Rome hosted a meeting of some 70 rectors and presidents of Jesuit universities and colleges in August 1975. In addition to receiving remarks from Pope Paul VI and Cardinal Gabriel-Marie Garrone (the prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education), the delegates heard two homilies by Pedro Arrupe. The Jesuit superior general delivered the following homily at a Mass concelebrated at the Church of the Gesù, the mother church of the Society of Jesus. The remarks use the church’s magnificent and ornamented altar of St. Ignatius as a metaphor for the “reverence and devotion” needed in a university president’s vocation.
For more sources from Arrupe, please visit The Arrupe Collection.
I am sure you share with me a deeply moving sense of joy in this Concelebration that has brought us together before the altar of St. Ignatius. We are paying a visit to our founding Father, to be renewed in his spirit, to spur ourselves to greater fidelity as his sons, to receive a deeper imprint in our hearts of the image of the Society which Ignatius has traced in the Constitutions under the inspiration of his mystic insights and of the personal experience which he shared with his first companions. This same image has been presented in contemporary terms by the 32nd General Congregation, with these words: “Today the Jesuit is a man whose mission is to dedicate himself entirely to the service of faith and the promotion of justice, in a communion of life and work and sacrifice with the companions who have rallied round the same standard of the Cross and in fidelity to the Vicar of Christ, for the building up of a world at once more human and more divine.”
May this Concelebration lead us to a thorough renewal of spirit; the circumstances are definitely in our favor: the Holy Year holds out an invitation to a renewal in depth; the recent General Congregation made the renewal of the whole Society its one concern, and in these very days a providential concurrence of events has brought together almost all the presidents of Universities in the Society, who represent in their person one of our most difficult and responsible apostolates.
This altar, a gem of the baroque style—the finest in Rome, according to Moroni, so that whole hours would be needed to take in all its artistic merit and material value—this altar I regard as the symbol of the life of Ignatius, of that soldier, so dissolute and vain, who nevertheless surrendered himself totally to the service of the Church under the Roman Pontiff for the greater glory of God.
Below the table rests the body of our holy Founder and Father; a little above, cast in bronze, is a series of scenes from his Life, surmounted by the motto that reveals the secret of that life: “Ad Maiorem Dei Gloriam.” Raising our eyes higher still we find the statue of the Saint, measuring some 9! feet, vested in priestly robes to remind us of the countless divine favors that Ignatius received in the Holy Sacrifice for the founding and the government of the Society; so we see, at the foot of the statue, an angel holding up the book of the Constitutions. Two other angels raise aloft the crest with the holy Name of Jesus; and at the very crown, in a glow of clouds and shining rays, is the Blessed Trinity, gazing with redeeming love at the human race, represented by the handsome globe of la pis-lazuli.
The whole altar thus puts before us the life and mission of Ignatius: here is that body, weak and worn, that seemed to be “entirely an obstacle,” weighed down with long and weary toil, aflame with zeal for the glory of God, so active in those priestly ministries and apostolate which he describes in the Constitutions as a legacy to his sons, so taken up with one ideal—“to be placed with Jesus” and to serve him, the Eternal King and Universal Lord of the Spiritual Exercises, sent by the Father to redeem the world.
If we turn our gaze once again to the altar, beginning now at the top and taking in every feature with open eyes and open hear, we may be able to grasp in all its dimensions the mission of Ignatius, which springs from that dialogue within the Trinity where the Son offers himself to the Father: “In the scroll of the book it stands written of me: God, here I am! I am coming to obey your will,” and finds its consummation in the redemptive work of Christ, which is carried on through the ages by means of weak human instruments. Our Lord welcomes Ignatius as his servant and showers on him special graces which remain with us in the Constitutions, making them the firm foundation of a new religious, apostolic and sacerdotal family. Jesus himself will be the ideal, the distinctive mark, of Ignatius—a Jesus whom he imitates with the greatest generosity in his labors for the greater glory of God, till he is consumed like Jesus in the perfect sacrifice of the “Consummatum est.”
This magnificent urn of gilted bronze is a symbol, both beautiful and precious, of the earth in which the grain of wheat must fall, so as to die and bear much fruit. The “old man,” the man of the world, the dissolute and vain soldier that Ignatius was, died quite definitely in Loyola and Manresa, that there might rise the man of the Church, the tireless apostle, the Founder of the Society of Jesus. And the “new man” in his turn, the man of the Church at the service of God and his people, was gradually consumed in the blaze of an inner mystical flame, till his worn out body yielded its last breath in circumstances very different from those which this imposing sepulchre might suggest. Ignatius died almost alone, without the last sacraments, in the sole company of Fr. Frusius, who used to cheer him up with his clavichord in moments of sadness. He died as might die any common man of humble; means. Polanco tells us: “Though he knew his end had come, he wished neither to call us for his blessing, nor to name a successor—not even a vicar, so that we must elect one—not to put the last touches on the Constitutions, nor to give any sign, as some servants of God have done in these circumstances; he just passed away in the ordinary manner of this world.”
This contrast of cross and resurrection, of death and new birth, of wealth in art and poverty of life, presents a vision of Ignatius that is both impressive and true to fact. We could not grasp it in all its significance without a visit to the little rooms, the camerette, in which Ignatius spent his hidden life of prayer and work, in which he received such abundant mystical light, as can be seen from a mere glance at his spiritual diary. This Church of the Gesù, archetype of so many other churches of the Society, this magnificent altar, symbolic of the life of an exceptional Saint, cannot be fully understood apart from the camerette, in which are recorded the events that they witnessed: “Here Ignatius received wonderful revelations from the Blessed Trinity regarding the Institute of the Society;” “Here, as he was writing the Constitutions, he became aware of the Blessed Virgin giving her approval;” “Here died Ignatius of Loyola, Founder of the Society of Jesus.”
From such an interior life, as intense as it was hidden, from such divine illumination, comes the great work of Ignatius, which we all admire today and to which we feel we belong as sons of that prolific family which had so humble and obscure a beginning. In his famous funeral oration of 1600, Baronius said: “We see the foliage, the fruit, the trunk which is the Society of Jesus but the root is buried in the soil; and who is that root but the Blessed Ignatius who lies hidden here?”
The mystery of the life of Ignatius invites us to reflect on our own life. For our life, too, and the vocation of each one of us, enshrines a like mystery. God grant that we experience in our last hour the transformation of the grain of wheat, that dies that it might profit others and is thus the source of an abundant harvest of glory to God.
Every Jesuit who enters this Church of the Gesù, even though he may not feel—as the Roman faithful according to Moroni—that this is the very “antechamber of paradise,” nevertheless moved with a deep sense of reverence and devotion, in this place and before this altar where rest the remains of our holy Founder. In this context of reverence and devotion let us pause a moment to reflect on what our work as Presidents of Universities means in the concrete, in a world that is so like that of Ignatius because of the period of rapid transition through which we are passing, and yet so different from his. Let us imagine that we pick up the book of the Constitutions from the angel on the altar, and open it at Part IV to read the words of Ignatius: “Care should be taken that the rector be a man of great example, edification, and mortification … discreet, fit for governing, experienced both in matters of business and of the spiritual life. He should know how to mingle severity with kindness at the proper times … and finally, be one in whom the higher superiors can confide…. The function of the rector will be first of all to sustain the whole college by his prayer and holy desires….” This is not a mere job description for a board of directors but rather an application of the great charter of the Society.
Let us beg St. Ignatius, who had such high regard for universities, that he give us the light to understand what is the particular significance for us, as Jesuit Presidents of Universities, of the special marks of our vocation, of our charism, of our function in the Church of today. May he help us to penetrate the meaning of being a Jesuit, as expressed by the 32nd General Congregation:
What is it to be a Jesuit? It is to know that one is a sinner, yet called to be a companion of Jesus as Ignatius was…. What is it to be a companion of Jesus today? It is to engage, under the standard of the Cross, in the crucial struggle of our time: the struggle for faith, and that struggle for justice which it includes.
In this Holy Eucharist, let us all ask one for another that we may daily become better Jesuits, more truly companions of Jesus, in the position in which Divine Providence has placed us for the service of God and of his Church. Let us ask that at our hands the Heavenly Father may receive this Sacrifice of his Son in the name of our many thousands of students and collaborators in the Universities of the Society.
Other Apostolates Today: Selected Letters and Addresses—III, ed. Jerome Aixala. St. Louis: The Institute of Jesuit Sources, 1981, “Education for Faith and Justice,” pg. 97–102.