Friday 29 July 2022

Sunday, July 31, 2022 - St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus

Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556) the founder of the Society of Jesus possessed innumerable qualities which made him a giant of his time. He remains a giant of our times as well. I will attempt to enumerate some of them below in the hope that with God’s grace we can assimilate at least some of them in our following of the Lord.

One quality that characterised the life of St. Ignatius above all others was his deep personal love for the person of Jesus Christ. Ignatius was so taken up with Jesus that he was willing to do anything, go anywhere, and be anyone as long as he could imitate him. This was precisely why, when he founded the Society or Company which he hoped would do great things for the Lord, he named it after Jesus. His intention in naming the Society after Jesus was both because he did not seek personal glory and also because he wanted that his companions and those who decided to join this least Society would be ‘Jesuita’ (like Jesus Christ). For Ignatius, like for Paul, all he wanted was to know Christ (Phil 3:7).

This personal love for the person of Jesus was also his reason for being a Contemplative in Action. While Ignatius always set aside time for prayer and communion with the Lord, in his personal life, prayer was never separated from action. He developed the ability to find God in all things and all things in God.There was a constant interplay between experience, reflection, decision and action, in line with the ideal of being a contemplative in action like Jesus himself was. His prayer gave him the necessary strength that he required in his work and his work made him aware of his need for prayer.

It was because of this close communion with the Lord whether when at work or in solitude and silence that Ignatius was always listening to and waiting for the Lord. Though Ignatius was in constant and close touch with the Lord, he never presumed to tell the Lord what to do. Rather, like an attentive student before his Master, he was always listening and discerning what the Lord wanted him to do. This is why when he wrote the Spiritual Exercises he devoted a whole section to Discernment. In this section he provided twenty rules for discernment mainly because his one desire was to do what God wanted him to do. This was in imitation of his master Jesus whose food and drink was to do the will of his Father (Jn 4:34).

His desire to do God’s will, no matter what the consequences led him to keep searching for the Magis or the greater, the more. The entire life of St. Ignatius was a pilgrim search for the Magis, the ever-greater glory of God, the ever-fuller service of men and women, the more universal good, the more effective apostolic means. The Magis was not simply one among others in a list of the qualities of St. Ignatius - it permeated them all. There was no complacency or self-satisfaction. There was to be no giving in to mediocrity in his way of proceeding. God had to be given not only all but more than all. He always strove to make the good, better; the better, better still and the better still, still better. This is why he chose as the motto of the Society of Jesus Ad Maiorem Dei Gloriam (A.M.D.G.) which means in English, The Greater Glory of God.

It was precisely this striving for the Magis that led him to the invaluable quality of Indifference which is part of the last Annonation in the Spiritual Exercises. Ignatius understood Indifference as deep concern for the ‘things of the Lord’. It was precisely because of this concern that one could be detached from the outcome. Ignatian Indifference means doing all that has to be done to the best of one’s ability and then leaving the rest in God’s capable hands. It was because one is convinced that the Lord is in control, that one can rest assured that everything will work out as the Lord wants it to. In the same context therefore one is detached from riches and also poverty, from the possession of things and also from their absence. This quality of Indifference helped Ignatius never to give in to despair or lose hope. There were many times in his life when things did not go as planned and even times when his plans were turned upside down. However, like Paul he too learned to be content in any and all circumstances (Phil 4:11-13). He was able to be at equanimity at all times.

His ‘indifference’ which meant that for him God was in control in all circumstances led him to formulate ‘Rules for thinking with the Church’. Unlike some contemporaries of his time who broke away from the Church when they disagreed with the hierarchy, Ignatius was loyal to the Church right through. To be sure, like some of his contemporaries he was aware that the Church was in need of healing. He regarded the Church as a mother. He never considered himself an outsider, an armchair critic, but actively went about trying to reform the Church from within. Since the Church was the Body of Christ (1 Cor 12:12-31), Ignatius regarded himself and the Society as an integral part of this body.

This ‘Body of Christ’ was in the world and had to serve the world. Of those to be served, Ignatius preferred to be in solidarity with those most in need. He deliberately chose the path of poverty in order to experience first-hand what the poor went through. This enabled him to reach out to them in a practical and tangible manner. In the Constitutions he asks Jesuits to regard poverty as a mother and if any change was to be made in this vow, it was only to be allowed if poverty was to be made stricter. This concern for others was evident in his choice of the ministries in which Jesuits would engage. The numerous schools, colleges, universities, other institutions of learning and social institutions which express solidarity with the poor and disadvantaged are testimony to this concern.

The feast of Ignatius is for each of us an opportunity to ask whether we can try to assimilate some of these qualities. Of these, it seems to me that if we make every attempt to deepen our relationship with the Lord, all others will naturally follow. In order to do this we must be ready to live each moment fully, do what we have to do in that moment and after we have done that, leave everything that remains undone in God’s hands through prayer.

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