Helping Souls

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St. Ignaius and St. Xavier at the University of Paris

"Helping Souls" is a theme that has guided the work of the Society of Jesus from its founding. It is a theme that continues to guides the work of many Jesuit schools and parishes all over the world as well as a theme that guides many other Catholic and Ignatian organizations.

Where does this Ignatian theme come from?

St. Ignatius often asked "What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses his soul?"

While they were students at the University of Paris, Ignatius of Loyola was fond of asking the young Francis Xavier the question of Jesus from Matthew's gospel: “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses his soul?”[1] Through his own spiritual journey, Ignatius realized that God was present and at work in everyone and everything around him. By being open to God’s presence he realized that he could help others on their own spiritual journey by acting as a director and developing the spiritual exercises. This led him to expand his charity from serving people’s bodily needs to include their spiritual needs, or “helping souls.” [2] In helping souls by ministering to the whole person, Jesuits have a limitless list of services and ministries from nourishing the body to nourishing the mind. The ultimate goal, however, of all of these efforts to help souls is to empower the individual with the freedom to grow closer to God. [3] Ignatius solidifies the foundation for the commitment to helping souls in the Spiritual Exercises in the First Principle and Foundation, where he describes each person as created to praise, reverence and serve God with the intention of moving closer to God and building a relationship with God. Through that relationship and one's devotion to living God's will, one will find the opportunities to incorporate the helping of souls and service to others into one's vocation. [4]

Ignatius and the first Jesuits

The early Jesuits were “fired by a common desire to help people in the manner of Jesus and the early disciples.” [5] At the time, they were not focusing on work that was already being done, such as in parishes or monasteries. Rather, the early Jesuits focused on helping souls by ministering to and bringing in people who had been relegated to the fringes and the margins of society as Christ had done. For example, in Ignatius's autobiography, he often recounts situations where he would arrive in a city and being to beg and live on alms, putting himself on the same level as the poor and the marginalized whom he was reaching out to. He even continued his ministry and acting as a spiritual director while imprisoned. [6] One of the ways in which they lived this vocation, drawing from the spirituality of the Exercises, was through education. “They had experienced God educating their souls: teaching them to discern the lights and shadows in the details of their own lives; trusting them to use their freedom wisely; re-orienting their lives by widening their awareness of grace at work in all created things and in the diversity of human culture; and impelling them to use their talents for the glory of God.” [7] Part of the reason why the early Jesuits were drawn to establishing educational institutions as a means of helping souls is because Ignatius recognized the need for a period of study in his own development in order to be able to better serve. Therefore, education would enable people to discern how best they could go forth and help souls as well. [8]

Vatican II

Under the Second Vatican Council [9] [1] leaders of religious orders were encouraged to reexamine the inspiration of the founders of their order. For the Jesuits this meant returning to the themes of Ignatius's Spiritual Exercises. "Ignatius had envisioned that the exercises would help men and women achieve a radical freedom to choose how to live, and that for Jesuits this would mean how to serve others." [10] The results of this recommitment to helping souls can be seen in the leadership and direction of the Jesuits under Pedro Arrupe and the 1974 General Congregation.

Pedro Arrupe

As superior general of the Jesuits, Pedro Arrupe led the order in carrying out its mission to help souls by stressing the formation of men and women for others through Jesuit education as well as a commitment to living a faith that does justice. In a 1973 speech, Arrupe said, "Today our prime educational objective must be to form men for others; men who will not live for themselves but for God and His Christ - for the God-man who lived and died for all the world; to form men who cannot even conceive of a love of God which does not include love for the least of their neighbors; men completely convinced that a love of God which does not issue in justice is a farce." [11] [2] In response, Jesuit institutions directed their educational efforts based on the premise that "to be educated was to be educated for a just society, for the service not just of oneself or one’s family or class but of the entire community.” [12]


1974 General Congregation

As part of the response to Vatican II and Pedro Arrupe's leadership, Jesuit representatives from around the world gathered to discuss world issues of poverty and oppression and incorporating a faith that does justice into their vocation. The result was a document that challenged the order to let faith and justice flow through all that they do, as their central mission. [13]


Living the Mission Today

Under the leadership of Pedro Arrupe, several initiatives and organizations have since been formed in the spirit of helping souls, including the Jesuit Refugee Service, the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, and Jesuit Volunteers International.

As described by the Jesuit Vocation Office for the Maryland and USA Northeast Provinces [14] [3], other apostolates in which Jesuits live their vocation of helping souls include parish ministry, international ministries, social service agencies, and as Jesuit Brothers. Within parish ministries, Jesuits serving there help their parishioners find God in the joys and hardships of daily life in the community. In the area of international ministries, Jesuit missionaries take their task of helping souls and bringing others closer to God abroad while maintaining a focus on learning from the people and cultures that they encounter. In social service agencies, whether they are geared towards the homeless, immigrants, or the otherwise marginalized, "Jesuits serve the poor by developing an awareness of the demands of justice, acknowledging the social responsibility to achieve it, and participating in a mobilization toward a more just social order." [15] Jesuit Brothers live in community with other Jesuits and serve in a variety of ministries from schools to parishes to retreat centers to social services. The areas they serve are determined by "the changing needs of the Society of Jesus and the Church of the 21st Century." [16] [4]

Today, Jesuit Universities play a large role in living the mission of helping souls. By educating men and women for others, they inspire their students to discover their vocation and then go forth and "set the world aflame," as Ignatius said to Francis Xavier. Other Ignatian traditions, such as the unofficial motto, Ad Majorem Gloriam, "for the greater glory of God" and a dedication to the daily Examen also incorporate the idea of helping souls and living a faith that does justice for students. An important part of the Jesuit curriculum has been "encourag[ing] each student's growth as a human being." By addressing each student as an individual, they are then empowered to see others also as individuals and recognize a common humanity. [17]

References and External Links

  1. What Are We? An Introduction to Boston College and Its Jesuit and Catholic Tradition, Center for Ignatian Spirituality, Boston College, 2002, pg 7-9
  2. What Are We? An Introduction to Boston College and Its Jesuit and Catholic Tradition, Center for Ignatian Spirituality, Boston College, 2002, pg 13
  3. O'Malley, John, The First Jesuits, pg 18-19
  4. Ignatius of Loyola: Spiritual Exercises, Penguin Classics, 1996, pg 289, section 23.
  5. What Are We? An Introduction to Boston College and Its Jesuit and Catholic Tradition, Center for Ignatian Spirituality, Boston College, 2002, pg 17
  6. Ignatius of Loyola: Reminiscences, Penguin Classics, 1996, pg 40-42
  7. What Are We? An Introduction to Boston College and Its Jesuit and Catholic Tradition, Center for Ignatian Spirituality, Boston College, 2002, pg 33
  8. O'Malley, John, The First Jesuits, pg 208
  9. http://www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second_Vatican_Council
  10. What Are We? An Introduction to Boston College and Its Jesuit and Catholic Tradition, Center for Ignatian Spirituality, Boston College, 2002, pg 45
  11. Creighton University: Men for Others. http://www.creighton.edu/CollaborativeMinistry/men-for-others.html#2
  12. What Are We? An Introduction to Boston College and Its Jesuit and Catholic Tradition, Center for Ignatian Spirituality, Boston College, 2002, pg 36-37
  13. What Are We? An Introduction to Boston College and Its Jesuit and Catholic Tradition, Center for Ignatian Spirituality, Boston College, 2002, pg 45-47
  14. http://www.jesuitvocation.org
  15. http://www.jesuitvocation.org/Jesuits/ministry.htm
  16. http://www.njbc.com
  17. What Are We? An Introduction to Boston College and Its Jesuit and Catholic Tradition, Center for Ignatian Spirituality, Boston College, 2002, pg 35