The second principle is stated in Constitutions
§555-56 and says that although works of the Society, or those for which they
have care or responsibility, may have some fixed revenue, the Society is not to
have any control over it. In other words, the Society is not to possess the
endowment or revenue. Again, this expresses what I take to be the two core
elements of our evangelical poverty both spiritual and practical. First, this
is to ensure that the Society is never dispensed from relying upon God, ‘that
he will cause everything to be provided which can be expedient for his greater
praise and glory.’ Second, that the Society remains free of all financial
obligations for mission. There is a concern that benefactors and donations
should support mission, not determine it.
The third principle, found in §557, says that that the
‘professed’ and all those who have final vows (§560) should live from alms.
They should not avail themselves of any fixed revenues of the house or works of
which they are part.
We can see that these three principles are
foundational but minimal. They are to prevent accumulation of wealth and the
obligations that go with it, and to preserve the freedom and integrity of the
Society for its mission.
Over the centuries these three ‘principles’ and their
translation into concrete practice needed to be applied and interpreted
according to different cultures and changing situations – in the 16th
century there was no facility for online banking, investment or credit cards!
But I think they are remarkably clear; they preserve the fundamental
orientation of our vow as one of both interior and material freedom for
mission. This point is well illustrated in the instructions to Jesuits
receiving special missions from the Pope, “Moreover, he who has been designated
by His Holiness to go to some region should offer his person generously,
without requesting provisions for the journey or causing a request for anything
temporal to be made.” (Cons. §609;610).
These ‘principles’ help us to see how the
Society’s vow of poverty - especially when it is understood in terms of the
other two – is not primarily about an imposedascetism, although this is undoubtedly part of it, but
is ordered to freedom to be with the Risen Christ in His mission - Christ who
himself receives everything from the Father. This poverty makes us completely
dependent upon God; spiritually and materially it grounds us in our being
created beings. It returns us to the great communion of all created things, and
re-orders our relationship of inter-dependence with them. To this extent, it
offers a redemptive or restorative grace and it can allow us to become
ministers of that grace for others, indeed, for all of creation. Flowing from
that, the poverty of the Society must be marked by a total generosity and
gratitude. It is really the freedom to be sent without conditions, purely in
the service of Jesus Christ, to embrace the world with His costly but