This lengthy decree is the response of the delegates to the 32nd General Congregation to the “rather large number of postulta” (or petitions) they received on the “spiritual life”—especially prayer and obedience—and on common “spiritual discernment,” notes historian John Padberg (see the congregation’s historical preface in Jesuit Life & Mission Today (2009), pg. 274–276). The decree states its intention to provide a “sharper focus to our religious life as Jesuits” since the previous general congregation. It also states the Jesuits’ mission as: “with renewed vigor to bear witness to the Gospel and, by the ministry of the Word, made operative in Christian charity, to help bring about in our world the reign of Christ in justice, love, and peace.”
For more from the 32nd General Congregation of the Society of Jesus, please consult this page.
Orientations and Guidelines for Our Spiritual Life and Our Life in Community
1. The 32nd General Congregation confirms and commends the declarations and directives of the 31st General Congregation on the religious life contained in its Decrees 13–17 and 19. We believe them to be as helpful today in promoting our continual progress in spirit as when they were formulated, and hence they are implicitly assumed throughout the following statement.
2. It must, however, be added that our experience during the last ten years of trying to live up to those declarations and directives, and the choices we have now made regarding our mission today, seem to call upon us, as well as to enable us, to give a sharper focus to our religious life as Jesuits. We believe that focus is the union of minds and hearts [unio animorum] in the Society. It is toward preserving and strengthening that union of minds and hearts under present-day conditions that the following orientations and practical norms are directed.
3. We see our mission today as this: with renewed vigor to bear witness to the Gospel and, by the ministry of the Word, made operative in Christian charity, to help bring about in our world the reign of Christ in justice, love, and peace. For just as Christ by his words and deeds, by his death and resurrection, made God’s justice the world’s salvation, and by so doing gave all men hope of becoming truly and wholly free, so we, his followers, are called upon to bear the witness of word and life to God’s salvific love of the world in which we live.
4. The carrying out of this mission demands a very wide dispersion both of men and of ministries, given the great social and cultural diversity of our world. Hence, what St. Ignatius says about the need for union of minds and hearts among us was never more true than now: “The more difficult it is for members of this congregation to be united with their head and among themselves, since they are so scattered among the faithful and among unbelievers in diverse regions of the world, the more ought means to be sought for that union. For the Society cannot be preserved, or governed, or, consequently, attain the end it seeks for the greater glory of God, unless its members are united among themselves and with their head.”
5. Moreover, that very union of minds and hearts which participation in Christ’s mission requires will at the same time be a powerful aid to that mission, since it will be a visible sign of the love of the Father for all men. In the following orientations, therefore, we treat of our union with God in Christ, from which flows our brotherly communion with one another, a communion strengthened and made apostolically efficacious by the bond of obedience.
A. Union with God in Christ
6. Where, then, do we begin? We begin with the Ignatian insight that the unity of an apostolic body such as ours must be based on the union of each and all with God in Christ. For if we have come together as a companionship, it is because we have, each of us, responded to the call of the Eternal King.
7. In seeking this union with God in Christ, we experience a difficulty peculiar to our times, and we must be prepared to meet it. The material conditions of our world—a world of sharply contrasted affluence and misery—and the spiritual climate engendered by them, tend to produce in our contemporaries an inner emptiness, a sense of the absence of God. The expressions, signs, and symbols of God’s presence which reassured men in the past do not seem to be able to fill the present emptiness. We are still groping for the new expressions, signs, and symbols that can do so. In the meantime, we ourselves are sometimes plunged in this climate of emptiness; and so it is crucial for us somehow to regain that continual familiarity with God in both prayer and action which St. Ignatius considered absolutely essential to the very existence of our companionship.
8. We are thus led, inevitably, to the absolute necessity of personal prayer, both as a value in itself and as a source of energy for apostolic action. “The charity of Christ urges us to personal prayer and no human person can dispense us from that urgency.” We need it for the familiarity with God which consists in finding him in all things, and all things in him. Christ himself gave us an example of this. St. Ignatius urges it in both the Exercises and the Constitutions. Our own personal experience confirms it. For while it is “in action” that we are called to be contemplative, this cannot obscure the fact that we are called to be “contemplative.”
9. And yet, many of us are troubled because, although we want to pray, we cannot pray as we would like and as our apostolic commitments demand we should. In the midst of our individual, isolated efforts to pray as we should, perhaps we should listen to Christ’s reminder that “where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in their midst.” Does this not suggest that if we need assistance it is in our companionship that we must seek it: in dialogue with the spiritual counsellor, in openness to the superior, in shared prayer with our brothers?
10. Moreover, let us not forget that while our world poses obstacles in the way of our search for union with God in Christ, it also offers suggestions for surmounting those obstacles, which we should submit to an Ignatian discernment of spirits in order to determine where in them the Spirit of God is moving us. There is, for instance, the contemporary stress on spontaneous prayer, with a minimum of formalism. There is the interest in, and understanding of, the different approaches to union with God developed by the non-Christian religions. There are the various forms of prayer in community which lead to a mutually enriching exchange of faith experiences. There is, finally, the remarkable renewal taking place today in the giving and the making of the Spiritual Exercises, whose vivifying influence extends beyond the limits of the formal retreat into the daily life of prayer.
11. Not only that; fidelity to the Exercises energizes our apostolic action. It enlarges our inner freedom to respond readily to the demands which the service of faith may make of us. It deepens in us the self-abnegation that unites us to Christ crucified, and thus to the poverty, humiliations, and sufferings by which he saved the world. And, not least, it fills us with joy: the joy of service which, more than anything else, will attract others to join our companionship; the abiding joy of men whom nothing can separate from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Thus, the Spiritual Exercises, in which as Jesuits we especially experience Christ and respond to his call, lie at the heart of our Jesuit vocation. Returning every year to the Exercises, each Jesuit renews in them his dedication to Christ.
12. Our union with God in Christ is furthered not only by formal prayer, personal and communitarian, but also by the offering of Christ’s sacrifice and the reception of his sacraments. Every Jesuit community is a faith community, and it is in the Eucharist that those who believe in Christ come together to celebrate their common faith. Our participation at the same table in the Body and Blood of Christ, more than anything else, makes us one companionship totally dedicated to Christ’s mission in the world.
13. Inwardly strengthened and renewed by prayer and the sacraments, we are able to make apostolic action itself a form of union with God. Our service of the faith [diakonia fidei] and our service of men then become, not an interruption of that union but a continuation of it, a joining of our action with Christ’s salvific action in history. Thus contemplation flows into action regularly, and we realize to some extent our ideal of being contemplatives “in action.”
B. Brotherly Communion
14. From union with God in Christ flows, of necessity, brotherly love. Love of the neighbor, which union with Christ and with God in Christ implies and includes, has for its privileged object in our case, the companions of Jesus who compose our Society. They are our companions; and it is our community ideal that we should be companions not only in the sense of fellow workers in the apostolate, but truly brothers and friends in the Lord.
15. a. By forming in this way a community of brothers, we bear witness to the presence of God among men: God who, as Trinity, is, beyond all imagining, a community of Love; God who, made Man, established with men an everlasting covenant. Even our interpersonal relationship within the community, then, has an apostolic dimension, in that it must set the tone of our relationship with those outside the community who serve in the apostolate with us, and, indeed, with all men of good will who work for justice or sincerely seek the real meaning of human life. Not only that; it must set the tone of our relationship with those we seek to serve: with those who are our neighbors not simply by local propinquity, but by a sharing of concerns and aspirations.
16. But let us realistically face the facts that make community building difficult today. More so today than in the past, our membership is drawn from very different social and cultural backgrounds. Moreover, the modern world places a much heavier stress on individual freedom than on the subordination of the individual to the group. Our response to these realities will be to transform them from obstacles to aids in community building. Our basic attitude toward cultural differences will be that they can enrich our union rather than threaten it. Our basic altitude toward personal freedom will be that freedom is fulfilled in the active service of love.
17. Not that we should adopt an attitude of indiscriminate tolerance, a weary attitude of “peace at any price.” Our attitude should be, rather, that of the Contemplation for Obtaining Love: “to consider how all blessings and gifts descend from above, such as my limited power from the supreme and limitless power on high, and so with justice, goodness, piety, mercy; as rays from the sun, as water from the spring.” We come to the Society from many lands, many ways of thought and life, each one of which has received a particular grace from God’s infinite bounty. As companions of Jesus and each other, we wish to share with one another what we have and are, for the building up of communities dedicated to the apostolate of reconciliation.
18. b. Hence the need of opening up and maintaining clear channels of communication within our communities and among them, a need which St. Ignatius foresaw when, in terms of the communication facilities of his time, he called for regular and frequent letter writing back and forth between communities and individuals, and between head and members. In any case, it is clear that our communities should not be self-enclosed but most open; they are communities for mission. They receive their mission from authority; but authority itself expects the community to discern, in union with its superior and in conformity with his final decision, the concrete ways whereby that mission is to be accomplished and the procedure by which it is to be evaluated and revised in the light of actual performance. In other words, it is with the community as with the individual: it is from the inner life of grace and virtue that force flows outward to the works proposed to us. Hence the need to structure in our communities, flexibly, to be sure, but firmly, a way of life that favors personal and community prayer, provides for the relaxation of tensions and the celebration of life, and establishes a climate in which men dedicated to apostolic service can—as the apostles of Jesus did—gradually grow to the height of their vocation.
19. Fraternal communication within the community can take many forms according to different needs and circumstances. But its basic presupposition is, at the human level, sincerity and mutual trust and, at the level of grace, those gifts of God with which our companionship began and by which it is maintained.
20. Certain features of our Ignatian heritage can be given a communitarian dimension; provided, of course, the personal practice for which they were originally intended is not abandoned. For instance, the examination of conscience could, at times, be made a shared reflection on the community’s fidelity to its apostolic mission. Similarly, fraternal correction and personal dialogue with the superior can usefully become a community review of community life style.
21. c. We can go further and say that community spiritual interchange can, under certain conditions, become communitarian discernment. This is something quite distinct from the usual community dialogue. It is “a corporate search for the will of God by means of a shared reflection on the signs which point where the Spirit of Christ is leading,” and the method to follow in such communitarian discernment is analogous to that which St. Ignatius teaches for the making of a personal decision on a matter of importance.
22. There are prerequisites for a valid communitarian discernment. On the part of the individual member of the community, a certain familiarity with the Ignatian rules for the discernment of spirits, derived from actual use; a determined resolution to find the will of God for the community whatever it may cost; and, in general, the dispositions of mind and heart called for and cultivated in the First and Second Weeks of the Exercises. On the part of the community as such, a clear definition of the matter to be discerned, sufficient information regarding it, and “a capacity to convey to one another what each one really thinks and feels.”
23. Clearly, the requisite dispositions for true communitarian discernment are such that they will not be verified as often as those for ordinary community dialogue. Nevertheless, every community should seek to acquire them, so that when need arises it can enter into this special way of seeking the will of God. Indeed, inasmuch as it should be characteristic of a Jesuit to be in familiar contact with God and to seek his will constantly in a spirit of true Ignatian indifference, even ordinary community meetings and house consultations can incorporate elements of true communitarian discernment, provided we seriously seek God’s will concerning the life and work of the community.
24. What is the role of the superior in communitarian discernment? It is, first, to develop, as far as he can, the requisite disposition for it; second, to decide when to convoke the community for it, and clearly to define its object; third, to take active part in it as the bond of union within the community and as the link between the community and the Society as a whole; and, finally, to make the final decision in the light of the discernment, but freely, as the one to whom both the grace and the burden of authority are given. For in our Society the discerning community is not a deliberative or capitular body but a consultative one, whose object, clearly understood and fully accepted, is to assist the superior to determine what course of action is for God’s greater glory and the service of men.
25. d. Times of stress and trial that might threaten our fraternal communion from time to time can become moments of grace, which confirm our dedication to Christ and make that dedication credible. For, obviously, there is a reciprocal relationship between the religious vows and community life. The living of the vows promotes and strengthens community life; community life, in turn, if truly fraternal, helps us to be faithful to our vows.
26. The orientations of this 32nd General Congregation regarding the vow of poverty are to be found in a separate declaration.
Our vow of chastity consecrates a celibacy freely chosen for the sake of the Kingdom of God. By it, we offer an undivided heart to God, a heart capable of a self-giving in service approaching the freedom from self-interest with which God himself loves all his creatures. This is the witness we are called upon to give to a world which calls the value of celibacy into question; and the 32nd General Congregation simply and wholly confirms what the 31st General Congregation declared regarding the apostolic value of the vow of chastity. We might simply add that celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom has a special apostolic value in our time, when men tend to put whole classes of their fellow human beings beyond the margins of their concern, while at the same time identifying love with eroticism. In such a time, the self-denying love which is warmly human, yet freely given in service to all, can be a powerful sign leading men to Christ who came to show us what love really is: that God is love.
C. Obedience: The Bond of Union
27. “This union is produced, in great part, by the bond of obedience.” And precisely because it is our bond of union, it is the guarantee of our apostolic efficacy. Today, especially, given the wide dispersion of our apostolic enterprises, the need for us to acquire highly specialized skills in highly specialized works, and the consequent need, in many places, to make a distinction between our apostolic institutes and our religious communities, the preservation of unity of purpose and direction becomes a prime necessity.
28. In this task of unification the role of the major superior has been well defined by the 31st General Congregation. What this 32nd General Congregation would like to stress is the equally important role of the local or community superior. Given the conditions alluded to above, even if the local superior does not have the direction of the apostolic work owing to the appointment of a director of the apostolate, he nevertheless retains the responsibility to confirm his brethren in their apostolic mission and to see to it that their religious and community life is such as to enable them to fulfill that mission with God’s grace. Moreover, the task of the superior is not only to support the mission of the members of his community, but at times to determine it more precisely, “in such wise that the individuals dwelling in some house or college have recourse to their local superior or rector and are governed by him in every respect.”
29. His part is to stimulate as well as to moderate the apostolic initiatives of the members of his community. But, above all, the preservation of the community as a fraternal union depends on him. Whatever the kind of community over which he presides—and our mission today demands an astonishing variety of them—his task is to keep it together in love and obedience by that spiritual mode of governance “in all modesty and charity in the Lord” recommended and exemplified by St. Ignatius.
In addition to superiors, there are also directors of works. Where fitting, and in accord with norms that must be approved by Father General, the director of a work can have true religious authority in directing the efforts of those who have been assigned to work in that apostolate so that everything may be directed to the greater glory of God and the progress of others in Christian life and teaching. In carrying out his office, the director of the work should be alert to the advice and suggestions of his brother Jesuits and ready to receive their help. If any difficulties arise in reconciling the duties of the superior or superiors of communities and the director of the work, they should be resolved in statutes drawn up for this purpose.
30. Today, more than ever before, that spiritual mode of governance is needed. The contemporary stress on individual initiative mentioned earlier, combined with the wide range of opportunities open to that initiative, tends to obscure the sense of mission essential to Ignatian obedience and may dislodge it altogether, unless we make fuller use of the special instrument for spiritual governance bequeathed to us by St. Ignatius: the account of conscience.
31. Vowed obedience, whether in humdrum or in heroic matters, is always an act of faith and freedom whereby the religious recognizes and embraces the will of God manifested to him by one who has authority to send him in the name of Christ. He does not necessarily have to understand why he is being sent. But both the superior who sends and the companion who is sent gain assurance that the mission is really God’s will if it is preceded by the dialogue that is the account of conscience. For by it the superior acquires an inner knowledge of those subject to his authority: what they can and what they cannot do, and what help they need by way of counsel or resource to do what they can. The companion, in turn, learns what the mission on which he is being sent involves and what, concretely, he must do to discharge his responsibility.
32. The more the account of conscience is genuinely practiced, the more authentic will our discernment be of God’s purpose in our regard and the more perfect that union of minds and hearts from which our apostolate derives its dynamism. A community from which sincerity and openness in mutual relationships are absent soon becomes immobilized in purely formal structures which no longer respond to the needs and aspirations of the men of our time, or else it disintegrates altogether.
33. Beyond the limits of the strict matter of our vow of obedience extends our duty of thinking with the Church. Our being united among ourselves depends, in the last analysis, on our being united in both mind and heart to the Church that Christ founded. The historical context in which St. Ignatius wrote his Rules for Thinking with the Church is, of course, different from ours. But there remains for us the one pillar and ground of truth, the Church of the living God, in which we are united by one faith and one baptism to the one Lord and to the Father. It behooves us, then, to keep undimmed the spirit of the Ignatian rules and apply them with vigor to the changed conditions of our times.
34. Clearly, the union of minds and hearts of which we speak is difficult of achievement. Equally clearly, it is demanded by our apostolic mission. Our witness to the Gospel would not be credible without it. The sincere acceptance and willing execution of these orientations and norms set forth by this present Congregation will help toward that union. But human means fall short. It is the Spirit of God, the Spirit of love, that must fill the Society. For this we humbly pray.
35. Because “the work of our redemption is constantly carried on in the mystery of the Eucharistic Sacrifice,” all of our members should consider daily celebration of the Eucharist as the center of their religious and apostolic life. Concelebrations are encouraged, especially on days when the community can more easily gather together.
36. In order to respond to the interior need for familiarity with God, we should all spend some time each day in personal prayer. Therefore, for those still in formation, “the Society retains the practice of an hour and a half as the time for prayer, Mass, and thanksgiving. Each man should be guided by his spiritual father as he seeks that form of prayer in which he can best advance in the Lord. The judgment of superiors is normative for each.”
For others, “our rule of an hour’s prayer is to be adapted so that each Jesuit, guided by his superiors, takes into account his particular circumstances and needs, in the light of a discerning love.”
37. The time order of the community should include some brief daily common prayer and at times, in a way that is appropriate for each apostolic community, a longer period for prayer and prayerful discussion. Shared prayer, days of recollection, and the Spiritual Exercises in common are recognized as fruitful means for increasing union, since they provide the opportunity for reflecting before God on the mission of the community and, at the same time, express the apostolic character of our prayer.
38. Our entire apostolic life should be examined with the spiritual discernment proper to the Exercises, so that we might increasingly put into practice what God expects of us and purify the motivation of our lives. One means available to us is the daily examination of conscience, which was recommended by St. Ignatius so that we might be continually guided by the practice of spiritual discernment.
39. Since we need the grace of continual conversion of heart “to the love of the Father of mercies” that the purity and freedom of our lives in God’s service might increase, all should frequent the Sacrament of Reconciliation. We should also willingly participate in communal penitential services and strive to promote the spirit of reconciliation in our communities.
40. Dialogue with a spiritual director on a regular basis is a great help for growing in spiritual insight and learning discernment. Every Jesuit, especially during formation but also when he is engaged in an active apostolate, should make every effort to have a spiritual director with whom he can speak frequently and openly. The provincials should endeavor to identify and prepare spiritual fathers who are experienced in personal prayer and who have good judgment. This is especially true for the formation communities.
41. The local superior is also responsible for the spiritual vitality of the community. He should take care that the community is a true faith community precisely because he is concerned with its apostolic mission. For this reason, he should consider it part of his job to provide the conditions that foster personal and community prayer, the sacramental life, and communication on a spiritual level. He should also take care that every Jesuit be able to find in the organization of community life whatever is necessary for recollection and for a suitable balance between work and rest.
42. The Spiritual Exercises are a privileged means for achieving renovation and union in the Society and for revitalizing our apostolic mission. They are a school of prayer and a time when a man has the spiritual experience of personally encountering Christ.
For this reason, the 32nd General Congregation confirms n. 16 of Decree 14 of the 31st General Congregation. In addition, it recommends:
a. That, especially at the time of the annual visitation, the provincials inquire about the way our members are making the Spiritual Exercises;
b. That, especially during this period of renovation in the Society, those who are already formed be encouraged to make the full Exercises extended over a month. This can be an effective means of implementing the conclusions of the 32nd General Congregation;
c. That, in the provinces, the greatest care be given to the formation of those who have the talent to direct the Exercises;
d. That those already formed should at times make the annual retreat under the personal direction of a skilled director.
43. The 32nd General Congregation confirms and recommends all that is contained in the decrees of the 31st General Congregation concerning devotion to the Sacred Heart and Our Lady, as they pertain to both the spiritual life of Ours and the apostolate. In the promotion of these devotions, account should be taken of the differences which exist in various parts of the world.
44. All Jesuits, even those who must live apart because of the demands of their apostolate or for other justifiable reasons, should take an active part in the life of some community. To the extent that the bond with a community and its superior is more than merely juridical, that union of minds and hearts which is so desirable will be kept intact.
45. Every community of the Society should have its own superior.
46. The account of conscience is of great importance for the spiritual governance of the Society, and its practice is to be esteemed and cultivated. Therefore, all should give an account of conscience to their superiors, according to the norms and spirit of the Society. In addition, the relationships between superiors and their brethren in the Society should be such as to encourage the account of conscience and conversation about spiritual matters.
47. Taking into account the mission it has been given, every community should after mature deliberation establish a time order for community life. This time order should be approved by the major superior and periodically revised.
48. Since our communities are apostolic, they should be oriented toward the service of others, particularly the poor, and to cooperation with those who are seeking God or working for greater justice in the world. For this reason, under the leadership of superiors, communities should periodically examine whether their way of living sufficiently supports their apostolic mission and encourages hospitality. They should also consider whether their style of life testifies to simplicity, justice, and poverty.
49. Communities will not be able to witness to Christian love unless each member contributes to community life and gives sufficient time and effort to the task. Only in this way can an atmosphere be created which makes communication possible and in which no one goes unnoticed or is neglected.
50. To the extent possible, superiors should strive to build an Ignatian apostolic community in which many forms of open and friendly communication on a spiritual level are possible. Since it is a privileged way to find God’s will, the use of communal spiritual discernment is encouraged if the question at issue is of some importance and the necessary preconditions have been verified.
51. Solidarity among communities in a province as well as fraternal charity require that communities be open to men of different ages, talent, and work.
52. The dwelling and arrangement of the community should be such that it allows for needed privacy and encourages the spiritual, intellectual, and cultural development of community members. These are necessary conditions for the fulfillment of our apostolic mission.
53. Within limits imposed by our profession of poverty, communication and union among members of the Society should be strengthened in the following ways:
a. gatherings of communities in the same city or regions should be encouraged;
b. workshops and task forces should be established for each area of the apostolate;
c. regular meetings should be held of the superiors of each province and the provincials of each assistancy or major region.
E. The Common Rules
54. The Common Rules approved by the 4th General Congregation and revised by the 27th General Congregation are abrogated. Number 14 of Decree 19 of the 31st General Congregation is also abrogated.
a. This Congregation recommends to Father General that at his discretion he publish a summary of the decrees of the 31st and 32nd General Congregations, together with a summary of the letters he has written to the Society since the 31st General Congregation. This summary can serve as an index of principal features of our religious life.
b. It is left to provincials, with the approval of Father General, to determine for each province or group of provinces more particular norms which shall be adapted to local circumstances.
F. Declaration Concerning Decree 17, Number 10 of the 31st General Congregation
55. What is contained in Decree 17, n. 10, should be understood in the following way:
a. The ordinary means of dealing with a conflict of this type is through sincere dialogue, according to the Ignatian principle of representation and following upon prayer and appropriate consultation.
b. A Jesuit is always free to approach a higher superior.
c. If the conflict cannot be resolved either through dialogue or recourse to a higher superior, other persons—some of whom may be from outside the Society—may be called by mutual consent to assist in forming one’s conscience more clearly. This should be done privately and without publicity.
d. The procedure cannot be imposed on either the superior or the Jesuit involved. It is entirely voluntary and unofficial. It is nothing more than a new effort to find the divine will.
e. The opinion of those consulted has no juridical effect on the authority of the superior. It is merely advisory.
f. If, after this procedure, a Jesuit still feels he cannot obey in good conscience, the superior should determine what should be done. “But a man who, time after time, is unable to obey with a good conscience, should take thought regarding some other path of life in which he can serve God with greater tranquility.
Original Source (English translation):
Jesuit Life & Mission Today: The Decrees & Accompanying Documents of the 31st–35th General Congregations of the Society of Jesus, ed. John W. Padberg. St. Louis, Mo.: Institute of Jesuit Sources, 2009, General Congregation 32, Decree 11, “Union of Hearts and Minds in the Society,” pg. 339–352 [199–256].