Vatican City, 28 September 2014 (VIS) – Yesterday afternoon, in the Basilica of the Most Holy Name of Jesus, the Pope presided at a liturgy of thanksgiving to mark the 200th anniversary of the reconstitution of the Society of Jesus in the universal Church, sanctioned by Pope Pius VII with the Bull “Sollicitudo Omnium ecclesiarum” of 7 August 1814. During the liturgy, which included the Vespers prayer and the Te Deum, following the Gospel reading and before the renewal of vows by some of the Jesuits present, the Holy Father gave a homily, extensive extracts of which are published below:
“The Society under the name of Jesus has lived difficult times of persecution. During the leadership of Fr. Lorenzo Ricci, 'enemies of the Church succeeded in obtaining the suppression of the Society' by my predecessor Clement XIV. Today, remembering its restoration, we are called to recover our memory, calling to mind the benefits received and the particular gifts. Today, I want to do that here with you.
“In times of trial and tribulation, dust clouds of doubt and suffering are always raised and it is not easy to move forward, to continue the journey. Many temptations come, especially in difficult times and in crises: to stop to discuss ideas, to allow oneself to be carried away by the desolation, to focus on the fact of being persecuted, and not to see the other. Reading the letters of Fr. Ricci, one thing struck me: his ability to avoid being harnessed by these temptations and to propose to the Jesuits, in a time of trouble, a vision of the things that rooted them even more in the spirituality of the Society”.
“The Society … lived the conflict to the end, without minimising it. It lived humiliation along with the humiliated Christ; it obeyed. You never save yourself from conflict with cunning and with strategies of resistance. In the confusion and humiliation, the Society preferred to live the discernment of God's will, without seeking a way out of the conflict in a seemingly quiet manner. It is never apparent tranquillity that satisfies our hearts, but true peace that is a gift from God. One should never seek the easy 'compromise'. ... Only discernment saves us from real uprooting, from true 'suppression' of the heart, which is selfishness, worldliness, the loss of our horizon. Our hope, is Jesus; it is only Jesus. Thus Fr. Ricci and the Society during the suppression privileged history rather than a grey 'little tale', knowing that love judges history and that hope – even in darkness – is greater than our expectations. … We can review briefly this process of discernment and service. When in 1759, the decrees of Pombal destroyed the Portuguese provinces of the Society, Fr. Ricci lived the conflict, not complaining and letting himself fall into desolation, but inviting prayers to ask for the good spirit, the true supernatural spirit of vocation, the perfect docility to God's grace. When in 1761, the storm advanced in France … he asked that all trust be placed in God. ... In 1760, after the expulsion of the Spanish Jesuits, he continued to call for prayer. And finally, on February 21, 1773, just six months before the signing of the Brief Dominus ac Redemptor, with the utter lack of human help, he sees the hand of God's mercy, which invites those, who submit to the test, not to confide in anyone but God. … The important thing for Fr. Ricci that the Society, until the last, is true to the spirit of its vocation, which is for the greater glory of God and the salvation of souls.
“The Society, even faced with its own demise, remained true to the purpose for which it was founded. To this, Ricci concludes with an exhortation to keep alive the spirit of charity, unity, obedience, patience, evangelical simplicity, true friendship with God. Everything else is worldliness.
“Let us remember our history: the Society 'was given the grace not only to believe in the Lord, but also to suffer for His sake'. We do well to remember this. The ship of the Society has been tossed around by the waves and there is nothing surprising in this. Even the boat of Peter can be tossed about today. The night and the powers of darkness are always near. It is tiring to row. The Jesuits must be 'brave and expert rowers': row then! Row, be strong, even with the headwind! We row in the service of the Church. We row together! But while we row - we all row, even the Pope rows in the barque of Peter - we must pray a lot. … The Lord, even if we are men of little faith, will save us”.
“The Society, restored by my predecessor Pius VII, was made up of men, who were brave and humble in their witness of hope, love and apostolic creativity, that of the Spirit. Pius VII … gave permission to the Jesuits, who still existed here and there, thanks to a Lutheran monarch and an Orthodox monarch, 'to remain united in one body'. … The Society resumed its apostolic activity of preaching and teaching, spiritual ministries, scientific research and social action, the missions and care for the poor, the suffering and the marginalised. Today, the Society also deals with the tragic problem of refugees and displaced persons with intelligence and industriousness; and it strives with discernment to integrate service to faith and the promotion of justice in conformity with the Gospel. I confirm today what Paul VI told us at our 32nd General Congregation and which I heard with my own ears: "Wherever in the Church, even in the most difficult and extreme situations, in the crossroads of ideologies, in the social trenches, where there has been and there is confrontation between the deepest desires of man and the perennial message of the Gospel, there you have been and there are Jesuits.
“In 1814, at the time of the restoration, the Jesuits were a small flock, a 'small Society', which however knew how to invest, following the trials of the cross, in the great mission of bringing the light of the Gospel to the ends of the earth. This is how we must feel today therefore: outbound, in mission. The Jesuit identity is that of a man who loves God and loves and serves his brothers, showing by example not only that in which he believes, but also that in which he hopes, and who is the One in whom he has put his trust”.