; and all who had a share in that Spirit found unity in the sharing.
No doubt this spirit of solidarity and sharing is acknowledged by all in the Society, but possibly not put into practice by all, at least not to the extent and with the fullness that it should be put into practice. I am, referring here not so much to the solidarity of the local community, for it is quite obvious that we must have this solidarity at the local level, sharing whatever we possess or acquire with our community and not reserving to ourselves particular privileges in violation of the equality of basic rights. I am referring rather to the solidarity that we must have with other members and communities of our own Province and with the members and communities of the whole Society.
Where property is concerned, each one of our houses is juridically autonomous. Certainly; but surely this cannot be an obstacle to solidarity. We should, in fact, find it intolerable that there can be in our Society “rich” communities and “poor” communities; some communities abounding in superfluities while other communities (in the very same city, perhaps) lack what is necessary for their support or for the proper conduct of their apostolate, which may be of the highest importance.
The principle of solidarity, if properly put into practice, can bring about a radical transformation of our way of life and ministries. If we make ourselves truly solidary with those of our brothers who live in penury and whose apostolic activities are paralyzed by lack of means, will not this be an added spur, an added apostolic motivation, to living simply, soberly, and sparingly? Let us not forget that although we reside in a particular house and belong to a particular Province, our true community is, in the last analysis, the universal body of the Society. The needs of this world-wide community—even those felt by it in places furthest removed from us geographically—should be estimated by us according to norms and priorities that are universal, not local, to such an extent that the exigencies of each individual or house cease to be absolute and become, as they should be, relative.
It is thus that we will bring about a true “union of hearts” based on love of God our Lord and union with “the divine and supreme Good;” this in turn will lead us, as Saint Ignatius says, to “a thoroughgoing contempt of those temporal things which occasion a disordered self-love, the principal enemy of union and the universal good.”
We should go further and say that this solidarity cannot be limited to the Society. Taken in its full meaning, it must be extended (again according to Ignatius) “to all our neighbors,” even while granting its “special reference to the body of the Society.” Two-thirds of mankind today lives in what can only be called a state of extreme necessity. Confronted by this fact, even men with no particular religious commitment feel that as members of a “global village” they should do something about it. How much more ought we to feel it, we who are members of a world-wide Society and citizens of the world! How much more deeply should this fact come home to us, with its urgent demand for sparing and sharing!
VII. Ignatius on Poverty
Our Society of Jesus is at the service of the Church. What service does the Church ask of us today? What should be our attitude towards the consumer society, its materialism, its mad pursuit of comfort, power, riches? To answer this question, it might help to recall how Saint Ignatius reacted to the society of his day, and to infer from this how he would react to the society of our day.
Saint Ignatius belonged to a society in the throes of a process of change that had plunged the Church in crisis. He read the signs of the times as the Holy Spirit gave him to perceive them, and reacted as follows. Against the humanism of the pagan Renaissance, he developed a spirituality steeped in the Gospel. Against the abusive accumulation of revenues that had invaded the Church itself, multiplying prebends and benefices to support pride of place, he brought forward his vision of poverty, the poverty of the humble Christ. To give reality to this vision he sketched out in the Exercises and spelled out in the Constitutions the third mode of humility, which leads one to choose poverty with Christ poor rather than riches. He forbade his men to receive stipends and compensation for ministerial work, and ruled out fixed, revenues for his professed houses. He weighted our apostolate in favor of the poor and underprivileged, stressing the teaching of catechism to children, service in hospitals and prisons, and the kind of pilgrimages that would provide the Jesuit with actual experience of poverty and of travel without any provision for the journey.
This being so, one wonders what his reaction would be to our world. It is a world absorbed in the pursuit of convenience, efficiency, affluence; a world characterized by consumerism. We burn with the desire to possess things: money, ease, power. We multiply needs, reckoning as needs whatever ministers to sensuality, conspicuous consumption, self-indulgence, entertainment. We are losing our regard for work as a value in itself; we avoid it as much as possible. To waste time in idleness is fast becoming an ideal; how to organize leisure has become a problem.
Now then: how does one practice religious poverty in such a world? To live by “begging from door to door” will edify no one in a society where the able-bodied man who refuses gainful employment is considered a parasite on society. The poor man of today lives on what he earns, on his wages. Social security is organized to provide for future contingencies. On the other hand, the urge to consume intensifies; every kind of entertainment is placed within the reach of almost everyone: tourism, TV, films, the stage, etc.
It is not difficult to imagine how Saint Ignatius would go about coping with such a situation. He would of course apply his basic principles to these new conditions, for these principles, inspired by love of Christ poor, are as valid today as ever. Christ remains the model of our apostolic poverty and simplicity of life: personal, communal, institutional.
We must keep sight of the fact that “helping souls” is a supernatural work and hence subject to supernatural norms. The love of Christ poor must be the decisive determinant of our apostolic activity. If that fails, all else is doomed to failure.
In our use of things, let us apply the tantum-quantum measure, taking care not to substitute superfluities for necessities. With regard to what is not strictly necessary but convenient, we should guard against the fallacy of consumerism, namely, that the mere accumulation of things, the having as much as possible of a good thing, is good in itself. “We must take care,” Saint Ignatius warns, “not to start substituting the superfluous for the necessary, confusing what pleases us with what is good for us, and thus converting measures of prudence to excuses for self-indulgence.”
Let’s face it: it is harder for us to be poor in an affluent world than in a poverty-stricken one; harder for us to live simply and austerely in the midst of abundance than in the midst of scarcity. But what a witness to the Gospel it would be if we succeed, even partially, in such an enterprise!
As for the theology of poverty, we must certainly strive to widen and deepen it, not in the abstract but in an “incarnate” way, incarnate in reality, today’s reality. We must try to enter into the mystery of the Incarnation and the Cross through experience of real poverty acquired by apostolic work among the poor and underprivileged. Let this experience give substance to our theological reflection, and stimulus to our own practice of poverty as a religious commitment.
How to realize in practice, today, the simplicity of life to which we as Jesuits are committed, is a problem.
We can solve this problem only by an inner, personal faith-experience and love-experience of Christ Poor.
This experience is an illuminating one: it enables us to perceive solutions to our problem which would never have occurred to mere human nature.
It is also a liberating experience: it sets us free to do what the love of Christ and apostolic zeal ask us to do.
Our main task must therefore be to establish within the innermost core of our being that contact with the Spirit by which alone we can learn what true poverty and simplicity are.
This inner conversion to the poverty of Christ is both the indispensable condition for and the first step towards the realization in our own lives of that Christ-life which Saint Ignatius desired for the Society of Jesus.
Challenge to Religious Life Today: Selected Letters and Addresses—I, ed. Jerome Aixala. St. Louis: The Institute of Jesuit Sources, 1979, “Simplicity of Life,” pg. 113–129.