Today, throughout the world, more than 20,000 members of the
Society of Jesus (Jesuits) celebrate the feast day of their founder, St.
Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556).
Today also multitudes of Christians join in the celebration, for Ignatius
is well known by Christians for his little book of meditations on Christ called
The Spiritual Exercises. In these Exercises Ignatius leads all Christians
to discover an image of Jesus capturing their imaginations and propelling
them to serve the Kingdom of God alongside of Jesus. Ignatius himself
was drawn to the image of Christ the King. Ignatius, a gentleman-at-arms
and courtier, imagined Christ as the noblest of medieval kings and resolved
to follow him to conquer the whole world for the Father. Today's readings
draw us into the mystery of our identification with Christ: "In all wisdom
and insight, he (the Father) has made known to us the mystery of his will
in accord with his favor that he set forth in him (Christ) as a plan for the
fullness of times, to sum up all thing in Christ, in heaven and on earth (Eph.1:10)."
And as the first general of the Jesuits Ignatius sought to conquer the whole
world with Christ for the Father. From 1540 until his death in
1556 Ignatius led the Jesuits as the numbers of Jesuits grew astronomically
from 10 to 1000. He sent them throughout Europe to reinvigorate the
Church's pastoral ministries and to establish schools as part of the Catholic
Counter-Reformation. And he sent them throughout the world to implant
the faith in foreign missions in India, in the Far East and in the Americas.
This is the Ignatius most remember.
But there is another Ignatius, much less known but for many equally compelling:
the person who found God in the beauty of nature. We see this Ignatius early
in his conversion. Ignatius' leg had been shattered while defending the fortress
of Pamplona for the king of Navarre. He was carried to his family's
castle at Loyola for recuperation and there confined for months in a little
room, bed-ridden. In this room he found God in reading about Christ and the
saints; and he found God in nature. His Autobiography notes significantly
that during this time, "The greatest consolation he received was to
look at the sky and the stars, which he often did and for a long time, because
as a result he felt within himself a very great desire to serve Our Lord."
Significantly in concluding his Spiritual Exercises,Ignatius returns to
this theme. In the introduction to the "Contemplation to Obtain the
Love of God" Ignatius reminds us that that love is shown primarily in deeds
rather than merely in words. If we want to grasp God's love for us we consider
not only the deeds of God in the gift of our redemption but also the
deeds of God in the gifts of creation. Listen to Ignatius: "The Second Point:
This is to reflect how God dwells in creatures: in the elements giving them
existence, in the plants giving them life, in the animals conferring upon
them sensation, in man bestowing understanding.The Third Point: This is to
consider how God works and labors for me in all creatures upon the face of
the earth, that is, He conducts Himself as one who labors. Thus, in the heavens,
the elements, the plants, the fruits, the cattle, etc.; He gives being, conserves
them, confers life and sensation."
Diego Lainez, Ignatius' successor as general of the Jesuits, gives this
recollection of Ignatius' own evening contemplations: "At night he
would go up on the roof of the house, with the sky there up above him.
He would sit there quietly, absolutely quietly. He would take his hat
off and look up for a long time at the sky. Then he would fall on his
knees, bowing profoundly to God."
And on this particular lovely summer day, July 31, 2004, we may appropriately
choose to honor Ignatius by reflecting on the beauties of the
heavens and the earth, allowing them to speak to us as they spoke to
Ignatius about God's infinite love for us. Then in communion with Ignatius
we offer ourselves:
"Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding,
and my entire will, all that I have and possess. You have given all
to me. To You, O Lord, I return it. All is Yours, dispose of it
wholly according to Your will. Give me Your love and Your grace, for
this is sufficient for me."