Father General Peter-Hans Kolvenbach’s Homily Closing General Congregation 33 (1983)

Fifty-three days after it began, the 33rd General Congregation closed on October 25, 1983. The delegates had passed only six decrees (the 31st passed 16, and the 34th would pass 26). But, for the first time in the history of the Society of Jesus, the delegates had accepted the resignation of their superior general and elected his successor. The new general, Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, offered this homily to close the congregation.

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



October 25, 1983


The gospel of this final Eucharistic liturgy of the General Congregation is not only the central point of all Christian action, but—especially after Anthony the Copt—it is a word of life that every religious vocation seeks to fulfill, radically and existentially. It is no wonder that this dialogue between the Master and the man on his knees contains the salient features of this intensive period with the Lord that the General Congregation has been living for 54 days.

“Master, what must I do?” Each delegate recognizes himself in this prayer. Each one has been willing to spend his own precious time in praying, speaking, and listening in order to insert the work of the Society in the eternal project of the Master who alone grants a share in life. To spend our own time, in order to question the Wholly-Other and to address questions to so many others who speak to us—more than we believe—in the name of the Lord.

Listening to the teaching imparted to us by John Paul II in this chapel at the beginning of the General Congregation, and listening to so many words and so many silences which echoed the experiences of the whole Society, each delegate has shared in the Ignatian discernment with the best that is in him. In this Eucharist let us pray to the Master that the General Congregation may continue in the whole Society, thanks above all to listening to our witness and to meditating on its documents, and that our hearts may continue to be restless until His divine Majesty may be served.

In answer to our prayer: “Master, what must I do?” the Lord has replied: “You know the commandments.” This 33rd General Congregation is intensely characterized by that which we already know and by that which the Society has observed from its earliest days. Hence the confirmation of the decisions of the preceding General Congregations, the promulgation of the laws that are indispensable for the government of the Society, the specification of the preferential options of our apostolic activity and of the foundations of our religious life. By calling the commandments of our religious consecration by their proper name, this General Congregation has recalled beyond all ambiguity or compromise the ministry of the Jesuit priest and the great vocation of the Jesuit brother, devotion to the Church in its apostolic visibility and constructive fidelity to the magisterium, poverty dedicated to the service of the Lord’s poor, and the urgency of real apostolic needs to which every Jesuit should respond. Let us pray to the Lord in this Eucharist that by repeating in the commandments all the love of the Society for its Lord, it may attain a fresh gospel transparency and clarity in its religious commitment with an undivided heart.

However, despite all this legislation, “There is one thing you lack:” the Lord asks us to forsake material security by selling our own goods and giving ourselves to his poor, and to forsake all legal assurance in order to focus our whole existence, in the insecurity of the paschal ways, on this man of Nazareth who is the Word of God. A unique document of the General Congregation to express this unique word of love. It is aware, in accord with the warning of Father Pedro Arrupe, “that in our day words do not gain credibility, and thus we must incarnate them and live them.” This document thus says everything, free of any inflexibility or narrowness, by entrusting the authenticity of the mission we are to accomplish and the integrity of our religious consecration to the impulsion of the Spirit who will help our fellow Jesuits to incarnate and live these words in very diverse situations, often painful and complex, where his divine Majesty has wished to place us.

Let us pray to the Lord in this Eucharist that he not let us go away sad like the man of the gospel, but with the paschal joy that no man can take away, because by means of this 33rd General Congregation the Lord has given to the Society a new life and because he who alone is good has been good to us in Rome.



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 at the Close of 33rd General Congregation,” pg. 485–487.