At the Mass opening the 33rd General Congregation, Pope John Paul II offered the following homily. The pontiff declares a special interest in the Jesuits’ gathering, as the “General Congregation is an event that is destined also to have some important repercussions in the life of the Church.” He remained at the Jesuits’ Curia (or headquarters) after the liturgy to meet with each delegate.
For more from the 33rd General Congregation of the Society of Jesus, please consult this page.
September 2, 1983
“I implore you therefore to lead a life worthy of your vocation. Do all you can to preserve the unity of the Spirit by the peace that binds you together.” (Ephesians, 4, 1-3)
My very dear brothers:
1. I am happy to find myself in your midst, as you have wished, to concelebrate the Eucharistic Sacrifice and in this way to beg for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit’s gifts on the General Congregation that you are opening. In this occasion, the words of Paul to the Ephesians, that you heard in the first reading, take on a prophetic meaning. And it is with these same words that I address myself to you with heartfelt emotion. Just as the Apostle did, so I too exhort you to conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the vocation you have received, to preserve attentively unity of spirit by the peace that binds you together.
In greeting you I greet all the Jesuits of the world, engaged on every frontier in the life of the Church: indeed this is a great family, called by a special vocation to serve the Name of Christ, with a total availability for all the concerns of this Kingdom. At this moment, I feel it is present right here, united by the same calling of the Spirit, that Christ spills out from his breast upon you, as on all the Church: “From his breast shall flow fountains of living water.”
In this spirit of an outpouring of hearts, in an attentiveness to the divine activity, today the General Congregation begins. It is an official action in the life of your religious family, an important moment to live in unity of spirit. This is a unity of “ecclesial spirit” because you are rooted vitally in the Church, one, holy, catholic, and apostolic, that you have pledged yourselves to serve with total fidelity, with an awareness that it is a universal sacrament of salvation through the riches of truth and divine life that it imparts to mankind. A unity of the “Ignatian Spirit” because that special charism, one that makes the Society a privileged instrument of the Church’s action at all levels, is the all embracing and distinctive element that the Founder himself wanted for your activity and your mission.
And this unity is born out of one faith, one baptism, one Christian and religious vocation, that is its logical and austere flowering. It is nourished by the trinitarian, theological reality, that is, by the life of the one Father, the one Lord, the one Spirit. And today, we are experiencing that in a special way: “One body, one Spirit, just as you were all called into one and the same hope when you were called.”
Here you have the theological and spiritual roots of today’s events. For having offered me the consolation of experiencing them together with you I give you my heartfelt thanks, my very dear brethren.
2. This General Congregation takes on, then, a special importance by reason of its twofold objective. In the first place, it must provide a successor to the revered Father Arrupe. I am delighted to greet him here in person and to express to him the gratitude of all for having continued to sustain the Society by his example, by his prayer, and by his sufferings.
Your Congregation has, in addition, the task of setting the orientations, of spelling out the guidelines in the years immediately ahead so that there may be an ever better realization, in the special circumstances of the present moment, of the ideal of the Society as it is set forth in the formula of your Institute: “To serve as a soldier of God beneath the banner of the Cross … and to serve the Lord alone and the Church, his spouse, under the Roman Pontiff, the vicar of Christ on earth.”
Such a twofold task is certainly weighty; and it is important that you should keep in mind the orientations and recommendations that my revered predecessors, Paul VI and John Paul I, communicated to you on the occasion of your most recent Congregations, and that I myself expressed to you on the occasion of the meeting of your Provincials in February of last year. They are orientations and recommendations that retain their full weight and that you should have in mind in the work of the Congregation in order to guarantee the happy outcome on which the vitality and development of your Institute depends. Hence the need to call on the Holy Spirit: “Come, Holy Spirit, and fill the hearts of your faithful.”
3. Your General Congregation is an event that is destined also to have some important repercussions in the life of the Church. This is why I take an active interest in it. The Society of Jesus is still the most numerous religious order; it is spread out to every part of the world; it is engaged, for the glory of God and the sanctification of men and women, even in the most difficult fields and in key ministries that are of great benefit to the service of the Church. On that account, very many keep their eyes on you, whether they be priests or lay persons, religious men or religious women; and what you do often has some reverberations that you do not suspect.
Thus my predecessors have many times underlined the vast influence that the Society’s actions exercise in the Church. In particular, Paul VI, of revered memory, did not hesitate to state that “a very special bond links your society to the Catholic Church; your fortune in a certain measure, has an impact on the fortune of the entire Catholic family.” If this responsibility weighs on all the members of the Society of Jesus, it weighs today in a special fashion on you who have been chosen as members of this General Congregation. This is why the Pope in this moment is especially close to you in prayer with his best wishes and his fatherly encouragement. And he repeats this with the words of the Letter to Ephesians: “I implore you … therefore to lead a life worthy of your vocation. Bear with one another charitably, in complete selflessness, gentleness and patience …. Do all you can to preserve the unity of the Spirit by the peace that binds you together.”
4. To this end, I am certain that you will keep well in mind the providential nature and the specific purpose of the Society. As I have said, it is engaged in a wide range of difficult ministries. In the course of the meeting with the Provincials in February of last year, I had rapidly sketched out a picture of the activities that you have been called to exercise: involvement in the renewal of Christian life, in the spread of authentic Catholic doctrine, in the education of young people, in the formation of the clergy, in deepening of research in the sacred sciences and in general even of secular culture, especially in the literary and scientific fields, in missionary evangelization.
For this array of such differing apostolic tasks, in forms that are both traditional as well as new, in response to the needs of the times that have been underlined by the Second Vatican Council, I address once again to you my words of encouragement, with full confidence, “just as you were all called into one and the same hope when you were called.” The Pope counts on you, he expects so much of you.
5. On that account, the very special link that the Society maintains with the Pope, who is responsible for the unity of the Church in its entirety, assures to the Society itself an effectiveness and certainty when it expends itself, with full availability and complete fidelity, in the struggle on all these fronts of ecclesial action, today as in the days of its origin.
At that moment, your Founder, desirous of dedicating himself totally to the service of Christ the Lord, at the same time as his first companions, under the mysterious guidance of Providence made his way to Rome, in the days of Pope Paul III, in order to place himself completely at the disposition and to accomplish the missions that the Pope would point out to him, and to do that in the place that he would determine; you know how Paul III accorded a very willing reception to this proposal, while seeing in it a special sign of divine action.
In this perspective, the “fourth vow” takes on a special meaning. It certainly does not tend to put a check on generosity, but only to assure a sphere of activity that is deeper and broader, in the certainty that the most inward and most secret motivation for this religious obedience, of this bond with the Pope, is that of being able to respond in the most incisive way and with a much greater dedication, “immediately, without delay without any manner of excuse” to the needs of the Church, in apostolic fields both old and new.
While expressing to you my thankfulness for all that the Society has accomplished during more than four centuries of fruitful activity, I am sure that I can continue still in the future to rely on the Society for support in the exercise of my apostolic ministry and to count always on your faithful collaboration for the good of the entire People of God. You know that the Pope is with you and prays for you so that, in constant fidelity to the voice of the Spirit, the Society of Jesus may continue to draw from God’s grace the strength and drive to carry on its vast and varied apostolate.
6. The Church has always considered your Society as a group of religious, prepared spiritually and doctrinally, who are ready to do what is asked of them in the context of the Church’s universal mission of evangelization.
The Supreme Pontiffs throughout the centuries have not failed to entrust these missions to you, looking at the most urgent needs of the Church and trusting in your generous availability. To limit myself to the most recent times, I wish to recall the mission that my venerable predecessor Paul VI committed to you on May 7, 1965, “to resist atheism vigorously with united forces,” a mission which I urgently repropose to you, for as long as this “tremendous danger that hangs over humanity” continues.
In November 1966, after the Second Vatican Council which had just ended, the same Pope asked you to cooperate in that deep renewal which the Church is facing in this secularized world. And I myself in the above-mentioned discourse to your Provincials, confirmed that “the Church today expects the Society to contribute effectively to the implementation of the Second Vatican Council, just as, at the time of Saint Ignatius and also afterwards, it strove with every means to make known and to apply the Council of Trent and to help in a special way the Roman Pontiffs in the exercise of their supreme Magisterium.”
To this end I invited you, and today I renew this invitation, to adapt to the different spiritual necessities of the present day “the various forms of the traditional apostolate that even today retain all of their value” and to pay ever greater attention to “the initiatives which the Second Vatican Council especially encouraged,” like ecumenism, the deeper study of the relations with non-Christian religions, and the dialogue of the Church with cultures. In this regard, I am acquainted with and approve your commitment to inculturation, so important for evangelization, provided that it is joined to an equal commitment to preserving Catholic doctrine pure and intact.
7. Speaking of your apostolate I did not fail at that time to call to your attention the necessity that is found within the evangelizing action of the Church to promote the justice, connected with world peace, which is an aspiration of all peoples. But this action must be exercised in conformity with your vocation as religious and priests, without confusing the tasks proper to priests with those that are proper to lay people, and without giving in to the “temptation to reduce the mission of the Church to the dimensions of a simply temporal project … (to reduce) the salvation of which she is the messenger … to material well-being.” This is the magnificent field of an apostolate open before you, to work with renewed zeal, faithful to the mandate received from the Pope, under the leadership of the new Superior General, and in close collaboration among yourselves.
The generous realization of this ideal will increase ever more your apostolic thrust; it will help you to overcome the difficulties that in the mysterious plan of Providence are usually connected with the works of the Lord; and it will raise up numerous vocations of generous young men who, listening to the voice of the Holy Spirit, desire also today to consecrate their own lives for an ideal which deserves to be lived and thus to cooperate actively in the divine work of the redemption of the world.
8. The redemption of the world! Indeed, it is here that your General Congregation is being held by coincidence with the extraordinary Holy Year during which the Church tries to live more intensively the mystery of Redemption; your vocation consists precisely in seeking to follow Christ, Redeemer of the world, by being his collaborators in the redemption of the entire world; consequently you should excel in the service of the divine King, as stated in the offering that concludes the Contemplation on the Kingdom of Christ in the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius.
My very dear brothers! May this be, for you, the special fruit of the Jubilee Year: a renewed drive in your vocation, that invites you above all to a personal conversion: “Open wide the doors to the Redeemer” to allow penetration by the love of Christ and by his Spirit, bringing to pass what is said in the petition that Saint Ignatius recommends in the second week of the Exercises: “to know the Lord intimately in order to love Him and to follow Him evermore closely.” Intimate knowledge, strong love, and the closer following of the Lord are the soul of your vocation. In other words, you ought to be a Society of contemplatives in action who strive in every way to see, to know and to experience Christ, to love Him and to make Him loved, to serve Him in every way and in all things and to follow Him even up to the Cross.
On the other hand, one does not know the Lord—and you who are masters of the spiritual life teach that to others—without at the same time placing oneself with total docility and abandonment, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, whom Christ has poured out over humanity as a majestic and ever flowing river. As we have heard in the Gospel of Saint John, Christ calls us to come to Him and drink: “If anyone thirst, let him come to me and drink.” This thirst should impel us to enter into intimate contact with Christ in order to contemplate with Him the Heavenly Father and thereby to draw strength, light, perseverance, fidelity in exterior action.
In order to reach this state of contemplation, Saint Ignatius demands of you that you be men of prayer, in order to be also teachers of prayer; at the same time he expects you to be men of mortification, in order to be visible signs of Gospel values. The austerity of a simple and poor life should be a sign that Christ is your sole treasure. The renunciation, with joyful fidelity, of ties of family affection should be a further sign of your universal love which opens your hearts in purity of spirit to Christ and to the brethren. Obedience on the grounds of faith should be a sign of your close imitation of Christ who was obedient even to death on the Cross. Union of minds and hearts in a fraternal community life that overcomes any possible differences or conflicts should be an example in the Church, in this year when we celebrate not only the Jubilee of Redemption, but also the Synod of Reconciliation.
I also ask you that the young men who are recruited to your Society be formed from the novitiate on in this renewed spirit of commitment to exemplary religious life.
9. That, my very dear brothers, is what the events of today suggest to us for common reflection. I hope that in this General Congregation, which is taking place in the Jubilee Year of Redemption, you may truly follow the voice of the Holy Spirit that calls you to “do all you can to preserve the unity of the Spirit by the peace that binds you together.”
Together with this fidelity may generosity in the service of Christ the Lord and of the Church, his spouse, in union with his vicar on earth, be the characteristic of every true Jesuit. May it be the impetus to the works of the General Congregation that starts today. May it be the commitment of the government of the new General you are about to elect. All this the Church expects from you. The same expectation is shared by the Pope who participates in this solemn ritual, who unites himself with you in fervent prayer and who blesses you by imploring with you:
“Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful, and enkindle in them the fire of your love.”
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, “Holy of the Holy Father to the Members of the 33rd General Congregation in the Chapel of the General Curia,” pg. 465–470.