On January 15, 1977, Pedro Arrupe delivered the following homily at the Mass marking his 50th anniversary as a member of the Society of Jesus. Such occasion, the Jesuits’ superior general notes, often marks the “dialectic between a man’s smallness and limitations and the greatness of the Creator.” Yet, each individual has his own story. Arrupe, then, reflects on several personal aspects of his time in the Society of Jesus. He reflects on three figures that, during his time as a Jesuit, he has discovered to have symbolized the “symbolize my state of soul,” three figures (Abraham, Paul, and Xavier) who “are patrons and models that help and instruct me.” He also comments on the Society, the Church, and Christ, those “certain particular loves have grown and increased in me almost unawares.” The Mass took place in the Church of the Gesù, the Jesuits’ mother church, in Rome.
For more sources from Arrupe, please visit The Arrupe Collection.
1. Common but Distinct
Common denominator but Vive la difference
Today’s celebration is only one of many you have attended on the occasion of anniversaries and jubilees. All have had one common denominator: on the one hand, a genuine sense and admission of smallness on the part of a man humbly conscious of his unfaithfulness, and on the other, an acknowledgment of the Lord’s generosity and a deep feeling of gratitude towards Him. This dialectic between a man’s smallness and limitations and the greatness of the Creator runs like a master thread through each personal history. All, from this point of view, are alike, but at the same time they reveal each ever differing aspects and developments. Each one differs from the other. Each one has his own distinctive character. Each one has his own particular history, one that does not repeat any other, and one that will be repeated by no other.
In listening to these personal histories one senses in each of them something that is unspoken because it cannot be uttered, a personal secret that not even the individual himself fully understands. This sphere that is hidden, or half-hidden, even from ourselves is the area that is truly interesting because it is most intimate, deepest, most personal. It is the area of closest relationship between God, who is love and who loves each one in a different way, and man, who from the depths of his being gives a response that is unique because there is not nor will there ever be his like. It is the secret of wondrous Trinitarian love, a love that intrudes when it wills into the life of each, in a manner that is unforeseen, inexpressible, irrational, irresistible, and yet one that is nonetheless wonderfully decisive. No individual’s life, as a life, can be defined or expressed in “Aristotelian” categories. The reason is because there is at work in each life a double vital force, one human, the other divine, and the latter is God’s love that surpasses all intelligence—“how impossible,” as St. Paul says, “to penetrate his motives or understand his methods!”
Life’s Turning Points
Reviewing the course of my 70 years, of which 50 have been in the Society, I cannot help but recognize that the decisive stages, the radical turning points in my life’s path have always been unexpected, I might even say irrational. But sooner or later, in every instance, I have had to recognize the hand of God that gave the helm a bold twist. My vocation to the Society of Jesus, after having begun the study of medicine, a subject that interested me so greatly, and right in the middle of my university career; my vocation to Japan (a mission for which I had no attraction at all prior to God’s call), which my superiors refused me for ten years while they were preparing me to become one day a professor of moral theology; my presence in the city over which the first atom bomb exploded; my election as general of the Society … these were such sudden and unexpected happenings and at the same time they carried with them so clearly the “mark” of God, that in fact I have viewed and still view them as a series of those “irruptions” by which God’s loving providence is pleased to reveal its presence and its absolute dominion over each of us. The reactions that I experienced made me think of the words of Isaiah: “What a wretched state I am in! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips;” or of Jeremiah: “Ah, Lord Yahweh; look … I am a child!” or of Moses: “Who am I to go to Pharaoh?”
I have said that you are assisting at one of those many anniversaries in which the smallness of a man (and here today I am that man) evokes amazement and gratitude when God’s blessings are recalled. Amazement and gratitude, not only, or not so much, over the privileged, decisive or important moments of my life, but above all over the series of uninterrupted and immeasurable graces I have received each day during the course of everyday life in a monotonous, humdrum and ordinary existence. All these memories make me wish that my life could have been, or at least might be from now on, an unending “Magnificat.”
This indeed is the sentiment that sweeps over me when I experience a clear awareness and lively sense of my smallness, joined to a certain unshakable feeling of security in the various posts of responsibility that obedience had placed on my weak shoulders. The experience I have felt is that “I will always be with you,” the guaranty that the Lord gives but that always leaves an uneasy doubt on man’s part whether “the condition will be fulfilled” or whether he will remain faithful. These are the lights and shadows of human insecurity that cannot call in question the security that derives from God’s help.
2. Abraham, Paul, Xavier
Abraham’s Call to the Unknown
Reflecting above all on these more recent years, I have discovered three figures that symbolize my state of soul. In a way, they are patrons and models that help and instruct me.
The first is Abraham, the resolute and generous patriarch who responded promptly to God’s call to go forth from his own land, to take up his abode elsewhere, in a place that was unknown to him. Abraham set out on his way, leaving behind his own land, the house of his father … in search of “the land I will show you” as the Lord had said to him. This is a type of vocation that, especially in the circumstances of some years back, seemed to me to be filled with inspiration. A call from Yahweh, an unexpected “intrusion” by God, and uncharted assignment: “I will show you;” a response that might seem to be unreasonable and whose fulfilment will involve one’s whole life. Still, Abraham started out straightway on the road, sustained by a blind trust: “Though it seemed Abraham’s hope could not be fulfilled, he hoped and he believed.”
This was my inner state in the first years of my life in the Society …, at the moment when I set out for Japan …, especially on the day I was elected General. This last experience was an exodus, much more radical, amid extreme uncertainty and under an enormous burden of responsibility; an exodus out of a whole world of habits, practices, ideas, choices, from which I had to take leave in order to face up to a whole set of others that were very imprecise and lacking clarity and definition; an exodus out of a world filled with securities fashioned along the centuries-old traditions of the Church and of the Society, in order to set out on paths that would bring me into a world that was still “in the making,” unknown, but to which God called us through the voices of the Council, the Pope and the General Congregations. These were paths filled with unknown elements and challenges, but also filled with hopes and opportunities; paths that were and continue to be God’s paths.
The figure of Abraham has always been for me an inexhaustible source of inspiration. “Where is the Society heading?” men have asked me. My reply has always been: “Where God is leading it.” In other words: “I don’t know; but there is one thing I do know, and it is that God is carrying us along somewhere, let us go forward confidently, let us go forward with the Church that is guided by the Holy Spirit; I know that God is leading us towards a new land, the promised land, His land. He knows where it is; our task is only to follow Him.”
This stance, that without faith is absolutely unreasonable and imprudent, with faith, with the trust of Abraham, becomes clear, secure, consoling. A man who reasons according to God’s logic recognizes it as the only truly reasonable, uniquely prudent position. This spirit of self-abandonment, of hurling oneself blindly into the arms of God, is a source of consolation and strength that can be experienced only through the mediation of faith.
Paul’s strength in Christ only
Naturally, on such pathways there cannot fail to be difficulties, misunderstandings, obstacles. Human strength is not enough because what God asks of us is “beyond our capacities.” But here I come up against my second model and patron, Saint Paul. His advice is inspired and has never led me astray: “I hardly deserve the name apostle; but by God’s grace that is what I am;” “There is nothing I cannot master with the help of the One who gives me strength;” “With God on our side who can be against us?” In our effort to follow the Lord, we beg continually, as did Saint Paul, for the moment when “you will be told what you have to do.” And we hear His reply: “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, you may ask what you will and you shall get it.” The outcome is certain: God’s omnipotence requires that it come about, “since no one can oppose his will.”
But “how rich are the depths of God—how deep his wisdom and knowledge,” and thus, the outcome does not consist precisely in the fact that everything works out to a happy ending, that everything turns out well. In God’s way of thinking the cross holds a privileged place and leaves a distinguishing mark: for him who has faith, this “madness,” this “obstacle” is the “wisdom of God.” For this reason Saint Paul, our model, writes: “As far me, the only thing I can boast about is the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Xavier’s unshakable trust in God
My third model and patron, this time from the Society of Jesus, is Saint Francis Xavier. Xavier, the man whose real source of apostolic energy was trust in God: the more a man trusts in himself and in his own resources, the less strength he will have. Xavier, who understood brilliantly the value of the cross and of suffering, up to the very point where his prayer became one of “more, more” when it was a matter of the cross, and of “enough, Lord, enough,” when he was the recipient of consolations.
These three figures of Abraham, Paul and Xavier have been a continuing inspiration to me because they incarnate the spirit of God in a realistic interpretation of perfect indifference, the ideal of the third degree of Ignatian humility. They realize to perfection the meaning of a saying of Ignatius: “Trust in God as if the success of things depended wholly on you and not at all on God; but set to work as if God alone were to do everything and you do nothing.”
3. The Society, the Church, Christ
During these fifty years of religious life with their varied experiences, certain particular loves have grown and increased in me almost unawares. They have, moreover, the proper characteristic of all true love: the more suffering, the more love….
The Society is the Ignatian Charism Incarnate
The first is love of the Society. A simple and filial love, from the time of the novitiate, and one that without losing any simplicity went on to acquire through life’s experience an extraordinary depth and robustness.
The Society understood as the expression and incarnation of the Ignatian charism. To the extent that the evangelical intuition of this charism is known intimately the more its simplicity emerges: it is the intuition of love, that succeeds in uniting elements that, without such love, would seem to be irreconcilable or at least to give rise to dichotomies and tensions that restrain the true apostolic drive: action-contemplation, faith-justice, obedience-liberty, poverty-efficiency, unity-pluralism, a sense of the particular—a sense of the universal. Saint Ignatius, on the contrary, discovers marvelous solutions that unite what seem to be in conflict and thus yield the greatest apostolic effectiveness.
The Society made up of persons. This is one of the greatest spiritual experiences that a General can have: that of understanding spiritually, as it were “from within,” so many members of the Society; to enter into contact with them in very varied ways and circumstances, directly and indirectly. For me this has been one of the greatest comforts and stimuli: to see the virtue and the quality of members of the Society. It is a little like what Xavier must have felt when he wrote from Amboino to his companions in Europe: “Because I never forget you … I want you to understand, dearest brethren, that I have torn from the letters you have sent me your own names, written in your own hands … and I carry these constantly with me for the sake of the consolation that I receive from them;” or when he wrote to the brethren in Goa: “If the hearts of those who love each other in Christ could be seen in this present life, believe me, brethren, you could see yourselves clearly in mine; and if, when you looked in it, you did not recognize yourselves, that would be because I hold you in such high esteem, and, on account of your virtue, you hold yourselves in such low rank, that your humility renders you unable to see and recognize yourselves in it.”
This is one of the greatest grounds I have for optimism when I think of the future of the Society. The same Lord who has given such vocations and so many accompanying graces to these sons of Ignatius, cannot forsake it, and must continue to aid it, as Ignatius himself rightly expected: “Therefore in Him alone must be placed the hope that he will preserve and carry forward what He deigned to begin….” If the Lord has helped us up to now, why will he not do so also in the future?
The Society as an institution and instrument of the apostolate. In these last years, while so many changes were taking place in order to adapt institutions and structures to current apostolic needs, I realized more clearly than ever the gifts of government that Saint Ignatius had and his understanding, not only of man as such, but also of structures that must of necessity be flexible if one wants them to be effective and suited for all circumstances.
Looking at the Society in its true reality, I have been reminded often of what Saint Francis Xavier wrote with such deep affection: “I don’t know a better way to finish this letter than to protest to all the Society that, should I ever be forgetful of the Society of the name of Jesus, may my right hand wither, because I have come in so many ways to know how much I owe all in the Society.”
Our Holy Mother the Hierarchical Church
The second love is of the Church, the Church of Christ, His spouse “with no speck or wrinkle or anything like that” that Saint Ignatius spoke of perceptively as “our holy mother the hierarchical Church.” Yes, this Church, founded by Christ and having the Roman Pontiff as its visible head, to which we are bound by a special vow of obedience, “the principle and foundation of the Society.”
With the passage of time and renewed experience one discovers such a serene and unchanging vigor in the Church—a vigor flowing from Christ, its invisible head, and from the vitalizing action of His Spirit—that trust in it can only grow more firm. This is a trust that receives further confirmation when one encounters so many who, having separated themselves from the Church, offer reasons that, at least apparently, seem to justify their attitude, but whom we subsequently find in a state of moral decline and atrophy as a result of being cut off from that movement of the Spirit that is uniquely characteristic of communion with the hierarchical Church.
As life goes on and as you penetrate more deeply the mystery of the Church and the charism of the Society, you grow aware with greater conviction that the true raison d’etre of the Society lies in service of the Church under the Roman Pontiff. To fail in this regard would be to sign our own death sentence. It is, rather, a reason for consolation to see how the Society endeavors always to be as faithful as possible to the Spouse of Christ and to His Vicar.
Christ the Eternal King
The third love is Jesus Christ, the Eternal King of the Exercises, the Incarnate Son of God, to whom we all owe a personal love, the key of our spirituality. Our deepest satisfaction and the source of every other satisfaction is to feel that Jesus Christ is the center of our life and our ideal. Christ who called me and directs me, He who gives me His Spirit, who nourishes me with His Flesh, who waits for me in the tabernacle, who shows me His pierced heart as the center and symbol of His love, who identifies Himself with the hungry and the naked, with all the marginalized people of the world…. Christ who comes to meet me on so many occasions of joy and of sorrow, as a close friend, who expects me, calls me, speaks to me: “The Master is here and wants to see you.” Christ who said to Saint Ignatius at La Storta: “I wish you to serve us.” Without this love for Christ the Society would no longer be the one that Saint Ignatius founded, the Society of Jesus.
Mary Our Mother
This love for Christ supposes and includes that for His Mother, “Our Lady,” she who “places us with her Son,” the Mother of the Society. Love for Mary: first taught me as a child, it has gone on growing throughout my life, without losing its childlike character, from the time when my mother died (I was ten years old) and my father said to me: “Pedro, you have lost a saintly mother, but you have another more saintly in heaven.” There are moments and happenings in life that are not forgotten … the heritage of deeply good parents.
Thus, dear brothers, at the close of fifty years of life in the Society, the words of Ecclesiasticus come spontaneously to my lips: “I will give thanks to you, Lord and King, and praise you, God my savior, I give thanks to your name; for you have been protector and support to me.” Moreover, I would like respectfully to ask of Our Lady that she let me borrow her words from the Magnificat: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord and my spirit exults in God my savior; because he has looked upon his lowly servant.” Finally, I wish to finish with the prayer of Saint Ignatius in his Spiritual Diary, spoken out of the depth of my weakness (“From the depth I call to you Yahweh” Ps. 130, 1): “Eternal Father, strengthen me; Eternal Son, strengthen me; Eternal Holy Spirit, strengthen me; Holy Trinity, strengthen me; my one God, strengthen me.”
Challenge to Religious Life Today: Selected Letters and Addresses—I, ed. Jerome Aixala. St. Louis: The Institute of Jesuit Sources, 1979, “Three Models and Three Loves,” pg. 1–10.