February 6, 2020 – by Henry Frank
(from the Winter 2020 issue of "Jesuits" magazine by the Jesuits East)
In 1975, the Society of Jesus published “Our Mission Today: The Service of Faith and the Promotion of Justice.” Composed under the leadership of then-Superior General Fr. Pedro Arrupe, SJ, the document reminds us that we are to understand the pursuit of justice in the world as integral to the Ignatian way of proceeding. At the heart of Ignatian spirituality is the invitation to be a contemplative in action, and “action” means, in large part, working to create a more just society.
Some things have changed since 1975—for example, we are now #blessed with Twitter— but “Our Mission Today” remains as relevant as ever. The needs of the poor and marginalized cry out for justice. Pope Francis has decried the world’s pernicious “throwaway culture” of exclusion and waste, where people are reduced to the same value as the tons of waste that are thoughtlessly pumped into the oceans and atmosphere each year.
Discerning how to respond can seem as daunting as the problems themselves. St. Ignatius Loyola, who preached discernment as the foundation of all Christian decision-making, believed that all action in pursuit of justice begins with conversion of the heart. “Justice” is the proper ordering of one’s relationship to God. “Conversion” is the ongoing process of getting that ordering right.
By God’s grace, we begin to see the world as God sees it, and in response our hearts are moved to take concrete action. In Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis writes: “Works of love directed to one's neighbor are the most perfect external manifestation of the internal grace of the Spirit.” When our hearts are filled with the love of God, how can we not respond to the cry of the oppressed?
Of course discernment can be messy in practice, which is why Ignatian spirituality encourages us to ask first for the grace of spiritual freedom. From there, we are able to see more clearly where the Spirit is moving, where injustice lives, and what God is calling us to do.
None of us could possibly respond to every one of the world’s injustices. We must discern where and how to act. What gifts do we have to share? Where is God pulling our hearts? As contemporary followers of the Ignatian way, each of us must discern our individual call to the service of faith and the promotion of justice. When discernment yields sufficient clarity and freedom, we are able to move forward in action.
To aid this prayerful process, the Office of Ignatian Spirituality launched its “Works of Love” campaign this past fall, focusing on ten issues of justice in the world. It contains resources to guide prayer and reflection, helping you to discern where your gifts can have an impact and where God is inviting you. A new way of engaging the 45-year-old invitation of “Our Mission Today”!
Check it out at www.JesuitsEastOIS.org/worksoflove.