Superior General of the Society of Jesus Pedro Arrupe issued the following letter to every Jesuit in the world in October 1977. Arrupe’s topic is apostolic availability, an issue at “the heart of our identity, the mark that should characterize us as followers of Jesus, namely “‘to be available.’” He provides questions, based on decrees from the 32nd General Congregation, for all Jesuits to “continue asking and replying, as individuals and communities, frankly and with alacrity.” The correspondence begins with a cover letter addressed to the major superiors in the Society of Jesus. Arrupe hopes that the main letter serves as a “starting point for discussion.”
For more sources from Arrupe, please visit The Arrupe Collection.
TO ALL MAJOR SUPERIORS
Dear Brothers in Christ,
I am sending you a letter on apostolic availability. I attack the same importance to this letter as to the one I sent last year on “Genuine Integration of Spiritual Life and Apostolate.” I want this letter to be considered a continuation of the former. The themes of both are intimately connected and both deal with vital elements of the Ignatian charism.
My purpose in writing this letter is to stir each one of us to examine himself about his attitude of spiritual openness and availability to an apostolate which grows daily more genuine, efficacious and evangelical. This attitude is the unconditional commitment of the authentic “contemplative in action,” ready to go wherever there is hope of God’s greater service and the kelp of souls.
It is my hope that this letter will provide you with a starting point of discussion in your official community visitations and that it will provide all Jesuits with material for reading, reflection, and prayer, especially in recollection days, community meetings, annual retreats, etc. For this reason, I think it would be helpful for every Jesuit to have his own personal copy of the letter.
The coming Provincial Congregation may well be a suitable occasion for personal and collective reflection on this theme of availability which is so important that it can be said to determine the degree of our apostolic efficiency. I commend to the initiative of you and your Consultors to find other ways of realizing the fruits of the spirit which this letter intends.
Devotedly yours in Christ,
Rome, October 19, 1977,
On the Feast of Saint John de Brébeuf and companions, martyrs.
Dear Brothers in Christ,
This time a year ago I wrote urging you to seek with greater earnestness and effort a genuine integration between your spiritual life and apostolate. In our spiritual tradition both need each other, both give a unifying and continuing coherence to our vocation of working with all our might for the Lord’s Kingdom.
Shortly after I asked Superiors and Consultors to use the ex officio letters they send me as occasion for continuing our dialogue on this matter. What methods are you using or trying to use to make this correlation between your interior life and apostolic activity more meaningful and thus become, in truth, “contemplatives in action?”
There has been much exchange in writing. Your letters have shown that you understand the importance of my questions and realize that a mere verbal reply is not sufficient. Concrete decisions are also needed, from individuals as well as communities, deeply interior, as befits companions of Jesus, no matter how difficult the situation in which they find themselves.
Among these first reactions were some that showed difficulty in grasping the meaning of the letter. They pointed to resistance and obstacles to be overcome. Other replies led me to reflect. As a result and in order to continue our dialogue, I felt urged to reply myself both to support efforts already being made and to encourage you to persevere in them.
So as not to slow down or distract from the efforts you and your communities are making, I will not tackle a new theme in this letter. I return once more to the same point in the same manner, but from a different though closely related angle: that is, our availability for mission. Perhaps on reading this letter some would like to look again at the previous one. The themes of both are intimately connected and concern basic attitudes, necessary if the Society is to reap the benefits of recent General Congregations.
Apostolic Availability: Characteristic Attitude of the Contemplative in Action
My question is: how can we know for sure if we are men who have reached a mature inner unity, really integrated, for whom all experience of God is action for others and all action for others is such that it reveals to them the Father and draws them closer to Him in affection and commitment?
There is one way of knowing this and Saint Ignatius frequently refers to it. For him we are not ideal Jesuits, whatever our work, unless we remain permanently and joyfully “disposable,” “men ready to be sent.” And this holds for every moment of our life, even when we are undertaking with great enthusiasm a particular mission.
Such an attitude is necessarily a result of the purifying and liberating action of the Spirit impelling whoever possesses it to seek God in all things, to make himself available, to place himself, in Ignatius’ expression, “entirely at the disposition of the divine will.” This is the typically Ignatian way of acknowledging the absolute nature of God and the relative nature of everything else.3 In a word, it is to have faith.
The hallmark of the Jesuit
We touch here the heart of our identity, the mark that should characterize us as followers of Jesus, namely “to be available.” This is precisely the quality that impressed Ignatius as specific to the Son and therefore to the Jesuit who believes in the Son and is called to be conformed to his image in the world of today.
Only with this thorough availability can we aspire and live up to the condition of “being sent” which guarantees our personal integration and true apostolic identity. With reason, therefore, Ignatian and Jesuit spirituality is focused on this central objective: to form a man who is available for mission, truly “a new man.”
This is the man according to the Exercises and the hard ideal of the Jesuit sketched by Saint Ignatius in the Constitutions: a man profoundly free, mortified by self denial “to be led more surely by the Holy Spirit,” a pliable “instrument” in the hands of the Lord, all the more effective for being the more disposable. And through our acceptance of the mediation of the Church—“the Vicar of Christ”—and of the Society—the Superior “in the place of Christ Our Lord”—as proof of our availability to him who, Ignatius tells us, is really in command, the Lord becomes truly present and real to us. This implies no passivity but, on the contrary, the active and responsible participation both of him who gives and him who receives the mission.
Because we belong to a primarily missionary body, at the disposal of Christ and his Vicar, and whose “principal and main foundation” is precisely a complete readiness to obey him concerning missions, it is evident that this thorough availability is our justification and constitutes our identity as Jesuits.
But it is not only the individual availability of each Jesuit, whatever his grade or office, that is important but also the availability of the Society as a whole and of each and every one of its communities. This implies not only an individual but also a common search for the will of God in the context of discernment. Availability and discernment depend on each other. Without indifference and availability discernment is impossible, and without discernment availability cannot be expected.
The Church itself, through the Vicar of Christ, has reconfirmed this availability as an original and indispensable characteristic of our Society: if we look for the new element in this Institute, it would seem to consist in the vision of your father and law-giver. He saw that the needs of the time demanded men who stood ready to leave everything and to undertake any task which the Roman Pontiff gave them and which, in his judgment, was required by the good of the Church.
Situations of genuine cultural revolution, as in the time of Ignatius and the present day, call for communities ready to move and men whose personal growth has not been retarded and is not tarnished by the slightest touch of self-centeredness.
Personal integration and apostolic availability cannot be separated
This mystic vision of Ignatius and his companions, based on the real action of the Spirit in them and in the body of the Society, brings us to the simple conclusion already mentioned above: the authentic experience of God leads us to carry out every action with the conviction that it is God Himself who wishes it, makes it possible and completes it. The same conviction places us wholly and freely in the hands of the Superior and makes all that we do a truly spiritual experience.
Our spiritual and apostolic life is authentic if it frees us more and makes us more available, more “in the image of the Son.” As Father Nadal used to say, the true prayer of the Society prepares us to carry out our vocation and job and, particularly, to seek perfect obedience according to our Institute. On the other hand without a deep experience of God, without a deliberate personal identification with Jesus Christ in our life and apostolate, we would be incapable of the apostolic availability the Society asks of us. And this complete availability is the best offering we can make to God, the ideal disposition and context for all prayer and all apostolic work.
It is surprising how Ignatius insists so confidently on combining the ideas of “instrument” (availability) and “effectiveness.” It is here, Ignatius tells, that we shall find God. For by this very experience which places the instrument with God, the Jesuit becomes an instrument of God. This central vision of Ignatius is the result of his own personal experience and the inspiration of his own manner of government.
What this means to us
This, then, is the substance of our particular vocation. Following on from my letter of November 1, 1976 and continuing the process it started, we must accept in all sincerity to measure ourselves as companions of Jesus by the degree of our apostolic availability.
I propose that all of us continue asking and replying, as individuals and communities, frankly and with alacrity, to the questions I asked in that letter—if you haven’t already done so or done so sufficiently. And I invite you to go deeper by asking and replying to the following question, all of them taken from our last General Congregation.
Questions for all
1—Am I really convinced that in order to carry out my apostolic mission in today’s world I need availability and that “the means which unite the human instrument with God, and so dispose it that it may be wielded dexterously by his divine hand, are more effective than those which equip it in relation to men?”
2—Can I truly claim to be “available” here and now for any appointment, any work, in any place,—“giving witness to the Gospel in difficult situations,” persevering with patience in a hard and monotonous job, or destined to “exhaustive and difficult studies”—that in the responsible exercise of obedience the Society could rightfully ask me to undertake?
3—Am I ready to make myself open as an indispensable condition for responsibly seeking God’s will with regard to a mission I share with others and which, in the final analysis, is decided for me by others? What limits do I put to this necessary openness?
4—Am I available with regard to the recent General Congregations, their directives, their call for a change in attitudes, their apostolic priorities: available to men and events and ready to listen to them: available to “work with others,” “to accept a subordinate job, a hidden supporting role,” “to learn from those whom we try to serve?”
5—Am I ready—(Saint Ignatius used the word “promptitude” to describe availability)—to enter into the process of reflection and revision the Society is asking of me and to co-operate actively and as objectively as possible in the evaluation of my own work, Community, region, Province … to which I belong, and to adopt as mine the conclusions that emerge?
6—Do I feel available and free to evaluate the institution or job to which I am attached, ready to continue in it or leave it, according to where the Society judges the greater service of God to lie?
Especially for Superiors
7—Am I ready, as Superior, to carry out the full discernment the Society asks for concerning new apostolic needs and the capabilities of each and of the Community as a whole, offering my own personal contribution and accepting the responsibility of decision?
8—Am I open and ready, as Superior, to receive every impulse of the Holy Spirit that comes through the initiatives of the Community or Province, or through the genuine manifestations of the people of God and their legitimate Pastors?
9—Before entrusting a subject with a new mission, have I spoken and listened to him and do I have the necessary information to be sure that this apostolate is really the will of God and that the subject has the necessary qualities and apostolic resources to carry it out?
These questions do not cover all the aspects of our availability, but they can guide and help us to make a realistic assessment of it. You yourself will be able to formulate other more precise and concrete questions.
Urgent need to make ourselves available
The replies to these questions will clearly reveal how we stand with regard to the fundamentals of our personal life as Jesuits. Because when we examine our unconditional “availability,” as Saint Ignatius asks us, we are also examining
—our personal integration as “contemplatives in action,”
—our practical understanding of the Ignatian concepts of mission and obedience and their priority over everything else,
—our active “indifference” with respect to all created things, (without excluding our present apostolic work or our own personal feelings), which frees us to embrace the Ignatian “magis,”
—our confidence in Divine Providence, tested by the loss of all human security (economic, social, healthcare, etc.),
—our deep sense of belonging to the Society and our confidence in it. And, finally,
—our sincere and ready acceptance of the pastoral directives of the Church and the last General Congregations.
It would be very sad if we didn’t dare to ask ourselves these questions through fear of negative or harsh reactions. They seem to be such important questions touching the very essence of the Society conceived by Saint Ignatius under the guidance of the Spirit, that the very existence of such a fear would already be a most serious symptom and an additional reason for careful questioning and reflection before the Lord.
To measure up to these vital questions before God, as individuals and communities, would be the most effective way of knowing where we have got to in this process of “renovatio accommodate” and thus making sure that we are spiritually prepared “to undertake all the most difficult apostolic tasks in the most remote parts of the world, freed from the constrictions of time, place and circumstances, and permeated by a truly catholic and universal spirit.” These are the sort of men the Society needs at this time of apostolic renewal.
It is true that certain specializations or apostolic commitments in the work of the Society and outside it sometimes put limits and conditions on the degree of individual and corporate mobility that is so necessary for our apostolate in the modern world. Superiors must bear this in mind when they take on or keep up these types of works or commitments. In any event, this aspect of specialization and institutions, which are no more than means, must never in any way diminish the deep and genuine “interior availability” of those who work and serve in them.
To become partly immobile through lack of availability on the part of individuals and the consequent fear of Superiors to give them the missions called for by our apostolate today, would constitute a most serious threat to the very existence of our vocation.
You will remember in my last letter I said that our practice will be the measure of our sincerity. Today, developing this idea further—and this has been my one desire in this yearly exchange with you all—I would add: “Ignatian availability is the guaranty and ‘conditio sine qua non’ of our practice,” which leads to salvation and alone is of interest to the Society and the Church.
Challenge to Religious Life Today: Selected Letters and Addresses—I, ed. Jerome Aixala. St. Louis: The Institute of Jesuit Sources, 1979, “Apostolic Availability,” pg. 227–238.