Homily: ADDU Celebration of St. Ignatius, 2011
That we can come together today as a university community to celebrate the Feast of St. Ignatius is, I believe, a great grace. On the Church calendar, that feast really falls on July 31st, this coming Sunday. But already today, as a university, in the best way we can, we celebrate him who was the founder of the Jesuits, but also for the entire Church community an exemplar of holiness, leadership, service to the Church, and deep spirituality. For us at the ADDU, he is a special inspiration. Today, I thought it would be good to reflect on one of the great treasures he has left us – his spiritualty.
Indeed, it is timely that we can. Recently, I have submitted for consultation of the University Community a formulation of the Vision-Mission Statement of the ADDU. In doing so, I hope the university community is engaged not only in scrutinizing a text, but in reflecting on and appreciating our identity and our mission as a University. That, I believe, is a spiritual rather than an abstractly-intellectual exercise. In this context, we recall that we are a Filipino, Catholic and Jesuit University. As a Jesuit University, we say two things. First, we appropriate the mission of the Society of Jesus. We take as ours the Jesuit concern for the proclamation of the faith, for the promotion of justice that that faith implies, for sensitivity to cultures, and for inter-religious dialogue, esp. today at the frontiers of human society. Secondly, as a Jesuit university we appropriate the spirituality of St. Ignatius.
We need to understand this Ignatian spirituality, open ourselves to it, allow ourselves to live it.
First, some words on spirituality in general. Perhaps one way of appreciating spirituality is that it is not materiality. Philo of the Human Person Class 101: the human being is not flesh and bones alone. He or she is not all matter. He or she is not just part of an endless chain of physical causes. If I have failed my exam, it is not purely because my body and other objects impinging on my body made me fail it. It is not because the weather was lousy, or the planets were inauspiciously aligned. My life is not just the outcome of crass-material causes, but the manifestation of my human spirit. Spirituality has to do with the human spirit – or with the human spirit interacting with the divine spirit: it has to do with my responsibility for the things that I chose to do or not choose to do.
Spirituality has to do with what make me tick. What makes me get up in the morning? And what gives me consolation at night? Amidst the centrifugal forces that pull me away from myself, and scatter me, what centrates my life, makes it whole, makes it me? Amidst the endless concerns I have to deal with at home, in the university, in the school, what makes this matter important and that matter trivial, this thing big and that thing small? There is a difference between big and small, is there not? Some of us forget. Some people consider money big, others small. Some people consider human esteem big, others small. Some people consider love big, others small. What constitutes the difference in these people? Their spirituality. Those who value dressing well more than comfort, that is not just a matter of pressed barongs and elegant ternos vs unwashed jeans; that is a matter of spirit. Those who value fresh flowers on the table rather than just more food, that is not just a matter of white and gold orchids vs. more crabs and shrimps; that is a mater of spirit. Those who value image (porma) more than genuine accomplishment and real ability; that is not just a matter of interview skills vs. bio-data, that is a matter of spirit. Those who value a relationship with a friend, or a relationship with God, more than personal advantage, more than personal need, that is not just a matter of having time for a movie or time for prayer, that is a matter of spirit.
As we seek today to better appreciate Ignatian spirituality, the first step is to appreciate my effective, actual spirituality. Of course, to do so, one needs a certain ability to reflect, a certain honesty, a certain openness to truth, a certain type of silence, interior silence. The enemies of spirituality are personal opaqueness unreflected, dishonesty with one’s self, mendaciousness, denial, and noise, noise, noise. What makes me tick…?
In trying to appreciate the spirituality of St. Ignatius of Loyola, one must try to appreciate what it was in his life that made him tick? What was it that moved him from the values and mores of the Spanish nobleman in the service of the Spanish King Charles I to the values and mores of the man of the Church humbly in the service of the Eternal King. What was it that enabled him to sit at the University of Paris with students much younger than he was, to allow himself to be ridiculed and laughed at, as he prepared himself for priestly ministry in the Church? What moved him to take vows of poverty, chastity and obedience at Montmartre with his companions? What enabled him to humbly defend his theological views against the attacks of the Inquisition? What enabled him to send his close friend, Francis Xavier, to the Indies because this was what the mission required? What empowered him to quietly labor over the Constitutions of the Society of Jesus for close to a decade while he could have engaged in many more thrilling activities in the apostolate?
Certainly, from our perspective, what enabled Ignatius to inspire, to lead, to organize, to build giants for the service of the Church and the world, were not just catchy slogans: not oft-repeated phrases like: ad majorem Dei gloriam, the magis, the more, men and women for others, cura personalis, and the like. When spirituality is reduced to sloganeering it is annihilated. What remains is a veneer of labels that signal values that are not really there. Ignatian spirituality is not about slogans and sloganeering. It is not about image, nor about lies. It is about reality, experienced reality.
From the days of Ignatius’ conversion in the caves of Manresa, he has left us not only an account of his spirituality, but a formula through which we can share, even today, in that spirituality. These are the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. This is sold now even in popular bookstores as a little book at a little over a hundred pesos. But it is not meant for just reading, and its value much more than millions. It is a book of exercises, of procedures, that put us in an ongoing dialogue with ourselves and with the God of our selves. It is a roadmap to living in the holiness of God, that confronts us with our actual, effective spirituality, and offers us an alternative spirituality, as was Ignatius’. This is a spirituality where my values and choices are based on a profound experience of a God, present and loving in my life, a consequent experience of my unworthiness and sinfulness before this God; but also an experience of forgiveness and of a call to work with him in gratitude for the Kingdom of God. It is an experience that mediates intimacy in friendship with Jesus Christ, and through this intimacy, the fullness of discipleship. Through all these, it is, again, in a much more profound way, the experience of the all-pervasive presence of God laboring for us in love in all things.
The proposed ADDU Vision-Mission statement says: we “appropriate the spirituality of St. Ignatius.” Today, as we celebrate his memory as a community, we pray that we can truly appropriate – make our own – the spirituality of St. Ignatius, especially as this is accessible to us through the Spiritual Exercises. It is for this reason that I am proposing to our Board the development of our Samal property just for Ignatian retreats. Already the architects and engineers have presented plans. But no matter how wonderful the facilities, and no matter how renowned the Spiritual Exercises, unless we are truly open to them in freedom, their treasure will always elude us. The Vision-Mission statement about our appropriation of the spirituality of St. Ignatius is only a slogan unless each member of the community freely and personally takes on this spirituality. It is to this that I invite all on this celebration of St. Ignatius. In truth, that is not something that happens without God’s grace, his actual interaction with us in the process that leads us to him. It is not something that happens without God convincing us of his presence in our lives. It is not something that happens without God convincing us of his forgiveness. It does not happen without God inviting us to distinguish ourselves in the service of the Kingdom, no matter the cost. It does not happen without God introducing us to values other than the values of the world. It does not happen without God convincing us of his awesome love that is stronger than suffering, death and resurrection.
But that’s the point, isn’t it? This Ignatian spirituality happens because God makes it happen. At ADDU, we wish to participate in God making it happen – in our labors to discover and communicate truth, in our endeavors to form women and men for others, in our responses to the burning concerns of our society: human rights, environment, peace, the proclamation of a God of truth and peace. We have only to say yes, this is what we want. In celebration of St. Ignatius’ Feast, as we have come to celebrate him together, this is an happy opportunity to say yes.