The Social Justice and Ecology Secretariat of the Jesuit Curia in Rome


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From the perspective of the Society of Jesus[1]

Patxi Alvarez SJ


I would like to begin by thanking you for the invitation to take part in this meeting. Ildefonso Camacho has asked me to share some of my thoughts on the faith-justice mission, especially on its obstacles from the point of view of the Society of Jesus. The allotted time of one hour has meant a certain thoroughness that I did not originally intend. I only hope this moment of sharing will help all of us to reflect together and that our subsequent dialogue will enrich and qualify what I have to say to you.

  I begin by quoting from an article published some months ago in the review Promotio Iustitiae for this year. “Thirty years is a sufficient time for a body of men who presumably take life seriously and are sincere (as is the case with Jesuits) to gauge if such a strong decision with such grave consequences as that undertaken by GC 32 has been internalised and really put into practice in our own times.”[2] A little further on, the author concludes:


there are sufficient grounds for affirming with complete objectivity that the Society of Jesus is not being faithful to the mission to which it committed itself in GC 32, and which was then confirmed in GC 33 and 34. Clearly, in the last forty years there have been Jesuits who, to defend justice, human rights and the cause of the poor, have renounced their own interests, their security, their dignity and even their own lives. But it has been specific, individual Jesuits who have done this. The Society as a whole has not.


The text is signed by José María Castillo who has a long knowledge of the Society and is, in addition, an acute observer of reality. His statement is emphatic, clear and admits of no qualifications. But this is a position that I do not share, nor do many other Jesuit companions, because there is evidence to think differently, but also possibly because of my personal disposition and character. I do not believe that the Society is not being faithful to the mission it adopted in GC 32 because there are always degrees in real life. To my way of seeing, faithfulness does exist, as does also a sincere and mature desire for greater commitment. It is another question whether we have identified this option and put it into practice to its farthest limits. The reply here might be different according to each one’s expectations, and these do normally affect our judgements. In any case, my starting point is a much more positive evaluation of our real commitment to the faith-justice mission. I am convinced this mission has transformed – even if only in part – the Society, our dreams and illusions, our hopes, our options, our spirituality and theology, including the awareness of our own sinfulness. The Society of today has little in common with that of thirty years ago. And in the change experienced over these years, the faith-justice option has left an indelible mark for good.

  Why do I begin on this note? Because I have been asked to speak of the obstacles to this mission, and if we only note the difficulties, we will conclude the morning with the impression that the present is very black and the future overshadowed with clouds. The clouds are there, they do exist, but the lights are also very many. In fact, I am one of those who sincerely believes that, as GC 34 puts it, this mission has been a wonderful gift from God because it has placed us in the good company of the Lord and of so many of his friends among the poor and all those committed to justice.[3] If everything had been bad, very bad, then this gift of God would have been a poisoned gift, a stumbling block, a source of confusion and despair. But this is not the case; it has not been like this.

  In this sense, the view I am presenting is in no way complete, but rather, because of the instructions given to me, I emphasize only the negative points and deliberately pass over the many positive ones. I ask pardon at the outset if this causes offence to anyone. I speak sincerely on a topic in which my judgement could well be at fault.

  After this brief introduction, I pass on to consider the obstacles to this faith-justice mission from the point of view of the Society of Jesus. I have grouped them in six different areas: structural obstacles, understanding the pairing faith-justice, obstacles arising from our formation, obstacles rooted in our apostolic practices, obstacles linked more to our spirituality and, finally, obstacles that come from the period of the Church in which we are living.

  A warning: there is much criticism in what follows. I understand it as an exercise in self-criticism – that is, for my part I do it from within, which allows me to be more blunt – and this would only be meaningful if it helps us look at ourselves with greater realism, to feel more deeply that we are members of this humble (minima) Society, and therefore a Society which is closer, and more on the same footing as the least, the most human and reconciled. I feel I have been asked to do an exercise of the First Week. As can happen in that week, we may lose ourselves if, led on by the desire of perfectionism, we look only at our own limitations and split ever finer hairs, rather than letting ourselves be led along these paths by the loving hand of God. The first way leads to despair. The second allows us to continue asking ourselves – after self-examination and an inner peace and challenge – what we are going to do for Christ.

  In what follows, I shall limit myself to the Society in Spain which is the only one I know, and even that not too much. I understand that a lot of what I say may be quite differently experienced in other places.



1 Difficulties from History and the common life style in the Society


Some of the obstacles to our faith-justice mission come from our history and common life style, and it is to these that I refer in the following sections.


a. From history[4]


Decree 4 of GC 32 (1975) can only be explained in the light of activities and changes in the Society during the preceding years. By then it had already undergone many changes in the process of adapting to new times. The awareness of social issues had grown slowly during the 70s, encouraged both by the social and cultural modernization process taking place in the Spanish state, and by the influence of Vatican II. It is during these years that the Workers’ Mission began to be recognised as a legitimate expression of the Society’s social awareness. In 1969 teams from the Workers’ Mission appeared for the first time in the catalogues and so received an official recognition of their existence. The existence of a social awareness concerned especially with working class rights was already a fact. There was also a growing concern for national minorities, equally excluded during the dictatorship. In this period the poor were identified with workers and national minorities.

  Formation experienced the force of these changes and the crises that accompanied them with greater violence than any other sector. They were times of a huge bloodletting among the younger generation, to the extent that in one year alone – 1968 – after the dismissal of eight scholastics in the “conflict of Loyola,” 35 students, left through frustration and disillusionment with the Society, having lost the determination to run the race.

  In addition, from 1969 onwards there came into being a counter-reformist movement, which became public and turned into a formal proposal for separation. This is when a group of professed drew up an “account of the harms” done to the Body of the Society. In January of the same year and after a Congress on the Exercises which took place in Loyola, they mentioned the following complaints among others: Jesuits directors of workers’ associations use patently Marxist language and incite to revolution; Jesuit directors of Sodalities of Our Lady create a political and Marxist climate and outlook; spiritual guidance in the schools has been reduced to a minimum; Jesuit journals generate confusion and their editors refuse articles calling for faithfulness to the Church hierarchy; the role of the Roman Pontiff, as well as Humanae Vitae, is played down, without superiors forbidding public declarations on such issues.

  This “True Society” had many close contacts with the hierarchy and was encouraged in the Vatican Curia as a movement of censure against the changes in the Society. The target of their accusations was Father Arrupe. They were convinced that under him the Society was betraying its nature. Priests should devote themselves to spiritual and not social tasks, which are for the laity.

  The crisis and division within the Society were undeniable facts, arising from huge differences in outlook. And the social question – the struggle for justice we might say – was at the centre of the conflict. The cost was to be very high, especially in the Workers’ Mission itself. The clearest example is that of the Loyola Province. While in 1969 it accounted for 38% of the Jesuits assigned to the Workers’ Mission, the emptying later was almost complete through numerous departures. Unlike in other Provinces, there remained only a few survivors.

  When decree 4 of GC 32 appeared in 1975, the largest number of departures had already taken place; precautionary measures for those dedicated to social ministries were widespread and the government of the Society had to face the suspicions of successive Popes about political indoctrination in the Society and the interference of priests in secular areas that did not concern them. The following years would be times for the prudence which has characterised so well the generalate of Father Kolvenbach.

  Later, other social and cultural changes, and those at a Church level – which I won’t treat here – explain the greater emptying that took place in the Social Apostolate, the sector that suffered the highest departure rate. Those Jesuits who remained were still viewed with suspicion: they don’t pray sufficiently, they don’t take on pastoral work, don’t take care of piety in their life and their religious communities do not live, as they should, a genuine religious life, which is always at risk.

  So Decree 4 can be understood in some way as a posthumous victory. The battles which took place over the questions it treats had already led to the departure of many Jesuits and suspicion directed at the social ministries. This weakening of the Social Apostolate from the outset inevitably affected the faith-justice mission we try to follow today because it was through the Social Apostolate that this ‘newness’ of our charism accepted by GC 32 would be strongly lived out.


b. Jesuit models existing in the Society


It would not be hard to track the triumphalist tradition we belong to and which possibly comes from the earliest days of the Society: the massive vocations it obtained, its rapid presence in the evangelisation of almost all the continents, its spiritual guidance of princes and kings, its outstanding training, its position as guardian of orthodoxy and its numerous saints are some examples of success the Society can point to.

  This same glorious tradition was taken up by the restored Society and lasts until our day. The Jesuit is a man who makes a mark, who has an impact, who innovates. The Society wants to be recognised and be relevant. In our days when so many Jesuits (including myself) have been trained to a religious life that is liberal and effective, this translates into the determination to forge a career that seduces many and the desire to be the best in some field of social or church life. The models proposed and offered as examples are directed towards Jesuits who succeed. There is a wish to emulate them through long studies in the best universities on the planet with gilded doctorates. In general, a Jesuit works, takes life seriously, dedicates himself and seeks recognition. Even judging the suitability of a scholastic can be based on these criteria. It is recounted that not so long ago, when a Jesuit in formation left, his Superior said in public: “We have got rid of a true mule,” referring to his poor intellectual potential. It is very sad to see someone’s religious life valued more for its intellectual capacity than its spiritual or human qualities.

  To my way of thinking, this model based on success and efficiency which affects all our apostolic activity whatever sector we take, has had two consequences for the faith-justice option we can identify.

  The first consists in the fact that Jesuits tend generally to take on this mission in a very voluntaristic manner. Jesuits tend to be Pelagians. They believe God acts in the world – something they know well from theology and the contemplation to obtain love – but basically through secondary causes, and, more concretely, through our own hands. We are great workers, but we take things with little sportsmanship. The social apostolate, close to the poor, and for that reason needing fiesta, hope, celebration and faith, has been on the contrary very serious, very militant. I quote the farsighted words of Carlos Cabarrús which have a tone of confession:


Those of us who live in these latitudes have seen in the not too distant past many of our dreams dashed: projects have collapsed, visions have been frustrated, many people have been lost – from among the best of them – on the altars of all those utopias we wanted to bring about. We made errors in much of our analysis, which we believed correct. We have to admit it was closed, based often, not on scientific data, but on mere wishful thinking. In many situations we demonized those who ‘were not with us’; and in the same way we also idealized the people, we ideologised them, we also set aside sinners as the main recipients of the message of Jesus and the Kingdom. All this led us to generate a spirituality concentrated only on this: to change structures, but neglecting the complicated personal task of changing the human heart. In some way we relived a certain pelagianism: we overcame everything with our will, with organization, with strength. We didn’t admit any autonomous areas between faith and justice; we lived an apparent synthesis between these two elements as something to be conquered rather than something to be received and celebrated. In all this we forgot the fiesta, joy, knowing how to relax. We created a spartan mood which tended to burn us out; we didn’t allow vital space for serious and personal prayer. In practice we forgot discernment; we didn’t learn to take care of our personal life, we never took up the task of learning how to live in a caravan. And we didn’t always carry out the exercise of discovering our mistakes and lies.[5]


In a word, the faith-justice mission pre-supposes a joyous dimension of celebration and “waste of time” for which we are not prepared.

  In fact, many of the most socially active Jesuits went their own way and did their own thing. They drank from the same individualistic sources as all of us in a religious life geared to efficiency and liberalism. In many cases they did not set up institutions that other Jesuits could easily join. On the contrary, they were counted among the charismatics whom nobody knows how to control well and whose superiors were happy as long as they did not get involved in problems that affected them. Basically they did what they wanted and their impact within the Society was small. Many of them ended up without successors. Their work was praiseworthy, but their spirit of belonging to a body was hardly important. In this sense, community was absent, as in so many other sectors. But perhaps in the social apostolate it was more necessary than in any other. In fact, the most relevant social apostolates in Spain today are those where a community of Jesuits supported them and the Jesuits who took part in them are today counted as those companions having the deepest spirituality.

  The second consequence arises from the fact that the social apostolate is not very attractive for building a career. The poor, because they are poor, are not relevant, don’t become well-known, don’t appear in the media. A social apostolate which basically seeks to identify with them meets the same reality: among the poor irrelevance is our lot. This is of little concern to an “authentic Jesuit.” So often, those who achieved greater social recognition in these apostolates have been those who – in the words of a companion with many years in Central America – played “Father Christmas” and hoped to buy their nearness to the poor with the gifts of their benefactors. These also were building a career at the expense of the poor... and in the meantime the gifts continue to arrive. Paradoxically, several Jesuits elected by their Provinces to take part in General Congregations have been involved in the Social Apostolate; this is, in all likelihood, a recognition of their deep spirituality forged during their involvement in ‘irrelevant’ and ‘unsuccessful’ apostolic activities.

  I sincerely believe this underlying model of a Jesuit, which we have all absorbed in our formation and perhaps even more once in the Society, makes the Social Apostolate not altogether attractive since it receives little recognition. Is it not partly due to this that few young vocations seek to be assigned to this apostolate?


c. Physical separation from the poor


What to say about our communities? Most of them are retreats facilitating an ordered religious life. In fact, since we are not conventuals, the houses become rest-houses for the warrior, setting up a distance from the ordinary life of the people. Frequently situated physically at an elevation, above our works, they allow us to view everything from above, a valuable observation point which runs the enormous risk of separation and absence of contact. We believe we know it all, but there are many Jesuits who do not know (beyond their own families ands friends) how ordinary people live, let alone simple people and still less, the poor. We don’t know their worries, their fears, their ways of thinking. Thus it is that we are able to complain about shortages in our community, the food we get, and a thousand other things that would not occur to us if we lived a different life style.

  The faith-justice option needs this contact with simple people, with the marginalised which our communities make difficult or prevent because of the way they are structured. I personally believe this way of life is one of the things that has most affected our awareness, our dispositions.

  So it happens that whenever we speak in our communities of the vow of poverty, there are those who don’t understand that it goes much farther than a prudent austerity and that it necessarily requires a solidarity with the poor so that it can be seen as liberating poverty. Our poverty is blessed when it contains a thirst for justice, changes into pity, works for peace and so brings joy to those who weep and suffer. If not, it remains mere self-control and personal devotion, doubtless praiseworthy but disconnected from the mission of Jesus who, curiously enough, was held to be a glutton and a drunkard.

  This distance from, and ignorance of, the poor, the lack of friends from among them, strikes me as an insuperable obstacle to advancing as a body in the faith-justice option. There are no studies or Spiritual Exercises which can substitute for this experience so blocked by our communities.


d. The difficulty of taking on the institutional costs of the faith-justice mission


To opt for the poor, to defend the marginalised, the irrelevant, in a world which oppresses and exploits them is to expose oneself to losing what one has. We are rich in many ways. And if this is not so clear at a personal level, it is at an institutional one. The Society possesses large works, well-endowed, prestigious and of quality. I believe we are not disposed to lose any of them for just causes. We are more apt to be prudent. We don’t gamble much in our bets. We share the logic of our world and know how to profit from it. But it is this same logic that excludes many human beings. There is a certain incompatibility we don’t like seeing and always try to overlook. At times we justify the existence of certain works with the argument that they give visibility to the Society and the Church without noticing that more important than being visible are the sort of things by which we are identified. Without doubt that causes enormous problems for the faith-justice mission, because it is no longer a question of how more or how less we promote it but rather one of not even living it fully. This upsets us. For it has its costs.

  I must confess I enjoy hearing Jon Sobrino say from time to time that Ignacio Ellacuría never worked for the UCA, but for the poor through the UCA. This is to take the Kingdom seriously, to work for the magis, and not excellence as it is usually understood, which tends to be a way of seeking prestige and a good name in the same way as those who don’t claim to be Christians. Hopefully we will have many men like Ignacio Ellacuría.


2 Difficulties in understanding the formula faith-justice


I think we have tended to consider the faith-justice formula as the juxtaposition of two different things. On one side faith, and on the other, justice. In addition, we have understood faith as belonging to a higher reality. And justice as something like a result subordinated to it. Furthermore, we know faith well, we can read and study it, it can be understood, it is taught in the faculties. Justice... is more complicated, needs analysis, leads to much discussion and different opinions... Justice is something different. To faith the majority of Jesuits should be commissioned. To justice... also all, but in practice just a few. Better that these few take up the commission for all. In this way the formula leads us to an exaggerated concern for faith and a negligible one for justice. Thus both lose out because each should enrich the other with its content. It is better to say, as the Society claims today, that they are both inseparable.

  In my opinion, this way of understanding things has been, and still is very common. It does enormous harm. To dissociate faith and justice is to separate Christ from his Kingdom, the problem of unbelief from its corollary of injustice, the priestly from the lay... Today it is surprising to hear again from the mouth of our companions that the real problem is unbelief. As if unbelief in itself is the whole explanation, as if we didn’t know it is linked with the lack of care in a society of abundance, its forgetfulness of the suffering of other peoples, the deadening of its conscience – which is what would allow it to hear God’s cry. Unbelief is linked to injustice and vice versa. This is precisely the great discovery of the Society in recent years. Father Arrupe already invited us to question both a spiritual life that produced no fruits of justice and an apostolic life that transmitted no spiritual experience. In every apostolate he used to say the two things must be integrated, the service of faith and the promotion of justice.[6]

  I borrow from Aloysius Pieris a small outline[7]: we tend to think that there exists a higher order of the supernatural, a gift of God, which we can access through contemplation, allowing us to receive the faith, and finally, salvation. At the same time there exists, we think, another lower order of the natural, of human effort, a sphere open to human action where one can work for justice and perhaps achieve liberation. Perhaps all our tradition from Chalcedon and our neo-platonic inheritance weighs upon us to consider things in this way, so that it doesn’t coincide with the more Jewish tradition, present in the Gospels, especially in the synoptics.

  And yet, the faith-justice mission connects better with other Christian traditions which have emphasised the transcendency of grace in the midst of what is human, the value of contemplation in action, the mysticism of service. It allows us to work for a liberating salvation, or in the language of our congregations, for a total liberation which the magisterium calls integral liberation.

  To separate the formula is easiest and most common, but to unite it is the only way that can give meaning to faith and justice. In fact, it makes faith authentic and completes justice. When faith is separated from justice it degenerates into the current reawakening of the liturgy as something separate from life, as if it belonged to another legalistic and ritual order where the priest who fulfills all the rules is the one who guarantees union with the divine. It is also true that with this the priest’s role takes on new life and becomes more attractive. When justice is separated from faith it drifts easily towards ideologies and politicization. It loses strength through actual failures and despairs when utopias are delayed, instead of increasing hope. This was already pointed out in Decree 4 n.27 of GC 32, now 30 years ago: “There can be no promotion of justice in the full and Christian sense unless we also preach Jesus Christ and the mystery of reconciliation... Conversely, it will not be possible to bring Christ to people or to proclaim His Gospel effectively unless a firm decision is taken to devote ourselves to the promotion of justice.”

  On the other hand, the union of both allows them to enrich each other, so that faith is liberating and justice a mystical gift. We understand better how humanity is impregnated by the mystery of the divine and is the occasion for discernment, and that there is no individual salvation from sin without a collective liberation from injustice.

  As Jon Sobrino says:


the practice of justice makes the sense of faith more specific, makes possible the appearance of God’s mystery in historical reality, and discovers important aspects of this mystery in history which would be more difficult to identify in other channels of practical love. In the practice of justice God’s transcendent character appears in a different and more radical way. Partiality for the poor and solidarity with them supposes a process of self impoverishment and, in this way, a sharing in God’s nature.[8]


Related to this theme, I believe that German theology, so exalted and so favoured in our faculties, though it has helped in preparing the way, basically through the contributions of Rahner, should now make way for political theologies which permit a better approach to the integrity of the duality.

  We are fortunate that our last General Congregation 34 insisted strongly on the value of this unique faith-justice reality in several of its decrees, from decree 2 n. 14 (Servants of Christ’s Mission) to decree 3 n. 4 (Our Mission and Justice), perhaps one of the most inspired texts of the whole Congregation. This means we have gained in understanding little by little, very slowly. Today we understand better than ever that the more effective our apostolates, the more present at the same time both faith and justice

  A final clarification. I believe the social apostolate is fortunate in providing the best means to live the integration of both dimensions because it works for justice, but seeks to live it in the faith that inspires Jesuits destined to this apostolate from the outset. Those in the social apostolate know that the secret of their perseverance is in the mystique that inspires them and not in the results they achieve. It is not by chance that in General Congregation 34 the document that served as a lens’– Servants of Christ’s Mission – interpreting and introducing the three documents on mission, arose from separating the more theological and spiritual introduction of the decree Our Mission and Justice. Jesuits working in the social apostolate have made an enormous effort in recent years to ensure that their struggle for justice emerges from their faith, since this is the only thing that gives it meaning. For those working in other apostolates it is more difficult to integrate the justice dimension and requires a greater act of will. There clearly exist privileged places to live out this mission, and others not so privileged.


3 Difficulties that come from our formation


Our formation also possesses certain characteristics that weaken the Society’s faith-justice option. I will mention three of them:

  In the first place very few Jesuits are destined to study the social sciences. It is generally considered more urgent to know our faith in depth rather than the complexity of our world. But today the world is more complicated than ever before. We need to know how it is organised, who benefits from it, who suffers and what consequences they experience... To this I believe unfortunately little attention is paid. There are Provinces in which all the younger trained Jesuits have special studies in the areas of their work, with the exception of those dedicated to the social area. Perhaps this is no more than chance. But I think it also reflects a lack in our training.

  Secondly, we lack real formation experiences in this field. There are many “exposures” as they are called in the Anglo-Saxon world, some days or weeks of insertion in a poor situation in the Third or Fourth world, which run the risk of becoming social tourism, but are experiences that leave a mark on our hearts and leave our sight touched by God’s passion for justice. We spend much time letting ourselves be touched by God’s mercy: retreats, prayers, examination of conscience... But little in letting ourselves become penetrated by Him in the eyes of his preferred. There are Jesuits who have never lived a radical experience, so decisive to the way of looking at the world of the poor. Some formed Jesuits, when they need to look at the picture of injustice in the world, have to fall back on a 15-day experiment in the novitiate. I do not think this is right. We need studies, yes, but in general a little less of them, and more of contact with life and its suffering. A radical experience in justice and solidarity doesn’t solve everything, but without it much holiness and abundant grace would be needed to work for the faith-justice mission. We don’t have the right to make things so difficult for the Lord. Our life styles and the people we normally meet draw us away daily from this mission, not making it easy for the Lord during formation.

  Thirdly, the best people have not been destined for the social apostolate, which in the long run can achieve a balance between faith and justice, but which today in the Society leans towards faith-culture. The most capable are destined for the intellectual apostolate ( praiseworthy, necessary, bursting with a laudable generosity from those Jesuits assigned to it), an apostolate that contains numerous demons better left unmentioned, and one needing much greater care in discernment and a considerable practice of abnegation. It would seem that for the social apostolate all that is needed is good will and an open heart. This is not true.


4 Our apostolic practice


At present there is a high degree of assistentialism in the social ministries of the Church. Possibly this is because two complementary needs meet: on the one hand, many church agents have a desire to serve and, on the other, the same church organisations look on them as a cheap way of enabling them to meet needs (through sub-contracting or out-sourcing) that otherwise would be far more costly and complicated to satisfy. Many of these organisations with programmes of social intervention little by little lose their freedom to their own administrations. The work relationship with paid employees also leaves much to be desired. In fact extra work is often demanded on a voluntary basis. It is a situation that ends by being somewhat schizophrenic. Motives for the work are worthwhile, but the means are not the best.

  On the other hand, the relationship of assistance between those aided and the providers of aid is usually an asymmetric unequal one. It is a relationship of help. The faith-justice mission strives for a relationship of brotherhood, which supposes greater equality, closer contact, a higher degree of vulnerability. Assistance places me above the other, while faith-justice tends towards mutual recognition and sharing. I do not know to what extent we take care of this in our Fourth world projects. What I do believe is that our specific contribution as Jesuits should be geared more towards an integrating mutual meeting than palliative care.

  The Society has a great variety of institutions in very different areas: academic, educational, social communication, NGOs and contacts with very different types of people. It is a rich resource for anyone who wishes to tackle justice problems in our world because we are in touch with people who suffer, with situations where we can reflect on the causes of exclusion, with the capability to influence public opinion and access to channels of political decision. In addition, a wealth of international contacts allows us to take part in networks formed by institutions working for the same causes in other places. In the globalised world in which we live, such collaboration is essential to tackle complicated international social problems. The life of the poor is at stake on the streets, but no less in the big centres of decision in international organisations. Few human groups can count with a similar capital in persons and institutions to reply to the challenges offered today by global injustice. Unfortunately, our institutions in general tend towards inbreeding, and relations between them turn out to be more complicated than might have been expected. This is another of the elements that cause difficulties to the faith-justice option. The underlying problem is a mistaken orientation in these institutions: they are so focussed on their own small problems that they forget the bigger ones, which is where they should find their replies to the former.

  To my way of seeing, the universities are the institutions with the best human and institutional capabilities to become involved in this mission. However, it is also they who today find it more complicated to orientate their work in the direction of the faith-justice mission. Both, from the aspect of faith, which in the autonomous world of the university and challenged by sciences that leave no room for other considerations, remains sidetracked; and from the aspect of justice, which transcends the preoccupations of most of teachers concerned with culture or merely an academic career, and for whom espousing the justice dimension might make things awkward for them with the administration.

  Lastly, in this section I wish to note that the present time, confused, fragmented, a little hostile towards the struggle for justice and even more towards the defence of faith, encourages Jesuits to seek a small corner for personal meaning. It doesn’t matter that it is not very relevant, as long as it is for me; nor does it matter that it doesn’t involve me with other companions, nor that it be an option discerned along with others, as long as it has value for me. The less a Province is mobilised by a global initiative, the more readily such a situation occurs. One ends up in a position where it is impossible to motivate anyone for a common cause, which is also a serious impediment for the faith-justice option.


5 The living of our spirituality


A first consideration. In recent decades, spiritual experience in society has become more gnostic, ever more centred on the individual and on the manifestation of mystery in the individual’s interior life, the presence of inner mystery. This drift, probably connected with the complexity of our world already mentioned, and our smallness before it – complexity and smallness which bewilder and frighten us – is also affecting us as Christians. We too are more concerned with personal experience, intimate, inner, in our own self-realisation. We tend rather to look at God within me, than in historical events, than what happens in life... The St Paul bookshops could survive only from the sale of self-help texts. We look at ourselves a lot. We believe we can only really be useful for the Kingdom if we are so fashioned that we are already part of it. I don’t believe it is like this. We all have value in the Kingdom as long as our disposition remains free and resolute. We cannot wait to change ourselves in order to serve the Kingdom. Both things go together.

  This is certainly a very widespread spiritual tendency which contaminates our relationship with the Lord and lets the steam out of the faith-justice mission; a tendency that has much more to do with the world and its causes, that calls for much contemplation of the incarnation, of the hidden divinity and that speaks of a God working in all human events, leaving in them signs to interpret our times and discern our role in them.

  A second consideration. Once Gustavo Gutiérrez was asked which spirituality could be considered a spirituality of liberation. He answered without hesitation: Ignatian spirituality. The reply is not surprising since it is a spirituality with eyes wide open, of openness to the world, of discovering in it the God of life working for the good of his creatures in a broken and upset reality, of following sinners along the paths of their Friend.

  But at the same time we know that Ignatian spirituality itself can be lived perfectly well on the margin of this meeting point with the liberating dimension of the divine. Many proposals of spirituality from the Society today do not contain the savour of a God partial to the poorest and inviting us to act on their behalf. The preferential option for the poor is often silenced, stifled, and so it happens that Ignatian spirituality does not seem challenging. As Pieris puts it, it becomes an instrument of salvation for personal sin and ignores the other aspect of a call to liberate people. The option for the poor is basic to our present faith-justice mission, but it is not a merely logical step. An asymmetrical, tilting God appears scandalous even to Christians but often either we don’t proclaim it or we don’t live it.

 A third and final consideration. In our time, within the Society, a negative global judgement of the world is being formed which leaves no opportunity for the action of the Spirit. It gives the impression that all is bad. It is bound up with the lucidity of an acute judgement and brilliant expression, without allowing that anything good could lighten a reality that degenerates from bad to worse. There is no place for faith, nor for the Church, nor for the progress of justice, nor hope for the excluded, nor future for the included... In our Society today there are some “professional complainers.” As Robert Hughes puts it:


complaint is a defeated version of rebellion. It is the hideout of the person who, dissatisfied with the solution given to life, sets out to hunt. To complain is to make the most of one’s own disgust, serving up plates cooked with the meat of the defeats of others. It is to believe one lives through affirming a refusal to allow oneself to be tricked. To live is a common exchange of nightmares, groans, slanders and deceits.[9]


Such a way of acting imprisons, depresses, paralyses and embitters us. In many of our communities this immobilizing complaint often does the rounds. I suppose bitterness has many sources: age, failure, a growing feeling of irrelevancy, the fall in vocations, the viscosity of our modern times that permits no treatment because it is shapeless and prevents all our movements, the lack of a clear external enemy and the growth of the other we carry within...

  I sincerely believe there is an element of this sourness in many of our companions. It is melancholy, apathy. In theological language it is called the absence of hope, and in spiritual terms desolation, when more emphasis must be given to prayer and some way of doing penance. This apathy and bitter judgement on the world has made an impression on Jesuits who have dedicated themselves to structural change, perhaps because it turned out to be difficult and very complicated.

  The social apostolate sometimes errs in this negative, bitter and destructive analysis. It is a debilitating contribution to the faith-justice mission which should cultivate hope, point to ways of participation, give life to points of inclusion and rejoicing. One cannot be a spoilsport always. The God we believe in, the friend of life, is not like this.


6 Current church trends


After the Second Vatican Council we have witnessed a strong ecclesiastical retreat, the true motto of this pontificate. The faith is lived more from ritual, the sacraments, the weight of priesthood and hierarchy. Control within the Church has increased, the desire for all to remain tied up and immobile. The dialogue on personal morality is strengthened and, at least in our country, opposition between Church and Government is limited to those moral questions that seem to be the last bastion of defence of the faith. It is possible that what exists today in church structures is a fear of the disappearance of an order that will not return and that the control itself is exercised with this same instrument of fear.

  These trends give the impression of an over preoccupation of the Church with itself and, in this sense, of greater attention to the symbol of the Kingdom rather than the real Kingdom. An unbending attitude in defending the Church doesn’t help the faith-justice mission. It distorts faith and forgets justice, except in relation to the place of church structures in laicised, or non-confessional (according to your preference) States. Today there are many Christians confused by the distance between the proclaimed message and the witness offered by the Church. In fact, awareness is growing that justice within the Church itself leaves much to be desired in the form of inequality, and a lack of sharing and internal democracy.

  These trends have also affected us Jesuits in so far as we belong to the Church and work within it. Among us too there is a retreat into our own structures and an enormous prudence in most of our manifestations. In this sense we lack the freedom that many of our companions had in the past.

  This is as far as I wish to go with this exercise. One hour: the time taken in meditating on our own sins according to the suggestion of St Ignatius himself. One can repeat oneself in order to increase the inner knowledge of one’s own disorder, but one cannot remain gloating over it all of one’s life. This is to deny divine mercy which helps us gain in understanding so as to return to our lives with new eyes, full of humanity and reconciliation rather than anger and despair. I don’t want us to finish this morning with the impression that all is bad, because this is simply not true. On the contrary, as I said at the beginning, the faith-justice mission continues to blaze trails in the Society: each day we feel ourselves more called to it, we realise that greater apostolic fruit comes from the interplay of faith and justice, and we know it is a great gift God has given us in our times, sealed with the suffering of many companions and with the glorious blood – this is truly glorious – of the martyrs. But I was only asked to reflect on the obstacles and the truth is that these do exist.



Original Spanish

Translation by Michael Campbell-Johnston SJ


Patxi Alvarez SJ

Pedro San Martín 1, 1º y 2º izq.

48920 Portugalete


[1] This is the text of a talk given by the author to a meeting of the group Fomento Social in Madrid, 27 November, 2004.

[2] PJ 82 (2004/1), pp. 17-18.

[3] GC 34, D.3, n.1.

[4] I rely on an article of Alfonso Alvarez Bolado, Crisis de la Compañía de Jesús en el Generalato del P. Arrupe, published in Memoria 2003 of the Institute “Ignacio de Loyola” of the University of Deusto, in San Sebastián.

[5] Cabarrús, C, Cuaderno de bitácora para acompañar caminantes, Bilbao: Descleé de Brouwer, 2000, p.21.

[6] Calvez, Jean-Yves, Fe y justicia. La dimensión social de la evangelización, Santander: Sal Terrae, 1988, p.72.

[7] Pieris, Aloysius, God’s Reign for God’s Poor, Tulana Research Centre, Tulana Jubilee Publications, 1998, p.49.

[8] Quoted by Calvez, op. cit., p.145.

[9] Robert Hughes, The culture of complaint, Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1993, quoted by José Maria Fdz-Martos, Toda vida verdadera es encuentro, Rev. Manresa, n.300, 2004, pp. 259-274.