By Thomas Massaro, S.J.
When I first attempted to learn a bit of Spanish in my late twenties, as I approached my priestly ordination and wished to prepare myself for at least occasionally celebrating mass for Spanish-speaking communities, one of the first words I encountered was “calvo.” Not surprising, is it! I was already by that time in my Jesuit seminary education rather prematurely bald, and luckily I maintained an amiable sense of humor about the good-natured kidding of my fellow students in that beginner program in Spanish language immersion. It may be unusual for a man quite as bald as I am to speak of the act of braiding hair, but I hope to employ that rich image to situate my central points in this address. Although nobody has ever attempted to introduce braids to my scalp (where could one even start?), I can readily appreciate the great skill involved in taking several individual tresses of hair or strands of other fibrous material and weaving together a beautiful and strong braid. A successful braid, whether of human hair or of fabric in a useful household item such as rope, or even in industrial material such as braided steel, is a great accomplishment of utility and creativity. And above all, each strand benefits from the relationship of proximity to its partners and neighbors. Something more than the sum of the parts emerges from the interweaving. The metaphor of braiding perfectly explains my method in this presentation.
The theological strands I hope to weave together today in this address are four in number:
First, select elements of Ignatian spirituality as it comes to us from the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius of Loyola and the five-hundred-year tradition of the Society of Jesus.
Second, the legacy of the Second Vatican Council, a truly pastoral ecumenical church council.
Third, the person of Pedro Arrupe, the outstanding Superior General of the Society of Jesus in the years following Vatican II.
Fourth, the papacy of Francis, especially his immensely important efforts at the renewal of a church re-energized for evangelization in ways that are effective, culturally sensitive, and oriented to the promotion of social justice.
There are, of course, additional strands of great importance in the task of understanding the agenda and approach of Pope Francis. Astute authors have already compiled entire libraries of books and articles documenting the profound theological, cultural and historical roots of his papal leadership. One thinks immediately of the distinctive thought and culture of the Latin American church, and specifically of his heritage as an Argentinian influenced by theology of
the people (teología del pueblo) and the larger continent-wide movement of liberation theology. Fortunately, later speakers at this international conference will bring their immense expertise in these areas to benefit all of us. You need not be very patient, as two of the most promising addresses follow mine immediately this afternoon. Allow me to limit my exercise in braiding to the weaving together of just these four strands already mentioned, which are plenty ambitious for a brief address. Again, they are: 1) Ignatian spirituality; 2) Vatican II; 3) Pedro Arrupe; and 4) Pope Francis himself. The central point I will be making is that these four realities cohere in remarkable ways, producing a splendid vision of church and discipleship that we so desperately need in our new millennium. Catholics today are truly fortunate to drink from the deep wells of life-giving water provided to us by Ignatius, by the Council Fathers at Vatican II, by “Servant of God” Pedro Arrupe and now by Pope Francis himself.
First, let us highlight those elements of Ignatian spirituality relevant to our understanding of Pope Francis and his priorities for the renewal of the church today. The first and perhaps most obvious ethical practice associated with the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius involves the discernment of spirits, and this aspect of Jesuit spirituality has certainly left its mark on Pope Francis, even though he has not lived in a Jesuit community or participated in ordinary Jesuit life since becoming a bishop in 1992. The value of responsible discernment is ingrained in us Jesuits in all that we do, personally and collectively. It is more than a matter of merely wise decision-making or even the practice of the exquisite prudence we prize in temporal affairs; true Ignatian discernment always includes ample reference to God as the primary author of all that exists, pointing always to the One Who draws us forward in mission.
When we are tempted to settle for what is comfortable or convenient, the Ignatian spiritual theme of the magis impels us forward to do more, to sacrifice further, to give without counting the cost, to cite the words of the Prayer for Generosity so popular in Ignatian circles. Mystic that he was, Saint Ignatius strove to respond without hesitation to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, and did his utmost to instruct his companions about what constitutes a truly authentic decision, or election as he refers to it. The proper course of action is the one that cooperates most fully with God’s grace, that advances the divine will for the world, and that “helps souls,” to cite a recurring phrase in the Jesuit Constitutions that Ignatius himself penned.
There is no room here for selfish concern, not even the subtle variety of self-centeredness captured by the word self-righteousness—when you are utterly persuaded that you know exactly what is right for another person. Both Ignatius and Pope Francis display an extreme aversion to forcing anything down the throat of a person who might be wavering between alternative courses of action. In typical and recurring displays of great pastoral sensitivity, each of these masters of discerning love takes account of human weakness, even if it opens them up to charges of laxity as they attempt to respect the Christian freedom of fellow travelers. As Francis insists, pastors seek to form consciences, not to replace or compel consciences. Likewise, Saint Ignatius encouraged open dialogue and scholarly disputations with Protestants in the era of Luther and Calvin. Francis is also a proponent of dialogue even when it raises eyebrows. Many objected to
his initiative in drafting and signing the “Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together,” a joint statement signed by Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb, Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, on 4 February 2019 during his visit to Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates.
As another example, the most prominent criticisms of Amoris Laetitia, the apostolic exhortation of Pope Francis on “Love in the Family,” center on pastoral wisdom he shares in the document’s eighth chapter, which bears the title “Accompanying, Discerning and Integrating Weakness” and which addresses the needs of families attempting to grapple with crises of commitment, utter breakdown, and resulting deep pastoral need. To his credit, Francis even here refuses to despair of the emblematic Jesuit quest for “finding God in all things,” even amidst the shattering of a family unit. With the heart of a pastor, Francis is eager to apply the medicine of mercy wherever possible, just as Ignatius so often included explicit allowance for special needs or extenuating circumstances in his spiritual writings and even in his guidance for the internal governance of the Jesuit order and its works. Two men, centuries apart chronologically, share a similar commitment to testing the spirits and making decisions on the basis of God’s ways, not one’s own preconceptions or desires. While neither is immune from occasional mis-steps, each aims to implement discerning love in ways that respect every creature of the Almighty.
We could treat innumerable further points of similarity between Ignatius and Francis, and more broadly between the tradition of Ignatian spirituality and the apostolic visions of the current pope. The remaining insight that I am most eager to share involves the congruence between the Ignatian theme of spiritual health and freedom, on one hand, and the concern for the material well-being of all people, on the other hand. Not many scholars of Jesuit sources highlight the great concern of Ignatius for the materially poor, so popular perceptions sometimes err in imagining the Founder of the Society of Jesus as somehow socially disengaged or even other-worldly in orientation—someone for whom this earth is perhaps a mere waiting room for the afterlife, thus diminishing the urgency of feeding the hungry and providing a secure existence for all. That is not the Ignatius I know, and I venture to say that Pope Francis would not recognize a socially indifferent Ignatius either. Ignatian spirituality lends itself precisely to inner-worldly involvements that echo the call of Jesus in Matthew 25 to care for the concrete physical needs of our hard-pressed neighbors. To downplay these concerns is to overlook how Ignatius approached people holistically, as amalgams of both body and soul, and how often Ignatius spoke of sharing all we have, both our spiritual gifts and the material resources that are gifts of God intended to support all people.
Perhaps the best witness to these concerns of Ignatius, even more eloquent than his actual words preserved in sixteenth-century documents, is the record of Jesuit efforts at addressing poverty and lifting up the marginalized over the past 500 years. It was no escapist spirituality that inspired Alberto Hurtado, one of the most recently canonized Jesuit saints, to start the Hogar de Christo movement to serve the desperate and homeless in Chile. We could easily cite many examples of Jesuits and their apostolates in countries around the world to amplify this point about the continuous concern for social justice on the part of those inspired by Ignatian
spirituality to make a material difference. Two who come to mind immediately are Father Horace McKenna meeting the dire needs of the poor for decades in this nation’s capital, and Father Rutilio Grande assisting the forgotten in farming villages such as Aguilares and El Paisnal in El Salvador, engaging in a bold apostolate which would lead to martyrdom, as it eventually did for his close friend Saint Oscar Romero. For every Jesuit conducting research in libraries or offering spiritual direction in retreat houses, there is another working on the front lines of the fight against poverty. Ignatian spirituality inspires the full range of these acts of service to church and world. All these efforts are important and all are Ignatian in inspiration and in substance.
The Ignatian vision is intent on discerning God’s presence in all of reality, and it does not avert its eyes from poverty, suffering and injustice. Rather, it supports the two types of efforts to assist the poor: first, the direct provision of material assistance in acts of charity, and second the indirect efforts of social justice advocacy that seek to change political and economic structures and thus to ameliorate the social conditions that harm so many of God’s children. Ignatius may have departed the scene before we spoke much of structural change, social justice or “the church of the poor,” but his spiritual progeny, including Pope Francis, have embraced the noble enterprise of lifting up the poor who are especially beloved to Jesus. And the more you know about Ignatius, the more you will appreciate the social justice dimensions of his spiritual and ecclesial vision. When we consider below the contributions of Pedro Arrupe, often considered the “second founder” of the Society of Jesus, it is easy to perceive in him the full flowering for our times of these aspects of the Ignatian vision. More on that point shortly.
But we cannot consider Arrupe without first taking up the second of our four topics to be braided together. Vatican II of course was the Church council that provided the context and opportunity for Arrupe to lead his Jesuit brothers forward along the path of social justice ministry. The changes wrought by Vatican II favoring a more activist spirituality opened a door through which Arrupe would lead the Society of Jesus to promote social transformation. As my friend and longtime colleague, the Jesuit church historian John O’Malley, is fond of saying, Vatican II is significant for its style as much as the substance of the groundbreaking documents it produced. Its eagerness to embrace the best of human culture rather than to condemn, its tendency to laud secular progress rather than to cast a suspicious eye upon human rights and freedoms, its openness to the rightful autonomy of secular spheres of life—all these qualities and others allowed the Catholic Church to rise from the defensive crouch it had assumed since at least the time of the French Revolution. The implications for the social mission of the church were profound indeed. Freed now to embrace its status as truly a world church, not just a European creation, it could at long last disavow colonialism and its many destructive legacies in warped political and economic systems that privilege a small elite and oppresses majority poor populations throughout the developing world.
The breakthrough document within my own field of expertise, Catholic social teaching, was of course Gaudium et Spes, the Pastoral Constitution of the Church in the Modern World, which was overwhelmingly approved by a vote of the Council fathers at the very end of the Council’s
final session in 1965. Even the document’s title signals a commitment to embrace all that is good about the modern world, rather than to disengage or retreat from it. The opening lines of that document issue a clarion call for social justice, as the church identifies herself in an unprecedented way with the poor and marginalized of the world. Much in synch with Ignatian spirituality, this pastoral constitution commits the church to renewed efforts to listen to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, including the aspirations of the poor and oppressed for a better life. Specifically mentioned in paragraph 9 of the document are the hopes of women, workers and ethnic minorities to advance in society. Later parts of that stirring document chart the way forward for a church dedicated to cultural sensitivity, social dialogue, peacemaking and the full range of constructive social engagements. No more ghetto Catholicism, no more disembodied, aloof, world-rejecting spirituality. Especially impressive is how Gaudium et Spes fits hand-in-glove with previous Vatican II documents that reformed the church’s practices in liturgy and mission activity, that revised its self-perception through adopting an updated ecclesiology, that deepened its understanding of theological sources such as Scripture and the patristic tradition, and at long last reevaluated its relationship to other faith communities and affirmed its appreciation of other religious traditions.
Later in this conference, we will be hearing much about the reception of the Second Vatican Council in Latin America, including the contribution of successive CELAM conferences (especially those at Medellín, Puebla and Aparecida). Along with the development of liberation theology, the achievements of these continent-wide episcopal conferences indicate that Latin America has surely now become a “source church” leading global Catholicism in increasingly prominent ways in recent decades. For now, we transition to the third strand of this account, the contribution of Pedro Arrupe, the Basque Jesuit who served as Superior General of the Society of Jesus from 1965 to 1983. Arrupe attended both the final session of Vatican II and the Medellin conference, drawing inspiration from each great gathering of church leaders as he set the course for the Jesuit order he was entrusted to lead. His active participation in both assemblies amplified the global vision he had already acquired; although born in Spain and educated in Europe and North America, Arrupe had served for decades as a missionary in Japan, where Christians are a tiny, often persecuted minority. There he had endured imprisonment as a suspected spy, including many weeks in solitary confinement during World War II; he even survived the atomic blast at Hiroshima while overseeing the Jesuit novitiate in the suburbs of that city when it was brutally struck on August 6, 1945. Everything about the biography of Arrupe testifies to a remarkable boldness of vision grounded on a mystical closeness to God which he maintained even through the debilitating stroke he suffered in 1981 and right up to his death in 1991. These are the qualities supporting the cause for his canonization, which was formally introduced in Rome on February 5, 2019.
We could spend hours recounting the great spiritual and apostolic achievements of Pedro Arrupe. In order to illustrate his contributions to social justice ministry, grounded so thoroughly in Ignatian spirituality, I will cite just a few of his many initiatives. To start with a modest one
internal to Jesuit governance, Father Arrupe helped establish an annual collection to provide resources for pressing needs that Jesuits encounter in their global work. During the season of Lent, every Jesuit is asked to make a free-will contribution to FACSI, the acronym for the Latin phrase signifying the charitable and apostolic fund, administered by Father General himself. Although the funds raised from a few thousand men who practice the vow of poverty are quite limited, the collection and distribution of this money gives each of us a stake in the struggles for justice unfolding within the communities served by our brother Jesuits. The fund is a concrete way of living out the commitments that were articulated in the Thirty-second General Congregation (or GC 32), a worldwide meeting of Jesuit delegates that met in Rome over several months in 1974 and 1975 to deliberate on the core identity and ministerial engagements of the Society of Jesus. Most such congregations convene primarily upon the death of a Superior General to elect a new leader, but this momentous one was initiated by Pedro Arrupe while he was still very much alive and intending to serve many more years in office! Because the deliberations and overall agenda reflected his desire to rededicate the Society to the justice dimensions of our faith, the event is often called “Arrupe’s Congregation.” The sixteen final Decrees of GC 32 constitute a clarion call to orient the works of Jesuits around the world to “the service of faith and the promotion of justice.” That phrase forms the title of Decree Four, the longest document and the one that describes the Jesuit mission today. The signature motif of social justice is repeatedly recognized in these documents as an integral element and requirement of the gospel of Jesus Christ—not just for Jesuits, but for all who profess Christ.
When I entered the Jesuit novitiate in Boston in 1983, Arrupe was still alive but had already resigned for health reasons, soon to be succeeded by Peter-Hans Kolvenbach. I distinctly recall how all we novices were issued a stack of books that contained the collected essays and important addresses of Arrupe, and which served as the basis for countless hours of study and discussion. Besides being inspired by this man’s commitment to social justice, which I have done my best to emulate in my own professional career as a scholar of Catholic social teaching, I was also very impressed by how strategic and downright clever Arrupe instinctively was. He knew well that it is not enough to adopt a formal commitment to principles such as the promotion of justice or the option for the poor. If you really want to change the world, you must discover and develop realistic and effective means to accomplish your goals, to forge concrete plans and provide resources to keep the momentum going. The questions that sparked his imagination were often “how” questions. He would ask: with diminishing numbers of Jesuits available for ministry these days, how may we accomplish the mission by tapping new energies found throughout the people of God? His habitual shorthand expression for this quest, endearing though not quite grammatical, was: How to do? How to do?
Arrupe demonstrated a deep appreciation, to cite just one example, for the “multiplier effect.” Even a small pebble, if dropped strategically at the center of a still pond, can produce surprisingly strong ripples. Similarly, Arrupe followed his hunch that we could accomplish more together if we widened the circle of contributors. It is thus no coincidence that during his years as
General, Jesuit provinces and apostolates around the world became more deliberate about sharing Ignatian spirituality with ever-expanding groups of people—alumni of Jesuit schools, colleagues in institutions where Jesuits serve, people of all ages who step up to volunteer in pastoral and apostolic programs that amplify the initiatives that Jesuits may sponsor but cannot fully staff. After all, you need not be a vowed member of a religious order to accomplish great things for the Kingdom, and do so in a distinctive Ignatian rhythm. As a Jesuit, I can think of nothing dearer to me than my lay partners in mission. Arrupe’s creativity in investing in the Ignatian formation of our colleagues opened up numerous new opportunities around the world. Today, we witness a proliferation of programs that take full advantage of the multiplier effect—from Jesuit Volunteer Corps to Ignatian programs for young and mid-career professionals and even for retired associates who pray together and volunteer their skills to accomplish social justice goals. A new model has emerged of Jesuits as animators of apostolates which depend upon the energy and expertise of so many collaborators. An especially creative umbrella organization serving these purposes is the Ignatian Solidarity Network, which engages in witness, education and advocacy specifically for social justice, and includes people of all ages.
All these initiatives multiply our partners and increase the reach of Ignatian spirituality in a world so deeply in need of inspiration. While this model of outreach is not entirely new, and of course cannot be attributed to Arrupe alone, I believe that Father Pedro is right now looking approvingly down from heaven upon every creative strategy we develop for extending the Ignatian charism in ways he encouraged and inspired. I further believe that he planted many such seeds with his famous address to alumni of Jesuit schools, delivered in Valencia, Spain on the feast of Saint Ignatius in 1973. There he challenged his listeners to be “men and women for others” and implicitly rededicated all Jesuit schools to the noble task of education for justice. May our partners continue to multiply, may the influence of Ignatian spirituality continue to expand like ripples on a pond.
Beyond the educational sector, Arrupe effected an enormous change with a November 1980 letter in which he announced the launch of the Jesuit Refugee Service, with its three-fold approach of accompaniment, service, and advocacy for some of the most vulnerable people on earth. In 2018, according to its annual report, JRS served nearly 678 thousand people in 56 nations, including front-line countries (with many internally displaced persons), transit countries (often hosting large refugee camps), and receiving countries like the US (where the largest need is for resettlement assistance and sponsorship resources for displaced families). I cannot think of any work more important than serving, accompanying and advocating for this share of the 68 million refugees who seek assistance in their moment of greatest vulnerability in these xenophobic times. Sadly, despite “punching above its weight” in impressive ways decade after decade now, JRS has the capacity to reach only one percent of the total global population of displaced persons. Nowadays, JRS is especially dedicated to providing educational resources (so those in refugee camps can continue to learn, at any age) and psycho-social services, since the mental health needs of traumatized refugees are so often tragically falling through the cracks.
The “advocacy” leg of the triangle finds JRS personnel lobbying legislatures around the world for better funded refugee resettlement programs and more rational and predictable asylum systems, as people flee for their lives from violence and severe human rights violations.
We hardly need to leave behind anything about Arrupe as we turn to the fourth and final strand to be woven together in our Ignatian braid: the current papal ministry of Francis. One unmistakable feature of the discourse of the pope is how frequently he invokes such phrases as the culture of inclusion, the culture of encounter, the culture of accompaniment and the culture of dialogue. Commentators have criticized him for employing a verbal tic of sorts, but I would contend that it is more than a tic, it is a veritable echo—a repetition in just slightly different words of many of the themes and values espoused by Pedro Arrupe, Inclusion, encounter, accompaniment, dialogue–we could add a few further ones such as mercy and tenderness—were also affirmed by Vatican II and have been supported by Ignatian spirituality for hundreds of years now. Our Ignatian braid is a tight one indeed!
Since Francis burst on the global scene upon his election, observers of all stripes have been trying to figure out exactly what makes him tick–what drives his energies and what accounts for his social and pastoral priorities? As with many riddles, the answer may be hiding within plain sight. By his own admission in interviews and writings, nothing influences Francis more profoundly than his Jesuit background and spirituality. Sure, he appreciates Franciscan spirituality, but his true spiritual DNA is thoroughly Ignatian. How could it be otherwise? To paraphrase the title Gustavo Gutierrez chose for his book on the distinctive spirituality associated with Latin America and its rich spiritual cultures, Francis “drinks from his own well.” The Ignatian spirituality he imbibed as a young Jesuit continues to exert strong influence within Francis as a source and resource.
Other presenters at this conference will surely spell out in considerable detail the significance of many papal initiatives and decisions of Francis. I have time merely to note a coincidence, which turns out to be no mere coincidence at all when we consider the perduring influence of Ignatian spirituality on the pontiff. On February 19, 2019, Arturo Sosa, the Columbian Jesuit who had joined the line of successors of Arrupe as Superior General, promulgated a letter announcing four apostolic preferences of the Society of Jesus for the coming decade. Coming at the culmination of a sixteen-month process of broad consultation, these preferences of course do not displace or exclude other legitimate Jesuit priorities, but they do provide renewed focus for Jesuit efforts worldwide. The four are: 1) To show the way to God through the Spiritual Exercises and discernment; 2) To walk with the poor, the outcasts of the world, those whose dignity has been violated, in a mission of reconciliation and justice; 3) To accompany young people in the creation of a hope-filled future; and 4) To collaborate in the care for our Common Home.
I hardly need mention how closely these Jesuit preferences match the initiatives of Pope Francis. He repeatedly emphasizes the first item regarding spiritual renewal and discernment, as when he displays his profound pastoral concern for families in crisis in Amoris Laetitia. The second item,
regarding accompanying victims in our world of injustice, matches closely the concern of Francis for refugees and other poor people, a social concern captured well by his insistence that nobody be treated as descartables, people worthy for nothing but to be thrown away and discarded. The third item regarding youth will bring a knowing smile to the face of anyone who has witnessed the delight Francis displays when in the company of youth, such as at World Days of Youth, or anyone who has read his beautiful apostolic exhortation Christus Vivit that captured so splendidly the spirit of the Synod on Youth over which Francis enthusiastically presided in 2018. The fourth Jesuit preference item contains the very subtitle of Francis’s ecological encyclical Laudato Si’ which has inspired renewed faith-based environmental awareness and activism throughout the world.
It is quite enough to establish that Francis and the Society of Jesus are on the same page. It is of no consequence to speculate on who got on that page first. Interestingly, Father Sosa kindly released the Spanish text of a letter he received from Pope Francis two weeks before the public announcement of the four preferences, thanking Sosa for graciously sharing the content of the forthcoming announcement a full month before the rollout. So Francis knew in advance what was coming from the Jesuit headquarters and approved fully. But that set of facts does not address the question of to what extent the Jesuit leadership borrowed ideas from Francis, or whether perhaps the pope has been borrowing all along from the leadership of the Society of Jesus. In the end, it is hardly an either/or proposition when two such parties are drinking deeply from the same rich Ignatian well, replete with the influence of Arrupe whom both Francis and Sosa frequently cite and so evidently admire.
If I were to add a final word, a word that Francis would surely approve, that word would be “relax.” Just as Jesus came proclaiming that his yoke is easy and his burden light (see Matthew 11:30), we who aspire to follow the path pioneered by the likes of Ignatius Loyola and Pedro Arrupe should not feel pressured to “do it all,” that is, to exceed the natural limits of our physical and mental energies. One key theme of Ignatian spirituality is self-knowledge, and knowing that we are not God is a wonderful grace, if you are open to receiving it. If you are already a busy person, as we all seem to be in this frenetic digital age, the proper goal is to focus your efforts and establish strong spiritual priorities. We should all aspire to become truly “contemplatives in action”—people with Christ at our center—Christocentric rather than egocentric. Rather than doing simply more things, employ prudence so as to do a few of the most important things more deliberately and reflectively, in light of God’s calling. That is why I love the fact that the four apostolic preferences mentioned above come with a reminder that they should not function as a checklist or action plan consisting of additional things to be done, by Jesuits or anyone else for that matter. The four preferences provide, rather, a path to spiritual renewal and potentially greater social justice orientation. There is a parallel here to what Arrupe accomplished in challenging Jesuit schools to emphasize more deeply than before education for justice. The reforms called for did not consist of adding new material to crowding existing curricula, but rather it constituted a challenge to highlight the justice dimension that has come to infuse all our
schools as allies in the struggle for justice. I join Arrupe (and Francis and Ignatius for that matter) in contending that you can undergo substantial reorientation in a way that will not drive you crazy, but rather in a way that brings you closer to God in a spiritual style that is relaxed and effective at the same time. Our aspirations for justice may never be completely fulfilled in this life, but we surely find inspiration in our forebears such as Ignatius, Arrupe and now Pope Francis.
I hope that the braiding of these four elements (Ignatius, Vatican II, Arrupe and Francis) has shed light not merely on each of them individually, but also on their inter-relation. Each gains much currency from its juxtaposition to the others, and we all benefit from how they have worked together to inspire social justice efforts under th