Expanded Council of Father General
7 to 11 September 2020
The vocation to the Society of Jesus today:
Its meaning, lived experience, and promotion
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
, 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
 It could be illuminating to read prayerfully and from this perspective Decrees 6 and 7 of General Congregation 34.
 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 ...”