Arturo Sosa: The Jesuit vocation and “its intimate bond to respond to the call of Jesus”

The work has begun!

The meeting of Father General’s Extended Council opened 7 September and will continue through Friday the 11th. It is the second such meeting to be held remotely since the COVID-19 pandemic has made international travel problematic or, in some cases, impossible. Each of these meetings focus on a specific theme of ministry that guides both the conversations within the Council, as well as the outside speakers who are chosen to present “interventions” to the group. The theme of this meeting is, “The Jesuit vocation today. Its meaning, its living and its promotion."

Linked below is the text of the opening address of Superior General Arturo Sosa to the members of the Council. In this message, grounded in Ignatian scholarship and the Gospels, Father General emphasizes that any “promotion of vocations” must begin with an invitation to listen to the call of the Holy Spirit. Accepting that, Fr. General emphasized that vocation promotion cannot be seen as a simple advertising campaign in which we inform people about the good works of the Society, but rather must lead to a personal invitation to a life that, above all, values a close relationship with the Lord that calls us to service.

Diversity of calls, the importance of entering the body of the Society, the centrality of transparency for the Jesuit: these are just some of the themes addressed by Father Sosa. At the end of his speech, he insisted that an atmosphere of prayer must permeate the agenda of the week, leading to prayer and reflection on the Jesuit vocation.

Click here to access the full text of the Superior General.

Expanded Council of Father General
7 to 11 September 2020

The vocation to the Society of Jesus today:
Its meaning, lived experience, and promotion

Introduction

1) Welcome to this new session of the Expanded Council. The persistence of the COVID-19 pandemic obliges us to meet again in virtual mode. We will try to draw as much fruit as possible from this way of meeting, while confirming our hope to see one another in person again very soon.

At the beginning of our encounter I invite you to remember our Jesuit companions and family members who have lost their lives to COVID-19. We pray for them and for so many victims across the world. We include in our prayer those who suffer from the illness at this moment, and we sincerely thank the Lord for those who have recovered and especially for those who have cared and continue to care for people who suffer the consequences of the pandemic.

Let us also ask the Lord to give to the whole apostolic body of the Society of Jesus a sensitivity to the great pain caused by the pandemic in these days and to the needs that will arise in the future; let us beg light to know how to respond and courage to take the necessary steps.

2) In this session of the Expanded Council we will take up a central theme of our life-mission as Jesuits: the vocationto the Society of Jesus, its intimate connection to following the call of Jesus and its commitment to the mission received through his Church, in our days through the Universal Apostolic Preferences.

In its origins, the word “vocation” appears forcefully after Ignatius brings together companions who identify themselves as sharing the same vocation, that is, a characteristic style of life-mission. The Deliberations of 1539 had as their central goal to consider the “vocation” that united the companions in a way of life and work as disciples, companions of Jesus.

In an analogous way, we too meet to deepen our understanding of the meaning of our vocation, to examine how we live it, and to discern how to promote it.

3) The composition of place for our reflection is “the vineyard of the Lord” to which we are sent and in which the workers are fewer than those needed to gather the abundant harvest. We read in the Gospel according to Luke: After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others whom he sent ahead of him in pairs to every town and place he intended to visit. He said to them, “The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few, so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest” (Lk 10,1-2).

The image of the vineyard, with deep Biblical roots, appears in the maturity of Ignatius’s spiritual experience. At the beginning, his own conversion takes all his spiritual energies. Later he imagines himself as “the pilgrim” who follows the Lord until the moment comes when he feels himself to be sent as “a worker,” like others, in the vast field of the world, to contribute together to gathering the abundant harvest, for the salvation of many.

The image of the vineyard is not found in the Spiritual Exercises, the Spiritual Diary, or the Autobiography. However, it appears forcefully in the Deliberations of 1539, the Formula of the Institute, and the Constitutions of the Society, as well as in the letters and the language of the first generations of Jesuits.

The image of “the vineyard of the Lord” vividly expresses the missionary fervor of the vocation of the Society of Jesus. The vineyard is the world to be evangelized. At every hour workers are sent to work without rest in every possible way to spread the message of salvation. The first Jesuits had a broad vision of priestly ministry. They were not pastors (párrocos) or vicars; they felt themselves to be workers ready for the most basic tasks: laborers happy to prepare the field, to plant, to water ... without knowing or worrying about who would reap the fruit.

4) In the text of Luke, the sending to work in the vineyard is tied to the recommendation to beg the Lord for the help of other workers. The harvest is so abundant that more collaborators are needed to gather it. To pray for vocations is a substantive part of the style of life-mission of those of us who follow the call of the Lord in the Society of Jesus.

Taking as a starting point that vocation is a gift of God that we are invited to beg with insistence, the first question that comes to me is whether we ask for this gift, whether we pray enough, and insistently enough, for vocations to the Society.

An irreplaceable task in the promotion of the vocation to the Society of Jesus is to ask the Lord to send “companions” to this group of workers ready to labor in any part of his vineyard. All the members of the apostolic body can contribute to this task of praying insistently for vocations. This dimension cannot be foregone, and we are invited to use all the means necessary to accomplish it in the best way possible. Any plan of vocational promotion must include specific means to assure prayer for vocations by the whole apostolic body.

5) The image of the vineyard also invites us also to perceive the abundance of the harvest, that is, the abundant fruit of the action of the Holy Spirit in history. We are faced with a clear invitation to sharpen our capacity to read the signs of the times, as humanity lives the profound transformation associated with a change of epoch and is shaken by the unprecedented experience of the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic, the complexity and consequences of which we are just beginning to glimpse.

In the gospel image, the owner of the fields goes out to look for help to gather the fruits of a harvest that he himself has planted. This reminds us that the vocation is a call to gather the fruit of a harvest that is not our own, that has not been planted or cared for by our hands. It is a call to be collaborators of the action that the Holy Spirit undertakes through many means that we may not perceive, including the missionary and pastoral efforts of the Church of which we are part.

6) Therefore, life in the spirit is the fundamental requirement for hearing the call, for following the way of life characteristic of this vocation, and for promoting it through prayer, example, and activities that in each time and place creatively help to present it.

Vocation promotion begins with the question of how to help to listen to the call that comes from the Holy Spirit. It is therefore linked to the missionary activity of preaching the Good News of the Gospel, showing the way to the experience of God that transforms the lives of those who open themselves to it, and sustaining an active spiritual life day by day, acquiring the familiarity with God that permits finding him in all things.

The Spiritual Exercises suppose a vocational anthropology. For Ignatius, every person is called by the Lord to be part of his kingdom. It is not up to us to put limits on the Lord in his desire to call every human person to live according to the Spirit. Therefore, each person can hear the call and freely make an election with regard to it. We can collaborate with the action of God if we help others to listen to the call and make a “good” election.

The consistency of our life-mission is the first condition for helping others to hear the voice of the Spirit through our ministries, nourished by the Universal Apostolic Preferences.

7) The vocation to the Society of Jesus is one of the possibilities for following the Lord to which a person can be called. It is a specific call to a style of life-mission with well-defined characteristics that should be taken into account during the vocational discernment.

Ignatius and the first companions proposed to the Church a novel style of religious life, with important innovations with respect to the already existing congregations. Its motivation, clearly expressed in the Formula of the Institute and in the Constitutions [586], is complete dedication to “the pursuits that are most proper to our vocation, for the glory of God our Lord.”

The Society of Jesus offers for work in the vineyard of the Lord different types of workers able to undertake a wide range of ministries. It includes spiritual coadjutors, temporal coadjutors and professed according to the call that each one receives to the common Jesuit vocation.

The history of the Society is full of a great variety of apostolates carried out by priests and brothers in a particular style that is recognizable and recognized. The ministries exercised by Jesuit priests have had across the centuries a proper style that have distinguished them from the diocesan clergy and other religious congregations. The contribution of Jesuit Brothers to the apostolate of the Society in the most varied ways is invaluable. Without the contribution of the Jesuit Brothers the history and the style of life-mission of the Society of Jesus would be different1.

8) The promotion of the Jesuit vocation is not comparable to a good publicity campaign that seeks to multiply sales of a product. From the first documents of the Society of Jesus the difficulty of the style of life proper to this vocation is underlined. Our “vocational promotion” is fundamentally a vocational discernment.

The fundamental reason for this appears clearly beginning in the first deliberations of the founders of the Society and in Ignatius himself: the life-mission of a Jesuit brings with it great complexity and not a few difficulties. It is noteworthy that the Formula of the Institute insists that those entering the Society must have sufficient grace from the Lord. In other words, having human, intellectual, and spiritual qualities is not enough to be admitted to the Society. What must be verified is the presence of the “grace of the vocation” in sufficient measure.

Vocational discernment includes determining in what condition each one is called to incorporation in the Society. That is why it is important to present with clarity the diversity of ways of living the shared vocation to the Society of Jesus. The first chapter of the General Examen that precedes the Constitutions has as its title, “The Institute of the Society of Jesus and the diversity of its members.” We are invited, then, to review the way in which we present the Jesuit vocation to ensure that we present all the richness of the charism that has been received.

9) The vocation is to form part of the body of the Society, joined through obedience. Persons are called to become members of a body, disponible, in proportion to the grace of their vocation, for the apostolic necessities of the body’s service to the Church.

To join the body of the Society supposes that each person leave in the hands of the Society the discernment about the grade of grace received and the decision about specific collaboration in the apostolate2. This requires that level of interior freedom that makes each person really “indifferent” for what is most suitable for the body as a whole. Indifference means complete availability to receive the mission, excluding every form of deciding for oneself what work to do.

10) For that reason the vocation to the Society must be tested at length and supposes full transparency of the subjects. The vocational discernment necessary for admission to the Society relies on the paired qualities of transparency and probation to verify the presence of that flow of grace necessary for bearing the weight of the style of life-mission to which one believes he is called.

During the prolonged period of probation foreseen as the process of admission to the body it is key to pay attention to the characteristics proper to the “grade” to which one is called. I ask myself whether the weight of formation for priesthood in this period permits adequate attention to the probation of those called to incorporation as Jesuit Brothers ... even more when priestly formation, shaped by the diocesan clergy, has become more and more uniform throughout the Church, blurring the styles and ministries proper to other charisms. In the case of the Society, we have so many priests and Brothers dedicated to educational ministry, to research in diverse sciences, to the social apostolate, to communications, to the arts, to manual labor ... that demand a probation and formation adapted to our vocation.

On the other hand, the openness of the Society to accept parishes because of clear apostolic needs has brought as a consequence a growing number of Jesuit “pastors” who find themselves facing the tension of exercising that ministry in the style of our charism and the temptation to become completely like the diocesan clergy.

The promotion of the Jesuit vocation today is challenged to present the characteristic traits of the style of religious life of the priests and brothers who compose the Society of Jesus.

11) Vocational discernment does not end with the incorporation of the subject into the Society at the end of the period of probation. The Constitutions of the Society dedicate the Examen and the first six principal parts to the vocational discernment of those who aspire to join the body. The following four principal parts of the Constitutions are concerned with those “already admitted”; they deal with the discernment of the participation of each one in the mission, with the union necessary for the body of the Society to be faithful to its vocation, with the responsibility of those who govern it, and with how to preserve and increase the body in its well-being.

A prayerful reading of Part X of the Constitutions at the beginning of our reflection about the vocation to the Society of Jesus can help us to grasp better what the Holy Spirit is saying to us today about the Jesuit vocation.

12) In a week of prayer and reflection we will have the opportunity to consider together some complex aspects of the promotion of the Jesuit vocation today. Many points will not be treated, and many dimensions will not be considered deeply. Let us think of this week as a moment in a larger process in which the whole Society is invited to participate. All should go deeper in the style of life-mission proper to the charism received, showing it with clarity and helping others to discern their vocation.

I fervently desire that this week stimulate the process of improving understanding and promotion of the Jesuit vocation in each of the Conferences of Major Superiors, in each of the Provinces and Regions, in the communities and apostolic works. We also need the collaboration of others in vocational promotion.

This is another dimension in which the Ignatian Year offers opportunities to go deeper in living and sharing the charism proper to the Society of Jesus. Let us ask our founding Saint and all the saints and blessed of the Society to intercede for us so that we may be able to preserve and increase in well-being the whole apostolic body.

The outcome hoped for from this week would be to offer orientations for the whole Society, the Conferences of Major Superiors, Provinces, Regions ... to take advantage of the next two years to deepen the understanding of our vocation in its diverse forms and to renew the promotion of vocations to the Society. The guidelines should encourage taking advantage of the activities planned for the Ignatian Year, the Provincial Congregations, the Congregation of Procurators, the International Encounter of Jesuit Brothers (Rome, 28 June to 2 July 2021), the experiences of youth movements, the preparation of World Youth Day 2023, etc.

Finally, I invite each of the members of the Expanded Council to prepare his prayer of these days from the points proposed here and from what will be shared in our groups and plenaries.

Arturo Sosa, S.J.
7 September 2020


[1] It could be illuminating to read prayerfully and from this perspective Decrees 6 and 7 of General Congregation 34.

[2] The Formula of the Institute clarifies: “lest anyone should perhaps show zeal, but a zeal which is not according to knowledge, that decision about each one’s grade and the selection and entire distribution of employments will be in the power of the superior general ...”

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The Communications Office of the General Curia publishes news of international scope on the central government of the Society of Jesus and on the commitments of the Jesuits and their partners. It also handles public relations.

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