3 most important homilies of Pope Francis about the Society of Jesus (plus something else)


Church of the Gesù, Rome
Wednesday, 31 July 2013

In this Eucharist in which we are celebrating our Father, Ignatius of Loyola, in the light of the Readings we have heard I would like to suggest three simple thoughts, guided by three concepts: putting Christ and the Church at the centre; letting ourselves be won over by him in order to serve; feeling ashamed of our shortcomings and sins so as to be humble in his eyes and in those of our brethren.

1. Our Jesuit coat of arms is a monogram bearing the acronym of “Iesus Hominum Salvator” (IHS). Each one of you could say to me: we know that very well! But this coat of arms constantly reminds us of a reality we must never forget: the centrality of Christ, for each one of us and for the whole Society which St Ignatius wanted to call, precisely, “of Jesus” to indicate its point of reference. Moreover, at the beginning of the Spiritual Exercises we also place ourselves before Our Lord Jesus Christ, our Creator and Saviour (cf. EE, 6). And this brings us Jesuits and the whole Society to be “off-centre”, to stand before “Christ ever greater”, the “Deus semper maior”, the “intimior intimo meo” , who leads us continuously out of ourselves, leads us to a certain kenosis, “to give up self love, self-seeking and self-interest”; (EE, 189). The question: “is Christ the centre of my life? For us, for any one of us, the question do I truly put Christ at the centre of my life?” should not be taken for granted. Because there is always a temptation to think that we are at the centre; and when a Jesuit puts himself and not Christ at the centre he errs. In the first Reading Moses insistently repeats to the People that they should love the Lord and walk in his ways “for that means life to you” (cf. Dt 30:16, 20). Christ is our life! Likewise the centrality of Christ corresponds to the centrality of the Church: they are two focal points that cannot be separated: I cannot follow Christ except in the Church and with the Church. And in this case too we Jesuits — and the entire Society — are not at the centre, we are, so to speak, a corollary, we are at the service of Christ and of the Church, the Bride of Christ Our Lord, who is our holy Mother the hierarchical Church (cf. EE, 353). Men rooted in and founded on the Church: this is what Jesus wants us to be. There can be no parallel or isolated path. Yes, ways of research, creative ways, this is indeed important: to move out to the periphery, the many peripheries. For this reason creativity is vital, but always in community, in the Church, with this belonging that gives us the courage to go ahead. Serving Christ is loving this actual Church, and serving her generously and in a spirit of obedience.

2. What road leads to living this double centrality? Let us look at the experience of St Paul which was also the experience of St Ignatius. In the Second Reading which we have just heard, the Apostle wrote: I press on toward the perfection of Christ, because “Christ Jesus has made me his own” (Phil 3:12). For Paul it happened on the road to Damascus, for Ignatius in the Loyola family home, but they have in common a fundamental point: they both let Christ make them his own. I seek Jesus, I serve Jesus because he sought me first, because I was won over by him: and this is the heart of our experience.

However he goes first, always. In Spanish there is very expressive word that explains it well: El nos “primerea”, he “precedes” us. He is always first. When we arrive he is already there waiting for us. And here I would like to recall the meditation on the “Kingdom in the Second Week”. Christ Our Lord, the eternal King, calls each one of us, saying: “to anyone, then, who chooses to join me, I offer nothing but a share in my hardships; but if he follows me in suffering he will assuredly follow me in glory” (EE, 95); to be won over by Christ to offer to this King our whole person and our every endeavour (cf. EE, 96); saying to the Lord that we intend to do our utmost for the more perfect service and greater praise of his Majesty, putting up with all injustice, all abuse, all poverty (cf EE, 98). But at this moment my thoughts turn to our brother in Syria. Letting Christ make us his own always means straining forward to what lies ahead, to the goal of Christ (cf. Phil 3:14), and it also means asking oneself with truth and sincerity: what have I done for Christ? What am I doing for Christ? What must I do for Christ? (cf. EE, 53).

3. And I come to the last point. In the Gospel Jesus tells us: “whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake, he will save it…. For whoever is ashamed of me…” (Lk 9:23; 26). And so forth. The shame of the Jesuit. Jesus’ invitation is to never be ashamed of him but to follow him always with total dedication, trusting in him and entrusting oneself to him. But as St Ignatius teaches us in the “First Week”, looking at Jesus and, especially, looking at the Crucified Christ, we feel that most human and most noble sentiment which is shame at not being able to measure up to him; we look at Christ’s wisdom and our ignorance, at his omnipotence and our impotence, at his justice and our wickedness, at his goodness and our evil will (cf. EE, 59). We should ask for the grace to be ashamed; shame that comes from the continuous conversation of mercy with him; shame that makes us blush before Jesus Christ; shame that attunes us to the heart of Christ who made himself sin for me; shame that harmonizes each heart through tears and accompanies us in the daily “sequela” of “my Lord”. And this always brings us, as individuals and as the Society, to humility, to living this great virtue. Humility which every day makes us aware that it is not we who build the Kingdom of God but always the Lord’s grace which acts within us; a humility that spurs us to put our whole self not into serving ourselves or our own ideas, but into the service of Christ and of the Church, as clay vessels, fragile, inadequate and insufficient, yet which contain an immense treasure that we bear and communicate (cf. 2 Cor 4:7).

I have always liked to dwell on the twilight of a Jesuit, when a Jesuit is nearing the end of life, on when he is setting. And two images of this Jesuit twilight always spring to mind: a classical image, that of St Francis Xavier looking at China. Art has so often depicted this passing, Xavier’s end. So has literature, in that beautiful piece by Pemán. At the end, without anything but before the Lord; thinking of this does me good. The other sunset, the other image that comes to mind as an example is that of Fr Arrupe in his last conversation in the refugee camp, when he said to us — something he used to say — “I say this as if it were my swan song: pray”. Prayer, union with Jesus. Having said these words he took the plane to Rome and upon arrival suffered a stroke that led to the sunset — so long and so exemplary — of his life. Two sunsets, two images, both of which it will do us all good to look at and to return to. And we should ask for the grace that our own passing will resemble theirs.

Dear brothers, let us turn to Our Lady who carried Christ in her womb and accompanied the Church as she took her first steps. May she help us always to put Christ and his Church at the centre of our life and our ministry. May she, who was her Son’s first and most perfect disciple, help us let Christ make us his own, in order to follow him and serve him in every situation; may she who responded with the deepest humility to the Angel’s announcement: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me me according to your word” (Lk 1:38), enable us to feel ashamed at our own inadequacy before the treasure entrusted to us. May it also enable us to feel humility as we stand before God; and may we be accompanied on our way by the fatherly intercession of St Ignatius and of all the Jesuit Saints who continue to teach us to do all things, with humility, ad maiorem Dei gloriam, for the greater glory of our Lord God.




Church of the Gesù, Rome
Friday, 3 January 2014

St Paul tells us, as we heard: “Have this mind among yourselves, which was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant” (Phil 2:5-9). We, Jesuits, want to be designated by the name of Jesus, to serve under the banner of the Cross, and this means: having the same mind as Christ. It means thinking like him, loving like him, seeing like him, walking like him. It means doing what he did and with his same sentiments, with the sentiments of his Heart.

The heart of Christ is the heart of a God who, out of love, “emptied” himself. Each one of us, as Jesuits, who follow Jesus should be ready to empty himself. We are called to this humility: to be “emptied” beings. To be men who are not centred on themselves because the centre of the Society is Christ and his Church. And God is the Deus semper maior, the God who always surprises us. And if the God of surprises is not at the centre, the Society becomes disorientated. Because of this, to be a Jesuit means to be a person of incomplete thought, of open thought: because he thinks always looking to the horizon which is the ever greater glory of God, who ceaselessly surprises us. And this is the restlessness of our inner abyss. This holy and beautiful restlessness!

However, because we are sinners, we can ask ourselves if our heart has preserved the restlessness of the search or if instead it has atrophied; if our heart is always in tension: a heart that does not rest, that does not close in on itself but beats to the rhythm of a journey undertaken together with all the people faithful to God. We need to seek God in order to find him, and find him in order to seek him again and always. Only this restlessness gives peace to the heart of a Jesuit, a restlessness that is also apostolic, but which must not let us grow tired of proclaiming the kerygma, of evangelizing with courage. It is the restlessness that prepares us to receive the gift of apostolic fruitfulness. Without restlessness we are sterile.

It was this restlessness that Peter Faber had, a man of great aspirations, another Daniel. Faber was a “modest, sensitive man with a profound inner life. He was endowed with the gift of making friends with people from every walk of life” (Benedict XVI, Address to the Jesuits, 22 April 2006). Yet his was also a restless, unsettled, spirit that was never satisfied. Under the guidance of St Ignatius he learned to unite his restless but also sweet — I would say exquisite — sensibility, with the ability to make decisions. He was a man with great aspirations; he was aware of his desires, he acknowledged them. Indeed for Faber, it is precisely when difficult things are proposed that the true spirit is revealed which moves one to action (cf. Memoriale, 301). An authentic faith always involves a profound desire to change the world. Here is the question we must ask ourselves: do we also have great vision and impetus? Are we also daring? Do our dreams fly high? Does zeal consume us (cf. Ps 68:10)? Or are we mediocre and satisfied with our “made in the lab” apostolic programmes? Let us always remember: the Church’s strength does not reside in herself and in her organizational abilities, but it rests hidden in the deep waters of God. And these waters stir up our aspirations and desires expanding the heart. It is as St Augustine says: pray to desire and aspire to expand the heart. Faber could discern God’s voice in his desires. One goes nowhere without desire and that is why we need to offer our own desires to the Lord. The Constitutions say that: “we help our neighbour by the desires we present to the Lord our God” (Constitutions, 638).

Faber had the true and deep desire “to be expanded in God”: he was completely centred in God, and because of this he could go, in a spirit of obedience, often on foot, throughout Europe and with charm dialogue with everyone and proclaim the Gospel. The thought comes to mind of the temptation, which perhaps we might have and which so many have of condemnation, of connecting the proclamation of the Gospel with inquisitorial blows. No, the Gospel is proclaimed with gentleness, with fraternity, with love. His familiarity with God led him to understand that interior experience and apostolic life always go together. He writes in his Memoriale that the heart’s first movement should be that of “desiring what is essential and primordial, that is, the first place be left to the perfect intention of finding our Lord God” (Memoriale, 63). Faber experiences the desire to “allow Christ to occupy the centre of his heart” (Memoriale, 68). It is only possible to go to the limits of the world if we are centred in God! And Faber travelled without pause to the geographic frontiers, so much so that it was said of him: “it seems he was born not to stay put anywhere” (mi, Epistolae i, 362). Faber was consumed by the intense desire to communicate the Lord. If we do not have his same desire, then we need to pause in prayer, and, with silent fervour, ask the Lord, through the intercession of our brother Peter, to return and attract us: that fascination with the Lord that led Peter to such apostolic “folly”.

We are men in tension, we are also contradictory and inconsistent men, sinners, all of us. But we are men who want to journey under Jesus’ gaze. We are small, we are sinners, but we want to fight under the banner of the Cross in the Society designated by the name of Jesus. We who are selfish want nonetheless to live life aspiring to great deeds. Let us renew then our oblation to the Eternal Lord of the universe so that by the help of his glorious Mother we may will, desire and live the mind of Christ who emptied himself. As St Peter Faber wrote, “let us never seek in this life to be tied to any name but that of Jesus” (Memoriale, 205). And let us pray to Our Lady that we may be emissaries with her Son.




Chiesa del Gesù

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Dear brothers and friends in the Lord,

The Society under the name of Jesus has lived difficult times of persecution. During the leadership of Fr Lorenzo Ricci, “enemies of the Church succeeded in obtaining the suppression of the Society” (John Paul II, Message to Fr Kolvenbach, July 31, 1990) by my predecessor Clement XIV. Today, remembering its restoration, we are called to recover our memory, calling to mind the benefits received and the particular gifts (cf. Spiritual Exercises, 234). Today, I want to do that here with you.

In times of trial and tribulation, dust clouds of doubt and suffering are always raised and it is not easy to move forward, to continue the journey. Many temptations come, especially in difficult times and in crises: to stop to discuss ideas, to allow oneself to be carried away by the desolation, to focus on the fact of being persecuted, and not to see anything else. Reading the letters of Fr Ricci, one thing struck me: his ability to avoid being blocked by these temptations and to propose to the Jesuits, in a time of trouble, a vision of the things that rooted them even more in the spirituality of the Society.

Father General Ricci, who wrote to the Jesuits at the time, watching the clouds thickening on the horizon, strengthened them in their membership in the body of the Society and its mission. This is the point: in a time of confusion and turmoil he discerned. He did not waste time discussing ideas and complaining, but he took on the charge of the vocation of the Society. He had to preserve the Society and he took charge of it.

And this attitude led the Jesuits to experience the death and resurrection of the Lord. Faced with the loss of everything, even of their public identity, they did not resist the will of God, they did not resist the conflict, trying to save themselves. The Society – and this is beautiful – lived the conflict to the end, without minimizing it. It lived humiliation along with the humiliated Christ; it obeyed. You never save yourself from conflict with cunning and with strategies of resistance. In the confusion and humiliation, the Society preferred to live the discernment of God’s will, without seeking a way out of the conflict in a seemingly quiet manner. Or at least in an elegant way: this they did not do.

It is never apparent tranquillity that satisfies our hearts, but true peace that is a gift from God. One should never seek the easy “compromise” nor practice facile “irenicism”. Only discernment saves us from real uprooting, from the real “suppression” of the heart, which is selfishness, worldliness, the loss of our horizon. Our hope is Jesus; it is only Jesus. Thus Fr Ricci and the Society during the suppression gave priority to history rather than a possible grey “little tale”, knowing that love judges history and that hope – even in darkness – is greater than our expectations.

Discernment must be done with right intention, with a simple eye. For this reason, Fr Ricci is able, precisely in this time of confusion and bewilderment, to speak about the sins of the Jesuits. He does not defend himself, feeling himself to be a victim of history, but he recognizes himself as a sinner. Looking at oneself and recognizing oneself as a sinner avoids being in a position of considering oneself a victim before an executioner. Recognizing oneself as a sinner, really recognizing oneself as a sinner, means putting oneself in the correct attitude to receive consolation.

We can review briefly this process of discernment and service that this Father General indicated to the Society. When in 1759, the decrees of Pombal destroyed the Portuguese provinces of the Society, Fr Ricci lived the conflict, not complaining and letting himself fall into desolation, but inviting prayers to ask for the good spirit, the true supernatural spirit of vocation, the perfect docility to God’s grace. When in 1761, the storm spread to France, the Father General asked that all trust be placed in God. He wanted that they take advantage of the hardships suffered to reach a greater inner purification; such trials lead us to God and can serve for his greater glory. Then, he recommends prayer, holiness of life, humility and the spirit of obedience. In 1760, after the expulsion of the Spanish Jesuits, he continues to call for prayer. And finally, on February 21, 1773, just six months before the signing of the Brief Dominus ac Redemptor, faced with a total lack of human help, he sees the hand of God’s mercy, which invites those undergoing trials not to place their trust in anyone but God. Trust must grow precisely when circumstances throw us to the ground. Of importance for Fr Ricci is that the Society, until the last, should be true to the spirit of its vocation, which is for the greater glory of God and the salvation of souls.

The Society, even faced with its own demise, remained true to the purpose for which it was founded. In this light, Ricci concludes with an exhortation to keep alive the spirit of charity, unity, obedience, patience, evangelical simplicity, true friendship with God. Everything else is worldliness. The flame of the greater glory of God even today flows through us, burning every complacency and enveloping us in a flame, which we have within, which focuses us and expands us, makes us grow and yet become less.

In this way, the Society lived through the supreme test of the sacrifice unjustly asked of it, taking up the prayer of Tobit, who with a soul struck by grief, sighs, cries and then prays: “You are righteous, O Lord, and all your deeds are just; all your ways are mercy and truth; you judge the world. And now, O Lord, remember me and look favorably upon me. Do not punish me for my sins and for my unwitting offenses and those that my ancestors committed before you. They sinned against you, and disobeyed your commandments. So you gave us over to plunder, exile, and death, to become the talk, the byword, and an object of reproach among all the nations among whom you have dispersed us”. It concludes with the most important request: “Do not, O Lord, turn your face away from me”. (Tb 3,1-4.6d).

And the Lord answered by sending Raphael to remove the white spots from Tobit’s eyes, so that he could once again see the light of God. God is merciful, God crowns with mercy. God loves us and saves us. Sometimes the path that leads to life is narrow and cramped, but tribulation, if lived in the light of mercy, purifies us like fire, brings much consolation and inflames our hearts, giving them a love for prayer. Our brother Jesuits in the suppression were fervent in the spirit and in the service of the Lord, rejoicing in hope, constant in tribulation, persevering in prayer (cf. Rom 12:13). And that gave honour to the Society, but certainly not in praise of its merits. It will always be this way.

Let us remember our history: “the Society was given the grace not only to believe in the Lord, but also to suffer for His sake” (Philippians 1:29). We do well to remember this.

The ship of the Society has been tossed around by the waves and there is nothing surprising in this. Even the boat of Peter can be tossed about today. The night and the powers of darkness are always near. It is tiring to row. The Jesuits must be brave and expert rowers (Pius VII, Sollecitudo omnium ecclesiarum): row then! Row, be strong, even against a headwind! We row in the service of the Church. We row together! But while we row – we all row, even the Pope rows in the boat of Peter – we must pray a lot, “Lord, save us! Lord save your people.” The Lord, even if we are men of little faith, will save us. Let us hope in the Lord! Let us hope always in the Lord!

The Society, restored by my predecessor Pius VII, was made up of men, who were brave and humble in their witness of hope, love and apostolic creativity, which comes from the Spirit. Pius VII wrote of wanting to restore the Society to “supply himself in an adequate way for the spiritual needs of the Christian world, without any difference of peoples and nations” (ibid). For this, he gave permission to the Jesuits, which still existed here and there, thanks to a Lutheran monarch and an Orthodox monarch, “to remain united in one body.” That the Society may remain united in one body!

And the Society was immediately missionary and made itself available to the Apostolic See, committing itself generously “under the banner of the cross for the Lord and His Vicar on earth” (Formula of the Institute, 1). The Society resumed its apostolic activity of preaching and teaching, spiritual ministries, scientific research and social action, the missions and care for the poor, the suffering and the marginalized.

Today, the Society also deals with the tragic problem of refugees and displaced persons with intelligence and energy; and it strives with discernment to integrate the service of faith and the promotion of justice in conformity with the Gospel. I confirm today what Paul VI told us at our 32nd General Congregation and which I heard with my own ears: “Wherever in the Church, even in the most difficult and extreme situations, in the crossroads of ideologies, in the social trenches, where there has been and there is confrontation between the deepest desires of man and the perennial message of the Gospel, Jesuits have been present and are present.” These are prophetic words of the future Blessed Paul VI.

In 1814, at the time of the restoration, the Jesuits were a small flock, a “least Society,” but which knew how to invest, after the test of the cross, in the great mission of bringing the light of the Gospel to the ends of the earth. This is how we must feel today therefore: outbound, in mission. The Jesuit identity is that of a man who loves God and loves and serves his brothers, showing by example not only what he believes, but also what he hopes, and who is the One in whom he has put his trust (cf. 2 Tim 1:12). The Jesuit wants to be a companion of Jesus, one who has the same feelings of Jesus.

The bull of Pius VII that restored the Society was signed on August 7, 1814, at the Basilica of Saint Mary Major, where our holy father Ignatius celebrated his first Mass on Christmas Eve of 1538. Mary, Our Lady, Mother of the Society, will be touched by our efforts to be at the service of her Son. May she watch over us and protect us always.



by Fr Antonio Spadaro for the cultural reviews of the Society of Jesus

Discernment is therefore a pillar of the spirituality of Pope Francis. It expresses in a particular manner his Jesuit identity. I ask him then how the Society of Jesus can be of service to the church today, and what characteristics set it apart. I also ask him to comment on the possible risks that the Society runs.

“The Society of Jesus is an institution in tension,” the pope replied, “always fundamentally in tension. A Jesuit is a person who is not centered in himself. The Society itself also looks to a center outside itself; its center is Christ and his church. So if the Society centers itself in Christ and the church, it has two fundamental points of reference for its balance and for being able to live on the margins, on the frontier. If it looks too much in upon itself, it puts itself at the center as a very solid, very well ‘armed’ structure, but then it runs the risk of feeling safe and self-sufficient. The Society must always have before itself the Deus semper maior, the always-greater God, and the pursuit of the ever greater glory of God, the church as true bride of Christ our Lord, Christ the king who conquers us and to whom we offer our whole person and all our hard work, even if we are clay pots, inadequate. This tension takes us out of ourselves continuously. The tool that makes the Society of Jesus not centered in itself, really strong, is, then, the account of conscience, which is at the same time paternal and fraternal, because it helps the Society to fulfill its mission better.”

The pope is referring to the requirement in the Constitutions of the Society of Jesus that the Jesuit must “manifest his conscience,” that is, his inner spiritual situation, so that the superior can be more conscious and knowledgeable about sending a person on mission.

“But it is difficult to speak of the Society,” continues Pope Francis. “When you express too much, you run the risk of being misunderstood. The Society of Jesus can be described only in narrative form. Only in narrative form do you discern, not in a philosophical or theological explanation, which allows you rather to discuss. The style of the Society is not shaped by discussion, but by discernment, which of course presupposes discussion as part of the process. The mystical dimension of discernment never defines its edges and does not complete the thought. The Jesuit must be a person whose thought is incomplete, in the sense of open-ended thinking. There have been periods in the Society in which Jesuits have lived in an environment of closed and rigid thought, more instructive-ascetic than mystical: this distortion of Jesuit life gave birth to the Epitome Instituti.”

The pope is referring to a compendium, formulated in the 20th century for practical purposes, that came to be seen as a replacement for the Constitutions. The formation of Jesuits for some time was shaped by this text, to the extent that some never read the Constitutions, the foundational text. During this period, in the pope’s view, the rules threatened to overwhelm the spirit, and the Society yielded to the temptation to explicate and define its charism too narrowly.

Pope Francis continues: “No, the Jesuit always thinks, again and again, looking at the horizon toward which he must go, with Christ at the center. This is his real strength. And that pushes the Society to be searching, creative and generous. So now, more than ever, the Society of Jesus must be contemplative in action, must live a profound closeness to the whole church as both the ‘people of God’ and ‘holy mother the hierarchical church.’ This requires much humility, sacrifice and courage, especially when you are misunderstood or you are the subject of misunderstandings and slanders, but that is the most fruitful attitude. Let us think of the tensions of the past history, in the previous centuries, about the Chinese rites controversy, the Malabar rites and the Reductions in Paraguay.

“I am a witness myself to the misunderstandings and problems that the Society has recently experienced. Among those there were tough times, especially when it came to the issue of extending to all Jesuits the fourth vow of obedience to the pope. What gave me confidence at the time of Father Arrupe [superior general of the Jesuits from 1965 to 1983] was the fact that he was a man of prayer, a man who spent much time in prayer. I remember him when he prayed sitting on the ground in the Japanese style. For this he had the right attitude and made the right decisions.”


tumblr_ocmn1jp2zg1qz6bc9o1_1280A private encounter of Pope Francis with some Polish Jesuits

July 30, 2016

I want to add something now.  I ask you to work with seminarians.  Above all, give them what you have received from the Exercises: the wisdom of discernment.  The Church today needs to grow in the ability of spiritual discernment.  Some priestly formation programs run the risk of educating in the light of overly clear and distinct ideas, and therefore to act within limits and criteria that are rigidly defined a priori, and that set aside concrete situations: «you must do this, you must not do this.».  And then the seminarians, when they become priests, find themselves in difficulty in accompanying the life of so many young people and adults.  Because many are asking: «can you do this or can you not?». That’s all.  And many people leave the confessional disappointed.  Not because the priest is bad, but because the priest doesn’t have the ability to discern situations, to accompany them in authentic discernment.  They don’t have the needed formation.  Today the Church needs to grow in discernment, in the ability to discern. And priests above all really need it for their ministry.  This is why we need to teach it to seminarians and priests in formation: they are the ones usually entrusted with the confidences of the conscience of the faithful.  Spiritual direction is not solely a priestly charism, but also lay, it is true.  But, I repeat, you must teach this above all to priests, helping them in the light of the Exercises in the dynamic of pastoral discernment, which respects the law but knows how to go beyond.  This is an important task for the Society.  A thought of Fr. Hugo Rahner has often struck me[2].  He thought clearly and wrote clearly!  Hugo said that the Jesuit must be a man with the nose for the supernatural, that is he must be a man gifted with a sense of the divine and of the diabolical relative to the events of human life and history. The Jesuit must therefore be capable of discerning both in the field of God and in the field of the devil.  This is why in the Exercises St Ignatius asks to be introduced both to the intentions of the Lord of life and to those of the enemy of human nature and to his lies.  What he has written is bold, it is truly bold, but discernment is precisely this!  We need to form future priests not to general and abstract ideas, which are clear and distinct, but to this keen discernment of spirits so that they can help people in their concrete life.  We need to truly understand this: in life not all is black on white or white on black. No!  The shades of grey prevail in life.  We must them teach to discern in this grey area.

What did Pope Francis say to the Jesuits since he was elected?

Pope Francis visits delegates of General Congregation 36.
Pope Francis visits delegates of General Congregation 36.

This article, written by fr. Elías Royón S.J., was published originally in Italian on La Civiltà Cattolica . Download and read the origianl version here: http://www.laciviltacattolica.it/articoli_download/extra/3990.pdf

In these years of Francis’ pontificate, he has addressed the Jesuits many times, so that the Society gathered in the General Congregation had already, in some way, a «previous discourse» of Pope Francis that can serve the Jesuits as inspiration and guide them on their path.  A «previous» discourse of a «big brother» as Laynez called Faber[1], but a big brother who is the Pope, to whom we, «with renewed impulse and fervor»[2], offer our vow of obedience, taken into consideration since the beginning of the Society «as our first and principal foundation»[3].

What we have called the «previous discourse» is composed of different allocutions that Pope Francis has addressed to the Jesuits.  They are placed in clear continuity with this discourse.  They gratefully make memory of a past that is passionately present:  the graces of the Lord that have identified us and continue to identify us with the Society.  «We are called to recover our memory, to make memory, calling to mind the benefits received and the particular gifts» (Esercizi Spirituali [ES], n. 234)[4].

A Pope who is a Jesuit makes «memory», but he must be Pope first for us rather than Jesuit.  If other Popes have reminded us of these graces, Francis does it knowing them from within our condition as Jesuits.  With some frequency, he is recognized explicitly Jesuit: he explains, with simplicity, almost softly, but without twisting words, the great and strong characteristics of our spirituality and identity.

What has the Pope said to us?  This is what we propose to demonstrate in this article, with the awareness, however, of the difficulties it entails.  We will try to be as objective as possible in presenting the characteristic themes, even though we are all inclined to select those aspects that agree better with our theological, pastoral, social, and even religious and spiritual sensibilities, but we must make an effort to welcome all the reflections that the Pope offers us broadmindedly and with generosity of spirit, above all when they recommit us to our way of living and to our mission.

Centrality of Christ

Our characteristic monogram, IHS, points us to—the Pope said on the feast of St Ignatius in 2013[5]—a reality that we must never forget: the centrality of Christ for each one of us for the entire Society.  Jesus is our center and sole reference.  It follows that every Jesuit and the body of the Society must always be «decentralized», never becoming «self-referential»; this displacement leads us to have before our eyes «the God always greater» who continually draws us out of ourselves and pushes us to a certain kenosis, to «go out of his self-love, will and interest» (ES n. 189).

To the serene proposal, but essential for our vocation, he added the suggestion of a question not taken for granted by all of us: is Christ the center of my life?  Do I truly put Christ at the center of my life?  The Pope does not exclude the eventuality that this «centering» our existence in Christ remains subjected to the temptation of thinking of ourselves being at the center.  «And in this case the Jesuit is wrong» Francis clearly says.

The same idea returns, some months later, in the homily for the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus (January 2, 2014).  We Jesuits want to be distinguished with the name of Jesus, which means having the same feelings as Jesus.  But the heart of Christ is the heart of a God who through love is «emptied».  Each one of us must be disposed to empty himself.  In this circumstance Pope Francis uses the term «emptied himself» rather than «decentered himself» with a reference to the Christological hymn of the Letter to the Philippians (Phil 2:5-11).

We are called to be «emptied», Francis comments, men who must not be living centered on themselves, because the center of the Society of Jesus is Christ and his Church.  And the Pope draws attention on the consequence that persists in distancing ourselves from a similar «decentralization»: «If the God of surprises is not at the center it disorients the Society»

In the interview released by Fr. Spadaro, in September of 2013, the Pope is asked how the Society can serve the Church today, with what peculiar traits, and what risks may threaten it.  The answer is long and touches on diverse questions, but the first words are clear: «The Jesuit is a person who is not centered in himself.  The Society itself also looks to a center outside itself; its center is Christ and his Church.  […] If it looks too much in upon itself, it puts itself at the center as a very sold, very well “armed” structure, but then it runs the risk of feeling safe and self-sufficient»[6].

Feeling ourselves «safe and sufficient» is the danger that threatens the Society and is in contrast, according to the Pope, to the «being» of the Jesuit.  Francis speaks of the Jesuit and all the Society; «being decentered» is the attitude precisely not only of every Jesuit, but of the entire body of the Society.  A security and institutional sufficiency, that have often threatened the history of the Society, contradict its most original roots and most glorious moments in how it is marked by martyrdom.

Francis leads us to our strongest identifying roots: the Spiritual Exercises.  In them we are taught to ask of the Lord «to love him and follow him more» as a prayerful expression of our desire to identify ourselves with the poor and humble Christ that is formulated in the «meditation on the two standards», of our desire «to be received under his standard» (ES 147).  The Spirit leads us to that «third degree of humility», the synthesis of Ignatian mysticism in identification with Christ: «imitate and be in reality more like Christ our Lord, I desire and choose poverty with Christ poor, rather than riches; insults with Christ loaded with them, rather than honors; I desire to be accounted as worthless and a fool for Christ, rather than to be esteemed as wise and prudent in this world» (ES 167).

The Exercises are a personal experience that «conform» the Jesuit to Him who called him to this vocation, but their dynamic of imitation and of following Christ «forms» the entire body of the Society in the Constitutions (Cost.) as the «way» to realize the Ignatian charism in the Church.

Ignatius had the audacity to present, to those who wanted to enter into the Society, the prospect that they must « they desire to suffer injuries, false accusations, and affronts, and to be held and esteemed as fools (but without their giving any occasion for this), 5because of their desire to resemble and imitate in some manner our Creator and Lord Jesus Christ» (Cost. 101).

This «conformation» of the Society to Christ is revealed in the experience at La Storta, interpreted from the first moment as an «institutional grace» and not simply as a personal grace of Ignatius.  The elements of the vision are based on the choice of Ignatius and of his companions, the Society, on the part of the Father, to be placed with the Son who takes the cross upon himself.  Thus are we granted the grace to be received under the standard of Christ in poverty and humility.  The 35th General Congregation comments regarding this: « We Jesuits, then, find our identity not alone but in companionship: in companionship with the Lord, who calls, and in companionship with others who share this call. Its root is to be found in Saint Ignatius’s experience at La Storta» (D II, 3).

The Society will be «safe» and it will feel «sufficient» not when it will look to itself, but will know to live with the desire to conform itself to the poor and humble Christ of the Exercises, to the God incarnated in Jesus of Nazareth, the ultimate model of «decentralization» in history.  This is the identity that the Pope recalls to us with so much clarity and insistence.

And when Ignatius and his companions wanted to present to the Church, with the approval of the Society, a synthesis of its identity in the Formula dell’Istituto, they did not hesitate to place God at the center: the first concern of the Jesuit must be that of «having in front of his eyes, always, before any other thing, God» (curet primo Deum).  Pope Francis leads us here with almost the same words.  At the same time, to define the identity of the Society, in the Formula a strong accent is place on the cross: «Anyone who wants to soldier for God under the banner of the cross in our Society and to serve only the Lord and the Roman Pontiff, his vicar on earth…»[7].

The Formula then warns us about the need to examine ourselves to unmask deceptions: «ponder long and seriously, as the Lord has counseled, whether they possess among their resources enough spiritual capital to complete this tower» (n. 4).  Only thus will personal and apostolic discernment, the discrete caritas, availability, the strength of the magis for a bigger and better missionary service, the experience of friendship among «companions of Jesus» be possible:  well-known, these, both identify us and ensure «the preservation and growth of this whole body» (Cost. 814).

Pope Francis reminded the Society of one of the more meaningful moments of its humiliation and identification with Christ.  In the Solemn Vespers of September 27, 2014, on the anniversary of the bicentennial of the restoration of the Society, he said: «The Society – and this is beautiful – lived the conflict to the end, without minimizing it. It lived humiliation along with the humiliated Christ; it obeyed.  […]  Let us remember our history: “the Society was given the grace not only to believe in the Lord, but also to suffer for His sake” (Philippians 1:29). We do well to remember this»[8].

jesuitssymbolAt the service of the Church

To this centrality of Crist is united the centrality of the Church, and Francis expresses this idea with a metaphor:  «They are two fires that cannot be separated»[9].  The Pope starts from an affirmation valid for every Christian: «You cannot follow Christ if not in the Church and with the Church» and he applies it specifically to the Jesuits:  «And in this case too we Jesuits — and the entire Society — are not at the center, we are, so to speak, a corollary, we are at the service of Christ and of the Church, the Bride of Christ Our Lord, who is our holy Mother the hierarchical Church (cf. EE, 353)»[10].

To this concept so Ignatian, Pope Francis also made a reference in the letter that on March 16, 2013, three days after his election, he wrote to the Father General.  In it, he thanked him for the full availability to «to continue serving the Church and the Vicar of Christ unconditionally, in accordance with the precept of St Ignatius of Loyola».  And then he offers his prayers for all the Jesuits, «so that — faithful to the charism they have received and in the footsteps of the saints of our beloved Order — with their pastoral action, and above all with the witness of a life dedicated without reserve to serving the Church, Bride of Christ — they may be a Gospel leaven in the world, tirelessly seeking the glory of God and the good of souls»[11].

This first message of a Jesuit Pope to the Society cannot pass unnoticed.   It is not just simple, formal expressions, nor is it only a courtesy letter: in it is expressed the core that most identifies our vocation.  The letter is short, and almost all addressed to recalling our special relations with the Church and the Roman Pontiff.  In it there is no explicit reference to the fourth vow, but he mentions it there: «in accordance with the precept of St Ignatius of Loyola»; and he reiterates the idea of service: «to continue serving the Church and the Vicar of Christ unconditionally […], a life dedicated without reserve to serving the Church, Bride of Christ».

In the homily he proclaimed for the Feast of St Ignatius in 2013, the Pope insisted on the fact that it is a unique «centrality» with two dimensions.  Therefore, he can say in no uncertain terms: «Serving Christ is loving this actual Church, and serving her generously and in a spirit of obedience».

The Jesuit must love and serve a concrete and historic Church.  Ignatius urges us to love the Church that is a pilgrim in this world, subjected to temptation, and formed by weak men and sinners, needy of the mercy of the Father.  In the interview released by Fr. Spadaro, Pope Francis presents his image of Church: «It is that of the holy, faithful people of God».  To think with the Church, for Francis, means being in the midst of this people.  «It is the experience of the “holy mother hierarchical Church”, […] the Church as the people of God, pastors and people together.  The Church is the totality of the people of God»[12].

How to serve the Church

The Pope emphasizes a principal of behavior of the Jesuit and of the Society in the Church: «There can be no parallel or isolated paths»[13].  Then «shortcuts» built by ourselves are of no value, where we may feel ourselves «safe» and «sufficient», nor views of the world beginning from our center.  Here he presents a temptation to us, when we want to take decisions beginning from «our center», and not from the «center» of Christ and his Church.  Then we lose the capacity to apostolically discern—knowing how God and the Church want to make use of the Society—and to examine ourselves and tell ourselves truly how we are, where we turn our gaze, what are our horizons.

The Society will find itself in many apostolic fields, but always in the Church, «with this belonging that gives us the courage to go ahead».  And the Pope makes reference to the two values of research and peripheries: «Yes, ways of research, creative ways, this is indeed important: to move out to the periphery, the many peripheries. For this reason creativity is vital, but always in community, in the Church».

Pope Francis urges us to be present in two important and current missionary horizons:  research and peripheries, in whatever their modality, and to develop in them great creativity, but always «in the Church», «avoiding the spiritual illness of self-referentiality».  And to give strength to his affirmation regarding the Society, he adds: «When the Church becomes self-referential she too falls ill and ages»[14].

The Pope then points out another way to serve the Church: that of serving the Roman Pontiff, collaborating with his ministry.  In the celebration of the bicentennial of the restoration of the Society, referring to the words of Pope Pius VII in the Bull of restoration, he asks the Jesuits to be «brave and expert rowers»[15], and immediately after he urged them thus: «Row, be strong, even against a headwind! We row in the service of the Church. We row together!».  Therefore, the Pope invites us to row with him, because «the boat of Peter can be tossed about today».  The service that Francis asks of us is realized in the Church and in help to the Roman Pontiff: «to row with him».

This idea is linked with what many Popes have asked of the Society, but had special importance in the discourse of the Pope Emeritus at the 35th General Congregation (2008).  Pope Benedict told us that he counts on the Society, that he wants us to be loyal collaborators; and he pushed us to fulfill the important and difficult service of making ourselves «loyally take on the Church’s fundamental duty to remain faithful to her mandate and to adhere totally to the Word of God and to the Magisterium’s task of preserving the integral truth and unity of Catholic doctrine»[16].

12662677_10153857833672508_8503738987257899039_n-740x493The Jesuit, a sinful man

To the question addressed to him by Fr. Spadaro: «Who is Jorge Mario Bergoglio?», the Pope gave a surprising answer: «I am a sinner».  Then he reinforces his answer: «This is the most accurate definition.  It is not a figure of speech, a literary genre.  I am a sinner».  And immediately after he affirms: «I am a sinner whom the Lord has looked upon».  To us Jesuits the words from the 32nd GC come to mind, when there we were asked: «What is it to be a Jesuit? It is to know that one is a sinner, yet called to be a companion of Jesus» (D II, 1).  Father Bergoglio had taken part at that Congregation, and definitely these words now resonate in his heart: he is defining himself as a Jesuit.

In the homily for the Feast of St Ignatius of 2013, Pope Francis speaks of the «shame of the Jesuit».  Contemplating the crucified Christ, in the first week of the Exercises, we are taken by the feeling, so human and so noble, that is the shame of not being good enough.  «And this always brings us, as individuals and as the Society, to humility, to living this great virtue.  […]  Humility that spurs us to put our whole self not into serving ourselves or our own ideas, but into the service of Christ and of the Church, as clay vessels, fragile, inadequate and insufficient, yet which contain an immense treasure that we bear and communicate»[17].

The Pope does not speak of a humility that is confused or that is expressed with devout acts, but he refers to the humility that identifies us with Jesus Christ poor and humiliated, with God incarnate on the cross, both when we must confront misunderstandings and when we become objects of misunderstandings and calumnies; but this is the more fertile attitude.  And the Pope cites the Chinese rites, the Malabar rites, the Reductions of Paraguay, misunderstandings and problems experienced also in recent times[18].

This humility is throughout all of the spirituality of the Society, and finds expression in these two terms, apparently contradictory, that also complete the identity of the Society: magis and minima.  These two correlative terms makes sense only when they supplement each other.  The Ignatian «more» is always the desired answer–«because the more you love him and follow him»—, that pushes the Jesuit to desire poverty and humiliation more than wealth and honors, to imitate and follow Jesus Christ more.

The «more» understands the «less», and is realized in «diminshing», that is the true humility.  The Society is «least» in its identity, because that implies «being submissive… and serving…».  Apostolic magis is then composed of inquiry, gratuity and availability, that lead us to «diminish», to not be at the center, to leave our security and «in Him alone must be placed the hope» (Cost. 812).

tumblr_ocmn1jp2zg1qz6bc9o1_1280The Jesuit, man of open thought, of great desires, always in search

In the interview cited, the Pope affirms that the Jesuit is a man «of incomplete thought, of open thought».  And he explains the reason: «The Jesuit thinks again and again, looking to the horizon, toward which he must advance, with Christ at the center.  This is his true strength».  In effect his «decentralization» keeps him in search, makes him creative, generous.

Pope Francis returns to this idea in the homily of the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus, January 3, 2014.  The Jesuits are men in search, because «they think always looking to the horizon which is the ever greater glory of God, who ceaselessly surprises us. And this is the restlessness of our inner abyss. This holy and beautiful restlessness!».

Francis holds present that which most characterized St Ignatius and his spirituality: the search for the will of God, so meaningfully manifested in Ignatius’ Autobiography, when he defines himself as «the pilgrim».  The Pope speaks of restlessness of the heart—because God is surprise—, that he asks: «What does God want of me?».  Here the ultimate end of the spiritual process of the Exercises, the fruit of the long Jesuit formation to learn to seek and to find God in all things finds meaning.  To find the will of God is the object of the tool so Ignatian that is discernment.

Pope Francis is leading us «For where the Society’s first members have passed through» to revive the gift, in a way that, with the grace of God, we may push ourselves «or to go farther in the Lord» (Cost. 81).  He is leading us to the Preface of the Constitutions, that exhort us to be guided, more than from Rules and external observance, «the interior law of charity and love which the Holy Spirit writes and imprints upon hearts» (Cost. 134).

And so in order to not deceive ourselves, once again the Pope proposes to make this examination of conscience: «if our heart has preserved the restlessness of the search or if instead it has atrophied; if our heart is always in tension: a heart that does not rest, that does not close in on itself but beats to the rhythm of a journey undertaken together with all the people faithful to God».  It is not only a spiritual restlessness, but «a restlessness that is also apostolic […].   It is the restlessness that prepares us to receive the gift of apostolic fruitfulness. Without restlessness we are sterile».  And again he warns us: «May our gaze, firmly fixed on Christ, be prophetic and dynamic in looking to the future. Thus you will remain ever young and bold in interpreting events!»[19].

In addition, the Pope present Faber with this characteristic trait: a restless spirit, indecisive, never satisfied, who learns, under the guidance of Ignatius, to unite his restless, but sweet, sensibility with the capacity to take decisions.  A man of great desires, of great aspirations.  In his desires, Faber was able discern the voice of God.

And the Pontiff added the apostolic aspect of such desires: «An authentic faith always involves a profound desire to change the world»[20].  Francis recalls the Constitutions: «we help our neighbor by the desires we present to the Lord our God» (Const. 638).  In effect, in the Spiritual Exercises, in the letters and in the Constitutions[21] Ignatius urges us very often to nourish «the good and great desires» and to concentrate them in Jesus Christ.  He made it a personal experience in his spiritual process, as referred to in the Diary and in the Autobiography.

Looking to Faber, Pope Francis asks us: «Do we also have great vision and impetus? Are we also daring? Do our dreams fly high? Does zeal consume us? Or are we mediocre and satisfied with our “made in the lab” apostolic programs?»[22]  Still in the homily of January 3, 2014, the Pope mentions the Church as a reference for the Society: «Let us always remember: the Church’s strength does not reside in herself and in her organizational abilities, but it rests hidden in the deep waters of God. And these waters stir up our aspirations and desires expanding the heart. It is as St Augustine says: pray to desire and aspire to expand the heart»[23]

resizeThe Jesuit, man of the frontier

In the audience with La Civiltà Cattolica, Francis defines us as men of the frontier: «Your proper place is at the frontier. This is the place of Jesuits.  […] Please, be men of the frontier, with that capacity that comes from God”.  There is never a lack to that allusion of the center of the identity of the Jesuit, the place from which these notes of his «profile» can flow, in the Pope.

And he specifies also how he needs to go towards the frontier: «do not give in to the temptation of domesticating these frontiers: it is essential to go out to the frontiers but not to bring frontiers home to touch them up with a little varnish and tame them».  And he again defines the Jesuit’s mission as service for the Church: «It is a question of supporting the Church’s action in all the fields of her mission».

In the interview released by Fr. Spadaro, Pope Francis clarifies his thought on the frontier a bit more: «I am referring in a particular way to the need for those who work in the world of culture to be embedded into the context in which they work and on which they reflect».  Evidently, he was making a reference to the work of thinkers and writers; but then he enlarges his thought and states: «There is always the lurking danger of living in a laboratory.  […]  I am afraid of laboratories because the problems are taken to the laboratory, and then taken home so as to be tamed, to paint them out of their context.  You cannot bring the frontier home, but you have to live on the border and be bold»[24]

The faith is always an inculturated faith, a faith that is way, a faith that is history:  God is made flesh revealing himself in a concrete history. Here the reference is Father Arrupe and his letter to the CIAS (Centros de Investigación y Acción Social), that the Pope defined as «genial»; in it is clearly said that you cannot speak of poverty if you do not experience it[25].

In the celebration of the bicentennial of the restoration of the Society, Pope Francis summarized the work of the Society at the frontier of our time: refugees and displaced persons, integration of service with faith and the promotion of justice[26], and he recalled, making it his own, the words of Paul VI at the 32nd GC, that he himself heard with his own ears: «Wherever in the Church, even in the most difficult and extreme situations, in the crossroads of ideologies, in the social trenches, where there has been and there is confrontation between the deepest desires of man and the perennial message of the Gospel, Jesuits have been present and are present»[27].  Francis added: «These are prophetic words of the future Blessed Paul VI».  Even Pope Benedict, in his song, took these demanding and encouraging words of Pope Montini.

Three Popes, therefore, have sent the Society the same message.  Words of trust and esteem, but also very demanding, because they recall the ecclesial meaning of our vocation.

The Jesuit, man of dialogue

In the audience granted to La Civiltà Cattolica, Pope Francis retraces its defensive history and fidelity to the Church and reminds the writers that their «duty is not to build walls but bridges; it is to establish a dialogue with all people, even those who do not share the Christian faith […] and even, “those who oppose the Church and persecute her in various ways” (Gaudium et Spes, n. 92)».  And to dialogue, one needs to lower one’s guard and to open doors.  The Pope encourages the writer to continue the dialogue with cultural, social, political institutions, to offer a contribution for the common good.

In the Pope’s words the figure of his model of the Jesuit returns to make itself present.  We may wonder at the fact that when the Pope reads these words of Faber: «Whoever wants to draw close to the heretics of this age must have a lot of love with them and love them in veritate» communicating «familiarity with them»[28], he is left struck by them and comments: «His dialogue with all, even the most remote and even with his opponents…»[29].

cropped-santis.jpgThe Jesuit, man of discernment

What we have reported up to her recalls that the Jesuit is a man who has the gift of discernment «who seeks to recognize in the human and cultural situation the presence of God’s Spirit, the seed of his presence already sown in events, in sensibilities, in desires and in the heart’s profound aspirations and in social, cultural and spiritual contexts».  Pope Francis defines spiritual discernment «a treasure of the Jesuits».  And he states he was left struck by the observation of Hugo Rahner, for whom the Jesuit «is a specialist in discernment in the field of God and also in that of the Devil»[30].  We don’t need to be afraid to continue in discernment to find the truth.

When Fr. Spadaro asks him what aspect of Ignatian spirituality helps him the most to live his ministry, Francis answered: «Discernment.  Discernment is one of the things that worked inside of St Ignatius.  For him it is an instrument of struggle in order to know the Lord and follow him more closely»[31].  And he added: «This discernment takes time.  […]  I believe that we always need time to lay the foundations for real, effective change.  And this is the time of discernment.  Sometimes discernment instead urges us to do precisely what you had at first thought to do later.  […]  The wisdom of discernment redeems the necessary ambiguity of life and helps us find the most appropriate means, which do not always coincide with what looks great and strong»[32].

In the celebration of the bicentennial of the restoration, Pope Francis made very precise observations on discernment: «in a time of confusion and turmoil […], in the confusion and humiliation, the Society preferred to live the discernment of God’s will, without seeking a way out of the conflict in a seemingly quiet manner. Or at least in an elegant way: this they did not do».

In other discourses, the Pope expounds on, almost incidentally, the conditions in order that a true spiritual discernment is given.  For example, he refers to right intention, a simple gaze, to the fact that «discernment is always done in the presence of the Lord, looking at the signs, listening to the things that happen, the felling of the people, especially the poor»[33].

Regarding the suppression of the Society, Pope Francis refers to what Fr. Lorenzo Ricci said about the sins of the Jesuits.  In fact, discernment does not seek the easy «compromise», it saves us from real uprooting, from the real “suppression” of the heart, which is selfishness, worldliness, the loss of our horizon, of our hope, which is only Jesus, when we seek what God asks.

In narrative form

We can in conclusion, add a note on «how» the Pope addressed the Jesuits in the «previous discourse».  In the interview released by Fr. Spadaro, he states that “the Society can only be described in narrative form.  Only in the narrative from do you discern»[34].  In effect the Pope has «narrated» us, with clarity and insistence, the Society’s identity, centered on Christ and on the Church: «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»[35].

The Pope has «narrated» us, so that we, making «memory», place ourselves in an attitude of discernment and, grateful for so much good received, examine if we are in that «center» and, once «decentered» from ourselves, desire to live under the banner of Jesus: only thus will we be able to know how and in what the Lord and his Church want to be served by this «least» Society.

The Pope’s narrative language does not lead him to get lost in secondary questions.  He brings us back, as in a serene conversation with his brother Jesuits, to the origins, where «the first ones came», to where, through them, the gift of the Spirit overflows to the Church; and in a very Ignatian way questions himself, he a Jesuit, and questions us Jesuits, on our life and on our mission in reference to that core identity.

Following the example of Faber, Pope Francis talked to us with sweetness, with brotherhood, with love, in truth, like a «big brother»; and, like Faber, he also invites us to have the desire to «allow Christ to occupy the center of our heart»[36], because «it is only possible to go to the limits of the world if we are centered in God»[37]


(translation by Reyanna Rice)


[1] Cfr Fontes Narrativae Societatis Iesu (FN), I, 104

[2] 35th General Congregation of the Society of Jesus, Decree 1.

[3] P. Fabro, Spiritual memories, Rome – Milan, Civiltà Cattolica – Corriere della Sera, 2014, 18; Monumenta Historica Societatis Iesu (MHSI), 63, 162.

[4] Pope Francis, Vespers and «Te Deum» on the bicentenary of the restoration of the Society, September 27, 2014.

[5] Cfr Id., Homily on the feast of St Ignatius, July 31, 2013.

[6] A. Spadaro, «Interview with Pope Francis», in Civ. Catt. 2013 III 454 s

[7] «Formule dell’Istituto 1539, 1540, 1550», in Ignatian Sources, MCo I, 373- 383.

[8] Pope Francis, Vespers and «Te Deum» on the bicentennial of the restoration of the Society, cit.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Pope Francis, Homily on the feast of St Ignatius, July 31, 2013.

[11] Pope Francis, Letter to the Provost general of the Society of Jesus, Father Adolfo Nicolás Pachón, March 16, 2013: cfr www.vatican.va

[12] A. Spadaro, «Interview with Pope Francis», cit. 459.

[13] Pope Francis, Homily on the feast of St Ignatius, July 31, 2013

[14] «Audience of Pope Francis to “La Civiltà Cattolica”», June 14, 2013, in Civ. Catt. 2013 III5.

[15] Pius VII, Sollicitudo ommium ecclesiarum.

[16] Benedict XVI, Discourse to the fathers of the General Congregation of the Society of Jesus, February 21, 2008: cfr www.vatican.va

[17] Pope Francis, Homily on the feast of St Ignatius, cit.

[18] A. Spadaro, «Interview with Pope Francis», cit.,456.

[19] «Audience of Pope Francis to “La Civiltà Cattolica”»,cit., 5.

[20] Pope Francis, Homiliy in the Mass for the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus, January 3, 2014.

[21] We find a very meaningful example in Const. 101 (Examen).

[22] Pope Francis, Homily in the Mass for the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus, cit.

[23] Ibid.

[24] A. Spadaro, «Interview with Pope Francis», cit.,474.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Besides the discourse cited in the text, Pope Francis has proclaimed discourses for groups of Jesuits and laity who work in various apostolic fields: the Latin American Congress of former students (November 2015); Former students from Uruguay (October 2013); Gregorian University (April 2014); Vatican Observatory (June 2014, September 2015); Astalli Center (September 2013); Jesuit Refugee Service (November 2015); Youth Eucharistic Movement (August 2015).

[27] Paul VI, Discourse to the 32nd General Congregation of the Society of Jesus, n. 2.

[28] Monumenta Fabri, 399-402.

[29] A. Spadaro, «Interview with Pope Francis», cit.,457.

[30] «Audience of Pope Francis to “La Civiltà Cattolica”»,cit., 4 s.

[31] A. Spadaro, «Interview with Pope Francis», cit.,453.

[32] Ibid, 454.

[33] Ibid.

[34] Ibid, 455.

[35] Julius III, Bull Exposcit debitum, July 15, 1550

[36] P. Faber, Memorie spirituali, n. 68.

[37] Pope Francis, Homily in the Mass for the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus, cit.

Pope Francis at the General Congregation of the Jesuits: a historic event

161024_gc36_pope_francis_visit_ie_1-750x420-1The petrine ministry of a Jesuit: a positive challenge for the Society

The Pope entered naturally like a Jesuit father among others.  But his white cassock marked a visible difference.  But it did not take away the perception that there is a deep bond between us and him.  We began by praying.

A historic event: this was the encounter of General Congregation of the Jesuits with Pope Francis.  The first to be aware of this event was precisely Father General Arturo Sosa who asked the Jesuits to prepare themselves spiritually for this encounter.  It’s never happened that there was a Jesuit Pontiff intervuenes at a General Congregation of the Jesuits.  His discourse then assumes for the Society a truly strong, special value.  But, even before his discourse, it is the presence of the Pope itself to have an extremely meaningful value, also for its unusual modality: an audience in the Hall of the Congregation itself which lasted for hours of free and spontaneous encounter in an open and relaxed climate, as perhaps had not happened for a long time.

The Society is taking greater awareness that the petrine ministry is today carried out by a person formed in its womb and its spirituality, that of discernment.  Many characteristics of the current pontificate, moreover, are understandable in their roots only by considering the spirituality in which the Pontiff grew humanly and spiritually.  Therefore, Francis represents a positive challenge for the Society, and a specific incentive of prayer, reflection and assumption of responsibility. 

Pope Francis visits delegates of General Congregation 36.
Pope Francis visits delegates of General Congregation 36.

A “blurred” portrait of the Society of Jesus

The Pope began his discourse by painting a portrait of the Society.  That it is not a “still life” but a multifaceted framework and in motion.  The Society itself—he said—is “in progress”, in becoming.  This makes it flexible, freely elastic.  He immediately framed it—also in the light of his predecessor’s statements—in journey as free and obedient people.  And you walk only if you truly get down on the street.  The Society cannot balconear, as he once said:  you cannot look at reality from a balcony, study it, analyze it and, still from the balcony, sentence it.  We must enter inside it, stay at the crossroads of history, at the social front lines, there where there is the «confrontation between the deepest desires of the human person and the perennial message of the Gospel», as Pope Paul VI said.  Reflection, contemplation and action are always together if we do not want to be ideological.

Not fixed objectives but mobile horizons

But it is not enough to walk.   Where must you go?   In his discourse to the Congregation, Francis implicitly warned us about holding too many clear and distinct objectives as in business planning.  The horizon that orients the journey is the Glory of God who is always greater, he said.  That is: the Society must walk having before itself a horizon that changes continually and enlarges.  The portrait of the Society painted by the Pope is then dynamic, «incomplete» in itself and «open».  The Jesuits are called not to «reach objectives» like in a shooting gallery, but to walk, evangelically accompanying the processes in which human beings are involved and having as a horizon line the glory of God.  Accompanying horizons not conquering spaces.   It is, in essence, walking with the Lord Jesus:  we are called to walk with him and to go where he goes.  And at times we don’t even know where he is going.  We discover it by walking, ready to change direction, moves and methods with him.  Only if the Society walks with Jesus towards the horizon is it able to understand itself.  The Society is mobile.  This is why for the Jesuit, any place in the world is home.  If it is not he becomes «functionalist» and rigid: he is tangled,  that is he begins to concentrate turning round and round himself but at the end uselessly.

Only one «priority»: discernment

This walking however is a journey neither comfortable nor solitary.  It is not a journey to find oneself, not even for one’s own personal salvation.  Francis tells us that to walk in Ignatius’ words means first of all «to labour strenuously in giving aid toward the salvation and perfection of the souls of their neighbours” (General Examen, I, 2). The Pope seems to favor the original «Formula of the Institute», that of Paul III of 1540, Regimini militanti Ecclesiae, that puts as the focus before the Society that of concerning itself «in the progress of souls in life and in Christian doctrine».  Therefore, the Pope doesn’t entrust to the Society objectives or preferences if they are not for the «progress of souls».  He does not provide lists of works to be carried out or objectives to reach or territories to «conquer».  Rather he simply says that the Society «is where it needs to be».  Although with prophetic and diplomatic audacity.  And where is that?  The answer is that the content of the mission is the fruit of a continuous discernment and always in development.  The center remains the «Formula of the Institute»:  the rest belongs to history, to becoming, to the circumstances.  The Society lives and must live tensions, it is restless.  Francis wants to touch the beating heart, the hot and powerful core of the Society’s charism, the «Formula» exactly:  he removes the layers that protect it and he shows the Jesuits the essentials to remember.  The Pope speaks of a return to the heart, or rather of a «fire».  And he quotes one of the first Jesuits, Fr. Jeronimo Nadal, who said: «The Society is fervor» derived from the Latin fervor, that is «boiling».


Three ways of taking steps forward

This much said, the Pope provides as well three «ways of proceeding» for the mission that he summarizes in three words: «consolation», «compassion» and «feeling with the Church».  The expression used by Francis is of note: podemos dar un pasito adelante that is «we can take a step forward».  It is not the invitation to take the «long jump», but to take a step at a time, one after the other.  But always adelante, forward.   There is a progress to which we are always called, and that is to do with humility and decision.  Here’s the three ways:

  1. Consolation. We live in a wounded world and the Jesuit is also a wounded man.  The world is often moved by fear and reacts lending an ear to the desolations and fears.  For Francis only if we experience the restoring strength of consolation in the heart of our wounds—both as people and as the Society—can we wake up from our torpor, walking and helping others.   Then we must ask for consolation—the Pope says—«insistently».  The usual state of the Jesuit must be consolation.  This is the experience Francis invites us to make, then: to let ourselves be consoled by God and to live our ministry as a minister of consolation bringing into the world reconciliation, justice, mercy.  And in this Francis himself was a model speaking in his higher magisterial texts of guadium, laudation, and laetitia, that are synonyms of consolation for him.  And he adds: for the Pope «the nearest human attitude to God’s grace is humor».
  1. Compassion. The Pope asks us to let ourselves by moved by the crucified Lord and standing at the foot of the cross to feel ourselves loved by him.  This is the experience that leads us to be sensitive to the pain of humanity, to experience compassion.   «Where there is pain, there the Society is» said Father Arrupe.  Only if we experience the healing strength of the compassion of Jesus crucified can we be healed and heal others.  This pushes us to commitment for justice and to be with the poor and for their part.
  1. Discernment «feeling» with the Church. The Pope asks us to proceed doing our discernment «feeling with the Church», our Mother.  There are many ways to reform the Church, but some of these ways are anti-ecclesial, fruit of the «bad spirit».  Instead, Francis says that it is not enough to reform the Church because it would be an ideological operation and therefore «clerical».  We need to do it with the «good spirit», fruit of discernment, in an «ecclesial» manner.   The Jesuit must be within the Church that lives in history not that of our utopias and our desires.  And at times that involves even making us carry our cross and experience humiliation.  We also need to listen to all the criticisms, even those that are malicious, and to discern.  We must never close doors.  This is not to justify questionable positions, but to leave the space open to what the Spirit is doing or what he will do in his time.  The Jesuit acts within the Church trusting the action of the Spirit within it.

Companions in journey….

At the end of this discourse, Francis turns to Mary with the appellation of «Our Lady of the Street».  The Society is not only a group of men with the same ideals, but a group of friends who are on the street in journey with Jesus, a step at a time.

At the end of our encounter, the words of a letter of Ignatius on the occasion of the election of the Pontiff Marcello in April 1555 came to mind: «To Our Lord God, who wanted to give to his Church such a leader, please increase in him a great spirit, as it is necessary in so high a ministry».


(translation by Reyanna Rice from the original text

Who are the Jesuits?  Between tensions and militancy

12662677_10153857833672508_8503738987257899039_n-740x493The 36th General Congregation of the Jesuits is under way in Rome.  This assembly is the summit of the organizational structure of the Society of Jesus, and is composed of all the Provincials in charge and delegates from every religious province.  The Congregation has elected the new Father General, Fr. Arturo Sosa.  The other great task of the Congregation is to reflect on the life and mission of the Society in light of the «signs of the times».  The history of the Society is not a history of abstract ideas, but of people immersed, for their mission, in the world.  Therefore, the Society must read reality with discernment and understand how God moves in it and what he asks of us today for the «progress of souls».  The 36th General Congregation is also the first to go on under a Pontiff who is a member of the same Order, who lives a special bond of obedience to the «successor of Peter and vicar of Christ on earth», as St Ignatius usually called him.

14590462_10154502517587508_6805479485441573727_nBut who are the Jesuits?  Any historic experience that involves human beings is difficult to define because it is rich in life experienced.   It is difficult, then, to talk in abstract terms about what a “society” of men is that, for almost 500 years, moves in the world with a common spirituality, but with many differences of culture, language, and origins among them.  It is, first of all, a group of men: men who feel called to live a common venture because they have had a profound spiritual experience.  This experience has moved them to concern themselves with two fundamental things: the «propagation of the faith» and the «progress of souls in Christian life and doctrine», as stated in the «formula of the Institute» approved for the first time by Paul IV in 1540.

In advancing its mission, the Society has not expressed a negative militancy as if it must combat an enemy or oppose a world perceived as irredeemably marked by evil.  Suspicion and mistrust have never prevailed in the Society.  To the contrary, since the beginning, where the Jesuits are found—both in Europe and in the missions—they have had a fertile relationship with cultures, even learning the languages and appreciating humanism, especially with their pedagogy.  The motto that has guided them is that of Ignatius:  «seeking God in all things».

14568002_10154497774367508_874007554631623435_nTheir proverbial «militancy», then?  It was understood and expressed well by Paul VI, then reappropriated both by Benedict XVI and Francis: «Wherever in the Church, even in the most difficult and extreme field, in the crossroads of ideologies, in the front line of social conflict, there has been and there is confrontation between the deepest desires of the human person and the perennial message of the Gospel, there too, there have been, and there are, Jesuits».

In the “guts” of the spirituality of the Society there is instead the intuition of a beyond, of a «more», of a magis, as it says in Latin .  It grows in the praise of the glory of God, in the good, in positive action, in the desire for a more just and better world…  This is why the militancy is expressed «under the standard of the Cross».  The Society has, since the beginning, the seed of a «leaving», of a path forward.

notic-113For this reason Pope Francis, in the interview that he did for La Civiltà Cattolica in August of 2013 told me that «the Society is an institution in tension, always fundamentally in tension.   A Jesuit is a person who is not centered in himself.  The Society itself looks to a center outside itself».  And he continues: «The Society must always have before itself the Deus semper major, the always greater God, the pursuit of the ever greater glory of God» and «this tension takes us out of ourselves continuously».  The Jesuit, therefore «must be a person whose thought is incomplete, in the sense of open-ended thinking»: «the Jesuit always thinks, again and again, looking at the horizon toward which he must go, with Christ at the center.  This is his real strength. And that pushes the Society to be searching, creative and generous».

sacred_heart_1770-1The history of the Jesuits is determined by this tension, and is nevertheless a history of attempts and even mistakes.  In its history, there is a lot of heroism and a lot of creativity, but there is also misery and infidelity to the Gospel, as in any group of human beings.  But so many people flourished precisely in this history.  Among them, there are at least 50 «saints» and about 150 «blessed»


(translation by Reyanna Rice of the original post)

Chi sono i gesuiti?

notic-113È in corso a Roma la 36° Congregazione Generale dei Gesuiti. Questa assemblea è al vertice della struttura organizzativa della Compagnia di Gesù, ed è composta da tutti i Provinciali e da delegati di ogni provincia religiosa. La Congregazione ha eletto il nuovo padre Generale, p. Arturo Sosa. L’altro grande compito della Congregazione è quello di riflettere sulla vita e la missione della Compagnia alla luce dei «segni dei tempi». La storia della Compagnia non è una storia di idee astratte, ma di persone immerse, per la loro missione, nel mondo. Dunque la Compagnia deve leggere con discernimento la realtà e comprendere come Dio si muove in essa e che cosa chiede oggi per il «progresso delle anime». La 36° Congregazione Generale è anche la prima a svolgersi sotto un Pontefice membro dello stesso Ordine, che vive uno speciale vincolo di obbedienza al «successore di Pietro e vicario di Cristo in terra», come Ignazio era solito chiamarlo.

Ma chi sono i gesuiti? Ogni esperienza storica che coinvolge gli esseri umani è difficile da definire perché ricca di vita vissuta. Difficile, dunque, dire in termini astratti che cosa sia una «compagnia» di uomini che da quasi 500 anni si muove nel mondo con una spiritualità comune, ma di culture, lingue, origini molto differenti tra loro. Si tratta di un gruppo di uomini, innanzitutto: uomini che si sono sentiti chiamati a vivere una avventura comune perché hanno avuto una esperienza spirituale profonda. Questa esperienza li ha mossi a occuparsi di due cose fondamentali: la «propagazione della fede» e il «progresso delle anime nella vita e nella dottrina cristiana», come recita la «formula dell’Istituto» approvata per la prima volta da Paolo IV nel 1540.

14568002_10154497774367508_874007554631623435_nNel portare avanti la sua missione, la Compagnia non ha espresso una militanza negativa come se dovesse combattere un nemico oppure opporsi a un mondo avvertito come irrimediabilmente segnato dal male. Non hanno mai prevalso nella Compagnia il sospetto e la sfiducia. Al contrario, sin dall’inizio, lì dove i gesuiti si sono trovati — tanto in Europa quanto nelle missioni — hanno avuto un rapporto fecondo con le culture, anche apprendendo le lingue o valorizzando l’umanesimo, specialmente con la loro pedagogia. Il motto che li ha guidati è quello di Ignazio: «cercare e trovare Dio in tutte le cose».

La loro «militanza» proverbiale, allora? Essa è stata ben colta ed espressa da Paolo VI, ripreso poi sia da Benedetto XVI sia da Francesco: «Ovunque nella Chiesa, anche nei campi più difficili e di punta, nei crocevia delle ideologie, nelle trincee sociali, vi è stato e vi è il confronto tra le esigenze brucianti dell’uomo e il perenne messaggio del Vangelo, là vi sono stati e vi sono i Gesuiti».

Nelle viscere della spiritualità della Compagnia c’è invece l’intuizione di un oltre, di un «di più», di un magis, come si dice in latino. Si cresce nella lode della gloria di Dio, nel bene, nell’azione positiva, nel volere un mondo più giusto, migliore… Per questo si esprime la militanza «sotto il vessillo della Croce». La Compagnia ha, sin dall’inizio, il germe di una «uscita», di un cammino in avanti.

12662677_10153857833672508_8503738987257899039_n-740x493Per questo Papa Francesco, nell’intervista che gli feci per La Civiltà Cattolica nell’agosto del 2013 mi disse che «la Compagnia è un’istituzione in tensione, sempre radicalmente in tensione. Il gesuita è un decentrato. La Compagnia è in se stessa decentrata». E prosegui: «La Compagnia deve avere sempre davanti a sé il Deus semper maior, la ricerca della gloria di Dio sempre maggiore» e «questa tensione ci porta continuamente fuori da noi stessi». Il gesuita, dunque «deve essere una persona dal pensiero incompleto, dal pensiero aperto»: «il gesuita pensa sempre, in continuazione, guardando l’orizzonte verso il quale deve andare, avendo Cristo al centro. Questa è la sua vera forza. E questo spinge la Compagnia ad essere in ricerca, creativa, generosa».

sacred_heart_1770-1La storia dei gesuiti è costituita da questa tensione, e tuttavia è una storia di tentativi e anche di errori. Nella sua storia c’è molto eroismo e molta creatività, ma c’è anche miseria e infedeltà al Vangelo, come in ogni gruppo di esseri umani. Ma proprio in questa storia complessa sono fiorite tante persone. Tra di esse almeno 50 «santi» e circa 150 «beati».


“Always be a father!” My take on fr. Arturo Sosa, General of the Jesuits

2016-10-19-13-43-54Arturo Sosa was my “desk companion” during the General Congregation.  He told me a few days before the start that he would be seated next to me.  In the days before his election, we talked of many things, some perhaps unimportant, others more serious.  I sensed, however, a person next to me with a lot of energy and serenity.  A resolved person, reconciled with life and his experience of the past.

On the day of the election, we had exchanged few words.  The climate was of silence and profound interior recollection.  I showed him the notebook in which I was taking some notes.  On the cover was imprinted a phrase of St Ignatius: “Go forth and set the world on fire”.  His comment was: “Yes.  But today the world is already in flames, and unfortunately in another sense…..”

14725645_10154516511092508_2815614404307365159_nOne day we spoke about Pope Francis.  He told me he met Jorge Mario Bergoglio during the 33rd General Congregation in 1983.  Arturo was just 35 years old:  he was very young to be a “congregation father”.  Bergoglio—who then was 47 years old—saw him as young and robust.  This is why he gave him a nickname: “potrillo”, that is “colt”.  The recommendation that the Pope made at the news of his election to the General was: “be courageous”.

The day of the election we were all dressed well.  He had on his suit and clergyman black that “stood out” well with his white mustache and hair.  I noted that both his beloved plaid shirts that he brought and the dark suit that he brought didn’t change his behavior.  So I’d always known him:  as a person capable of being himself and at ease in the most diverse situations.  The counting of the votes by now indicated that his election was imminent.  He was as serene before the beginning of the voting as he was the day before…  Almost without think I extended my arms to comfort him for the weight that was falling on his shoulders.  I realized that I was embracing him.  He, serene as before, just whispered something like:  “when the chicken is to be eaten, you need only to boil the water…”

14713697_10154527066927508_3208992864689140582_nEven after the gathering of the number of needed votes, he was not discomposed.  He continued to write something in his notebook.  Until, the vote counting concluded, a round of applause started and the hands of the brothers embracing him and applauding him had not completely surrounded him, I had time to whisper in his ear: “You are our Father General”, emphasizing with my voice the word “father”.  And then: “Always be a father”.

Arturo Sosa is then the new Father General of the Jesuits.  He is 68 years old and a Venezuelan.  We well know what strong tensions they have experienced in Venezuela, tensions that he has experienced first hand.  Venezuela is one of the “peripheries” about which Francis has talked.  The “black pope” is proof that the very peripheries where tensions simmer, can convey energies to put at the service in the center of the Church universal.  People like Arturo Sosa have experienced such tensions through which at the end the spiritual energy of their personality flows calm, serene, without tensions.  Mature.  People like him don’t have to prove anything to themselves.  They have already done so, perhaps.  They gambled.  They have now won and now lost.  They took the walls by headbutts. They have even had ideological passions arriving then at near nothingness in their inconsistency.  Thiers is no longer an ideological critique of ideology, but a hand-to-hand combat with the reasons why it’s worth spending (and sometimes losing) their lives.  Now these people like Sosa, like Bergoglio, can bear the weight well without taking to many measures.  They can even resist the bewitching bureaucracy of power by remaining themselves.

14716206_10154515891227508_6256879352948603279_nAnd Sosa, like Bergoglio, is from Latin America.  Their countries—Venezuela and Argentine—are certainly two different countries.  And moreover, they witness together that the Church of that subcontinent is a “source” Church, and not a reflection, capable of bearing mature fruit for the universal Church.  Also for that of the European Church, and without contrasts, because they have European roots in their blood:  Bergoglio in the Piedmont of Nonna Rosa, Sosa in the Spain of Santander of his maternal grandfather, a tailor passionate about bulls and bullfights, who died at 104 years of age.
In the homily at the beginning of his mandate, Arturo Sosa said of the Jesuits something which can cause all to reflect.  He said that we must leave the fears behind that we feel and we must be creative and audacious, we must take the bulls by the horn.  He understood that the problem is simple: we make mistakes because we act motivated by fear.   And then Sosa had the courage to say in his first homily as General:  “We also want to contribute to what today seems impossible: a Humanity reconciled in justice, that lives in peace in a common home well cared for, where there is a place for all of us because we recognize our brothers and sisters, sons and daughters of the same and one only Father”.   He spoke of the “audacity of the impossible” that flows from faith.  Only a man who has gone through the ideologies knows that you must not be afraid of utopias if they are able to supply the gasoline to move forward in the building of a better world.  In a time in which one lives fears and disappointments, in a time in which you only take account of secure things, with few certainties at your disposal, Arturo Sosa invites us to not lose that healthy utopia that allows us to believe that the world is not destined to perdition and that it is possible to work to make it what the Lord wants it to be.

750x420x161015_gc36_thanksgiving_mass_arturo_sosa_sj_election_ie_250-750x420-jpg-pagespeed-ic-y63vnor4lrThis is why, deep down, Sosa was an intellectual—professor of the Theory of Politics and Rector of a university.  Because he wanted to understand how the world goes, how it functions, what makes it turn in the opposite direction in its orbits fixed by God’s plan.  He said in his first homily at the Church of the Gesù, dressed in the same liturgical vestments worn by Francis for his first Mass with the Jesuits: “Thinking to understand in depth the moment of human history that we live and to contribute to the search for alternatives to overcome poverty, inequality and oppression.  To not cease thinking to propose the pertinent questions to theology and to deepen the understanding of the faith that we ask the Lord to increase in us”.

He had written in 2008: “The Society of Jesus does not hide the complexities of the problems that afflict human beings and the multiple bridges that it is necessary to stretch to overcome the barriers between the social classes, ethnicities, religious differences or of gender and many others that prevent and block reconciliation among human beings.  One of the characteristic traits of the Society of Jesus since its foundation has a special importance: the commitment to the intellectual apostolate through which it can effectively contribute and fully understand the mechanisms and connections of real problems, a condition without which it is not possible to build the necessary bridges to facilitate reconciliation with others”.

But Arturo Sosa was not solely an intellectual.  He was and is a man of government.  He has participated in four General Congregations, and was Provincial of Venezuela, he served on the Council of Father Generale Adolfo Nicolás, and lastly he was responsible for the international houses of Rome.

Between local and international commitment, the key word for him was “frontier”.  He wrote: “The frontier in the life of persons and peoples is a challenging sign.  It represents the limits of reality itself or the limits of the other.  It represents, at the same time, the possibility of going beyond the initial limits, and moving towards less familiar areas and ideals.  It represents the challenge of transcending what we are, to draw closer to what we should be, and, finally, to open ourselves to the totally other, to God”.

Sosa’s discourses end up always in God.  You can easily understand him:  this man of government, this intellectual, this man of ignited and resolved tensions, is a man of God.  First of all he is a spiritual man who reminds the brothers who have elected him that they must have: “the whole heart that we want to have in tune with the Merciful Father”.

What is the Society of Jesus for Arturo Sosa?  We will understand that better in the near future.  For now it is enough to quote one of his dazzling definitions of eight years ago: un grupo mínimo para la magnitud de lo que se propone (“a minimum group for what is proposed”).14691964_10154517696227508_691428205635277744_o

(translation by Reyanna Rice from the original text in Italian)




«The Resurrection» of Bruce Springsteen

2Noted as a musician, Springsteen reveals himself the author of texts of various inspiration and sensitivity: now visionary, now lyrical, now narrative.  In fact one care recognize a kind of journey in his production, that moves from dense verses of abstract images to texts that recount stories with a precision of language, woven with metaphor, alliteration, allegory, that make stories in the form of poetry[1].  A characteristic trait of his album is a realism innervated by dreams and desires in which everyone can find himself or herself.  His art is not detached from common life:  he wants to acknowledge the dignity or, better, the «nobility»[2] of daily life.  To draw inspiration the Boss therefore doesn’t go far: he looks precisely at his personal life—interwoven of high and lows, affective crises and desires of a serene life—and to that of people around him, squeezed between an unrealizable American Dream and the crude daily life of the periphery.

This cord makes it vibrate in unison with writers like John Steinbeck and Flannery O’Connor.  But, among his sources of inspiration is even the Bible.  Springsteen comes from a family of Italian-Irish roots. However his relationship with his religion was never idyllic.  He traced back his refusal of the faith to a negative experience he had as a child: «God was used purely as an instrument of control.  When I turned thirteen I had enough and said: “Enough!”»[3].  The God imagined and refused is therefore the controller God.  Recently some simple gestures by the Boss have given pause to his perception of the sacred[4].

Any consideration linked to the personal conscience of the musician would therefore be undeserved.  What interests us is not to say if Springsteen is a believer or not, nor if his music expresses the faith genuinely or if it betrays it, even why his production in this sense is not even unique.  We intend therefore to note how, consciously or not, his inspiration is rich in figures, terms and symbols of religious meaning.  If, in fact, some of his youthful songs appear blasphemous and banal and are fruit more of an acid vent than of true inspiration, what appears obvious from a complete reading of his tests is the fact that, from the evident rebellion of his adolescent years, it is matched by a sensitivity for the language and symbols of the Christian faith.  Moreover, various theologians—both Catholic and Protestants (Andrew Greely, Jerry H. Gill, Kate McCarthy, William D. Romanowski…)[5]—have noted how the work of Springsteen has a «redemptive» quality: it plays his symbols and his principal themes (street, car, darkness, love…) in a dialectic of damnation and hope, adopting frequent images and terms of the biblical tradition.


From visionary «flash» to dark stories

Springsteen, born in 1949 in a New Jersey small town, by 1965 played in the circuits of Greenwich Village of New York[6].  In 1972 an audition with the producer John Hammond opens the doors of dreams and so in 1973 he brings out his first album: Greetings From Asbury Park, N. J.  He who was launched as a kind of new Bob Dylan already presented an acerbic but personal style, that will allow him to move with a certain freedom between folk, rhythm n’blues and rock.  The scenarios of this album are composed of robbery, the underworld, drunk women, rhythmical drama on the road of escape.  In the piece Growing Up he seems to find the key of the universe in the rumble of an old car.  The restlessness of the twenty-three year old musician to his debut are distilled in a dizzying succession of flash and visions: these songs, Springsteen will say after years, «were flashes of lightning, authentic energy.  I wrote like in the grip of a fever.  I had no money, no place to go, nothing to do.  It was winter, it was cold and I wrote[7]».

His second disc, a collage of frames and extensive sequences held together by the piano, The Wild, The Innocent And The E Street Shuffle (1974), marks the beginning of his collaboration with the «E Street Band».  Springsteen sings of the survival of the desperate searching for a landing, of a «redemption».  In that masterpiece that is New York City Serenade he sings: So shake it away, so shake away your street life/ shake away the city life and grab the first train.  The rapid visions of the first disc here already seem to begin to stretch out in the form of stories and descriptions.

Born To Run (1975) it the disc that make the Boss become one of the more acclaimed stars of world rock. From now on, the Springsteen «myth» is consolidated.  In this disc, he is framing the symbols of the world from which he comes in a cinema-photographic way: cage, rebellion, escape.  The direction is Northeast, that is Manhattan through the Holland Tunnel (Meeting Across The River and Jungleland), that becomes the cradle of misfits and outcasts.  The tensions he expresses in the power of the automobile, in the magic of the night and of the infinite direction of the street moves towards a longed for liberation in terms of the religious flavor.  Springsteen in fact uses words like faith, redemption, promised land, as far as invoking a savior: that from these streets a savior rises up. If the night is dark, the sidewalk is lighted / and covered by light and in the night it is possible to find a passage / for the soul.  We must believe, clenching the faith between our teeth.  The direction remains towards that place / where we really want to go / And finally we will walk in the sun / But until then vagabonds like us / We were born to run.

In 1978 Darkness On The Edge Of Town comes out.  Springsteen relishes the realization of his dream of success, but he is aware that it is only «an illusion of salvation»[8].   And then the question: «Where is the man OK with his guitar?  What is my place in the world?»[9]  The question opens gloomy scenarios and night time sequences in the white and black of strong contrasts.  The objective is not focused on the escape, but on the difficulties of the journey.  Yet again, the religious language becomes a way to tell the purely human experience.  In Adam Raised A Cain—inspired by the novel East of Eden by Steinbeck—Springsteen sings of the his relationship with his father telling of an inherited sin and of coming into the work paying / for the sins of the past of somebody else.  Clearly, even if the words used are those of the faith, the vision is gloomy and, in desperate strokes, unacceptable for an illuminated prospective of Christian hope.

Springsteen’s poetry rings in consonance with that of the writer Flannery O’Connor who John Landau, reviewer for the magazine Rolling Stone and then his manager, advised him to read[10].  Although he is not able to fully grasp the theological depth of Catholic writers, the reading of these writers was for him a «great, great revelation»[11].  This reading, matured to the threshold of 30 years, produced a notable effect.  Springsteen became passionate about the story A Good Man Is Hard To Find, so much so that he wrote a song with the same title, and for the novel Wise Blood, as well as then to the movie by John Huston in 1979.  Hazel Motes precisely, the protagonist of this novel, affirms that «nobody needs justification if he goes around in a good car».  This phrase could be put in the mouth of the characters of Springsteen’s songs[12]:  in fact, all are, really or metaphorically, embarked on a street, in a car, that is the place of justification, of absolution, of redemption.  The world of the Boss’s characters is gloomy.  For the poetry of O’Connor grace acts «in a territory held in great part by the devil»[13].  Springsteen seems however too blinded by darkness and by badlands, to use two of the many possible metaphors, to see the action of a form of «grace».  In any case, if there can be light, here it shines only if there is darkness.  Darkness On The Edge Of Town leaves man nailed to his own radical condition: sin.  You can make out the temptation that leads to a despairing attitude all too insisted.  Nevertheless he resists a form of redemptive tension, even if in a horizontal direction and therefore insufficient to reach the borders of a real salvation.  Maybe it appears from far away: we’ll run / up to the sea / And we’ll wash these sins from our hands (Racing in the street).  I am a man—he affirms again in The Promised Land—and I believe in a promised land.

In the double album The River (1980) the songs tell of sharp contrasts of states of soul between the lack of a center and the desire for escape between streets and rivers.  The dreams assume the form of an inexhaustible restlessness like in Hungry Heart, that the Swedish theologian Ola Sigurdson reads comparing it to the Confessions of Augustine[14], where it reads: «Our heart is restless until it rest in You».  The reading can appear too generic, because, basically, the heart of every man and woman is always restless.  However, in effect, in the song we notice the contrast between the affirmation that Everyone needs a place to rest / everyone wants to have a home and, on the other hand, the fact that the protagonist, while having a wife and kids, goes out for a spin and then doesn’t return home anymore and goes like a river that doesn’t know where it flows.  At the end, Springsteen rips out of himself a desire: And I wish that God would send me a word / Something to be afraid of losing (Drive all night).

in-concert-unpluggedIn 1982, when music video and postmodern and jazzy elaborations dominate the market, Springsteen comes out with the album Nebraska, that was defined as «resolutely and provocatively out of date» for the «monotone and simple singing, essential music, slow and unadorned»[15].  The songs are presented in the temporary, acoustic form without electric arrangement.  In faded scenarios, they are focused on human failures[16].  Beginning from this experience, Springsteen develops in symbolic terms and implicit poetry of sin, so to speak[17].  The song My Father’s House tells of the return of a son to his father’s house and the model is that of the «prodigal son», but reversed in its meaning.  The conclusion, is in fact bitter and disappointing: the father has moved or is no longer there and the house is cold and isolated / Shining beyond this dark highway where our sins / lie unatoned.  The Boss seems therefore to exclude an intervention that comes for on «high» and that is from above the ribbon of asphalt on which the car is launched.  After the tragedies of madness, images of emptiness, desolation, jail and execution, a last prayer is launched, a dry, sharp scream: free me from nothing (State Trooper).   Despite the gloomy tones, Nebraska however manages to distill even some words of compassion (cfr Highway Patrolman) and hope, like those that harbor in the long stanzas of Reason To Believe.  At the end, despite the daily tragedies, there is always that blind, incomprehensible hope that leads the characters to believe that at the end / people find something / reasons to believe.

In 1984 Born In The U.S.A. comes out, Springsteen’s true, great, world success.  The song that has given the album its name seemed to many a patriotic and triumphal hymn.  Reagan sought to use it in his election campaign.  It was a blunder: the strong and hard rhythms conceal a text that speaks of rage, disillusionment, frustration: I’m ten years burning down the road / Nowhere to run ain’t got nowhere to go.  Yet again, Springsteen tells stories of hard times where the images of an angry vent, of a rainy fog, of a train that drags you down appear.  Sometimes—Springsteen writes—it’s like someone took a knife baby / edgy and dull and cut a six inch valley / through the middle of my soul (I’m On Fire).olland


A turning point in search of «human contact»

At the release of the next disc, Tunnel Of Love (1987), the magazine Rolling Stone comments that here «the Catholic education received by Springsteen can be clearly perceived; the protagonists pray repeatedly to be delivered from evil, stories of love are represented as a manifestation of divine grace»[18], beside those doubts and that perception of evil that we already recognize.  It’s no coincidence, therefore, that after the release of this disc, America¸ the U.S. Catholic weekly, dedicated a cover to the Boss.  The words are more interior.  Now on stage is the Leggi tutto “«The Resurrection» of Bruce Springsteen”

The first homily of the General of the Jesuits, Fr. Arturo Sosa S.J., translated into English

750x420x161015_gc36_thanksgiving_mass_arturo_sosa_sj_election_ie_250-750x420-jpg-pagespeed-ic-y63vnor4lrOctober 15, 2016

Dearest brothers,

A few days ago, in this same Church of the Gesù, where the remains of St Ignatius and Father Arrupe rest,  Fr. Bruno Cadorè invited us to have the audacity of the improbable as the proper attitude of people of faith who seek to witness it in the complex current events of Humanity.  He invited us to leave fear behind and to row towards the open sea as the attitude for being both creative and faithful during the General Congregation.

Certainly, the audacity we need to be servants of the mission of Jesus Christ flows only from faith.  Consequently, our gaze is in the first place directed to God, because only one is your Father in heaven, as the passage of the Gospel we just heard reminds us.  And, as the Formula Instituti at n. 1 reminds us “(the Jesuit) as long as he lives, first of all, to keep before his eyes God and then the nature of this Institute”.  Or rather, it is our whole heart that we want to have in tune with the Merciful Father.

If our faith is like that of Mary, the mother of Jesus and the Mother of the Society of Jesus, our audacity can go even further and seek not only the improbable, but the impossible, because nothing is impossible with God as the angel Gabriel proclaims in the scene of the Annunciation (Lk 1:37).  It is the same faith as St Theresa of Avila or St Teresa of Jesus, whose remembrance we celebrate today.  Even she, fearlessly, trusted the Lord to undertake the improbable and the impossible.

We ask, then, of the Lord for this faith, so that we also can make ours, as the Society of Jesus, the word of Mary in answering the extraordinary call she received: Behold the handmaid of the Lord: may it be done to me according to your word.  As Ignatius and the first Companions, like so many of our brothers served and serve under the standard of the cross only at the service of the Lord and of his Church, we also want to contribute to what seems impossible today: a Humanity reconciled in justice, that lives in peace in a common home well cared for, where there is a place for all of us because we recognize our brothers and sisters, sons and daughters of the same and one only Father.

Therefore, we reiterate today St Ignatius’ conviction in writing the Constitutions: The Society was not instituted by human means; and it is not through them that it can be preserved and increased, but through the grace of the omnipotent hand of Christ our God and Lord, in Him alone must be placed our hope.

With hope placed in God and only in Him, the General Congregation will continue its deliberations and will contribute to the responsibility to maintain well and develop the whole of this body (Cons. 719).

Maintaining and developing the body of the Society is closely bound to the depth of the spiritual life of each one of its members and of the community in which we share the life and mission with our companions.  At the same time it takes an extraordinary intellectual depth to think creatively the ways through which our service to the mission of Jesus Christ can be more effective, in the creative tension of the Ignatian magis.  Thinking to understand in depth the moment of human history that we live and to contribute to the search for alternatives to overcome poverty, inequality and oppression.  To not cease thinking to propose the pertinent questions to theology and to deepen the understanding of the faith that we ask the Lord to increase in us.

We are not alone.  As companions of Jesus, we too wish to follow the path of the incarnation, to become like the human beings who suffer the consequences of injustice.  The Society of Jesus will be able to develop only in collaboration with others, only if it becomes the least collaborator Society.  Beware of the language traps.  We want to increase collaboration, not only seek others who collaborate with us, with our works as if we do not want to lose the prestige of the position of the one who has the last word. We want to collaborate generously with others, within and outside of the Church, in the awareness, that comes from the experience of God, of being called to the mission of Jesus Christ, that does not belong to us exclusively, but that we share with so many men and women consecrated to the service of others.

In the journey of collaboration, with the grace of God, we even find new companions to also increase the number, always least to great that is, of collaborators with others invited to be part of this body.  There is no doubt regarding the need to increase our prayer and our work for vocations to the Society and to continue the complex commitment to offer formation that makes them true Jesuits, members of this multicultural body called to witness the wealth of interculturality as the face of humanity, created and in the image and likeness of God.

We take today for us the words of the apostle Paul: the God of perseverance and of comfort grant you to have towards one another the same feelings as Jesus Christ, so that with one mind and one voice we give glory to God, Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

In the Church of the Gesù in Rome October 15, 2016

(translation by Reyanna Rice. The original text is in Italian)



La prima omelia del Generale dei Gesuiti, p. Arturo Sosa SJ

cuzcwltxgaayypoCarissimi fratelli,

pochi giorni fa, in questa stessa Chiesa del Gesù, dove riposano i resti di Sant’Ignazio e Pedro Arrupe, p. Bruno Cadorè ci ha invitati ad avere l’audacia dell’improbabile come l’atteggiamento proprio delle persone di fede che cercano di testimoniarla nella complessa attualità dell’Umanità. Ci ha invitati a lasciare indietro la paura e a remare verso il largo come l’atteggiamento per essere nello stesso tempo creativi e fedeli durante la Congregazione Generale.

Certo, l’audacia della quale abbiamo bisogno per essere servitori della missione del Cristo Gesù può sgorgare soltanto dalla fede. Perciò il nostro sguardo è in primo luogo indirizzato a Dio, perché uno solo è il Padre vostro, quello del cielo, come ci ricorda il brano del Vangelo appena ascoltato. E come ci ricorda la Formula Instituti al n.1: “(il gesuita)

faccia in modo di avere dinanzi agli occhi, finché vivrà, prima di ogni altra cosa, Iddio, e poi la forma di questo suo Istituto”. Anzi, è il cuore intero che vogliamo avere in sintonia col Padre Misericordioso, il Dio che è solo Amore, il nostro Principio e Fondamento. Il cuore di ciascuno di noi e anche il cuore del corpo della Compagnia.

Se la nostra fede è come quella di Maria, la mamma di Gesù e la Madre della Compagnia di Gesù, la nostra audacia può andare ancora più avanti e cercare non solo l’improbabile, ma l’impossibile, perché nulla è impossibile a Dio come proclama l’arcangelo Gabriele nella scena dell’Annunciazione (Lc 1,37). È la stessa fede di Santa Teresa di Avila o Santa Teresa di Gesù, la cui memoria celebriamo oggi. Anche lei, senza paura, si è fidata del Signore per intraprendere l’improbabile e l’impossibile.

Chiediamo, dunque, al Signore questa fede, perché possiamo fare anche nostre, come Compagnia di Gesù, le parole di Maria nel rispondere alla straordinaria chiamata ricevuta: ecco la serva del Signore: avvenga per me secondo la tua parola. Come Ignazio e i primi Compagni, come tanti confratelli che hanno militato e mìlitano sotto il vessillo della croce soltanto al servizio del Signore e della sua Chiesa, vogliamo anche noi contribuire a quanto oggi sembra impossibile: una Umanità riconciliata nella giustizia, che vive in pace in una casa comune ben curata, dove c’è posto per tutti quanti perché ci riconosciamo fratelli e sorelle, figli e figlie dello stesso e unico Padre.

Perciò ribadiamo anche oggi la convinzione di Sant’Ignazio nello scrivere le Costituzioni: Poiché la Compagnia non è stata istituita con mezzi umani, non può conservarsi né svilupparsi con essi, bensì con la mano onnipotente di Cristo Dio e Signor Nostro, in Lui solo è necessario riporre la speranza.

Con la speranza posta in Dio e soltanto in Lui la Congregazione Generale proseguirà le sue deliberazioni e contribuirà alla responsabilità di ben conservare e sviluppare tutto questo corpo (Cons. 719).

Conservare e sviluppare il corpo della Compagnia è strettamente legato alla profondità della vita spirituale di ciascuno dei suoi membri e delle comunità nelle quali condividiamo la vita e missione con i compagni. Allo stesso tempo ci vuole una straordinaria profondità intellettuale per pensare creativamente i modi attraverso i quali il nostro servizio alla missione del Cristo Gesù può essere più efficace, nella tensione creativa del magis ignaziano. Pensare per capire in profondità il momento della storia umana che viviamo e contribuire alla ricerca di alternative per superare la povertà, la ineguaglianza e la oppressione. Pensare per non smettere di proporre le domande pertinenti alla teologia e approfondire la comprensione della fede che chiediamo al Signore di aumentare in noi.

Non siamo soli. Come compagni di Gesù vogliamo anche noi seguire il cammino dell’incarnazione, diventare simili agli esseri umani che soffrono le conseguenze della ingiustizia. La Compagnia di Gesù potrà svilupparsi soltanto in collaborazione con altri, soltanto se diventa la minima Compagnia collaboratrice. Attenzione alle trappole del linguaggio. Vogliamo aumentare la collaborazione, non soltanto cercare altri che collaborino con noi, con le nostre opere perché non vogliamo perdere il prestigio della posizione di chi ha l’ultima parola. Vogliamo collaborare generosamente con altri, dentro e fuori dalla Chiesa, nella consapevolezza, proveniente dall’esperienza di Dio, di essere chiamati alla missione del Cristo Gesù, che non ci appartiene in esclusività, ma che condividiamo con tanti uomini e donne consacrati al servizio degli altri.

Nel cammino della collaborazione, con la grazia di Dio, troveremo anche nuovi compagni per aumentare anche il numero, sempre minimo per grande che sia, dei collaboratori con gli altri invitati a far parte di questo corpo. Non c’è nessun dubbio circa il bisogno di aumentare la nostra preghiera e il nostro lavoro per le vocazioni alla Compagnia e di continuare il complesso impegno di offrire la formazione che faccia di loro dei veri gesuiti, membri di questo corpo multiculturale chiamato a testimoniare la ricchezza della interculturalità come volto dell’umanità, creata a immagine e somiglianza di Dio.

Prendiamo dunque oggi per noi le parole dell’apostolo Paolo­: il Dio della perseveranza e della consolazione vi conceda di avere gli uni verso gli altri gli stessi sentimenti ad esempio di Cristo Gesù, perché con un solo animo e una voce sola rendiate gloria a Dio, Padre del Signore nostro Gesù Cristo.

Nella Chiesa del Gesù a Roma il 15 ottobre 2016

P. Arturo Sosa, el nuevo Padre General de la Compañía de Jesús

0-arturo-sosa-informalP. Arturo Sosa, venezolano, es el nuevo Padre General de la Compañía de Jesús.

Nació en Caracas el 12 noviembre de 1948.

— Licenciado en Filosofía en la Universidad Católica Andrés Bello.
— Estudió Teología en la Pontificia Universidad Gregoriana de Roma.
— Es doctor en Ciencias Políticas por la Universidad Central de Venezuela.

Director de la Revista SIC (1979-1996).
— Fue Profesor en la Universidad Católica Andrés Bello, en la Universidad Central de Venezuela y en la Georgetown University, Washington, EEUU, impartendo clases de Historia de Ideas Políticas
— Superior Provincial de la Compañía de Jesús en Venezuela (1996-2004). —  Desde 2004 es Rector de la Universidad Católica del Táchira.
— Desde 2014 es miembro del Consejo del Prepósito General de la Compañía de Jesús.

Ha escrito una docena de libros sobre la democracia y dictadura en la Venezuela del siglo XX, el colonialismo y la emancipación en Venezuela, el pensamiento político venezolano.

Sus principales intereses son la espiritualidad ignaciana, la solidaridad con los más vulnerables, la migración y los refugiados, la reconciliación y el diálogo, l’apostolado intelectual.

Un artículo sobre la situación en Venezuela después el golpe de Estado de 2002 publicado en La Civiltà Cattolica