The following decree, the first promulgated by the 34th General Congregation, explains that the congregation’s “major work” is the “revision of our law and the orientation of our mission for today.” The delegates went about this work by calling for an “annotated text of the Constitutions,” which would include complementary norms “to enable Jesuits to put the character and mission of the Society into daily practice.” The decree continues by providing thoughts on Jesuits as “servants of Christ’s mission,” on the concept of pilgrimage and labor, and other topics before closing with the “hope” that “God will sustain this Society which bears the name of his Beloved Son.”
For more from the 34th General Congregation of the Society of Jesus, please consult this page.
1. The Work of General Congregation 34. The major work of GC 34 has been the revision of our law and the orientation of our mission for today. The ﬁrst project had two goals: to provide an annotated text of the Constitutions capable of inﬂuencing the present-day life of the Society and to make available a set of Complementary Norms to the Constitutions, derived for the most part from general congregations, to enable Jesuits to put the character and mission of the Society into daily practice. The orientation of our mission for today appears particularly in the decree “Servants of Christ’s Mission” and its three companion decrees: “Our Mission and Justice,” “Our Mission and Culture,” and “Our Mission and Interreligious Dialogue.”
2. While focusing on these two tasks, this general congregation also treated a number of important areas of Jesuit life and mission which are included as decrees or recommendations. Other important areas of Jesuit life— spiritual life, formation, obedience, community life, the local superior—which have been treated by recent general congregations and are incorporated into the Complementary Norms, are recommended to the ordinary government of the Society.
3. Servants of Christ’s Mission. In its work, GC 34 stands in continuity with the spirit and emphases of GCs 31, 32, and 33. Like these congregations, GC 34 asks the Society to sustain both its spiritual and community renewal and its efforts to meet the challenges and opportunities of the modern world. In our review of the state of the Society, we faced our limitations and weaknesses, our lights and shadows, our sinfulness. But we also found much that was wise and good, especially the powerful and pervasive effort to pursue the service of faith and that struggle for justice which it includes. In the review of our graces over these years, we found again “the omnipotent hand of Christ, God and our Lord.” In gratitude for so much good accomplished and for so much forgiven, we follow this Christ, the Cruciﬁed and Risen Lord, in pilgrimage and labor. We see our renewal of the law and our review of our life and apostolic labor as one reality, the conﬁrmation of our union as servants of Christ’s mission.
4. Pilgrimage and Labor. The congregation invites the entire Society to read and pray over this updating of our law and orientation of our mission for today. One way of doing this would be in the light of the Ignatian images of pilgrimage and labor.
5. Just as the pilgrim Ignatius found that “God treated him…as a schoolmaster treats a child whom he is teaching,” so Ignatius, as general and master of the spiritual life, continued his journey into the more profound discovery of God. The pilgrim search of Ignatius united him to Christ, led him to choose poverty with Christ poor, and to enter more deeply into the mystery of Christ’s passion and resurrection. Out of his incessant search for God’s presence and will, Ignatius developed a way of proceeding. This way of proceeding is found in the pilgrimage of the Spiritual Exercises from sinner beloved and forgiven to disciple called to labor in the vineyard and to suffer with Christ; it is in the pilgrimage of the Constitutions from the ﬁrst inquiry about the Society in the General Examen to the mature acceptance of responsibility for the Society in Parts V–X; it is in the personal examen of his own life where each Jesuit ﬁnds his own pathway to God, and in the communal narrative of these past thirty years of renewal and reorientation. Like that of Ignatius, our way of proceeding is both a pilgrimage and a labor in Christ: in his compassion, in his ceaseless desire to bring men and women to the Father’s reconciliation and the Spirit’s love, and in his committed care for the poor, the marginalized, and the abandoned.
6. The Autobiography narrates the evolving power of grace which molded Ignatius into a man who opened himself to the needs of others. This simple reality, to help others, spurred Ignatius to study and training, to the gathering of companions, and, eventually, to the founding of the Society. That same simple reality, to help others, continues to inspire our Society today. The updating of our law and the decrees and recommendations of this congregation are animated by the desire to help people as Jesus Christ helped people. The documents of this congregation specify particular groups—the poor, lay men and women, persons of other religions—and focus on particular works from schools to parishes to research centers; the overarching motive is the simple Ignatian desire to help people in Christ. But the documents of this congregation also call us to learn how to be helped by people: how to be poor, how to see the Church as enriched by lay leadership, how to listen to the experience of women today, how to ﬁnd God in the religious traditions of people from other beliefs, how to engage in respectful dialogue, how to become involved in the new cultural world of communication, and how to let the young give us hope and dreams for the future.
7. Ignatius presents a Christ who is on the move, traveling through villages and visiting synagogues to preach the Kingdom, going where people dwell and work. This contemplative identiﬁcation of Jesus on mission is linked to the Election of the Exercises. In their own communal apostolic discernment, which led to the founding of the Society, Ignatius and his companions saw this as their unique call, their charism: to choose to be with Christ as servants of his mission, to be with people where they dwell and work and struggle, to bring the Gospel into their lives and labors.
8. As pilgrims on Christ’s mission, we are ready to be dispersed to any part of Christ’s vineyard, to labor in those parts of it and in those works which have been entrusted to us. This congregation is aware of the varied cultural and apostolic situations of the Society worldwide. In some parts of the Society we are becoming fewer and older. In other parts of the Society we are young, part of an emerging national consciousness, and are beginning to have a new inﬂuence within the Society itself. Some of us live in countries only nominally Christian and increasingly secular. Others of us live in countries deeply religious but with few Christians. Others still work in countries where the Christian faith remains alive among the majority, especially among the poor, but where it nevertheless faces the challenges of injustice and secularism. Some of us are emerging from years under totalitarian government and are redeveloping Jesuit life and work. Yet all of us are called to be servants of Christ’s universal mission in the Church and the world of today, to adapt the Society’s apostolic priorities to our cultural situations and to our way of proceeding.
9. In Jesus Christ, we can accept the magnitude of this challenge—to work at the integration of faith and justice, to strive to understand how the Gospel is to be inculturated, to embark with new zeal on the task of interreligious dialogue, to continue to join our professional and pastoral skills to the Ignatian way of proceeding. The Cruciﬁed Jesus reminds us that in weakness and vulnerability God’s love can shine forth mightily. The Risen Jesus reminds us that our hope rests in his power over death and his continued identiﬁcation with those who bear his name.
10. Friends in the Lord. A number of postulates asked for some further directions in the areas of spiritual and community life. Our efforts to meet these concerns brought us back repeatedly to Decree 11 of GC 32, “The Union of Minds and Hearts in the Society of Jesus.” That decree is a classic statement. As such, it represents one more instance of the need for the Society to continue to implement the decrees we already possess.
11. Moreover, beneath the renewal of our law is a reverence for persons, an effort to make law serve the lived experience of Jesuits, to help the community of the Society become more united in its witness to the Gospel and in its labor. Other documents, on chastity, poverty, and vocations, underscore the opportunity we have in community life to bear witness that living in Christ can make men happy and wholesome, maturely capable of living and expressing their faith, willing to offer one another care, support, and challenge. Again, there is need for Jesuits themselves to be in dialogue with one another, to create an atmosphere of discerning listening and exchange. The decree on cooperation with laity summons us to an attitude of listening and exchange with those who are vital partners in our service of Jesus Christ and his Church. While the term was rarely used, GC 34 was touching upon the Christian virtue of hospitality, of making the Society a symbol of welcome—to the poor, to lay people, to those searching for meaning, to those who want to talk seriously about religious issues. No community life is possible, however, and no renewal can be truly fruitful unless each Jesuit “keep before his eyes God, and the nature of this Institute which he has embraced and which is, so to speak, a pathway to God.” His vocation summons each Jesuit to ﬁnd privileged time and space to pray with Christ, as friend to friend, learning from this encounter how to be a servant of his mission. This personal friendship in Christ, sustained by our Eucharistic fellowship, liberates us for the union of minds and hearts envisioned in Part VIII of our Constitutions.
12. Conclusion. In his address to the delegates, Pope John Paul II called the Society to discern its particular contribution “to the new evangelization on the brink of the third millennium.” As we present the renewal of our law and our orientation of the mission of the Society for today, this congregation is, ﬁrst of all, ﬁlled with gratitude for all those Jesuits who have striven to make the Ignatian ideals of love and service their own in an eminent way. They include men who lived quietly and unknown; men who were renowned scholars, preachers, and teachers; men who laid down their lives for the Gospel, for the Church, and for the poor; men who lived simply and faithfully in a world that never understood their poverty, chastity, or obedience; men who brought our Society to this moment. We give thanks to God for them.
13. Second, we are heartened by our younger brothers who will assume the leadership of our ministries in the years to come. For their dedication to Ignatian values, for their abilities in a variety of ministries, for their readiness for apostolic responsibility, we give thanks. We ask them to see their formation as guided radically by the updating of our law, so that they, along with the entire Society, can come to a recognition of—a renewed affection for—the Constitutions as the Society’s privileged expression of its charism and spirituality: in a word, as the identity of the Jesuit.
14. Ultimately, the Society of Jesus is the mysterious work of God, calling us to live and labor in the vineyard of Christ our Lord. We can and should be good instruments revitalizing our lives and renewing our ministries. But, ﬁnally, we must stand in surrender to the hope with which Ignatius ends the Constitutions, trusting that God will sustain this Society which bears the name of his Beloved Son. We praise this God of our Lord Jesus Christ, asking his Spirit to be our guide as we live out what we have written here and journey with conﬁdence and humility as servants of Christ’s mission.
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, General Congregation 34, Decree 1, “United with Christ on Mission,” pg. 513–517 [1–14].