José Aldunate, SJ

              This article is based on the suspicion that we are in the habit of giving the Spiritual Exercises (SE) in an excessively individualistic way. At least, it has seemed strange to me that often the SE lacks a fuller social sense. This article attempts to back up this prejudgement and propose some possible  solutions. In this context we make explicit a more integrated notion of ‘social sin’ and suggest how it may be inserted in the First Week of the SE. Above all we have to take into account the fact that the SE does not represent the entire spirituality of Saint Ignatius; that spirituality is present above all in the Constitutions of the Society of Jesus. The Spiritual Exercises seek a defined goal, specified from the beginning: to get rid of disordered attachments in order to “look for and find the divine will in your life.” This is an individual focus that is not always fully achieved, whereas the spirituality that inspires the Constitutions is eminently social.

             In other words, the assumption underlying the SE is individual: man is understood as the individual person. This appears clearly in the Principle and Foundation, where a relationship is established between God and the individual. The sin of the first exercises is exclusively individual sin. Situations where the subject of sin is society do not appear anywhere; we will see this particularly when we deal with social sin. The Call of the King, according to Saint Ignatius, is a following of the person of Christ. His person, and not the Kingdom of God, is at the centre of the second and following weeks. The meditation over the Incarnation, presented as the Trinity contemplating the fall of humanity, could allow us to develop a more collective concept of sin and redemption, but undoubtedly the emphasis is on the individual.

             The Bible, on the other hand, strongly emphasizes the collective. Creation ends with human beings and we suppose that this human being is destined to be the image of God. The sin of humanity is that which provokes the anger of God and also His compassion. The Prophets present the sin of the people of Israel, the chosen people of God, as being the focus of their concern. The vineyard of Yahweh in Isaiah 5, 1-7, and the unfaithful wife of Hosea 2,1-22 both represent the people of Israel. Ezekiel introduces us to individual responsibility as a development without diminishing collective responsibility. This will be more fully developed in the theme of collective or social sin.

Social Sin

             By Social sin, we mean not individual sin that has social repercussions, but rather the sin whose subject is society. Sins called ‘institutional’ or ‘structural’ are thus social sins. The Church has resisted accepting the concept of social sin, alleging that all sin supposes the liberty and responsibility of the individual (cf The Encyclical Reconciliato et Poenitentia, John Paul II). However, in John Paul’s later social encyclicals, he admits the concept of ‘structures of sin.’ This may be attributed to the fact that sociology is a social science only recently taken account of by the church. Structures can assimilate social habits that originate from individual sins and therefore bear that sin. For example, the practise of bribery or the habit of machismo is a social habit that corresponds with individual sinful habits. The concept of ‘social sin’ was developed in Liberation Theology and received ecclesiastical confirmation in the Latin American Bishops Conferences of Medellín and Puebla. Thus the church was opened to social analysis, structural reform and the struggle against poverty. We have to admit that the observations formulated from Rome have hindered these openings. These same inhibitions, or at least the absence of modern sociological insights, have robbed our SE of punch in our social pastoral work.

Suggestions From A Social Perspective

             Theoretically, as well as in practise, much work has been done to modernize the SE. In the biblical, theological and social fields eminent Jesuits have accomplished great works, and in teaching through directories such as the Latin America Directory. But I feel that we have to insist on making sure that the Spiritual Exercises promote justice, and that vocations are discerned in the light of this. With this objective I would like to make some suggestions.

(1) The Principle And Foundation

             The theme that is presented is God’s plan in the creation of humanity and the goal of humanity. The goal is that we become sons and daughters of the family of God in fraternity and solidarity. Then the primary goal of all created resources is explained, which is the life and fulfilment of all without exception. In particular, all property is subject to this hypothesis. For example, the capacity to produce is divinely given o be used by all workers as is indicated in “Laborem Excercens.” Finally, comes the goal of all goods that are available for use by each and very person, which is the fulfilment of the plan of God.

(2) The First Week: Social Sin

              More than individual sin, this week could be centred on social sin. I think that this is the biblical sense of sin, par excellence, at least in the Old Testament. Further, the Gospels are centred on the imperative of the ‘Kingdom of God’. For Marciano Vidal, a universally known moral theologian, the notion that sin includes individual and social sin is analogical. But the “analogatum princeps” is social sin. It is very important here to define sin. The current definitions of ‘an offence against God’ or ‘disobedience to the law of God’ do not have theological or pastoral value. I think that the definition of sin could be ‘a human act that is opposed to the loving plan of God.’ This act can be distinguished as individual acts or as social acts, although strictly speaking, all the acts of society implicate individuals and individual acts. Even a mere thought is social for the reason that we are at the same time individuals and members of a society. The goal of the first week is the knowledge of sin and the recognition of sin. For this there is nothing better than starting from the social effects of sin in contemporary humanity: poverty, misery, drug addiction and all types of violence leading to the destruction of the family, world peace and all forms of unhappiness.

              Personal repentance is based on our responsibility for social sin, which is to say, that one can be an accomplice in the way that one participates in the structures of abuse or oppression. One’s duty is to do whatever is possible to correct these structures that cause damage.

(3) The Second Week Of The Exercises: The Call And The Following Of Christ

              The call of the King in the SE seeks a commitment to personally follow Christ, including embracing his poverty and humiliation. Without doubt we are missing today a more explicit mention here of the “Kingdom of God,” which is the central message of Christ in the Gospels. This is the perspective that corresponds to the actual man in a world on the way to globalisation. In the contemplations of the mysteries of Christ, the central dedication of Christ to the promotion of the Kingdom of God has to be stressed more, an ideal taken from the Old Testament and explicit in its message. Here the demands of justice and the liberation of the poor are essential. And in these demands and corresponding duties are the fundamental ‘human rights,’ which are the most complete expression of a morality for a future world or the Kingdom of God, which is indeed the same project of the Father who created humanity out of love, that we may all be his sons and daughters. Christ announced the Kingdom of God, as is seen in Mark 1,15, which he explained through parables and based on the beatitudes.

(4) The Election

              We know that the Spiritual Exercises are directed toward a conversion, which is expressed in a life-changing choice. Saint Ignatius proposes some annotations to guide this choice or election for life. I believe that implicit in Ignatius is a deontological morality or a morality of principles. For the election, these principles are found partly in the Principle and Foundation (rational principles) as well as in the meditations about Christ (spiritual principles). The election must flow from these principles. Effectively, two ways for the election are proposed, rational discernment and spiritual discernment.

              Modern man tends to be moved by another type of morality, theological morality or what Max Weber calls ‘the morality of responsibility.’ To take a decision one must evaluate the results of one’s actions. Those who have understood their own responsibility toward the evil of society, in the poverty and the violence that are present, ask themselves what they must do to mitigate these evils. They will feel invited by Christ to commit themselves to this reparation.  For all that one may wish to make an election for one’s life, one must remember the criteria for this discernment,  which is ‘that which most leads to the end for which we were created.’ This leads not to ideological but practical and effective action, and this end is not merely my personal salvation but the good of all of humanity, the fulfilment of the Kingdom of God. It could be that poverty will be the path, but it also could be wealth. Whatever leads me to better fulfil the social good is my path. We have to insist on making sure that the Spiritual Exercises promote justice.

              Thus, as a result of this election, the exercitants will not be abstract or ideological but practical, in their choice of resources as well. In other words, he/she is expected to use the formula of Catholic Action well understood as ‘see, judge, act.’ Here to judge is not to start from absolute and universal principles, as has so often happened, but the ‘seeing’ of a reality examined objectively and sometimes technically.

(5) The Passion And Death Of Jesus

              Saint Ignatius said that Jesus died ‘for me.’ This is true, but we must take into account that he died because he loved all humanity, and even more for the love of each one. Neither Jesus nor his father wanted his death, but they accepted it as the result of the reaction of the chiefs of Israel who were incensed by the activity of Jesus in his commitment to the Kingdom of God.


              I am not a specialist in Spirituality, nor the SE. My area  has been Moral Theology. Because of this I expound these ideas to my companions in fear and trembling, especially in this excellent magazine Promotio Iustitiae where things are said with great clarity.

This Article Is By  José Aldunate SJ
Residencia San Ignacio
Alonso Ovalle 1480
Santiago 833-0282

It Is From The Original Spanish  And The

Translation Was Done By Timothy Byron SJ
It Was Published By  Promotio Iustitiae No. 88,2005/3

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