“Challenge to Total Commitment,” Pedro Arrupe (1974)

The following address—delivered by Pedro Arrupe to the English scholastics at Heythrop College in January 1974—serves as a challenge for “the young men of the Society” to embrace their vocation with a total commitment. “Jesuit Vocation,” Arrupe states, “is essentially a call to commit ourselves to Christ and His work.” He implores the men: “Please be courageous, be creative!”

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



I. Challenge to Total Jesuit Commitment

The challenge faces all of us, but it is evident that it is the young men of the Society who will have to live it through. You must look at the world and its situation courageously, with the eyes of Christ, acquiring, painfully perhaps, the faith-vision to discern the problems of the world and the role of the Society in contributing to solutions. You must pray for the freedom “to do in love the truth” which such discernment and vision discover.


This means, I think, that you must go directly and radically to the essential message of the Gospel. You must proclaim the whole message of Christ, the whole truth that frees. And this means—there’s the rub—that you must live it fully, generously,—in this historical moment, perhaps even heroically. There is simply no other way to commend the message you are called to proclaim. The world is tired of words, statements. It demands deeds, the witness of life. The Jesuit Vocation is essentially a call to commit ourselves to Christ and His work. A commitment to Christ, a commitment of grateful love, a commitment in companionship with Christ, a commitment to His work of redemption, a commitment in fraternity, and always, always, always, this nuance: the majus servitium, the greater glory with everything that this implies of inner freedom, fidelity to the Spirit, complete availability, perfect mobility. It seems to me that the vows are simply an expression of this commitment to Christ, and in turn confirm our commitment to the same, since love grows with the investment made.



II. Obedience, Poverty, Chastity

It has ever been, it is, and it must always be the conviction of the Society that one finds one’s mission and consequently the majus servitium surely through Ignatian obedience. This is the Jesuit’s lived expression of his commitment to greater service, to Christ, a commitment of love. It is his way of receiving his mission. We are sent and the mission inserts us into the divine plan of redemption.


We will never really know the meaning of our vow of poverty, unless we first come to know Christ poor through knowledge of Him in prayer, and unless we progress to imitation, to some personal experience of poverty and its effects. The fact that more than half of the world is undernourished, and that presently, now millions of Africans and Asians are dying of starvation, remains unreal and meaningless, unless we pray ourselves into some communion with Christ and His suffering members, unless we have some contact with the experience of privation.


Our lives must somehow be marked by austerity and by solidarity. First the war, now a scarcity of petroleum have shown the western world a little of what it can do without, and rather easily. Cannot fraternity, love, lead us to the same discipline? And this austerity is not for itself, but for sharing, in solidarity with each member of my community, with other houses, other provinces, with the whole world of my brothers, “since the greater part of the world is still suffering from so much poverty, that it is as if Christ Himself were crying out in these poor to beg the charity of the disciples.” How can we desire, or even tolerate an easy life?


If we fail in poverty, we fail in one of the essential elements of the Jesuit charisma, a failure which would be the sadder today, when the testimony of poverty has such apostolic value. For some whom God calls and graces, the way of renunciation, of religious life—and let us never gloss the fact that it is and should be, a way of renunciation—is a uniquely effective means of self-transcendence in achieving a high love of God. To renounce conjugal love, self-determination, the pride of wealth and power, it is in this exercise of faithful and hopeful love that one grows in faith and hope and love. Your Chesterton has a line, that a man must “cast his heart out of his ken, to get his heart’s desire.”


But whatever the deepest theological justification of religious chastity, the Ignatian vocation to the greater service of the Gospel, in perfect mobility and availability, requires this renunciation. With us there can be no compromise in this. Ours is not the time, nor has the Society ever been the place, for partial, limited commitment. There must be in each of us, .a longing, an ache, to give himself completely to the service of Christ, perfectly in the following of Christ, in the manner of Ignatius, in the Society of Jesus, and permanently.



III. Role of Theology in our Formation

Relative to spiritual formation, theology is an essential means or us to deepen the faith-knowledge of God the Father, of His Christ, of their Spirit, and of man redeemed by this triune God. The Jesuit who does not achieve a respectable theological competence, who cannot rise to the level of real reflection and critical questioning, especially if he is in any sort of familiar contact with the world of current ideas, can guard his faith, stunted and underdeveloped, only by sealing it off from the rest of his experience, and refusal to ask the probing questions of his times.


It would be a tragedy if this study were approached in a purely academic manner. Theology must be approached in profound faith, nourished in constant prayer. Heythrop must be a community of teachers-learners, a community of faith, in which the common effort to discern the true data of revelation, must flow from faith, and be inspired by love, leading to deeper faith and more ardent love.


This involves no sacrifice of academic objectivity or searching criticism. No area of the deposit of faith should be passed over or neglected. It seems to me that this fraternal collaboration of professors and students, offering each other the stimulating witness of commitment to the faith and of a great desire for its communication, can make the four years of theology an immensely enriching part of your spiritual formation.


Whether the Jesuit be engaged in academic and scientific work, or in a more pastoral occupation, the importance of really good competence in theology and sacred science can simply not be exaggerated. Please believe me in this. The specific and expected competence of the Jesuit, the peculiar contribution and gift he brings to the world, is a knowledge of Christ and of His teaching.


The chief function of the Jesuit scientist, scholar, artist, educator, as such, is to mediate the relevance of the faith and of the science of faith to other disciplines, i.e. to be an articulate Christian presence in a secular culture and technology or in a non-Christian humanism. This synthesis of priesthood and secular profession, is no easy task and not for everyone, and must be accomplished deep in the Jesuit’s heart as well as in his head.


In a more direct apostolate, in pastoral work of every kind, no matter what our commitment to liberation, social justice, relief of every want or ill the Jesuit vocation is essentially and fundamentally to speak of God and of His redemptive love. And not autonomously, speaking each his own gospel, but as men sent, to speak the word of Another, the Gospel of Christ, articulately and in an idiom which communicates.


I would beg you to take deeply to heart the fact that there is no better or more practical pastoral preparation than strenuous study of theology. It would be a grievous error to think that one can amass a theological capital sufficient to embark on a pastoral career, in four (or even less, unhappily!) years of abbreviated semesters, while spending much time and energy on pastoral efforts.



IV. Value of Philosophy and Science

Our study of philosophy and its need as a propaedeutic to theology has undergone a great change, but I am sure that real immersion in philosophy is more necessary than ever. It is impossible to study theology in a way relevant to our culture, indeed, it is impossible to understand our world or to exercise an influence or apostolate in cultured circles, without a solid knowledge of philosophy, complemented by familiarity with contemporary philosophy, and its roots. But philosophy must be so studied as not only to acquire knowledge or information of others’ thoughts, but as a formative discipline, giving one an. understanding of the universe or reality, a necessary base for theology, and for the illumination by faith.


The Church has always looked to the Society for solid scholarship, sacred and profane, and the need in both areas has never been greater. I greatly fear that we may be failing the Church in this expectation, and this would be a failure of commitment and dedication to the greatest service, in retreat from the difficulties of that austere vocation.



V. Potential and Demands of School Apostolate

With regard to secondary education I have spoken at length in documents which should be readily available. I am convinced that education on this level remains one of our most fruitful apostolates, but one in need of renewal. The potential is enormous. In what other apostolate can a group of Jesuits, working in close collaboration and mutual support (and they must), deploy their energies and love to the benefit of a large group of young men, at a time when these are open to good influence, in sustained and lengthy association, while enlisting the collaboration of, and offering their help to, a group of lay teachers in their highest professional aims, and to parents in the area of their deepest concerns?


At the same time let it be recognized that this is now an apostolate of peculiar difficulty and of immense demands, calling on the Jesuit’s deepest dedication.


Times have changed drastically in a secularized world. Supporting institutions have fallen away or largely lost their influence, and a Jesuit hardly justifies apostolically his presence in a school by being merely a good teacher even of religion. The school, its students, its lay teachers, the parents, become the total community to whom he is sent, to exercise what apostolate he can, often as much outside the classroom as in it, in collaboration with other Jesuits, lay teachers, and parents. The school must be a center of radiation to a much wider circle than the students, or it will not be effective.


Academic excellence remains a goal, certainly, but if it be nothing more than academic excellence to enter more effectively the professional or commercial world, in a struggle for personal success, then we have failed signally and there is no genuine apostolic value in such a school. Under pain of failure, we must succeed in the effective introduction of a Christian social dimension into our education. We must form young men who will accept it as part of their Christian vocation to be, to live, to work for others; who will know that they cannot be Christians in our century, without responding to the call to serve others, without recognizing their responsibility for social justice, for all, everywhere. Failure of a Jesuit school to communicate these ideals in some reasonably effective measure, raises serious questions about the raison d’etre of that school. We will hardly accomplish this merely by introducing more courses into a crowded curriculum. We shall have to discover means of making such service of the “marginalized” a part of our students’ experience. And we ourselves shall have to teach by our lives.



VI. Our Great Four

You will remember that the order of priority in our apostolate in my second allocution to the Congregation of Procurators in October 1970, was theological reflection (on contemporary human problems), the social apostolate (aiming principally at the change of human social structures), education (of every kind, of the young and of adults, on all levels), and finally, ministry by the mass media of communication.


I think you can discern a thread of unity in that enumeration. The problematic is man, mankind, the human condition. But man, complete man, is theological man, man fallen and redeemed, man coming from God and destined to God. He and his problems cannot even be known, much less solved, without theological reflection, in the light of faith and aided by a consideration of the varied problems which entangle man, who, however, remains a unity and central.


Existential man is social, man in society, man in an increasingly complex web of relation, which has made our world a global village. Man-made structures make this world what it is, and men are called to labor and struggle for the change of those structures. But modern man is a man in the mass, millions, billions, and humanly speaking, there is no reaching such masses effectively save by the media which can reach millions.



VII. Metanoia and Exercises

There is no solution of our problems, the problems of the Society as also of the world, save by conversion, repentance and fresh beginning, whereby we turn to the Lord in altogether new fervor and zeal—the conversion of others who will take up the same work. In this respect we must never forget the Exercises of St. Ignatius, the most effective means of conversion for a Jesuit, and an instrument which can be used with astonishing efficacy to help towards the conversion of others. Only there we are able to appropriate some measure of the courage and zeal, of the confidence and trust, which animated our Father in his immense desire to serve God and men. In a sense this is our priority of priorities, and the font of a spirit which must animate all other work.


The challenge is immense—one to daunt any heart no matter how magnanimous—if we counted on our own resources. But “whoever wishes to join me in this enterprise must be willing to labor with me, that by following me in suffering, he may follow me in glory.”



VIII. Exhortation and Encouragement

Please don’t forget that the Holy Father has told us that the “Church needs the help of the Society,” and that now is “an hour of decision for the Society itself, for its destiny, for its service in the Church, as also for other religious families.” And please remember always that you are the future of the Society. What a responsibility! But what a wonderful grace and vocation, “so that neither among men nor angels is there any activity more sublime.”


Please be courageous, be creative! I am sorry to have been so long. I would have dearly loved to be with you for your discussion, but that being impossible, talking to you has been the next best thing. I congratulate you on this initiative and hope that the conference will be the first of many. Be sure of the support of my prayers for light and courage of the Holy Spirit for each one of you. And please pray for me.


I would be very glad to be informed as to how the conference went and about any conclusions reached. May God bless you all.


Pedro Arrupe S. J.




Original Source:

Challenge to Religious Life Today: Selected Letters and Addresses—I, ed. Jerome Aixala. St. Louis: The Institute of Jesuit Sources, 1979, “Challenge to Total Commitment,” pg. 131–139.

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