'There is no growth without crisis'
“The plant grows from the roots, which are not seen but which support the whole. And it stops giving fruit not when it has few branches, but when the roots are dry,” said Pope Francis to staff and students of the International College of the Gesù in Rome on the 3rd December. The community celebrated their jubilee since its founding by Fr Pedro Arrupe SJ in 1968.
“On the fiftieth year, that of the Jubilee, the Scripture says that ‘each of you is to return to your family property and to your own clan’ (Lev 25: 10). But no-one needs to pack his suitcase!” The Holy Father joked at the beginning of his speech. The Bible passage, though, helped introduce the main theme of the address, which was revisiting and nurturing the Society’s roots. The topic was developed around three key verbs: to base, to grow, to mature.
Firstly, Pope Francis referred to Saint Francis Xavier, whose feast occurred on that same day. “I beg you, in all your matters, to base yourselves totally in God” (Letter 90 from Kagoshima). The quote was an encouragement to base on the origins. And the fact that the College is in Rome, in the same house where St Ignatius lived, wrote the Constitutions and sent the first companions in mission, is indeed an extra prompt to go back to the founding stones of the order.
A longer reflection of what soon revealed to be a message not only for those present in the Consistory Hall but for the whole Society went in for the second term: to grow.
“There is no growth without crisis – do not be afraid of crises, do not be afraid – as there is no fruit without pruning or victory without struggle.” The Pope warned against ‘the worst evil that can happen to us’ – mentioning another Jesuit, Fr Henri de Lubac SJ: spiritual worldliness. This, in the Holy Father’s view, is “the greatest danger in this time: spiritual worldliness, which leads you to clericalism and so on. If instead growth is a constant action against one’s ego, there will be much fruit.” Two positive signs of this path are freedom and obedience.
“Prayer will be of great help, prayer is never to be neglected: it is the legacy that Fr Arrupe left us at the end, the ‘swansong’ of Fr Arrupe.” Pope Francis invited everyone to go back to the 1981 conference the former Superior General held at the refugee camp in Thailand, after which he took the aeroplane to Rome, where he had his stroke.
And lastly, the talk moved to the verb to mature. Returning to the plant-comparison, the Holy Father said “one does not mature in the roots and in the trunk, but by putting out the fruits, which fertilize the earth with new seeds.” Describing it as the most profound words a Pope addressed to the Jesuits, the Holy Father recalled St Paul VI’s talk to the Society of Jesus in 1974: “Everywhere in the Church, even in the most difficult and pioneering fields, at the crossroads of ideologies, in the social trenches, there has been and there is a confrontation between the burning needs of man and the perennial message of the Gospel, there, there have been and there are the Jesuits.”
The call of the congregation is to go on the outskirts, “in the deserts of humanity”. Even though they may find themselves as lambs among the wolves, the Jesuits must remain lambs, and not fight against the predators: for when the Shepherd will reach them, He will recognize his flock.
Read the full address on the Vatican website.