Daily Reflection
July 31st, 1999
Peter Breslin, S.J.
Jesuit Tertian
Feast of St. Ignatius

Leviticus 25:1-17
Psalm 67
Matthew 14: 1-12

On this day, we celebrate the Feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola, Founder of the Society of Jesus.  In his Autobiography, St. Ignatius refers to himself as a pilgrim.  What is a pilgrim?  A pilgrim may be best understood as one who is on his/her way to someplace else, one on the move, seeking something greater. Ignatius eventually found his life's fulfillment in this seeking of the greater, the magis, by devoting himself to seeking out God's will for him. In his journey, he had to first rid himself of all that was holding him back, that was keeping him from a single-hearted devotion to serving the Lord.  Certainly one of the key experiences during Ignatius' pilgrim journey was a month spent in solitary, intense prayer along the banks of the River Condoner, near Manresa in Spain.  It was this experience of prayer that formed the basis of what would become his greatest gift to the Church, the Spiritual Exercises.

One of the key meditations during the Second Week of the Spiritual Exercises is that of the Two Standards.  In this meditation, the retreatant is led to consider Christ and Satan as leaders of two opposing camps or forces in the world.  Those who would choose to follow Christ under his standard are told that they must be willing to accept hardships, in the form of poverty and humiliations if they are to be true to their mission to spread the good news of salvation through Christ.  The strategies of Lucifer, "the enemy of our human nature" who seeks to enslave us and lead us to damnation, revolve around getting us to feel self-sufficient by relying on empty honors, the admiration and praise of the world.  These eventually lead to pride, the feeling of self-worth in which we no longer have need of God. From pride, he says, all other vices and sin follow.  This same theme is reflected in today's first reading.  Moses lays out for his people essentially two choices or standards.  One will lead to life and prosperity, the other to death and destruction.  The first way is marked by being faithful to the Lord, remembering and keeping his commandments and walking always in humble faith.  But, warns Moses, if they do not hear, if they are drawn away to worship other gods, they are doomed to perish.  It is precisely this sense of being drawn away to worship things other than the living and true God that Ignatius cautions are the tactics of the Evil One.  Those who follow him do not so much actively and willingly choose him as they fall victim to the subtlety of his enticements, for he is a master at taking that which will lead to our enslavement and "packaging" it so that it will look good, right, life-giving.

So it is that we, too, must actively choose the Standard of the Cross.  We cannot be saved by default.  We must choose that path that, to the person lacking in faith, looks superficially foolish.  As Jesus says in today's gospel passage from Luke, we who choose to follow Him must be willing to deny ourselves, in humilation, rather than glorify ourselves in seeking after vain and empty worldly riches and adulations.  A crucial truth of the Two Standards of Ignatius is thus summed up in Jesus' words which we read today: "For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake will save it."

We are all, like Ignatius Loyola, pilgrims on a journey to someplace else, someplace better.  And we now can know if we are on the right path in our journey.  If we seek not riches, honors nor glories but rather prefer humility, as did Jesus, our pilgrim journey will bring us home.  In preferring the contempt of the world for ourselves, we model our lives on that of the Lord.  And we will also then be better able to do as Ignatius tried to do in everything: to bring greater honor and glory to God.  The truth of the Two Standards is essentially the same truth spoken by Moses and by Jesus: it is in losing ourselves to God that we truly find ourselves; abandoning our lives, we find that we receive them back from Him in immeasurable love and joy.

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