Address to the Irish Province Assembly, 1978
My dear brothers in Christ.
Not counting my short stay in nineteen hundred and seventy one, for the meeting of the Ecumenists, it is nearly eleven years since I had the opportunity to visit Ireland for a more satisfying exchange with you. I was new to the office of General then. I hope what I had to say was to the point, but in any case, much has happened since. Most important of all, our Society has held its Thirty Second General Congregation, our second universal effort, under the impulse of the Council, to achieve that spiritual and apostolic renewal, corresponding to the demands of the Church and of this new age.
To give even a summary account of the Society’s response would be a task beyond the limits of the time available. I would like however to talk to you quite familiarly, about certain challenges facing the Society – and the Province – and about our response to them.
The problem was, and is, and will continue to be – throughout my life, the lives of all of us – the problem of adaptation; of becoming other in response to new conditions in Church and world; of becoming other in many important aspects of life and work, while maintaining a fundamental identity of nature, of’ finality and of Gospel spirit. Given the fallibility of human insights, the fragility of human nature, the process cannot be a neat and orderly one. We have need for that solid confidence of St. Ignatius –
that the Society was not instituted by human means…but through the omnipotent hand of Christ, God and Lord, and therefore in Him must be our hope. (Const. 812)
He founded the Society. He raised it from suppression. Do we believe that he can and will, if we cooperate, grace it for further service of the Church? To what end, this renewal? The Formula of our Institute, from the pen of St. Ignatius is the quintessential statement of what the Company is and must remain. To realize the Formula, the Constitutions were elaborated for fifteen years. It tells us plainly that:
Whoever wishes to serve God in this Society…should keep in mind that he is a member of a Company founded for the defence and propagation of the faith, for the progress of souls in Christian faith and doctrine. (Formula n.l).
Our goal remains the same – to announce the Kingdom, to preach Jesus Christ, to witness to Him. But the situation and circumstances of evangelization have changed dramatically in little more than a decade.
Quite apart from developments in theology and exegesis, which leave many bewildered and groping, those of you who are engaged in an apostolate of immediate contact with people, know well the changes in religious attitudes of the last years. This evolution has been more rapid on the continent than in these islands, but you will not be exempt and it will continue and probably accelerate.
In a world of triumphant physical science and technology, of ascendant secularism, of consumerism stimulated by every art of mass media, it is infinitely harder to maintain any sort of vital faith, even for many who continue external religious practice. Historians of religion speak commonly of a post-Christian world – not without reason. You know the lack of interest of a great part of young people, including young parents, in a Church or organized religion. In a Church which kept itself segregated from other Churches and from non-practicing masses, Catholic families could be retained in the fold. That strategy or tactic is now impossible.
To use a trite phrase, the contemporary call is to mission, not maintenance; to proclamation of the Gospel in areas of unbelief and to those steadily growing numbers of Catholics, whose ecclesial faith and loyalty are dubious and reluctant, and who keep a certain distance from the teaching Church, extending little welcome to the clerical evangelist and his message. The call is to serve the many, who face new and special difficulties, the divorced, the separated, one-parent families, the isolated ageing. The call is to use the miracles of our technology in the service of the Gospel. To raise a prophetic voice, and to support effective action in defense of all who suffer injustice and oppression, or whom our society or culture marginalize and hold of no account.
Certainly it is necessary to help and support those who seek our priestly service; necessary to maintain those institutions and structures which are channels of grace, though for a decreasing number of clients. But in its origin – and in its glory – the Society was for the Europe of the Renaissance and for the use of its new knowledge in the service of faith; it was for the defence and rescue of nations in Reformation Europe; for missionary expeditions to abandoned peasant areas of Christendom, which had been without priests for generations; it was for the new-discovered Indies and the evangelization of whole continents!
The Jesuit is not the man, nor are these the times, for retreat to the quiet residence, for specialization on conferences to sisters. You know what I mean. I exaggerate. I stress a point. These are good works and to be done. But the inspiration of Ignatius was to the greater service, where difficulties abound but needs are urgent. This is our vocation. It’s in the Exercises, the Formula, the Constitutions – much more, it is in our very history. Where and of what kind is, and should be, the effort and thrust of the Society today? of a Province? of a community? of each one of us?
Let us be sure of it – evangelization and mission make demands beyond maintenance. Many could be listed, but let us consider three. The first is this – always true, but now more than ever – we cannot effectively proclaim a truth or values, which we are not evidently living ourselves to the very best of our abilities. This recalls us to the basics – to faith, charity, our vows, above all, to our personal experience of Jesus Christ.
To live the truth and values we preach! We proclaim Christ crucified and risen –
a stumbling block to Jews and folly to gentiles, but to those who are called, the power of God and the wisdom of God. (I Cor. 1:24)
Such proclamation cannot be only of the lips, but by the witness of a life which is Christ-inspired, Christ-like, so that He is communicated by the whole person, by a clarity with which Christ shines through. Impossible, quite impossible without an extraordinary grace of God – extraordinary grace which is the ordinary grace of our vocation: grace to be found nowhere but in prayer, profound prayer, persevering prayer. No science, no theology, no communication arts can substitute for this interior knowledge of Christ. It is only from the possessor of such knowledge that “rivers of living water will flow forth”. (Jn 7:38)
Every Jesuit must question himself deeply on this, probingly – but perhaps especially those who are not immediately engaged in explicit evangelization, in personal and direct ministry to the religious needs of others. Jesuits in administration, in the academic world, in scientific research even theological and biblical, those engaged in secondary and primary education, in social service, all must scrutinize their real motivation, the efficacy of their lives as evangelization. This was the great concern of my letter On Integration. Here is a test, not too difficult to apply, but “penetrating as any two–edged sword” (Heb. 4:12). Frequently and sincerely ask this question,
How often, how seriously, with what trust, do the men, women, young people, of my milieu, turn to me as a priest or religious? Or as someone consecrated to God, to Jesus Christ, or at least as dedicated to a transcendent value, surpassing the merely material, the mundane, the futile, in which the lives of so many are caught?
Or if that question is too explicitly religious, then:
Do people look to me for something of hope, of faith, of selfless concern? Does my life speak a mystery? evoke a question?
And if not, where is the witness? the apostolate? the proclamation? No hall, no college, no social center, no community is apostolic by reason of the fact that it is designated Catholic, or Jesuit – but only by reason of the evangelizing activity of its members.
A second exigence of this renewal of mission is that we seek loyally in all honesty, those situations, apostolates, ways and spheres of evangelization, where there is hope of greater good. Here we touch something fundamental in Jesuit life and central in Ignatian spirituality. It is not, my dear brothers, it is not sufficient to go on doing the same things in the same way. The challenges have changed. There is need for the indifference of the Principle and Foundation, of the aspiration to greater service of the Kingdom, of the readiness of the Third Class, the need to rise to the heroism of the Third Mode. This is the spirit of that “unum corpus”, structured by the Constitutions, with their recurring refrain, “ad maius servitium divinum”, “ad maiorem Dei gloriam”, “ad maius beneficium animarum”. And without this spirit the Society remains a body without a soul, a juridical structure without life. When I wrote the letter on Availability, I was not referring merely to willingness to accept a status from the provincial, I meant rather this attitude of ready magnanimity which seeks always to adapt to the greater need, with alacrity, with magnanimity.
There are many in the Society and in this Province who have made generous efforts of accomodation to the vastly different conditions of our mission, to new needs, to new ways of life and work. It is hard work and an ungrateful task: success is imperfect, rebuffs frequent. Many others in the Society have found change too hard, after more than half a life in a different way of work, and have retreated, withdrawn, refused the invitation. I plead with all to renew their apostolic ardor, their love of Christ and desire that He be loved, and to make use of the many means of pastoral renewal which are readily available.
A third requirement of this apostolic renewal is that we be not prisoners of a social and economic situation which favours us. here we touch on the whole orientation of the Mission decree of the last Congregation.
All solid evidence and prudent calculation reinforce the conviction that this small planet of ours – so beautiful compared to the moon which the astronauts walked – this bountiful earth, of which we are stewards, cannot support, in the mode of our consumer society, the more than six billion people which will inhabit it in the year two thousand – only twenty-two years from now. Even if we could shut out the four or five billion poor from their share of God’s gifts, are we content, we wealthy, to usurp an appallingly disproportionate share, as beneficiaries of the poverty and misery of our brothers?
Two spectres haunt our world. Poverty and war. They are twins. War cannot be exorcized without the banishment of the more hideous manifestations of injustice and oppression.
The Lord of hosts looked for justice, but behold bloodshed – for righteousness and behold a cry. (Is. 5:7)
The Congregation spoke the truth when it said:
Man can make the world a more just place, but does not really want to do so….Inequality and injustice can no longer be seen as man’s natural fate, They are recognized as the effect of man’s own selfishness. (d. 4, n.27)
It would be comforting to blame this institutional injustice on anonymous and sinister multinational corporations, or on one or two colossi of industrial or political power. Such corporations are, because we are their devoted clients! Governments are what they are because we citizens of the western world cannot entertain the prospect of a drop in our standard of living, which is the only key to escape from poverty for vast numbers of mankind.
Where are we, we religious, we of the Company of Jesus? There was never a time in which that poverty we profess could be so significant in religious life, in the Church, in the world of men – men who, in the words of Paul VI,
are drawn into the implacable process of work for gain, of profit for enjoyment, and of consumption, forcing them to a labour which is sometimes inhuman. (Evangelica Testificatio, 20)
Remember that passage from the Exercises:
See how the Three divine Persons behold all the surface of the globe, covered with men, white and black, in peace and in war, some weeping, others laughing, some in health, some sick…some being born, others dying… (SE 106).
And those other words:
It is my deliberate determination to imitate you in bearing all poverty, as well actual as spiritual… (SE 98)
I ask that I be received under His Standard, in actual poverty, the better to imitate Him. (SE 147).
The Congregation called for more than poverty in our personal lives, in our communities, in the exercise of our apostolates. It called for solidarity with the poor, and a significant shift in our apostolates towards the service of the marginalized, the abandoned, rather than of those who have less need of our ministries and who will always find those very ready to serve them. This solidarity is but the response of religious – who should be an example to the people of God – the response to the repeated appeals of recent Pontiffs in Pacem in Terris, Progressio Populorum, Octogesima Adveniens, the Synod on Justice in the World, and Evangelica Testificatio, particularly to religious. Far, far from being a deviation from the spirit and charism of the Society, the call of the Thirty-Second General Congregation, especially in its decrees on Identity. Mission, Poverty, was in the truest spirit of thinking with the Church and following the call of the magisterium.
In this area of poverty and of solidarity with the poor, I fear that there is a great deal to be done throughout the Society, if we are not to be prisoners of our history, of our social, economic and cultural class, prisoners of a situation which favours us. The very word “prisoners” recalls the address of the enemy of mankind in the Two Standards – his instruction to lay snares and chains, to tempt to covet riches, honour and so to arrive at pride (SE 142). I beg of you, not in the name of authority – though what authority in the Society is higher than a Congregation? – but for the love of the Company of Jesus – be responsive to the call of poverty, and of the poor, of solidarity with the poor.
For myself, I count it the work of the remaining years of my life or of my generalate, to promote as urgently and as energetically as possible, the full call of the recent Congregations and specifically of the Decree on our mission in the service of faith and the promotion of justice. I can see it as none other than the clearest and most direct summons of obedience.