Saturday, July 31, 2010

Memorial of St. Ignatius Loyola - Jesuit Jubilarians

Today I will join fellow Jesuits for a feast day Mass at Holy Rosary Parish in Guelph and for the celebration at Ignatius College of our Order's founder, Inigo de Loyola y Onaz and, as well, to honour confreres celebrating major anniversaries of their religious life or priestly ordination.

Among these are five men who entered the Jesuit Novitiate fifty years ago, in August 1960, the year before my classmates and me: Fathers J. Winston Rye (Province Treasurer, formation house superior, Toronto), Michael J. Parent (serving in Tibet), G. William Robins (missionary in Nepal), Joseph J. Schuck (high school teacher, pastoral associate, St. John's,NL), Roger A. Yaworski (director, Ignatian Jesuit Centre, pastoral associate, Guelph, ON).

Our novice master, Father Leonard Fischer celebrates this year 75 years as a Jesuit, Marc Gervais marks 60 years and Lawrence Brennnan and Charles Holland are fifty years in the priesthood.

Ad multos annos, one and all!

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O God who raised up Saint Ignatius Loyola in your Church to further the greater glory of your Name, grant that, by his help, we may imitate him in fighting the good fight on earth and merit to receive with him a crown in heaven. Through our Lord.

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Pilgrim and Man of Prayer Who Founded the Society of Jesus

Ignatius Loyola (Iñigo Lopez de Loyola, 1491-1556) walked with a slight limp after being injured while defending the fortress at Pamplona in northern Spain. Slowed down by a lengthy recovery from that injury, he experienced an interior conversion that sent him on ever further journeys, a pilgrim propelled by an abiding devotion to Jesus Christ.

He crisscrossed Europe, walking back and forth through Spain, France and Italy. He wandered further by boat, sailing from Venice to the Holy Land. Eventually he took the name Ignatius, which is how we now refer to him; but in his memoir, he preferred to call himself simply, "the pilgrim."

Beyond the physical distance and the endless roads, Ignatius covered a great historical distance. He moved from the medieval world of a family of minor Basque nobility—proud of their defense of the king and hostile to the rising power of the towns—to the flowering of Renaissance learning in Paris and the rebuilding of Rome under artists like Michaelangelo and reformers like Charles Borromeo. He lived during a period of transition shaped by key figures such as Henry VIII and Mary Tudor, Raphael and El Greco, Luther and Calvin, Cervantes and Palestrina.

Had he followed his family's plans for himself, the youngest of 13 children, he would have become a cleric and settled into a comfortable life with benefices to support him and privilege to protect him. His own plans for himself led to one dead end after another.

His first journey set the stage for what would follow. He left the lush, steep-sided valley of the Urola River where his family owned the best land in the center of the valley, in order to journey to the broad plains of the south where Ferdinand the Catholic, the King of Castile, ruled over a sophisticated and wealthy world.

Ignatius was an ambitious young man who had no desire to stay at home with older brothers who had already won honor and some wealth. He wanted to become a courtier like his mentor, Don Juan Velásquez de Cuéllar, the royal treasurer who take Ignatius into his household at Arévalo.

For 11 years Ignatius learned skills of administration, diplomacy, arms and courtly manners that would prepare him for a career in public administration and political intricacies. He dreamed of being sent as an emissary of the king or ruling over a royal town such as Arévalo. However, his mentor's fall from power for opposing the new king, Carlos I, put an abrupt end to that ambition.

Next came his service with the Duke of Nájera, viceroy of the northern part of the Kingdom of Navarre which bordered on France. After a promising start where his diplomacy and leadership qualities made him a "gentilhombre" very useful to the Duke, this second career also came to an abrupt halt when a French cannon ball badly injured his legs.

After his convalescence and conversion a new desire to serve Jesus replace his former hopes of glory. His first efforts in this new service led to a complete reversal of values as the proud courtier became a poor beggar, imposing harsh penances upon himself in a literal imitation of the legends of the saints. He set out from Loyola for the Holy Land, stopping first at the shrine of the Black Virgin at Montserrat.

A one-night vigil stretched out to an intense year of prayer in the city of Manresa, not far Montserrat, before he continued his journey to Rome and Jerusalem. He planned to live in the Holy Land as a sort of permanent pilgrim, visiting the places where Jesus lived and talking with people about Jesus. When his reckless actions threatened the precarious situation of the Franciscans in charge of the holy places, they forced him to return to Europe.

Likewise, his initial efforts as a student at Barcelona, Alcalá and Salamanca were fruitless. Not until he learned to study in a disciplined manner at the University of Paris did Ignatius finally realize one of his plans--obtaining the education necessary to continue his work of conversing with people about God and spiritual matters.

In Paris other doors started to open for him as well. He met men who would be true companions and share his vision, men like Francis Xavier. Their education as Masters of the University of Paris qualified them for high positions; instead they set out as pilgrims looking for opportunities to serve God. Together these companions weathered the failure of their initial goal of going to the Holy Land; they waited in vain for an entire year for a ship to sail from Venice to Japha.

With their plans for the Holy Land frustrated, Ignatius and his companions turned to Rome where God's plan for them finally became clear. Rome became the center where the Society of Jesus came into being and then spread throughout the world. After all the previous journeys, Ignatius himself spent his last 18 years living in the crowded center of the city of Rome and working within a few small rooms. His most important journey continued, however, for it centered on his search for God and was graced with a profound mystical prayer.

Our most familiar image of Ignatius comes from this last part of his life. He is usually portrayed as a dour lawmaker pointing to the book of the Constitutions he wrote to govern the Society of Jesus. His own self-image remained that of the Pilgrim, which is how he constantly referred to himself as he dictated his autobiography towards the end of his life. []

Painting: Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640), The Vision of St. Ignatius Loyola (c. 1617-18)

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From the British Jesuits' website, a reflection on the meaning of Ignatian spirituality:

To celebrate the Feast of St Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus, James Hanvey SJ exposes the theological vision manifested in the Spiritual Exercises and in Ignatius’s life.

‘What Ignatius gives us is not a scholastic or academic theology; it is not a theory, but a theology that is lived and experienced. In this sense, too, our theology becomes a daily action, shaping and making our lives.’

...The Spiritual Exercises are a sort of practical, experiential theology that leads to a converted and consecrated freedom in action, not a treatise on Christology, ecclesiology, grace and nature. The same is true for the Constitutions of the Society and we can see how much this theology is his life in Ignatius’s letters and Spiritual Diary. Everything in these writings reveals an immanent living theology which is applied to the realities of persons, places and circumstances....

...The Exercises, and indeed the whole example of Ignatius’s life, certainly expect the subject to spare nothing in the service of God and his Kingdom, but this flows from an inexhaustible gratitude for what one has received from the Divine Majesty at such cost. The determined ordering of all one’s energies in the service of Christ, and the desire to participate as completely as possible in the work of salvation require a disciplined asceticism of love for God and for neighbour, but this ‘freedom’ is far from the indifference of a stoic self-mastery, though it may teeter on the brink of this distortion.

The subject’s life, the interior drama of desires and freedom, and the struggle and the discipline of realities that both circumscribe us and offer new possibilities are all present, but Ignatius sees them in relation to God who is actively present at their centre. The whole work of the Exercises is to give us a new point from which to see the world in all its astonishing diversity and especially to see the way in which the Son is present in its midst, ‘labouring and working’ for its healing. That work is to bring all things under the sovereignty of the Divine Majesty so that all created things, and especially the glory of God’s creation, the human person, can enjoy the plenitude of life....

...There are many aspects of Ignatius’s vision and practice that merit close study. His understanding of the Trinity or the Incarnation, the struggle of the Kingdom of the Enemy and the Kingdom of Christ, or the Rules for Thinking with the Church, have in various ways received attention. It would require much greater scope than this limited essay affords to treat these themes and others as they deserve.

There is one aspect, though, which has not received much attention, yet in part it may account for the modernity of Ignatius’s thought. It is the extraordinary relational way of thinking and seeing that marks the Ignatian vision; the refusal to distort these into some logical form or process and the determination to try to comprehend the vitality of our interconnectedness. It is a wisdom but it is not detached. Rather it is an ‘active wisdom’ that is alive both to the unity and the creative diversity of our relational realities.

This relational way of seeing things is undoubtedly grounded in his own mystical experience of a Trinitarian God: a God who chooses to be intimately related to the world as both Creator and Lord. The relational structure of Ignatius’s theology is immediately apparent in the Spiritual Exercises, the Spiritual Diary, the Letters and the Constitutions, even when parts may have been written by his secretary, Polanco.

The human person is never considered except in and through a nexus of relationships. We are never allowed to stand outside these relationships on our own; there is no sovereign self, exercising a contemplative grasp of the whole from some vantage point outside the material, historical and existential process of life. Indeed, it is part of the illusion of sin to think that we can exercise such independence.

In fact, Ignatius understands that sin is itself a web in which we are caught whether it be in the primal history of the Fall of the Angels or in the active malignity of evil that seeks to delude and ensnare us, ‘so that no province, no place, no state of life, no individual is overlooked.’

This is not just a colourful medieval mystery play in which we are given a part. It is an engagement with the ‘mysterium inquitatis’ that cannot be reduced to a projection of our own subjective woundedness. We can only begin to understand the extent of our entrapment – epistemological as well as psychological and existential – when we allow ourselves to stand in our relationship to Christ.

Christ suddenly casts a light that exposes the way in which evil spins its own relational reality; it has a history, it creates its own determining structures from which we cannot break by our own strength or intelligence. In this, Ignatius takes us into the apocalyptic understanding of the Gospel, but he never allows us to stand lost outside of the saving relationship with Jesus, our Saviour and Lord. It is a mark of our healing when we come to appreciate the truth of our dependence, our connectedness. But this connectedness is a living experience of being sustained and cared for, of being upheld and carried even when I want to deny or break away from this truth.

Our ‘conversion’ is one of mind and will when we come to understand all creation – natural and supernatural – ‘interceding... for me’. That action of intercession is not a trivial act – it is the movement of life itself, of being which expresses its goodness in this act of life-giving generosity even when I wound it....

...God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not be lost but may have eternal life. For God sent his Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that through him the world might be saved. (John 3:14-17)

It is because we live that experience of Love and are drawn into it through our relationship with the Son, that we become the bearers of the message of life to the world in the words and deeds given us by the Spirit, who is the Lord and Giver of Life. Indeed, for Ignatius our whole life is to be sent, to participate in this mission of the Spirit. It is the Spirit that is at the heart of all our relationships and orders them in this dynamic of reciprocity – the response we make to God’s self-gift in our ‘take and receive all...’

The final great active moment in which Ignatius asks us to find ourselves is the Contemplation to attain the Love of God at the end of the Exercises. It is not contemplation in the sense of an intellectual exercise; it is a performative act of loving self-gift. Only in that offering, in which we are both giving and being given being – the graced indwelling kenosis of the Spirit of Love (Jn 14:21; 15:8-17) – can we really experience the life that is God’s life, the life that is the life of all life.

Yet the Contemplation to attain Love is not only the end to which all our Exercises have been leading, it is also the daily reality in which we live. There is a sense in Ignatius, something we have learnt through the Exercises, that to live in this God, to be taken in His mission to the world, is also to go on growing. Indeed, there is a relationship between our practice of the ministry and works of God’s love in the world and the deepening of our capacity to receive this life in ourselves.

Here, living this grace increases our capacity and aptitude for it and there is no limit to this growth. With this comes a growth in our ability to judge or discern things correctly because we come to see them more and more in relation to God and His salvific plan. Our mind and heart become healed and our will becomes strengthened and attuned to do what is right – what generates that new life of the Kingdom. Love ‘sets things in order’; in loving we come to develop a ‘compassio’ with the things of God.

This is the source and shape of our mission and the gift of discernment. We have already indicated the relational nature of wisdom in Ignatius, but now we can recognise that it comes as gift of the Spirit active in our lives: not just understanding but of knowing how to love. It is the Spirit, the astonishing grace-filled generosity of God, that continues to pour into our hearts (Rom 5:5).


  1. Indeed the Jesuits of today need all the prayers they can get. They must be careful lest they again be suppressed

  2. I am grateful that the Lord has inspired St. Ignatius and the Holy Spirit has made this Society. We have a Jesuit bishop who is Pastor and a Father. Congratulations your Grace for this day. May the Lord of the harvest to bring more labors to his harvest!


  3. This was very worthwhile reading.

  4. A day late, nevertheless, on the occasion of the Feast of St. Ignatius, your founder, many thanks for your years of service to the Archdiocese of Ottawa and, please God, may you enjoy many more.