Live Jesus as Men and Women for Others

Perhaps you have heard about the white smoke that wafted in Rome last week with the election of the black pope. Or, you never may have even heard of the expression.

Leader of the Society of Jesus, the largest religious community of priests, brothers, and seminarians in the church, the superior general is elected by delegates of Jesuits from throughout the world. He serves for life to lead the 16,740 men who follow the heritage of St. Ignatius of Loyola, their sixteenth century founder. Fr. Arturo Sosa Abascal, SJ, from Venezuela, was elected the 30th successor to the soldier-saint; he is the first non-European.

The influence of the Jesuits stretches from their many elementary and high schools, colleges and universities, parishes, retreat centers, and social services to almost every part of the world, including the chair of St. Peter, as Pope Francis himself is a Jesuit. The role of the superior general is critical to the direction of these ministries. One of Fr. Sosa's recent predecessors, Fr. Pedro Arrupe, who led from 1965-1983 as the 28th superior general, offered a significant contribution to the society that has focused those participating and benefitting from Jesuit apostolates. Fr. Arrupe inaugurated the theme that commonly marks Jesuit ministries, especially its schools: forming students to be men and women for others. The maxim's original and fuller text, delivered in 1973 in Valencia, Spain, is instructive:

Today our prime educational objective must be to form men and women for others; men and women who will live not for themselves but for God and his Christ—for the God-human who lived and died for the world; men and women who cannot even conceive of love of God which does not include love the least of their neighbors; men and women completely convinced that love of God which does not issue in justice for others is a farce.

Themes included here are evident in the writings, teachings, and ministry of Pope Francis, who was a young Jesuit leader under Fr. Arrupe. But, the values expressed by Fr. Arrupe can be seen even much earlier in another student of the Jesuits, St. Francis de Sales, who was educated by them at the College de Clermont. Later, as a student at the University of Padua, he chose a Jesuit as his spiritual director, which became a central relationship for him. DeSales' famous maxim and exhortation, Live Jesus, continues to inspire and challenge, and it implicitly invites disciples to be men or women for others, for God and his Christ, and for the least of their brothers and sisters.

As the church congratulates Fr. Sosa and his near-17,000 Jesuit brothers on his election, we are reminded that every expression of Christianity calls the believer to live Jesus as the way to be men and women for others.