“Laymen in the Christian Life Communities,” Pedro Arrupe (1979)

After delivering prepared remarks to the 1979 General Assembly of delegates of the National Federations of the Christian Life Communities, Pedro Arrupe answered questions from the audience. An edited transcript of that exchange appears below. The audience members offered questions on how to integrate role of a Christian as a professional man and a member of the CLCs, how a CLC member ought to become involved in politics, and what distinguishes the priest and the lay person in the Christian Life Communities. The assembly took place at Villa Cavelletti, outside of Rome.

For more sources from Arrupe, please visit The Arrupe Collection.




Question: A young Christian (a member of the Christian Life communities), at the end of his studies enters into a whole new world; on the one hand, there is his family, his work and new responsibilities; on the other hand, there is the pull of ambition, professional expertise, money, power. What genuine help can the CLCs offer him so that this stage of transition is not a break with, but a confirmation of his service and mission?


Arrupe: This question presupposes a dichotomy which, in fact, should not exist. Our personal reality does not consist in being either a Christian or belonging to a CLC group and exercising a profession. No; it is the integration of these two. A Christian who exercises a profession does not divide his life into two parts—one part given to being a Christian and the other part given to his profession. Not at all. We see this clearly, and it often happens, in the life of a priest, who can be a doctor, a professor or engaged in research. It is not that one part of him is priest and the other part is engaged in research; no—it is the personal integration of both of these that achieves a true unity in his life.


For you lay people, the danger is to want to turn yourselves into religious, forgetting that you are the laity. When I see 40 Jesuits at this Assembly, I can also see there is a danger of your wanting to be Jesuits in the world. Please, no! Something quite different is called for, which is why I am insisting that you must take stock of what your position should be. And to do this, you will find it very helpful to meditate on Apostolicam Actuositatem, other Council documents, and many of the statements that the Holy Father John Paul II has made from the first months of his pontificate.




Question: When you spoke of professional life, Father, did you say that it was not so much a question of sanctifying one’s profession as of making of one’s profession a means of sanctification?


Arrupe: That is not exactly what I said. What I did say was that we must sanctify our profession, but sometimes our very profession will also sanctify us. The members of the CLCs must sanctify their profession, and that is a major apostolic perspective. Someone who belongs to the CLCs has the mission of exercising his profession which he has taken up for that very reason; he or she must sanctify their profession, but the profession itself could sanctify them, too. Take the case of a doctor. There is no doubt that a doctor must sanctify his profession of medicine, but the constant exercises of this kind of humanitarian work, the effort to remedy suffering and to help people—all these things oblige him to renounce selfishness, to grow in sanctity, to think of the service of others; in a word, to exercise charity. There really is no conflict between the two.




Question: Could a housewife—if, for example, she is a member of the CLCs—be as apostolic as some other people you have mentioned?


Arrupe: A housewife, especially if she is a member of the CLCs, has to be apostolic. And her apostolate is immensely important because she helps form the nucleus of human society, which is the family. Yet even though her apostolate is so very important, her apostolic activity is not of a “more universal” kind.


We have to sanctify every profession we are engaged in, and sometimes some professions are more universal in their effects than others. For example, a man who is in radio or TV could have a tremendous impact; or someone who is a university professor or school teacher has the opportunity for a wider influence on society than someone whose apostolate centers on his or her own family.




Question: We see that many Jesuits are engaged in political questions. What is the place of the CLCs in this kind of option?


Arrupe: It is true that we have many Jesuits in different countries who are very much engaged in political questions. In some places there will be exaggerations, just as in other places our presence is very much required. And so it is important to make some distinctions here. If you understand “politics” in the sense that it is used in Mater et Ecclesia, Populorum Progressio and other Church documents, everybody—Jesuits and non-Jesuits—has to engage in “politics,” understood in that broad sense. That is the doctrine of the Church. However, a priest’s involvement cannot be identified with any particular party, like the Christian Democratic Party, nor any human ideology, such as Socialism or Communism; a priest must be free of all this—he is only identified with the Gospel. It is true that we Jesuits think it is necessary today, precisely because we have to promote justice, to engage in many political questions—economics, community-organization, society and its structures, and so on. But we never engage in these areas as members of a political party—never! Some people have left the Society because they thought it would be better for them to be in a political party rather than in the Society. This stance is not peculiar to the Society; it is the doctrine of the Church. The Synod of Bishops of 1971 made this very clear in a press release they gave which stated that for any priest to be engaged in political party, he must first have the permission of the local hierarchy.


Take the question of human rights. To defend human rights is not an ideology; human rights are a matter of concern to everyone and so we have to fight for them. That is not party politics; it is something quite different. Sometimes a political party is fighting for the same human rights we are fighting for, and it might seem that we are both doing the same thing; but we are acting as human beings defending these rights, not as a political party. There is a possible source of confusion here; because Jesuits in some places are involved in political action, some young men who want to be involved in action have joined the Society. However, we have made it very clear to them, right from the beginning, that the Society will never, never be identified with any political party. And so if a young man wants that sort of action, it is better he join a party, not the Society.


In the same way the CLCs, cannot be identified with any political party, though individuals in the CLCs—as members of the laity—may have to make an option as to whether or not to join a political party.


But the CLCs as such could never make such an option—It would be completely wrong for them to become identified with a political party, in any country. And so prudence suggests that a man who is a leader in a political party, not be allowed to assume a leadership role in the CLCs, as this would only give rise to confusion. For instance, if a person is President of your Executive Council, it would not be right for him also to be a leader of a political party, as this would give the impression that the CLCs are fostering a particular political party, which is not true.




Question: I fully agree, Father, with what you have said about the importance of the laity being involved in political parties. But many who do this do not feel that they are sufficiently supported by the Church.


Arrupe: It is difficult to reply to a concrete situation without knowing all the facts. We should have to know why a particular Christian is not supported by the Church. We can say that the Church supports the laity on a spiritual level, in their professional and political activities, and encourages them, but not in a political way because the Church cannot be identified with a political party. In this area there have been many misunderstandings. For example, a catholic political party might sponsor some political action which the Church judges to be inopportune at that precise moment; naturally she will not support such action. That is why we must take each case as it comes. People in the Church—priests, Jesuits, Bishops—are sometimes very naive politically. This is one of the great misconceptions that exist in several countries. But politics in the strict sense—party politics— (not politics in the broad sense as used in Mater et Magistra, for example) is not their role. When we Jesuits work for human rights—a most important issue—it can happen that some people in the Church think, “That has nothing to do with us.” We must always look for the reason why a particular person does not feel supported by the Church. We must always look at the concrete situation and see what it all means; discernment is what is needed. The principles are clear; it is the concrete application that is sometimes difficult.




Question: How can we ensure that young people who engage in political action do not succumb to Marxism—particularly in Latin America?


Arrupe: To avoid this danger, it is very helpful if our young people are instructed and study Marxism. There are many distinctions to be made here: as an ideology, Marxism ignores the transcendent; the Marxist concepts of man and society cannot be reconciled with the Christian teaching. Consequently, it is important for young people to have a. properly nuanced instruction in these matters. Please do not misunderstand me. For even admitting that although there are many good points in the Marxist social analysis, and in many of the things that Marxists do, true Marxism is unacceptable as an ideology since it denies the transcendent, and the fundamental principles of the Christian vision. People must know why Marxism is unacceptable; otherwise you will never get anywhere. And why? Because so much is said on this matter that if we do not know, in an intelligent and scientific way, what is true and what is false, we can very easily be misled.




Question: How do you think a member of the CLCs should react to institutionalized violence?


Arrupe: With a non-violent resistance—hunger strikes, public denunciations, political action, discussions, meetings, demonstrations. All these are acceptable: violence, no. We should be pacifists in this regard—using non-violent resistance and confrontation; and protesting, too, but not with arms.




Question: Do you think then, Father, that we should react as pacifists before violence, or resign ourselves to it?


Arrupe: When it is clear that there is an injustice—we cannot support injustice—we must first of all look at the concrete circumstances. Take, for example, the countries of Eastern Europe. There is injustice in those countries, but no one can do anything because resistance has no effect. Some cases are very clear, others not so clear. Action in Czechoslovakia, Poland or Hungary is quite different from action in El Salvador or Peru. We must see the circumstances in each case. We cannot accept injustice or resign ourselves to it. But it quite a different thing to know and to do. And that is why It is so important for us priests to be free in matter of politics.




Question: Should a member of the CLCs, in this commitment to the transformation of structures, be ready to take up an extreme position—like that of the Sandinists in Guatemala?


Arrupe: That is a matter for the individual conscience. We Catholics cannot be engaged in violence; that is against the doctrine of the Church. In other words, violence is anti-evangelical, and so no Catholic should engage in it. There could be exceptions, and these are also mentioned in the Council and the Synod; but the matter has to be discerned by the individual conscience. So, as a matter of principle, since violence is anti-evangelical, no Catholic—no CLC member—should engage in violence. There can be exceptions, but the individual has to judge whether his case really is exceptional, and it is his own conscience—not the CLCs—which must decide.




Question: I know you are aware of the situation of violence in Latin America. I agree with what you say—that armed violence is not Christian, granted certain exceptions. And so my question is: how should we react, especially as members of the CLCs, when institutionalized violence (which is the predominant one in our society) produces effects analogous to or even worse than armed violence? Don’t you believe that often the only way to get rid of institutionalized violence is by means of armed violence?


Arrupe: I do not believe so. There can be exceptions, as the Council and Synod note, but these are exceptions, not the general norm. As I see it, to attack institutionalized violence with armed violence simply prolongs the problem. On the level of principle I think that is quite clear. There was a Jesuit who became a guerrilla, but he is no longer in the Society because he could not remain a Jesuit. He thought he could be both a Jesuit and a guerrilla, which is a matter we leave to his own conscience; it is not for the Society to judge his conscience (as distinct from his decision). He was obliged to follow what his conscience told him, and perhaps the moment came when he judged the way before him, though an exceptional one, was the one to take. His conscience will keep telling him what to do.




Question: Returning to the theme of violence, and granted that in many of our countries we have the Military who exercise violence, unfortunately sometimes with the collaboration of military chaplains; could we say, along the same lines, that just as it is not right for a member of the CLCs to participate in revolutionary violence, so members of the CLCs should join the military?


Arrupe: I think there is a difference between being a military chaplain and collaborating in violence. The military chaplain is engaged in the spiritual direction of people, which can be one means of sanctifying this profession. Consequently, I do not think we can say that a military chaplain, even in countries where the military behave in a violent way, is collaborating in their violence. They have the spiritual role of a priest, and a priest must care for marxists, soldiers, assassins, drug addicts, adulterers, prostitutes. A priest must have a universal heart, and try to direct and sanctify people who have taken a wrong path. So—I do not believe we can say that a military chaplain is a formal collaborator in violence. It is rather like the case where the Church is accused of collaborating with the rich, with capitalists. No, the Church tries to convert capitalists; she gives them retreats; she gives retreats to communists. In a word, she tries to bring the spirit of the Gospel to people who, concretely, have gone astray; but we should not think of her as collaborating with these people. The same thing holds good for the CLCs where likewise we should apply the criteria of the Gospel.




Question: The distinction between the priest or religious (Jesuit) and the lay person, in the CLCs, is not clear. Are there any areas of common action?


Arrupe: It is clear that the CLC groups are lay associations in which the initiation, working through and completion of projects belong to the laity. If a priest or religious (whether he be a Jesuit or not) is a member of a CLC group or wants to work in one, he should be there by way of providing inspiration, or counselling, in such a way as to make the distinction quite clear between himself and others in the group. The priest is not an official member, or a member properly so-called, of a CLC group; rather he is an assistant, a counselor, a source of inspiration for the group—the CLC groups are specifically lay associations.




Question: Could you explain this idea a little more, Father Arrupe?


Arrupe: I think it would be very good to reflect on what I said, though I can see it has caused a certain amount of astonishment. The reason for what I said is that there seems to be a certain lack of clarity, and some doubts need to be clarified. The principle is true (the distinction between the CLCs and the Jesuits or priests), but many of you do not have clear ideas about it—I can see that from your reactions. It is very important we clarify who we are; the identity of the CLCs is different from the Jesuits; absolutely! That has to be clear. What is your identity? What are the distinctive qualities of the CLCs? You should be able to discover that because you have the grace for it. Through your own growth and development, through the inspiration of the Spiritual Exercises and consequently through your work, your own experience, you have to discover what is the real spirituality and identity of the CLCs. It is a great role you have; and it is very important. I am speaking of this with such conviction because you have a tremendous role to play.


The Council explained the role of the laity, and what the Council said has to be developed. The Council, Vatican II, is not the end of the Church, nor the end of the history of the Church. On the contrary, it is the beginning for many things, and therefore you laity, with such a spirituality, with such a good spirit, have to contribute to develop more and more the role of the laity in the Church. And that could be a tremendous role for the CLC—to help illumine the role of the laity in the Church. It is not a question of minimizing your position—I was very careful there. I do not say the religious is higher than the lay person—no! “Higher” applies to the person who follows the will of God. You have the vocation of a layman, we have the vocation of a priest or Jesuit. The heights we reach depends on our fidelity to accomplish our vocation.


You should not have a complex of inferiority—by no means! In certain areas you are much better than we are, naturally, and therefore we have to learn from you. As was said before, when we speak of family life, we have to go to the family itself and see what the parents are doing here, what they think about; we are not specialists in family life. We have had a certain experience of family life with our parents, but we do not have the concrete experience of being responsible for the lives of children; to know about that, we have to hear from the parents and from the family in action today. In the same way we how are priests, we how are Jesuits, have to learn from you in many aspects of human life.


You are not the servants of the priest: you are collaborators on the same level as the priests, for the People of God, the Church, is not the Hierarchy, nor the priests, nor the laity—it is all those together, with everyone in the group having a special role which he has to develop and grow in. For me this is essential, and it is one of the essential points for you to develop. Perhaps you have to study, observe how things go, and when you come across some points which are not clear, you will need to discuss them; if you find you have different opinions, that is all right—it is all part of your pilgrimage as the People of God. And if sometimes things do not go well, then you get advice from people who can help. We may not be clear about something today, but in a year’s time, or after 10 years—wonderful, everything is crystal clear, and the CLCs are in perfect form! I do not mean altogether perfect, because we are never really perfect—we must keep moving on for the whole of our history.




Question: Can we say a priest is a true member of a CLC group, but because the CLCs are essentially a lay movement, he is not present in the way other members are?


Arrupe: No; I do not think so. A priest can be very active; he can contribute a great deal and collaborate in many areas. But as you see from your General Principles, the CLCs are a lay movement, and a priest is not a layman.




Original Source:

Other Apostolates Today: Selected Letters and Addresses—III, ed. Jerome Aixala. St. Louis: The Institute of Jesuit Sources, 1981, “Role of a Layman in the Christian Life Communities,” pg. 245–254.

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