Father General Peter-Hans Kolvenbach’s Homily at St. Peter’s Basilica, General Congregation 33 (1983)

The members of the 33rd General Congregation gathered at St. Peter’s Basilica to celebrate Mass, with their new superior general offering this homily.

For more from the 33rd General Congregation of the Society of Jesus, please consult this page.



October 15, 1983


During this Eucharist which the General Congregation is celebrating for the reconciliation of all men and women in Christ, the Lord speaks to us through his Beatitudes. As if alone containing the key to all Jesus said and did, the Beatitudes are the only example of our Lord’s teaching among the mysteries of his life that St. Ignatius invites us to meditate and contemplate. Following in the steps of St. Ignatius, the last General Congregation asked the Society to make sure that all its service of faith as well as its promotion of justice was carried out in the spirit of the Beatitudes. Under the guidance of the Exercises we want to spend a few minutes turning the Lord’s Beatitudes into prayer.

To be genuine this prayer on the Beatitudes needs to follow the Lord’s example and be based on a communion in life and death with the poor and those who weep, with the hungry and those who suffer in war, with the persecuted and those who are victims of injustice. The man who absorbs the Beatitudes in prayer is never just an observer. Nor does he merely share in the suffering he observes; he finds that he is responsible for it. All his sinful cooperation—in thought, action and omission—shows he is in partnership with the people described in the Exercises, in words only too appropriate today, as blind creatures who die and go down to the hell which man in his hatred makes for himself. With great clarity the last General Congregation summed up the responsibility we all share: today we can make the world a more just place, but we do not really want to do so. And Father Arrupe added: we can no longer regard inequality and injustice as the inevitable hazards of nature; they are the results of our own selfishness. Only by confessing our fault, only by acknowledging our wickedness in changing the life-giving force of the Beatitudes, locked in the heart of every person, into a death sentence; only then will the Beatitudes become part of our flesh for the reconciliation of all men and women.

This true communion with the deeper history of humanity is also the source of our confidence that we can “save souls” by unveiling to them the true face of God in Christ on the Cross. This Epiphany of the Lord, who is meek and the maker of peace, poor in the depths of his being and merciful to the very end, persecuted and crucified, shows us just how far God will go to remain faithful to his Beatitudes of love and to what horrible lengths man will go in his curse of hatred. “Raising my eyes to Christ nailed to the Cross, I shall ponder within myself.” Underneath all forms of wretchedness and injustice we always find the blood-stained face of Christ crucified, but—mystery of faith—his embodiment of the Beatitudes also enables us unfailingly to find the seeds of reconciliation. “When I am lifted up from the earth, I shall draw all to myself.”

And this is the call of the Eternal King, our one Beatitude. The Lord wanted to need us to reconcile men in his Name. The Exercises ask us as disciples to follow the Master in the greatest poverty, but they do not cast us in one mold nor do they exclude any way of life or type of work in order that we may be truly poor, makers of peace, persecuted for the justice of the Kingdom. The Eternal King makes us the keepers of the Beatitudes today, ministers of reconciliation, so that we can change the curses of the first Adam into the blessings of the new city of God where men and women are reconciled with God and enjoy his gifts and pardon. Only when we come to live out our consecration to the Kingdom in a communion that is for the poor, with the poor, and against all forms of human poverty, material and spiritual, only then will the poor see that the gates of the Kingdom are open to them. The poor are certainly not happy in their deprivation any more than the persecuted are happy in their oppression. The Beatitudes do not license us to make misfortune sacred or to adopt a resigned attitude in the face of human suffering. Today more than ever the Beatitudes can only be proclaimed and their message of universal reconciliation only heard if they become a vital force in everyday life and action, as they were for the Lord. They must be seen to be at the service of men and women, all brothers and sisters of the Lord, in the very places where life, death, and hope in the future are at stake, hope for peace through the blood of his Cross.

So our Eucharist becomes an election of love in the Ignatian sense. We come together round the Lord’s table which no one leaves hungry after receiving the Bread of Life like the bread we need each day. In our communion at this Mass we consecrate ourselves to the Paschal Mystery which is lived by the poor of the Lord; the peacemakers, the merciful, the meek of heart, the persecuted, the oppressed for his Name, until he comes to reconcile a new earth and a new heaven in his lasting Beatitude.



Original Source (English translation):

Jesuit Life & Mission Today: The Decrees & Accompanying Documents of the 31st35th General Congregations of the Society of Jesus, ed. John W. Padberg. St. Louis, Mo.: Institute of Jesuit Sources, 2009, “Homily of Father General in St. Peter’s Basilica,” pg. 483–484.

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