On this date in 1540, four hundred and sixty-nine years ago, the Society of Jesus received official recognition by Pope Paul III. Set against the trauma of economic change, religious reform, the push and pull between strong absolutist states and remnant governments from the middle ages, the Society of Jesus began in a time fraught with conflict and confusion.
The most recent general congregation noted the exciting yet traumatic setting in which the Society of Jesus saw its entry into a world and how that same world bears a striking resemblance to our own today.
The Society of Jesus has carried a flame for nearly five hundred years through innumerable social and cultural circumstances that have challenged it intensely to keep that flame alive and burning. Things are no different today. In a world that overwhelms people with a multiplicity of sensations, ideas, and images, the Society seeks to keep the fire of its original inspiration alive in a way that offers warmth and light to our contemporaries. (General Congregation 35, decree 2 par. 1)
On this anniversary of the founding of the Jesuit order, there could be no better time to recall the fundamental purpose of the Jesuit order as determined by Ignatius of Loyola:
Whoever desires to serve as a soldier of God beneath the banner of the cross in our Society, which we desire to be designated by the name of Jesus and to serve the Lord alone and the Church, His spouse, under the Roman pontiff, the vicar of Christ on earth, should, after a solemn vow of perpetual chastity, poverty, and obedience, keep what follows in mind. He is a member of a Society founded chiefly for this purpose: to strive especially for the defense and propagation of the faith and for the progress of souls in Christian life and doctrine...
Although the means by which the Society of Jesus advances its fundamental mission (the "progress of souls in Christian life and doctrine...") may change, this singular goal still stands as the touchstone and motivation for all its works. Of course, the celebration of this birthday is shared by so many others who have assisted the Jesuits in their works through their prayers and generous gifts of time and treasure. Today, Jesuits and those who have assisted the Society of Jesus in its ministries may look back over these four and a half centuries with pride as to how well this mission has been achieved and look forward to how it may be achieved in even better ways-All for the Greater Glory and Honor of God.
By Fr. Michael Maher, S.J.
Source: Magis Institute