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‘Second founder’ of the Society of Jesus practiced Ignatian discernment

The person sometimes considered the “second founder” of the Society of Jesus, Father Pedro Arrupe, emerged from relative obscurity in 1965 when he was elected superior general of the society.

According to Father James Martin’s account in “My Life with the Saints,” Arrupe (pronounced ah-RUE-pay) was the perfect choice for the times: “a person with international vision and experience, a priest who had lived and worked in both the East and the West, and a Jesuit who understood that the Church’s center of gravity was moving inexorably away from Europe and to Asia and Africa.”

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Under Arrupe’s leadership, the society concentrated on three priorities: applying the “Spiritual Exercises” to the modern world, redoubling its work among the poor and marginalized, and promoting a “faith that does justice.”

According to Martin, Arrupe was recognized in both the church and society as an inspired and inspiring leader, highly intelligent, consistently warm and typically witty – an individual who exemplified the Jesuit ideal of the “contemplative in action.”

However, his efforts did not endear him to some powerful civil and church authorities (or some Jesuits themselves); he was often advised to “tone down” the society’s advocacy for social justice. When he was incapacitated by a stroke in 1981 Pope John Paul II intervened and replaced Arrupe’s chosen delegate with one more compatible with the pope’s own views.

It was a crushing public rejection; what followed, one biographer wrote, was a period of profound spiritual poverty and surrender, all of which he accepted (and urged his fellow-Jesuits to accept) with faithful obedience.

I think James Martin is right to admire Father Arrupe’s faithfulness while wondering if it is always wise or possible to submit personal conscience to faithful obedience.

Over the past century and a half we have witnessed too many horrendous examples of what happens when people suspend personal conscience to obey authority. As individuals and communities, we have been deceived or disappointed by errant authority too often not to have developed a healthy skepticism about simply doing what we’re told to do.

Today, more often than we would like to admit, our personal consciences are challenged by misplaced patriotism, political allegiance, economic survival, personal loyalty, even religious assent. Often, these challenges are proposed on the grounds that the end justifies the means – a theory soundly rejected by Catholic moral principles.

Still, we know all too well the dangers of living in a society where there is no moral authority save individual conscience.

Pedro Arrupe, who in fact is not a canonized saint, was the “contemplative in action,” well practiced in the Ignatian process of discernment. I think he is an inspiration for many seeking a reasonable alternative between blind obedience and personal autonomy.

What do you think?

Pray and Reflect

Use one or more of the following questions for personal reflection, group discussion or private journaling:

  • On a scale of 1 (low) to 5 (high) rate how much you are aware of conflicts between authority and your personal conscience. How would you have rated yourself five years ago?
  • Where and how have you experienced a conflict between authority and your personal conscience? How did you respond? Did you lean more toward authority or toward personal conscience? Are you struggling with a conflict between authority and personal conscience now? How can we prepare our children, grandchildren and students to integrate both authority and personal conscience into their decisions?
  • I think a well-formed personal conscience …

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Dave Cushing is director of adult faith formation for the Catholic parishes in Waterloo. The Disciple’s Corner is sponsored by the Archdiocese of Dubuque’s Office of Faith Formation and Education and is funded through the Archdiocesan Educational Development Board. It is designed to help catechists, teachers, parents, grandparents, guardians and other adults grow in their appreciation of their role as disciples of Jesus Christ.

 Six Steps Toward a Prayerful Decision

(Based on the “Spiritual Exercises”)

Adapted from Warren Sazama, S.J.

  1. Clarify what it is you want to decide about.
  2. Pray for the grace not to prefer one option over another and the inspiration to know what is most conducive to God’s service and praise.
  3. Imagine a person who seeks your help making the same decision; observe what advice you give this person and follow it yourself.
  4. Imagine the course of action which would give you happiness and joy when you look back on it from your deathbed or explain it to Christ on the day of judgment.
  5. List and weigh the advantages and disadvantages — the reasons for and against — one option or another; notice if any of the reasons stand out from the others, and why.
  6. Make a decision and pray for signs of God’s confirmation of the decision; the usual sign of God’s confirmation is an experience of peacefulness or “rightness,” a sense of God’s presence, blessing and love as opposed to anxiety, heaviness, sadness, or darkness.

Learn more about Ignatian discernment here: