Being For and Being With


“Men for Others” (and latterly “Men and Women for Others). This phrase has been associated with the educational goals of Jesuits and their collaborators since it was first formulated by the then Jesuit Superior General, Pedro Arrupe, SJ, in 1973. Fr.

Arrupe’s speech to alumni of Jesuit educational organizations was given in the context of the Yom Kippur War and the Vietnam War and elaborated on a theme which had been troubling him for some time:  the growing dominance of egoism as the driving force of most of the social ills of the times.

Over the ensuing decades, Ignatian educators increasingly used this phrase as the concise descriptor of the essential quality they sought to inculcate in their students. Of course, the prototype “Man for Others” was the Lord Jesus himself and the close following of Jesus has been essential to the Jesuit way since the beginning of the Society and is rooted firmly in the Spiritual Exercises.

However, this new expression certainly pinpointed the thrust of the Society’s General Congregation 32 towards a “preferential option for the poor” who more and more become identified as the critical “Others.”

However, I believe that now Jesuits and those who collaborate with them are entering into a newer, deeper and more radical understanding of each person’s relationship to the “Others” and thus to the Lord himself.

Just this April Superior General Arturo Sosa, SJ, announced in a letter to all Jesuits that Pope Francis had approved four “Universal Apostolic Preferences” which were to guide the world of the Society through 2029. These are:

A  To show the way to God through the Spiritual Exercises and Discernment;

B To walk with the poor, the outcasts of the world, those whose dignity has been violated, in a mission of reconciliation and justice;

C  To accompany young people in the creation of  a hope-filled future;

D To collaborate in the care of our Common Home.

As I read and reflected upon Fr. Sosa’s letter, I came to realize that these four apostolic preferences call us (and by “us” I mean all who share in the mission of the Society of Jesus, even though Fr. Sosa’s letter is addressed to his fellow Jesuits) to move beyond being “Men and Women for Others” to become “Men and Women with Others.” What is the difference?

Being “for Others” can be construed as orienting our minds and hearts to the interests of the marginalized, offering our time, talent and treasure to serving their interests and even sacrificing our own (apparent) interests in order to promote those of the marginalized.

Of course, “for Others” does not necessarily mean only these, but often enough it has been lived as meaning only these. Being “with Others” puts our noses right up against the door. There is no wiggle room. We are called to identification, solidarity and actual connection. There is no condescension, there is no noblesse oblige.

“Walk with,” “accompany” and “collaborate” go beyond sympathy, beyond empathy, directly to compassion, to suffering/being with. Most importantly, being “with Others” means being ourselves transformed by Others.

For example, in Canada there is no more pressing challenge to being “with Others” than is the challenge of settler reconciliation with the Indigenous.

In our parishes and in our schools, this means allowing ourselves to be transformed by Others’ ways. Liturgical drumming? Smudging ceremonies in church? In our schools, bolo ties and buckskin instead of business suits? Healing circles instead of JUGS? Sharing circles and shared decision-making rather than hierarchical structures?

And what challenges do the fourth Apostolic Preference bring to our institutions? What about our parking lots? Our electronics which use so many rare earth metals (often mined by child labour, BTW)? After all, much of how we humans have acted since the Industrial Revolution has made the Earth itself an “Other”!

Fr. Gregory Boyle, SJ, has spent most of his Jesuit life working with Los Angeles youth gang members who want a way out of the degradation and violence. In his Tattoos on the Heart he writes about Jesus,

“Jesus was not a man for others. He was one with others. There is a world of difference in that. He didn’t seek the rights of lepers. He touched the leper even before he got around to curing him. He didn’t champion the cause of the outcast. He was the outcast. He didn’t fight for improved conditions for the prisoner. He simply said, “I was in prison.”[1]

Since no servants are greater than their master, this is our call, too.

[1] Gregory Boyle, S.J., Tattoos on the Heart:  The Power of Boundless Compassion. New York. Free Press. 2010, p.72.

Johnston Smith is a retired teacher and an active spiritual director in Winnipeg.

  • Peter Bisson
    Posted at 02:34h, 17 July Reply

    Thank you Johnston!

  • Roger Yaworski, SJ
    Posted at 09:58h, 17 July Reply

    Thanks. Good stuff.

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