In the following letter sent to every Jesuit in the world on November 1, 1976, Pedro Arrupe writes about “our most important concern at present” in the Society of Jesus, namely: “How can we securely strengthen our spiritual life and our apostolate, welding them into a perfectly integrated whole so that what we do really flows from the Gospel and gives effective witness to Jesus Christ today?” Arrupe admits that “there is evidence of a spiritual renewal and a new apostolic thrust in the Society.” Still, he is worried. He sees “signs of real deterioration in both areas,” of the spiritual life and the apostolate, “and of a fruitless split between them.” The reason for the troubles in these two areas, according to Arrupe, is that “many Jesuits have not adequately integrated them at the personal level.” Therefore, he closes his letter with three “concrete suggestions” for improvement.
For more sources from Arrupe, please visit The Arrupe Collection.
Dear Brothers in Christ:
It is some time since I wrote a letter to all of you. My wish was to finish my first round of post-Congregation meetings with all the Provincials and to hold my recent consultation with the heads of the Conferences of Provincials so as to have a more complete picture of the state of the Society one and a half years after the General Congregation. Further aid came from the ex officio letters and other documents. My counsellors and I have spent long hours of study over this valuable material. After weighing the information sent in by so many of you, I think I can say that on the whole a very genuine effort is being made everywhere to know and assimilate the Congregation’s decrees especially through reading, meditation and prayer, both personal and in community.
There is still much to be done, however, and many obstacles to overcome if we are to make these decrees real in our daily lives. They were written not for our spiritual gratification, but to be practical directives and guides for what we do. And what we do remains the true test of our sincerity in accepting God’s call as it was made known to us by the 32nd General Congregation. Putting these decrees into practice is our way of following Jesus Christ today. The many-leveled dialogue I have described above is our common and ongoing search for God’s will. My present purpose is to continue this dialogue with you by communicating what I believe is most important for the Society at this time and by suggesting some themes to guide the process of reflection and evaluation that the General Congregation asks of us.
1. Spiritual Life and Apostolate
I can sum up in one question what I believe is our most important concern at present: How can we securely strengthen our spiritual life and our apostolate, welding them into a perfectly integrated whole so that what we do really flows from the Gospel and gives effective witness to Jesus Christ today? This question can then be broken down into two others: (1) Does our spirituality, as we actually live it, give our apostolic work the creative openness, the daring commitment called for by the 32nd General Congregation? (2) Does the way we now conceive and carry out our apostolic mission, as individuals and communities, reflect a deep spirituality that both sustains and promotes it?
As you are well aware, these are not rhetorical questions. I am led to pose them by this fact: while there is evidence of a spiritual renewal and a new apostolic thrust in the Society, there are nevertheless signs of real deterioration in both areas and of a fruitless split between them. The reason is because many Jesuits have not adequately integrated them at the personal level. As a result, on one hand, there is dissatisfaction, personal distaste, disillusion and, on the other, tensions among individuals and communities. One finds, too, activities, whether old or new, that completely monopolize the generous efforts of many of our men, but about which we could well ask ourselves whether they have that precise hallmark that should characterize an apostolate of the Society, one that is of a “companionship that is, at one and the same time, religious, apostolic, sacerdotal, and bound to the Roman Pontiff by a special bond of love and service.” On the other hand, one sees apparent fidelity to the practice of traditional manifestations of our spiritual life, but a lack of that apostolic creativity needed for the evangelization of the new society in which we live.
2. The Fundamental Problem: how, indeed, to be a “contemplative in action”
What I have described does not, of course, give a total picture of a reality that is far more complex and full. It does, however, point to a basic problem, namely, the fact that many men do not have that profound faith-experience and genuine integration of spiritual life and apostolate (faith and mission) that ought to penetrate and energize every aspect of our life. In other words, today we need to give a very concrete meaning to the phrase “contemplative in action.” It must be, not merely a slogan, but a living reality.
The 32nd General Congregation clearly supposes and expects that each Jesuit will have an integrated interior life that is both deep and personal. Indeed, the very “ideal” of an apostolic mission as it is presented by the 32nd General Congregation—and that in no way differs from the Formula of the Institute, which the Congregation sought to translate into contemporary terms—cannot be thought of, let alone expressed, without that integration. The same is true of the ideal put forth in the Constitutions, to which the 32nd General Congregation (Decree 2) makes reference.
3. The Demand of our Mission and Today’s Reality
Certain consequences follow on the application of these ideas to the world as it exists today:
—To be witnesses to Jesus requires always, but more so than ever before in our secularized world, that we be men of faith who have abundantly experienced contact with God and are generous in sharing that experience.
—To carry out in practice the aims of Decree 4 of the 32nd General Congregation with regard to the true promotion of justice will only be possible as a result of personal faith in Jesus and as the clear expression and realization of that faith. An effort to separate these two elements shows a misunderstanding of Decree 4, indeed a substantial misinterpretation that could yield results for which neither the Decree itself, nor the Congregation that framed it, can be blamed.
—To possess today the vision and strength to fulfil our apostolic priorities and, in the process, to go generously against our natural inertia requires a docility to the Spirit that comes only as a gift—a gift that is the fruit of a humble search for the Spirit carried out in the depths of a life truly devoted to prayer.
—To preserve a proper balance among the religious, apostolic and priestly aspects of all our activities, particularly those of a markedly secular character, will only be possible if one has a living spiritual awareness that is shared with the brethren. Our faith should be especially strong when the work of evangelization seems to allow for or suggest only an implicit manifestation of that faith. At such a time, moreover, we should be more than ever explicit in our own minds about the apostolic justification of such activities and be more insistent on the integration of faith and action. But all this is unthinkable without the gift of God sought in humble prayer.
—To live today, at every moment and in every mission, the life of a “contemplative in action” supposes a gift and a pedagogy of prayer that will give us the capacity for renewed “reading” of reality (of all reality) from the point of view of the Gospel and for continual confrontation of that reality with the Gospel.
—Finally, today perhaps more than in other times, it has been made clear to us that faith is not something acquired once and for all times, but that it can weaken and even be lost, that it needs to be constantly renewed, sustained and strengthened. So our faith and hope live, as it were, outdoors, “exposed to the challenge of unbelief and injustice,” requiring of us now more than ever a prayer that begs for the faith that must be given us at every moment. Prayer helps us to develop our proper spiritual stance, frees us from reliance on purely human means and from doctrinal extremes, and prepares us so that, in humility and simplicity, we may be open to receive that revelation which is only given to little ones.
4. Search for Solutions
We must be honest, then, in the task of examining and deepening our faith and prayer to integrate them more closely with our apostolic work.
(a) Looking for True Integration
There are some whose apostolic work in the Society is carried out in difficult circumstances that are not always favorable to the spiritual life or a life of prayer, at least as we conceive these in their more usual and traditional forms.
A new task confronts such men: it is to look for other methods or types of prayer better suited to their situation, but which, in accordance with the directives of recent General Congregations, fully guarantee that personal experience of God who revealed himself to us in Jesus. If, in spite of repeated efforts and constant perseverance, it proves impossible to achieve this, then an argument exists against continuing in such a mission. A reassessment is necessary to decide whether it should be continued or not; and, if so, how.
A new task also awaits those whose spiritual life and prayer follow, at least to all outward appearance, more usual and traditional lines: it is to ask themselves if their life is fully authentic; if, in other words, the way they act and work is really becoming more Gospel-like; if there is a growing degree of charity and union among them; if they are more ready “to imitate and really be like Christ our Lord;” if they have an apostolic zeal that is more creative and based on trust in God rather than on other grounds of security. Our faithfulness should be neither sterile nor static, but alive and productive, as the Holy Father reminds us.
(b) Becoming Aware of the Problem
We cannot ignore the deeper and more far-reaching currents that exist today and seriously affect our very understanding of the spiritual life and apostolate, and also sometimes threaten even the foundations of our own personal faith. These include, at times, trends towards secularism, relativism, or a denial of the transcendent, and they are found everywhere. At times, they are theological positions which challenge the way we believe in and experience the mystery of the Incarnation, of the Redemption, of the Church, of the sacraments…. These we have to examine with humble patience and in the light of faith and the Church’s teaching.
Obviously, not every crisis of belief has to be seen as something hopelessly negative and necessarily leading to a loss of faith, though today this is sometimes the case. A certain element of conflict, internal and external, has always been and will always be the lot of many great men of faith and great Christians. This helps clearly to purify their own faith as well as that of others.
When this happens to men concerned with and dedicated to the evangelization of an unbelieving world, such an experience can contribute greatly towards a dialogue that will make their proclamation of Christ, the revelation of the Father, better understood. Their constancy can render great service to the Church; but it will only do so if they are humble men, accepting their basic inadequacies, adoring and loving God in his mystery, and serving and loving men to the point of giving their lives for them.
(c) Opening Ourselves to New Experiences
In such a web of circumstances and influences, we have all the greater need to widen in a responsible fashion our experience of prayer. In these days, the Holy Spirit is enriching the lives of Christians by inspiring various types and modes of prayer, some individual, some in groups, some relatively new, some already practiced by many Jesuits through the ages, men of outstanding apostolic commitment such as Ignatius himself, Xavier, Faber…. Many of these ways of attaining genuine spiritual growth can certainly be incorporated into our own lives. To do this; it will help to make them matter for spiritual direction—an increasingly felt need—and for personal discernment with the Superior as recommended by recent Congregations.
In this same context, I would like to express my grateful appreciation of those men who are assigned difficult missions by the Society, yet are making genuine efforts to integrate contemplation and action under novel circumstances, and who have done so humbly, seeking help through true discernment with their Jesuit brethren who are experts in spiritual matters. If their experiences of contemplation “in the manner of Ignatius” lead them to become captured anew by the call of Jesus Christ, Son of God, they are clearly authentic experiences that can help us all greatly if we share in them. We all need to learn. May we know how to listen to those to whom the Lord speaks. The Spirit “blows where it wills.”
(d) Ongoing Formation in the Spirit
Finally, we must recognize a fact that perhaps many have not sufficiently noticed. Conscientious implementation of the General Congregation starts a whole educative process that can produce, both for individuals and communities, an ever closer integration of contemplation and action. This is nothing less than a genuine process of ongoing formation in the life of the Spirit.
The General Congregation, rooted indeed in the purest of Ignatian traditions, puts strong emphasis on a whole range of “exercises” described under different names: “discernment,” “theological reflection,” “becoming aware of and analyzing real problems,” “evaluation,” “revision” and so on. If we carry out these exercises with the intention of really listening to God’s voice and of prayerfully bringing together the world and the Gospel, then they should help us bridge the dichotomy between prayer and action, and give a deep religious dimension to all we do and a truly apostolic dimension to our spiritual life.
If, as St. Ignatius wished, at the end of each day, or at the end of our meetings or work sessions, we ask ourselves regularly and even in a systematic fashion what the Spirit has accomplished in us during this time, what the Lord has wanted to teach us, what we have not done according to the Spirit, etc., then little by little we will learn to look beyond the merely technical and secular aspects of our work and to make manifest in what we do the specific characteristic that is proper to us as companions of Jesus. Isn’t this the true meaning of the Ignatian examination of conscience?
5. Practical Suggestions
I end these far-ranging remarks with three concrete suggestions:
(a) All that I have said above leads me to believe that the Lord is asking us to take this problem of achieving a closer integration within ourselves of our spiritual life and our apostolic commitment as the theme for special review and examination, both individually and as communities, during the months ahead.
(b) As to material for this meditation, study and examination, I refer you once again to the decrees of the last two General Congregations and, more specifically, to the recent summary on Jesuit Religious Life, and also to what I have written on this subject on other occasions.
(c) Finally, I invite you, as individuals and as communities, in a spirit of sincere discernment before God our Lord, to ask and answer questions such as the following:
(1) Does my work in the Society, in itself as well as through my personal aim and the way I carry it out (objectives, motivation, means and methods), possess all the apostolic thrust that should characterize and distinguish it in view of my vocation?
(2) In my daily life how do I really integrate my experience of God with the greater apostolic commitment that the Society asks of me?
(3) Is my personal experience of God, and that which I share with my community, anything more than an external formality that I faithfully observe? What can I do to make it more than just that?
(4) To what extent does my commitment to justice grow out of my faith? And to what extent is my faith so genuine that it impels me towards a true following of Jesus poor and humiliated, and thus to a commitment to the promotion of justice?
(5) If I am one of those who have abandoned or substantially cut down on the means that the Society still considers necessary for fostering a spiritual life—for example, the practice of personal prayer, the reception of the sacraments, the making of an annual retreat—I should ask myself honestly before God: what are the reasons for this and what am I going to do to remedy the situation?
(6) Do I seek the Superior’s help and humbly ask advice of a spiritual director about adapting my time and method of prayer to my specific needs?
6. Conclusion: “a spirituality strongly traced out”
Your letters mention other very important topics that I hope to have an opportunity of discussing with you on other occasions. Today I have tried to call your attention to a matter I consider vital for the whole Society.
May the Lord help us to discover in ever greater depth, with clear vision and joy, here and now and in the immediate future, that “spirituality strongly traced out,” that “robust spirit of St. Ignatius” that the Pope referred to in his Allocution to the General Congregation. It is the divine guaranty for the existence and activity of the Society of Jesus, especially at times when the Society is testing and purifying itself so that every Jesuit may be “a spiritual leader, an educator of his contemporaries in Catholic life.” There is no other source for our apostolic effectiveness—and that is all that concerns us—than one which is rooted, not in human power, but solely in “the strength of God.”
Yours in our Lord,
Superior General of the Society of Jesus
on the Feast of All Saints
November 1, 1976
Challenge to Religious Life Today: Selected Letters and Addresses—I, ed. Jerome Aixala. St. Louis: The Institute of Jesuit Sources, 1979, “Genuine Integration of the Spiritual Life and the Apostolate,” pg. 191–200.