Editor’s note: Throughout July, we’re hosting 31 Days with St. Ignatius, a month-long celebration of Ignatian spirituality. In addition to the calendar of Ignatian articles found here, posts on dotMagis this month will explore the theme of “people for others.” This month marks the 50th anniversary of Fr. Pedro Arrupe’s famous address in which he challenged Jesuit school alumni to form what we now embrace as “people for others.”
One Sunday near the end of Mass, the priest said something that really stuck with me. Right before the final prayer, he paused thoughtfully and then said, “You know, there is always more work we can do on ourselves.” He said that even at 57 years old, he never failed to find new things on which he needed to work. In fact, he had recently written three goals for himself: “Listen more. Be kind. Try not to take things so personally.”
When this parish priest was seven years old, another priest, Fr. Pedro Arrupe, stood up in front of a crowd of Jesuit alumni and spoke about the possibility of the Society of Jesus and those they formed to reorient all their actions toward becoming “people for others.” Arrupe believed wholeheartedly in the possibility of this revolutionary idea, but he also acknowledged that it would not be easy to implement. It would take tremendous work by individuals, the Society, and the communities they served. The work would be continuous, lifelong, and require ongoing, prayerful reflection.
Pedro Arrupe, SJ, was right about the work. Here we are, 50 years later, still reflecting, still working, and still facing many of the same injustices he was speaking about back then.
It is difficult sometimes to think about the immense work left to be done. I find that I can often go down a rabbit hole considering all the stumbling blocks to the realization of Arrupe’s dream. The goal of a just world can seem insurmountable. But there is another way I can approach it. I can look at the first stumbling block that needs my attention: me.
That’s why the priest’s unexpected words that Sunday morning stayed with me long afterwards and came back to me when I sat down to write this reflection. How many times has my refusal to work on various parts of myself been a stumbling block to the vision Pedro Arrupe offered?
If I want to see a just world realized, I must start with myself. In fact, the three things the priest offered that Sunday morning seem to be the exact same things I need to work on right now. I need to:
Arrupe said, “This is our hope: that we have educated you to listen to the living God; to read the Gospel so as always to find new light in it…” (“Men for Others,” 1973, 4) Working for justice requires listening. In order to understand the injustices people are facing, I need to get to know on a personal level the people most impacted by injustice. I need to take every opportunity I am offered to listen intently and without judgment to their experiences. Then, I am called to bring what I have heard to prayer and listen just as intently to what God is asking of me in response.
As Arrupe said, “How can you love someone and treat him unjustly? Take justice away from love and you destroy love.” (9) Working for justice requires loving my neighbor no matter what and showing that magnanimous love through my words and actions—what some would call kindness, though this love moves beyond kindness. I need to evaluate my actions with regards to other people, particularly other people affected by injustice, and ask, “Am I speaking and acting with love?”
Try not to take things too personally.
As Arrupe said, “God’s grace calls us not only to win back our whole selves for God, but to win back our whole world for God. We cannot separate personal conversion from structural social reform.” (10) Working for justice can often be hampered by approaching it with a defensive posture. There is an instinctive tendency in me to think, “But I did not cause this particular injustice…” But true justice cannot be attained if I am not willing to feel the repercussions of the injustices I have directly contributed to and the ones perpetrated by the collective sin of all of us. I need to be open to recognizing the effects of sin that continue to have real consequences on human beings.
What are the things that cause you to be a stumbling block to the realization of Fr. Pedro Arrupe’s vision? What work can you begin today so that together we can move one step closer to the just world we seek?
Today in 31 Days with St. Ignatius, watch Fr. Michael Rossmann, SJ, explain The Examen and Letting Go. Fr. Rossmann will be a panelist for Ignatian Tools for the Modern World. Sign up for the webinar now.