The Black Pope – Part One

1. A few weeks after the opening of the Holy Door, I would like to recall that the Great Jubilee of 2000, like every jubilee, is a summons on the part of our Creator and Saviour to re-establish lost harmony and to advance in social justice. The loud trumpet – the yôbel – which sounded to open the holy year, called every injustice into question and gave hope to the poor! When Jesus begins to preach the good news, his anointing and mission are ‘to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’ Now Pope John Paul II has reactivated the age-old purpose of the jubilee to restore this social justice. ‘The social doctrine of the Church, which has always been a part of Church teaching and which has developed greatly in the last century, particularly after the Encyclical Rerum Novarum, is rooted in the tradition of the jubilee year.’

2. To be converted to this social dimension of faith, which pervades the biblical tradition and the Gospels, the Father also calls the Society of Jesus anew. From its very earliest origins, the preferential option for the poor, assuming various forms according to times and places, has marked the whole history of the Society. With his powerful Instruction of fifty years ago, Father Jean-Baptiste Janssens oriented the Jesuit social apostolate ‘to procure for as many men as possible, or rather, in so far as conditions permit for all men, an abundance of both temporal and spiritual goods even in the natural order, or at least that sufficiency which man of his very nature needs that he may not feel depressed or looked down upon.’

Father Pedro Arrupe took up this apostolic orientation passionately and based it solidly upon the thoroughly evangelical relationship between social justice, as well defined by his predecessor, and the new commandment of love – so new as to need a new word, namely, agape. A social justice integrated with the great commandment of love is always intended by the General Congregations. ‘The social justice we are called to is part of that justice of the Gospel which is the embodiment of God’s love and saving mercy.’

Pope John Paul II, also asking if justice sufficed by itself, gave this response: ‘The experience of the past and of our own time demonstrates that justice alone is not enough, that it can even lead to the negation and destruction of itself, if that deeper power, which is love, is not allowed to shape human life in its various dimensions.’ Father Arrupe and the recent General Congregations, echoing the Holy Father’s concern, acknowledge, on the one hand, how charity can be abused when it is a mere cloak or subterfuge for injustice but that, on the other hand, ‘one cannot act justly without love. Even when we resist injustice we cannot prescind from love, since the universality of love is, by the express desire of Christ, a commandment that admits of no exceptions.’

3. Authoritatively synthesising the progress of the four General Congregations after Vatican II, the Complementary Norms affirm: ‘the contemporary Jesuit mission is the service of faith and the promotion in society of that justice of the Gospel which is the embodiment of God’s love and saving mercy … This mission is ‘a single but complex reality, which develops in a variety of ways’’ in the very varied fields and works and activities in which Jesuits are engaged throughout the world. Despite the considerable difficulties and our many failures, we look back with gratitude to the Lord for the gifts received on this ‘journey of faith as we committed ourselves to the promotion of justice as an integral part of our mission.’ The Society has evolved to the point where GC34 voted unanimously in favour of the decree Our Mission and Justice, and the vast majority of Jesuits have integrated the social dimension into our Jesuit identity and into the awareness of our mission in education, formation and social communications, in pastoral and retreat work. In many places the concern for justice is an essential part of our public image in both Church and society, thanks to those ministries of ours which are characterised by love for the poor and the marginalised, defending human rights and ecology, and promoting non-violence and reconciliation.

4. Directly out of this contemporary mission with its integrating principle of faith and justice comes the social apostolate and its specific focus, as the Complementary Norms explain. ‘The social apostolate, like every form of our apostolate, flows from the mission; in the planning of our apostolic activities, in fulfilling today’s mission of the Society in the service of faith, it should take its place among those having priority. Its goal is to build a fuller expression of justice and charity into the structures of human life in common.’ In each Province and Assistancy, this social apostolate incarnates the social dimension of our mission, concretely embodies it in real commitments and renders it visible. In different places and in varying circumstances, the social apostolate takes multiple forms: social research and publications, advocacy and human development, and direct social action with and for the poor.

The Jesuit social apostolate today exhibits some noteworthy positive elements. Above all, it faces very different challenges in all corners of the world with dedication, energy and creativity. There are countless examples of Jesuits involved, collaborating with others, in projects and movements to bring greater justice and charity to society. Moreover, the social apostolate keeps showing the capacity to attract gifted and generous co-workers, as well as candidates to the Society. As if to confirm the mission of faith and justice, God has providentially granted the Society the mysterious gift of martyrdom in recent years.

4. At the same time and paradoxically, this awareness of the social dimension of our mission does not always find concrete expression in a vital social apostolate. On the contrary, the latter manifests some troubling weaknesses: There seem to be ever fewer Jesuits available and less prepared for the social apostolate, while those already in the field are sometimes discouraged and scattered, somehow lacking in collaboration and organisation. Factors external to the Society are also weakening the social apostolate: The times are marked by unforeseeable and very rapid socio-cultural changes, not easy to read and even harder to respond to effectively (e.g., globalisation, the excesses of the market economy, drug traffic and corruption, mass migration, ecological degradation, outbreaks of brutal violence). Formerly-inspiring visions of society and broad strategies for structural change have ceded to scepticism or a preference, at best, for more modest projects and restricted approaches.

5. Thus the social apostolate risks losing its vigour and momentum, its orientation and impact. Were this to happen in a given Province or Assistancy, then for lack of a vital and well-organised social apostolate, the essential social dimension would also probably fade away bit by bit. Such a process of erosion would inevitably reduce Our mission today (GC32) and Our mission and justice (GC34) to a few obligatory but rhetorical phrases in the discourse of the Society, leaving our option for the poor and our promotion of justice hollowed out.

May we not find ourselves ever less capable of being present – or even of hearing the call to go – ‘wherever in the Church, even in the most difficult and extreme fields, in the crossroads of ideologies, in the front line of social conflict, there has been and there is confrontation between the deepest desires of man and the perennial message of the Gospel,’ in the ringing words of Pope Paul VI addressing the delegates of GC32 and of Pope John Paul II addressing those of GC34.

6. So it seems of vital importance to keep striving to translate our social awareness, identity and image into effective, evangelically meaningful service to the poorest and most suffering of God’s people. It is a matter of continually re-discovering and re-discerning – in situ – the demands and challenges which the recent General Congregations pose to our social action in today’s societies, cultures and religions. In “the dialogue of action,” for example, we are to collaborate with others, rooted in their own religious traditions, for the integral development and liberation of peopl

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.