Letter of Very Reverend Father General
JOHN BAPTIST JANSSENS
Reverend Fathers and dear Brothers in Christ:
1. - All of you are mindful of the approaching Fourth Centenary of the death of St. Francis Xavier. Whilst various public functions are in course of preparation or are already being celebrated in different provinces, our whole Society may rightfully expect that a common effort be made to renew its interior spirit, for such a renewal will be more pleasing to God and more conducive to the salvation of souls than external festivities alone. Amongst those who aided St. Ignatius in founding the Society of Jesus, the principle place is deservedly attributed to St. Francis Xavier; by his example he has shown the way to all members of the Society engaged in what we call foreign missions, he is proclaimed by the Church, Primary Patron. Though being active to a miraculous degree, yet at the same time incessantly given to the loftiest type of contemplation, he showed by his achievements how the men of the Society, if they are faithful to the grace given them, can “seek God in all things.”
It was by his heroic and continual mortification, as far as we can judge by externals, that St. Francis cooperated with this grace. Following the counsel of his holy Father Ignatius, who was his master in the spiritual life, Xavier, while still making the Exercises at the very outset of his conversion to a life of greater perfection, began, by severe penance, to make amends for the purposelessness of his earlier life. Nor is anyone ignorant of the severe sufferings he underwent during his apostolic journeys right up to his final efforts to enter China and the severe penances he unreservedly added to the trials sent by Divine Providence.
This anniversary, therefore, offers me an apt occasion to fulfil what I promised in my letter of September 15, 19511 to the whole Society on the matter of poverty of Ours, namely, to speak to all of you regarding the spirit and practice of mortification in our daily religious life.
2. - A treatment of this subject is called for, I believe, by reason of the too rapidly spreading influence of that opinion already prescribed by the Encyclical Humani generis, by which opinion “in disregard for the definitions of the Council of Trent” not only “is the notion of original sin perverted,”2 but “the very notion of sin in general as an offense against God and likewise the notion of satisfaction offered for us by Christ is perverted.” For if the life, passion and death of Christ our Lord were not in truth a satisfaction for the sins of the human race, since there was no need for “satisfaction,” why are we disciples of Christ asked to do reparatory penance? Again, if there is no place for satisfaction, how can penance be pleasing to God and procure His graces. Should we not in fact give up those narrow counsels still being handed down to us, as they say, from the Middle Ages? Should we not give up our devotion to the Sacred Heart in the sense in which it was taught by St. Margaret Mary and approved by our late Supreme Pontiff, Pius XI?3 Should we not be content with that moderate natural asceticism which is sufficient to hold in check the more violent impulses of our nature excessively prone as it is to evil because of a depraved heritage of many centuries?
3. - These and other errors connected with them are not confined to one locality nor can it be said that our Order had been no wise contaminated by them. What a tragedy indeed it would be if our Society should fall away from orthodox teaching in this matter For if the first Fathers formed by the very founder, could reduce the spirit of our Constitutions to that formula, in reality Pauline, which we customarily call the Sum and Aim of Our Constitutions: “Men crucified to the world and to whom the world itself is crucified, such would the rule of our life have us to be,”4 how can we boast that, having been freed from that “formalism” whereby the letter threatens to kill the spirit, we wish to return to the original spirit of our founder whilst at the same time we differ from him on such a fundamental issue?
4. - To you who have both the Spiritual Exercises and Constitutions constantly before your eyes, there can be no question regarding the mind of our holy Father on mortification. After he has explained the doctrine, too, of corporal mortification or bodily penance in the Exercises which are wholly directed to conquering and mortifying inordinate affections which hinder the soul from a complete service of God,5 in the Constitutions he applies the same teaching to our religious and apostolic life. Very well known to you is the text which has become Rule Twelve in the Summary of Our Constitutions: if we desire more perfectly to arrive at that high degree of perfection, namely the love and following of Christ humiliated and suffering referred to in the Eleventh Rule of the Summary, St. Ignatius counsels us, “... let it be each one’s chief and most earnest endeavor in all things, as far as he can, to seek in the Lord his own greater abnegation and continual mortification.”6 These words are hard on sensuality but they are authentic words of our Father. When he treats of the formation of his religious, he demands “in those things that pertain to food, clothing and lodging and other bodily necessities, that with God’s help care be had that these be such as to test their virtue and self-abnegation, but at the same time sufficient to sustain nature.”7 Therefore, our holy Father desires that the superior certainly take care of the strength and health of his subjects without at the same time neglecting to try their virtue and abnegation in those things pertaining to the care of the body. Where, however, he treats of the formed religious, our holy Father expressly teaches what he often intimates elsewhere in the Constitutions: namely, he supposes that his religious, inspired by an ardent spirit inculcated in them by the Exercises, will be inclined to go beyond the limits of severity and will have to be restrained by their confessor or the superior himself. “Regarding the use of fast, vigils and other means of bodily austerity and chastisement, it does not seem that any rule should be set down for them except that norm which judicious charity will dictate to each one...”8 He desires that the rector of a college or university be a man “conspicuous for his good example and edification and also eminent for his mortification of all evil tendencies”;9 the very same thing he repeats concerning the General himself.10 What use is there of going further? Who is there who doubts the mind of St. Ignatius with respect even to corporal mortification?
5. - It is true that our “manner of living as to external things ... is common; and has no ordinary penances or corporal austerities obligatory at all,” yet this by no means hinders one from undertaking, with the superior’s approbation whatever he shall think expedient for his greater spiritual profit”; furthermore, as St. Ignatius adds explicitly, and whatever for the same end “superiors may impose upon him.”11 Although in most Orders of that time it was the practice to fast on days besides those set down by the common laws of the Church, to rise at night for the Divine Office, to go barefoot, to take the discipline on appointed days, yet this was not imposed on all Institutes. The use however of these and similar exercises, when undertaken “according to the measure of holy discretion,”12 is highly recommended to the individual members of the Society. Nor will it be an exaggeration to maintain that a religious of the Society would extinguish the fervor of his spiritual life, if he should entirely omit corporal penances unless he do so because of illness or some equally good reason and, as far as possible, this omission have the approval of his confessor.
6. - Is there anyone amongst us who would be so bold as to say that his sensuality is already under such control that it never in any wise rebels against the dictates of reason? For if even those wise men antedating Christian Revelation recognized the advantages of some kind of asceticism for the proper training and direction of the natural passions, what should be the attitude of the Christian who understands that his nature is not only imperfect and prone to evil but that it also bears the wound of original sin and the further weakness consequent upon his personal sins. If the Apostle Paul must confess that he chastises his body and brings it into subjection lest after he has preached to others he himself should become a castaway,13 what, I beseech you, should weak men like ourselves say and do in this respect? We can less afford to disregard that partially natural efficacy of mortification, for because of unsteadiness of nerves the will of most of us is also weakened and this weakened will as is born out by daily experience, now more easily falls prey to less serious temptations. By a certain prudent yet strong and austere asceticism, the will will be rendered strong in good and with this the nerves will be strengthened at the same time. For mortification when used with discretion, benefits not only the soul but also the body which gains in vigor with harsher treatment.
7. - Also whilst calling attention to this particular advantage derived from mortification, St. Ignatius, in that 10th Addition for the First Week,14 lays stress on what seems to be the principal purpose of mortification, namely, satisfaction for sins. Certainly no one of us will so “deceive himself” as to say he “has no sin.”15 Nor will anyone, unless he would sever himself entirely from the teaching of the Church dare to assert that it is not necessary to make satisfaction for sins that have been committed, even “by our voluntary acceptance of punishment in atonement for sin.”16 Moreover since we are all one body in Christ, the kind mercy of God enables us to make satisfaction also for the sins of others. What then is more in accord with our apostolic vocation than by faithfully following our Redeemer to join with Him in ransoming through his merits the souls of sinners, “by filling up those things that are wanting of the sufferings of Christ” in our flesh?17 Let the following opinion of the Angelic Doctor be a comfort to us: “Punishment derives its power of satisfaction chiefly because of the charity with which man bears it. And since the greater charity is evidenced by a man satisfying for another than for himself, less punishment is required of him who satisfies for another than is required of the offender. Hence it is stated in the Lives of the Fathers18 that a person who out of charity for one of his brothers did penance for a sin which his brother had not committed obtained remission for another sin which the brother had actually committed.”19
8. - From this it also becomes clearer how great an impetratory effect penance can have, especially that apostolic penance whereby we impose upon ourselves punishments in behalf of others. The Roman Pontiffs of our era have frequently reminded us of the importance of the counsel of Christ Our Lord regarding the necessity of joining fasting to prayer if we hope to destroy Satan’s power over man. Is it not correct to say that the severe penance of St. John Vianney accomplished as much, or even more, than his own prayer? He himself was certainly convinced that whatever very severe sufferings he either of his own accord imposed on himself or patiently bore at the hands of Divine Providence, wrought more by God’s mercy for the conversion of sinners than all his other works. Is it not legitimate to suppose that many of us would produce greater results in the apostolate if, instead of striving to find ways and means to fit the spirit of our times, we worked rather to mold the times to conform with that economy of salvation which we know by Faith alone? In vain do we seek new methods unless at the same time we apply ourselves with more ardent charity to prayer and penance.
9. - Certainly the most secure method of all for leading our neighbor to God whilst we ourselves draw near to Him is that which both our Institute, authentically approved by the Church, and the Vicars of Christ on earth right down to our present times have pointed out to us. We see all to clearly how the devil is making dupes of countless thousands and how he controls almost entire nations; we see too how men who are at odds on all other issues, and seek to destroy one another, join together in a remarkable way to calumniate, attack, and undermine the Catholic Church. How shall we do battle against this powerful invisible enemy, who “armed keepeth his court,”20 unless, as is taught by the Man-God, we make haste to implore the help of One Who is stronger? Our apostolic efforts will be in vain unless “by prayer and fasting” supernatural strength is injected into them, “for this kind (of devil) can go out by nothing”21 but by these means.
10. - When we turn now to the doctrinal principles regarding mortification proper to Christians and religious, the question can arise: how can a teaching we inherit from the anchorites and cenobites of the early centuries be made practicable in this our day? For unless we conform ourselves to the spirit of our times, people will shun us. - Certainly we should avoid having people shun us. Our Lord Himself told us “when thou fastest, anoint thy head ... that thou appear not to men to fast.”22 Certainly most of our penances should be hidden from the eyes of men and known only to God and the spiritual Father or superior: assuredly this applies to corporeal penance whereby sufferings are inflicted on the body by means of fasts, scourgings, hairshirts and other kinds of austerities. In fact Catholic asceticism, particularly in an apostolic Order such as ours, has always condemned that warped type of mortification which renders one sad, dull and spiritless. Sound theology demands that we follow, not anticipate the grace of God; grace however does not inspire any action without supplying the strength to carry it through; we may be certain that this strength has been granted when the burden of mortification in no way hinders the cheerful performance of obligations arising from our state of life or from demands of fraternal charity. Mortification which has sprung from pride and is neither pleasing to God nor edifying to the neighbor; on the other hand mortification which has sprung from the Holy Spirit, adds new force and lustre to apostolic charity.
11. - When treating of this bodily mortification St. Ignatius urges us to use it with discretion and only under advice and guidance. In conformity, however, with Catholic tradition and teaching, he assumes that all of his sons will practice this mortification. Consequently it is up to us to take a firm stand against that merely natural “humanism” so prevalent today which now aims, as I mentioned at the outset, to destroy this mortification. In opposition to this, it is necessary then that masters of novices give proper instruction concerning its use, that superiors and spiritual fathers in houses of formation be watchful lest our young men give up this practice through fickleness or indolence, that tertian instructors impress it more deeply on those under their charge, that superiors in colleges, residences and missions inquire in a kindly way about the matter according to their office, when their subjects render their Account of Conscience. Those also who are in poor health or are oppressed with labor that is too burdensome, can do something, at least, in fact they can often do a great deal, so long as the kind of penance in each case is aptly and prudently chosen.
Even a light measure of corporeal penance, when undertaken with a generous and constant spirit of charity, goes far in drawing our own souls and those of others to God. Anyone surely can perform those countless small acts of penance which no wise impair the health or attract the attention of others. The fact that such acts seem trivial has the added advantage that they can scarcely feed our vanity let alone our pride.
As we have to be aware here of that indiscreet fervor which is wont “to do hurt and hinder greater good,”23 we have to guard also against cowardice. Fir cowardice is not something peculiar to our own age, but is natural to man. You all remember our eminent Father Rodriguez’ account of how humorously St. Bernard derided the monks of that age which appears to us to be an iron age, because they pretended that they had not sufficient strength for a life of austerity.24
12 - Aside from the points already mentioned, the daily work itself of our vocation offers an opportunity to do battle against the impulses of nature. The statement “in the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread,”25 does not refer to manual labor only; this stern law of labor applies to all. In fact our obligation is even greater by reason of the more precious spiritual and eternally-lasting goods entrusted to us; since the salvation of souls and either their eternal happiness or damnation is dependent upon our toil The temptation to sloth threatens us religious more than other persons from the very fact that unlike the case of men who live in the world, we find that superiors through their charity provide for our sustenance whether our daily work shows more or less industry or negligence. Let us not therefore be satisfied whenever we make some use of our time, even though matters have gone smoothly and serenely, persuading ourselves that thus we have fulfilled our duty; since we shall have to give an account of our earthly stewardship, I fear the Supreme Judge is going to weigh things in a different scale Let constant and exhausting labor be our daily cross, a stern law indeed but a sweet one. I am aware of the fact that often our shoulders are laden with burdens beyond our strength; nor shall I cease exhorting superiors to be watchful in accordance with the precept of Ignatius,26 of preserving “moderation in labors of both body and mind”; but at the same time let them see to it that Ours do not neglect more exacting and by far more fruitful works to undertake easier and less productive ones. To mention but one example: how much more effective the apostolate of certain provinces would be if more Fathers, after having completed their studies, would at once apply themselves with persevering effort to the cultivation of the dogmatic, spiritual, moral, and social sciences rather than abandon themselves entirely to “Action ” For this overemphasis on action can be a mask for laziness.
13. - Nor should we forget, as I have already mentioned elsewhere, that religious observance, even the faithful custody of Rules governing our external conduct has also been so imposed upon religious as continually to mortify their nature. For it crushes pride and self-will; it crushes our love of ease; it crushes that license, so agreeable to our times, of saying and doing whatever we please. How easily is union with God accomplished by that religious who, faithfully observing his rules from a motive of love, is always anxious to fulfill the divine will even in the smallest details What an invaluable service those superiors render the souls of their subjects, who without any human respect, in a manner always serene and paternal but at the same time sincere, cause their forgetful, negligent, or tempted subjects to return to a faithful esteem and observance of the rules. How grateful subjects will be to a firm superior when they come to realize either later in life or especially in the future life, that he who was too severe (so it seemed) in reality increased their fervor in religion and their glory in heaven. On the other hand will there be those (you indeed know such examples) who gradually fell away from their vocation and even from the very practice of Christian virtue precisely because somewhere along the line they began to contemn that mortification exacted of them by humbling obedience.
14. - The very progress in material things though on the one hand it can serve to increase and multiply the fruits of our labors even in the apostolate, on the other hand tends to gradually promote the conveniences also and the pleasures of life and to whet our appetite for these conveniences and pleasures so that, unless we remain watchful and steadfast, imperceptibly, we shall desert the spirit of the gospel for the spirit of the world, become more easy going, less constant in hardships and less firm in resisting sinful pleasures. People of the world, it is true, buy for the most part, if they can afford it, whatever new product promises their greater convenience and pleasure and they use and enjoy the product. Let not this be our way of acting. We are religious, “men crucified to the world and to whom the world itself is crucified,” men, therefore who rather withdraw from such things which make life easier or more pleasurable, except in so far as these things can lead to better results in the spiritual order. When I look upon the crucified One and at the same time reflect on certain uses already prevalent even in our Society in certain places, I cannot believe that we are drawing closer to God by this more lax manner of life. I notice soft and expensive chairs are being used in some places instead of the customary poorer and harder ones; that many use tobacco without moderation not even considering, so it seems, whether or not out of love of God and souls they might give up or at least curtail this pleasure. I notice the use of liquor which is permitted in our communities only for sake of hospitality or during very few feasts is becoming more widespread, and what is worse, some drink to excess when in their visits with secular persons. I fear that radio, television, moving pictures, sport events and the like, instead of being permitted, as befits our vocation, only for truly apostolic purposes or for legitimate recreation, in the case of some feed their unmortified curiosity, laziness and sensuality. How prudently does our Institute prescribe that “superiors take the proper measures and subjects the proper care lest the desire for their own ease imperceptibly usurp control, destroy the right thinking of Ours, distract from apostolic labors proper to our vocation and impel us finally to a love of idleness.”27
15. - Anyone of Ours, howsoever physically weak he may be, can cultivate that very salutary mortification which enables him to accept from the hand of the Lord with gratitude and if not with joy, at least with patience, all spiritual or bodily discomforts he may encounter. The Council of Trent teaches “so great is the liberality of the divine munificence that we are ble through Christ Jesus to make satisfaction to God the father not only through punishments voluntarily undertaken by us in atonement for sin ... but also (which is a very great proof of love) by the temporal scourges inflicted by God and born patiently by us.”28 What great merit whether for himself or others shall a person deserve in the sight of God and how much shall his soul be purified and drawn closer to its Creator, if not yielding internally or externally to discontent, he will show cheerfulness no matter what difficulties confront him. How far indeed do we fall short of that perfection when we ease our nervous tension we loose the reigns to impatience and self-love by indulging in what we term “constructive criticism.” Because this failure to mortify one’s self which so easily sows discord between superior and subjects, between brethren of the same religious family, is the worst type of failure, it finally destroys the spirit of obedience and charity. The carping, cynical attitude which has frustrated the efforts of many in the Society and sometimes has rendered them cowardly and diffident throughout their entire life, has not a few cases crushed the desire for work itself. How different indeed is this way of acting from the charity of Christ.
16. - In a word that interior mortification which easily avoids the danger of illusion and excess can be practiced in many ways. To interior mortification is applied perfectly that counsel of our holy Father to seek as far as possible continual mortification.
Since dangers and inducements to sin arising from a culture so steeped in materialism surround us on all sides, watchfulness and prudence, whereby we do our best to forestall and avoid the occasions and temptations to sin, demand of us numerous victories over self. All of our senses, especially the ears and eyes must be restrained from questionable curiosity; books or pamphlets which in every age (by no means excepting our own, as sad experience teaches) create a danger to fallen human nature should out of humble prudence be avoided; entertainments of too frequent occurrence which debilitate the soul should, as I have said, be used with moderation; that spiritual solitude, proper to the state of virginity, which seeks help from God alone and after all is not intended as a means of solace for us but for others, should be manfully endured; that human respect which causes us to fear that we be mocked as old-fashioned, should be subdued. Let us be mocked indeed as followers of the gospel and faithful disciples of Eternal Truth, always ancient and always new Our holy father Ignatius has most beautifully explained this diversified manner of mortification pleasing to God and to men in the text of the Constitutions29 which incorporated in the Summary as the 29th Rule, is often considered by you all.
17. - That same rule treats also of a more sublime means of interior mortification, namely, it urges us to avoid whatever can harm that fraternal charity which the Apostle St. John asserts is the sign and the only genuine sign of the true love of God. Let good manners be observed, let silence in word and deed be safeguarded for the edification and also the convenience of others, let any suggestion of detraction, envy, ridicule, all impatience, and boasting be excluded from our conversation: in this way we shall find abundant opportunity of conquering ourselves. Moreover if we desire not only to avoid offenses against charity but to further it by our own actions, how broad a field lies open before us for renouncing what suits our own convenience, for concealing personal difficulties and sadness, for conquering slothfulness, for hastening to undertake whatever is more disagreeable to us. How great would unity, peace, joy, strength of action amongst us, if only, forgetful of ourselves, we should live more fully for others. With how great pleasure will the invisible Lord dwell among us when He shall see us joined together with Him in charity and mutual love.
18. - Nor can I omit to make mention of a matter which is of great help to the ministries and duties of our vocation, in order that each one of us should in a spirit of peace and internal humility learn and strive continuously to control our nerves and imagination so that he might maintain a sane, well-balanced and peaceful attitude of mind. Though we are physicians of souls, yet through heredity or early training many of us are of a nervous and rather stubborn disposition. If we physicians of souls shall impose on ourselves the following mortification, namely, to control the impulses of our soul, also to watch over bodily health, to correct our own judgement in conformity with the counsels of wiser men, to acknowledge frankly our mistakes, we shall perform a work pleasing to God and salutary to the Mystical Body of Christ. For to be unwilling to be guided by sense but by faith and reason in all things, that is penetrating mortification.
19. - Finally in closing this letter, I exhort you all, Reverend Fathers and dear Brothers in Christ persistently praying with deep confidence, to implore for the Society and abundant outpouring from that Spirit of Holiness which leads us to Him Who is the Way, the Truth and the Life. That image of Christ Crucified which the Society gave us as a memorial of our first vows at the completion of our novitiate is in the hands of each one of us. May the benign Lord grant that this image by no means grow commonplace by use but on the contrary may it with the passing of time speak more intimately to our souls. It will teach us if God enlightens the mind that efficacious love which is shown not by words but by deeds; and it will continually bring to mind those words: “What have I done for Christ, what am I doing for Christ, what ought I do for Christ.”30
I desire that the Society bound together in one and the same genuine spirit generously play its humble role in providing for the spiritual needs of the present time. For this earth the road to the Kingdom of God Who is Charity and Justice, will be more unobstructed, the more fully inordinate affection to created things and the occasion and incitement to sin are conquered in ourselves and others.
20. - Whilst in those lands towards which the dying St. Francis Xavier gazed, beseeching for them the light of the Gospel, our own Brothers, heralds of Christ, are suffering privation, prisons, persecutions at times worse than death; whilst in many provinces of Europe hundreds of our Brothers are experiencing the same fate; whilst all these true sharers of Christ’s Cross offer to God for the salvation of souls whatever they are forced to suffer, is it not right that the other members of the Society who conveniently and freely enough carry on their work, being mindful of their redemptive mission, in voluntary imitation of the suffering Christ implore of the Divine Mercy pardon for the sins of the world, grace of conversion for the erring, justice and charity in the social life of man? May the powerful intercession of the Apostle of the Indies preserve the grace of our vocation.
I commend myself earnestly to your Holy Sacrifices and prayers.
Given at Rome, April 22, 1952 on the Feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen of the Society of Jesus.
The servant of all in Christ,
John Baptist Janssens,
General of the Society of Jesus
1. A.R., XII 108-124.
2. A.A.S., XLII 570.
3. Litterae encyclicae Miserentissimus Redemptor, A.A.S. XX 165-178.
4. Cf. Praefatio antiqua Constit. In edit 1949 p. 6.
5. CF. Inscriptio ad “Praesupponendum” Exercitorium .
6. Exam. Gen. c. 4 n. 46 ; Reg. Summ. 12.
7. Constit. P. III c. 2 n. 3 .
8. Ibid. P. VI c. 3 n. 1 .
9. Ibid. P. IV c. 10 n. 4 .
10. Ibid. P. IX c. 2 n. 3 .
11. Exam. Gen. C. I n. 6 ; Reg. Summ. 4.
12. Constit. P. III c. 1 n. 25 ; Reg. Summ. 24.
13. Cf. I Cor. IX, 27.
14. Exerc. Spir. I Hebd. Addit. X .
15. Cf. I John I, 8.
16. Cf. Conc. Trident. Sess. XIV, Doctrina de Sacramento Paenitentiae: c. 8 et 9; Denz. 914-906.
17. Cf. Col. I, 24.
18. Cf. H. Rosweyde: Vitae Patrum, Libr. V, lib. 5, n. 27, p. 439. Lugduni 1617.
19. Suppl. Q. XIII art. 2 in C.
20. Cf. Luke XI, 21.
21. Cf. Mark IX, 28.
22. Matthew VI, 17.
23. Constit. P. III c. 2 n. 5 ; Reg. Summ. 48.
24. Rodriguez, A., Ejercicio de Perfeccion y Virtudes Cristianas, P. III Tr. V, c. 16 n. 2. S. Bernardus, Serm. 30 super Cant.
25. Lib. Gen. III, 19.
26. Cf. Constit. P. X n. 10 .
27. Epit. N. 208, 1°; Coll. decr. 60.
28. Conc. Trident. Sess. XIV, Doctrina de Sacramento Paenitentiae; Denz. 906.
29. Constit. P. III c. 1 n. 4 .
30. Exerc. Spir. I Hebd. .