The 32nd General Congregation convened in Rome in 1974 not to elect a new superior general but to respond to the charge issued by the Second Vatican Council, in Perfectae caritatis, that religious orders rediscover their original charism. The congregation ultimately issued sixteen decrees, though none exceeded the importance of defining the Society’s mission as Decree 4, “Our Mission Today: The Service of Faith and the Promotion of Justice.” As the delegates debated the decree, its promulgation remaining uncertain, Superior General Pedro Arrupe addressed his conferrers. In his remarks, Arrupe pushes them to act in their “decisive hour.”
I speak of a certain aspect of our first option, that is of the option concerning justice. We should notice that this option is first in the sense that it is treated first in our Congregation and should influence our whole life, for the very work of promoting justice is a sure obligation born from the Gospel itself. The 1971 Synod of Bishops expressed itself thus on the subject of justice in the world:
Action for justice and participation in the transformation of the world stand out for us as the essential reason for preaching the Gospel, that is the mission of the Church concerning the redemption and liberation of mankind from every form of oppression.
In our Society, which is a priestly body, this work on behalf of justice should always be distinguished by its sacerdotal and Ignatian character. This indeed was St Ignatius’s idea of the priesthood. Gifted with true intuition, that would seem to be four centuries ahead of his time, Ignatius had a vision of the priestly ministry that is closer to Vatican II than to the Council of Trent. For him the integration of many activities of the priestly ministry, proceeding as it does from specifically priestly ministries and extending all the way to corporal works of mercy, constitutes an essential element.
The problem lies precisely in this, that that equilibrium and integration must be kept; thus it happens that activities that seem most distant from the priesthood, because they seem more secular or material, are assumed, integrated, directed and vivified by the very priestly character of the apostolic man.
Therefore, that sacerdotal character that leads us to total identification with Christ and deeper union with Him automatically leads us to evangelize just as Christ Himself did, that is, by means of the cross; and in that evangelization, to promote and accomplish properly the work of justice.
It is necessary that our Congregation be truly conscious that the justice of the Gospel should be preached through the cross and from the cross. If we intend seriously to work for justice even to its ultimate consequences (and Ignatian evangelical radicalism does indeed require this of us) the cross will immediately appear, frequently accompanied by bitter pain. For, although we be faithful to our priestly and religious charism and work prudently, we shall see those rise against us who perpetuate injustice in today’s industrial society, who otherwise are sometimes considered very fine Christians and often are our benefactors or friends or even relatives, who argue for Marxism and subversion, eventually cease to be our friends, and consequently take away their former backing and financial assistance.
Are we ready not so much to write beautiful declarations as to work at the truth of the matter and to accomplish concrete results? It helps to remember the words of Paul VI in Octogesima adveniens :
So as to make a good Judgment, let each one, therefore, ask himself what he has done up to now and what he still ought to do. Indeed it is not enough Just to recall to men’s minds certain precepts or to speak eloquently of premises or to condemn grave injustices or to utter threats with prophetic boldness: all these things are of no use unless in each man they are Joined to more lively consciousness of one’s duty and to a specific and definite action. Undoubtedly it is easier to blame others for the present adverse condition of things, without thereby considering to what extent one is free of this same guilt and especially to what extent correction may be called for on the part of each individual.
Is our General Congregation ready to take up this responsibility and to carry it out to its ultimate consequences? Is it ready to enter upon the more severe way of the cross, which surely will mean for us a lack of understanding on the part of civil and ecclesiastical authority and of our best friends? Does the General Congregation find itself disposed to offer true witness in its life, works and ways of acting? Is it prepared to give testimony not just by a decree or declaration that expresses in words the sense or manner of thinking of all or of the greater part of the Congregation, but by reducing that testimony to practice by means of concrete decisions which ought necessarily to change our way of thinking and working, our field of activity, the social level of those with whom we deal, even our very image and social esteem?
If we are not ready for this, what other use would these discussions have, except perhaps a merely academic one? If indeed we are prepared, we ought to take up this responsibility and consider this apostolate as our own. The Society of Jesus, as such, should directly assume this initiative of which we speak, it should inspire its sons so that they will give themselves entirely to this apostolate; it should sustain them in difficulties, and even defend them when they are subjected to unjust persecutions arising from this or that source.
Let us be aware of whither we must go. The Lord is surely calling us, but we must first consider whether we have enough money to build the tower. Together with this special vocation that He gives us, the Lord certainly offers us the necessary grace to accomplish what He asks of us, even if it may seem difficult; but on our part it requires that we offer ourselves to follow Him, even though we may not yet be allowed to see clearly all the sacrifices that are included in this response.
In this “decisive hour” our response will be the concrete expression of that “oblation of greater worth and moment” that we have so often made in the Exercises.
“Throw your cares upon the Lord, and He will look after you” (Ps 54: 23).
Original Source (English translation):
Justice with Faith Today: Selected Letters and Addresses—II, ed. Jerome Aixala. St. Louis: The Institute of Jesuit Sources, 1980, “When Decree 4—Justice with Faith—Was on the Anvil, Rome, December 20, 1974,” pg. 317–320.