The Jesuit Ordo, the official guide to the liturgical celebrations of the calendar year for Jesuits serving in the U.S., offers a number of options as readings for the feast of St. Ignatius. Let me explain my choices.
First, from the middle reading: Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ. That could sound arrogant of Paul to say. It sounds like he’s saying: “I’m so great. Be like me and you’ll be like Jesus.” But it’s not like that. It’s more like—to use a trivial example—“I found this terrific exercise program. I’ve been doing it for a month and I’ve never felt better. You should try it.” The point is not what you’ve achieved but what you have found—what you have discovered and want to share.
Paul found that accepting Jesus as the ultimate revelation of his Jewish faith had turned his life around in a way that he wanted to share with everyone.
Ignatius’ discovery was exactly the same. He had been living the life of a conventional north Iberian Catholic, but what happened to him when he really sought and found the place of Jesus in his life absolutely transformed him into . . . well, a new creation, to use another expression of St. Paul’s. After recuperating from his famous battle wound, after his pilgrim wandering and his time in the cave at Manresa, the center of his life was no longer his noble ego but the living God made known in Jesus, whom he had come to know in his prayer—and now found in every creature and around every street corner. And he spent the rest of his life saying, in effect, “Do what I did at Manresa! Let God in your life that way, and you’ll be as free and happy as I am. Come see what I found in following Jesus and this great way of life can be yours, too.” That was the point of the format of prayer he called his Spiritual Exercises.
Now something from the first reading: This command which I enjoin on you today is not too mysterious and remote for you. It is not up in the sky . . . Nor is it across the sea . . . No, it is something very near to you, already in your mouths and in your hearts; you have only to carry it out. (Deut 30:11-14)
That is another great biblical text to catch the spirit of Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises. The purpose of this program of prayer and mediation is not to take a person into some other world, some kind of parallel spiritual universe. The purpose is to awaken a person to the reality of his or her situation as a creature beloved by God with a special purpose here and now. “Come and see! It looks scary from the outside but you’ll love what you find about yourself and your God and what that means for everyone else in the world.”
And listen to this from the Gospel: If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. What profit is there for one to gain the whole world yet lose or forfeit himself?
“Exactly,” Paul would say. “It may seem counterintuitive, as you might put it in the 21st century, but by God it’s true.”
“That’s what I discovered, too,” Ignatius would say. “It took me half a life to learn this, but I found that paradox to be the way to freedom. Try it!”
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