July-August 2023: Book reviews

Book Reviews

A Heart Larger than the World

Messenger Publications, 2022
9780788125871 • pp 261


‘Action without vision is only passing time. Vision without action is merely daydreaming. Vision with action can change the world’. Nelson Mandela

In April of this year, well-known author Dr Brian Grogan SJ was awarded the prestigious 2023 US Independent Press Award for his biography of the high-profile and sometimes controversial 28th Superior General of the Society of Jesus, Pedro Arrupe (1907-1991). In a remarkable analysis of his life, times, and singular achievements, this eponymous book, A Heart Larger than the World, reveals the many complexities and accomplishments of one of the most significant Catholic figures of the mid and late-twentieth century. 

Declared a Servant of God in 2018, the beatification process of Pedro Arrupe is now underway. It is widely acknowledged that Arrupe played a pivotal role in implementing the decrees of Vatican II and in instigating the renewal of Jesuit life and mission for the world. Indeed, such was the transformational effect of his leadership that his immediate successor declared, ‘He no longer belongs to Jesuits only. He belongs to the whole Church: indeed, he belongs to the world’. Clearly, the author believes that Pedro’s influence continues to animate the many who are inspired by his idealism, his vision and way of life. In offering a multidimensional portrayal of a man who touched the lives of so many, Brian Grogan trusts that his thoroughly researched and insightful book will help readers better understand this charismatic Jesuit and, in doing so, will add significantly to the extant canon of literature as beatification planning proceeds apace.

There is much to like about this book. Dr Grogan, himself a Jesuit, writes not only from the heart but also, crucially, from inside the fold: he was personally acquainted with Arrupe and ministered under his inspirational leadership. However, in writing for a broad audience, he is careful to explain and contextualise key concepts and aspects of Ignation spirituality for non-specialist readers. Chapters 1 and 2 (pp.1-29) serve either as a primer for the neophytes among us or as a refresher course for the initiated – the author’s clear, measured exposition of the guiding principles in Arrupe’s life make this book accessible without compromising its intellectual precision. A scholar and educator, Grogan writes clearly and without jargon; he allows Arrupe’s own words enlighten and inform his readers. From the outset, we appreciate that the over-riding concern for this extraordinary Jesuit was the question ‘What does God want?’ The labour of discernment was central to his life and his spirituality was grounded in the ‘real, messy world around him’ (p.17). Described as a ‘contemplative in action’, he encouraged his confreres to find God through ‘seeing with the eyes of Christ, going wherever the need was greatest, serving the faith and promoting justice’ (p.21).

Chapters 3–5 cover the generally well-known biographical details of Pedro Arrupe’s life from 1907 to 1983: his encounters with the poor in Madrid’s slums during his medical studies; his missionary work and formative experiences in Japan during World War II; his election as Superior General in 1965; his promotion of a spirituality that seeks God in the everyday; his founding in 1980 of the now-global Jesuit Refugee Service; his challenging relationships with Popes and his complete surrender to the will of God after a devastating stroke. From chapter 6 onwards, the author delves into the challenges that faced Arrupe as he strove to reinvigorate the Jesuit charism and promote a life of unpredictable, Spirit-led discipleship that he believed was necessary for ministry to those most in need. Michael Fullan once famously remarked that effecting change in any organisation is like embarking on ‘a planned journey into uncharted waters on a leaky boat with a mutinous crew’ and clearly Pedro encountered opposition, criticism and even opprobrium from some quarters. Even among his Jesuit community, he was faced with open rebellion, ‘One Basque founded the Society of Jesus; another is destroying it’ (p.150).

Certainly, Fr Arrupe endured sixteen turbulent years in office and the John Paul II/Arrupe ‘split’ is afforded full and considered coverage. However, Grogan is even-handed in his commentary and analysis; he lists Arrupe’s gifts and limitations (pp.70-71) acknowledging Pedro’s Christ-centred view of the world whilst noting his ‘excessive idealism’ and ‘ignorance of Vatican diplomacy’. All in all, his personal and well-researched insights into the life and times of Pedro Arrupe ensure that the reader is presented with an honest and fair appraisal of one of the greatest church figure of our times.

 This is an accessible, provocative read that, like all good biography, leaves one confronting the ultimate mystery of the human person: Pedro Arrupe, a somewhat flawed human like the rest of us, yet exemplary in his faithfulness and his profound trust in God’s providence. His spirit lives on in the Jesuit mission to the modern world and in his profound influence on Pope Francis who reflected in his May 2022 message for the Ignation Year ‘Discernment does not consist in always succeeding from the beginning, but rather in navigating and having a compass in order to be able to set out on the path, which has many twists and turns, but always allowing oneself to be guided by the Holy Spirit, who leads us to the encounter with the Lord’.

– Reviewer: Mary Adamson, Bryanstown, Drogheda
Intercom, June 2023