Drama in the Life of St. Ignatius of Loyola

[Homily, ADDU University Mass in honor of St. Ignatius of Loyola, Matina, July 30, 2015.]

It is with great joy that we come together again as a university community to celebrate St. Ignatius of Loyola.   This is not just a Jesuit feast, it is our feast; we celebrate the life of this awesome saint and renew our shared appreciation of our mission as a Jesuit university and of Ignatian spiritualty. On all levels of our university community, from pre-school through to graduate school, efforts are made to familiarize all with the life of St. Ignatius and to promote his spirituality as a preferred option. Insofar as these are already enriching personal lives, we wish to give thanks. We also wish to pray today that the life and influence of St. Ignatius may have greater impact in our personal lives as we continue to pursue our missions here at the Ateneo. Considering the challenges of the common good, that may be a mission to study and learn, or a mission to teach and form, or a mission to administer and serve – unto the greater glory of God.

There is great drama in Ignatius’ life. But it is not spectacular exterior drama as in the lives of the great missionaries, Francis Xavier or Mateo Ricci, or in the lives of great Jesuit martyrs, like Isaac Jogues, John de Brebeuf, Paul Miki, Miguel Pro or Ignacio Ellacuria. The drama in Ignatius’ life was not in personally breaching geographic and cultural boundaries in order to proclaim Jesus Christ to furthest corners of the known world, nor was it to suffer and shed blood for his courageous preaching. The drama in Ignatius life is in his awesome interaction with God, his struggle with different spirits within which at times catapulted him to the heights of spiritual consolation or thrust him to depths of darkest desolation, interior motions which at times brought him to uncontrollable tears of joy and at other times tempted him to take his life in despair. The drama is in a proud nobleman at the age of forty sitting aside children to learn basic Latin, or in a first Jesuit General spending long years of his senior life writing the Constitutions of the Society of Jesus despite his problems with his stomach, liver, frequent high fevers and physical exhaustion, because that was what he discerned God wanted.

For us all, the challenge of St. Ignatius life might be there in the drama that we ourselves are part of in opening ourselves to seek and find God’s will.

In this drama there are many memorable scenes:

Scene 1. The spirited defense of Pamplona. Ignatius’ valor and courage so impressed his French enemies that they honored him in defeat. A cannon ball had shattered his leg, but he was not to be left on the battlefield to die in ignominy. He was allowed to be treated and convalesce in his own home.

Scene 2. His sickbed. There being nothing else to read, he was given a Life of Jesus and a collection of Lives of the Saints. Impressed by zealousness of Dominic to preach the word of God and the commitment of Francis to follow Christ in actual poverty, Ignatius declared, “I could do that!” As he lay on his sickbed recovering not only from his wounds in battle but from the excruciating operation he had insisted on so his leg would not be deformed, he sees he can be doing much more with his life than just serving an earthly monarch. He surrenders to God.

Scene 3. The Benedictine Abbey of Montserrat. Ignatius strips himself of all his outer garments and gives them to a beggar. He then laid his armor and his sword before the black statue of Our Lady of Montserrat. This is the scene recaptured in the statue we have of Ignatius near our high school.

Scene 4. The cave of Manresa. He thought he would go on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land via Barcelona. He found his way instead to a cave in Manresa where he would spend close to a year trying to understand the demands of his surrender to God. For Ignatius, this was high drama, his tortuous struggle to understand how his interior surrender to God needed to be exteriorized, sifting between interior motions of joy and sadness, light and darkness, consolation and desolation – through severe penance and fasting, allowing his hair and fingernails to grow wild, his being haunted with his past sins and driven to near despair in seeking liberation from them, his scruples in trying to do what was pleasing to the Lord, yet not being sure he was getting it right. It was his experience being of being led by the Spirit from disorder to order, from vainglorious ambition to humble discipleship, from ratiocination to discernment, from the love of an earthly King to the love of the Father, the Eternal King, in intimacy with his Son.  Today, from Ignatius’ Manresa experiences we have the Spiritual Exercises.

Scene 5. Ignatius’ Discipleship. The interior drama of the Manresa experience unfolds through the rest of Ignatius’ life. At the University of Paris he would gather around himself companions, the “first companions” like Francis Xavier, Peter Faber, Alfonso Salmeron, Diego Laynez, Nicolas Bobadilla and Simao Rodrigues, who would join him in the religious group they would call the Compañia de Jesus, the companions of Jesus or the Society of Jesus. Through their studies, they would be equipped to serve God with special competence. They would surrender themselves to the will of God in serving the Pope, Christ’s vicar on earth. Ignatius would eventually mission his Jesuits to the farthest corners of the known world; he would send even among the closest of his friends, Francis Xavier, to India, the Malaccas, even Japan. He would ask them to bring the good news of Jesus Christ to peoples of other cultures, teach catechism to children, minister to the poor, start schools to train leaders for the Kingdom of God. It is this legacy that we celebrate today.

Scene 6. The Cardoner river. But I thought that we could focus our celebration a bit on Ignatius’ experience at the Cardoner river. This was towards the end of the year that he spent wrestling with the spirits within in the cave of Manresa. It was while walking along the river that he received a special mystical illumination from God. It was totally unexpected, totally undeserved, totally gratuitous. In Ignatius entire life, it was his most intense experience of the Holy, against which the sum of all his other spiritual experiences could not compare, and it transformed his life. In his Autobiography, referring to himself in the third person, he describes this experience as follows:

As he went along, occupied with his devotions, he sat down for a little while with his face toward the river which was running deep. While he was seated there, the eyes of his understanding began to be opened; though he did not see any vision, he understood and knew many things, both spiritual things and matters of faith and learning, and this was with so great an enlightenment that everything seemed new to him.

The details that he understood then, though there were many, he cannot set forth, except that he experienced a great clarity in his understanding. This was such that in the whole course of his life, through sixty-two years, even if he gathered up all the many helps he had from God and all the many things he knew and added them together, he does not think they would amount to as much as he received at that one time. (Autobiography)

Through this experience, Ignatius began to understand. He did not see a vision, he did not see the Virgin Mother, he did not encounter an angel; but he began to understand from within all of that which had been happening to him in the cave of Manresa, the meaning of the tug-of-war between the spirits, the meaning of his elation and depression, his ecstasy and despair, the meaning of his leg being shattered by a cannon ball, the meaning of his restlessness on his sickbed, the meaning of his desolation as he moved from mortal sin to mortal sin, and now the meaning of his consolation as he begged for greater intimacy with and deeper discipleship of the Lord. He began to understand: he was being loved, he was being led, he was being formed, he was being sent. He began to understand it was God moving: the Father loving, Jesus calling, the Holy Spirit liberating. He began to understand, this was not about him, about what he wanted, about how he could surpass a Francis or a Dominic in sanctity; this was rather about the Father loving him without condition and all the human family with him, and calling him, a sinner, in the Holy Spirit to companionship with his Son in bringing humanity to the fullness of life. He began to understand this was not about his plans to do great things for the Lord, but about the Lord’s plans to do great things through disciples like him. This was not about his glory, but about God’s greater glory.

As we celebrate St. Ignatius today, let us allow the drama of his life to resonate in the drama of our own lives. Hopefully, as we discern our own movements or “spirits” within, and surrender ourselves to the gaze of the Lord looking at us from the Cross, we understand ourselves loved, we understand ourselves forgiven, we understand ourselves sent. Or, we discover how God is working through our “spirits” within to convince us of this, to assert his presence in our lives, to assure us – despite our hardheadedness – that we are loved. Hopefully, in contemplating the life of Jesus, in wasting time with him, his life, his values and his deep desires may rub off on us, so that we begin to value as he values, love as he loves, and act as he acts. Hopefully, our contemplation is not directed towards a mysterious void, but unto action deeply aware of God’s presence and goodness, working for us in all things. God looked on this world which he had created, he said it was good. God looks on this world in which we have sinned. In response, he speaks a Word of love, a word of forgiveness. This Word has become flesh, and dwells among us.

We only have to notice. Sometimes he enters our lives a flame of fire amidst rushing winds. Sometimes, he is more like a drop of water entering a sponge. Or, a gentle breeze.

With St. Ignatius, let us find the freedom to respond.

References:

The Autobiography of St. Ignatius of Loyola. New York,: Harper and Row, 1974

James Martin, S.J., The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything: A Spirituality for Real Life. New York: Harper, 2010.

Fr. William Malley, SJ and Fr. Perseus Gonzales, PhD. Guidebook for Ignatian Retreat Directors. Davao: IIREF, 2015

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About Joel Tabora, S.J.

Jesuit. Educator
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One Response to Drama in the Life of St. Ignatius of Loyola

  1. Abang Mabulo says:

    Happy feast day. My stay here in Mirador is part of such a drama in the life St. Ignatius that happened almost five hundred years ago. Your homily in ADDU can be savored by those who share the same experience of the “drama”. The same old story can be told over and over again and there is always freshness of insights and inspiration. Maraming salamat po Fr. Joel sa pag bahagi mo ng iyong kagalingan sa pagsulat at pagsalita.

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