Spiritual Reflection : St Ignatius

By Nobert Munekani SJ

Johannesburg, South Africa

 

Let us continue to reflect on the feast of St. Ignatius the founder of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits). St. Ignatius of Loyola was one of the brightest lights in the history of Christianity. He was born in 1491, and in his former life he was a Spanish knight from a Basque noble family. When he was seriously wounded in battle around the age of 30, he underwent a significant religious conversion. Ignatius became a mystic, spending many hours a day in prayer and working in a hospice.

During that time, he had a remarkable spiritual experience. He had a vision in which he said that he learned more than he did in the rest of his life. This vision seems to have involved a direct encounter with God, so that all creation was seen in a new light and took on a new meaning and relevance, an experience that allowed Ignatius to find God in all things. This grace, finding God in all things, serves as one of the central characteristics of Jesuit spirituality.

While he was living as a hermit, Ignatius began to develop a set of exercises, designed to help believers discern the movement of the Spirit. One of the crucial notions in these exercises is the idea of “indifference,” of being indifferent to the concerns of the world—not in the sense of caring about people or things less, but in the sense of not letting our ego and our attachments get in the way of our relationship with God. As Christians, we are called to be indifferent to whether we are well known and influential or obscure, whether we are rich or poor, or even healthy or sick. Our focus must be on whether God is present in our lives—and God is always present; he is right there with us, closer than we are to ourselves. And I think that is part of what seems to be a harsh passage from Jesus, a shocking thing: hearing Jesus tell a man to disregard the burial of his father, and it doesn’t give way to easy explanations. But sometimes we have to ignore a good thing to pursue a holy thing: our highest calling to follow God single-mindedly. I think Jesus’ seemingly harsh words is a message that being a disciple sometimes requires us to make hard choices: to decide if we really do love the Lord our God with all our hearts, all our souls, and all our strength. In the kingdom of God, traditional loyalties are going to be rearranged.

If we want to follow Jesus, to be disciples, we’re going to have to learn to seek the kingdom of God first, and not let anything get in our way. Once our hand is on that plough, we cannot turn back.  A reading from Deuteronomy 30:15-20 set for the feast says “Today I have set before you life and death.” Filled with the spirit of discernment, St Ignatius had to make difficult choices, he left his family and properties, offered and surrendered his sword to God, and gave up everything to serve others. In our daily life we too are faced with choices, when that happens, we should always ask ourselves “what spirit is moving me”? Is it the Spirit of God or the evil one?

St Paul gives us a hint on how to do this. He says in 1 Corinthians 10:31-11:1, “Do everything for the glory of God, not seeking my own benefit but that of many, that they may be saved”.   A Jesuit Brother, Richie Fernando, who was assigned in Cambodia several years ago, died from a grenade explosion while trying to save students that filled a classroom. How did he choose to give up his life in a split-of-a-second decision? Four days before he was martyred, he wrote to his best friend, “I know where my heart is. It is with Jesus Christ, who gave his all for the poor.” His power to serve others comes from Jesus, whom he considered as his loyal and faithful friend; Jesus, who is present in others especially the poor; Jesus, to whom he is forever grateful. In saving the lives of others, he gave up his own. A grateful heart knows how to serve.

We have been taught that the mark of a true Ignatian is service – being men and women for others (service). You are a true Ignatian if you know how to serve others. This is how your light will shine! In service! And if you don’t know how to serve others and you only think of yourself– maybe it is time to be challenged by the life of St Ignatius.

 

But how did Ignatius manage this? After his conversion, he saw God’s hand in the smallest events of his life, and his heart was filled with so much gratitude to God for the profound love and mercy and for the abundant blessings that he received from Him. That is why in one prayer, Ignatius wrote: “Take Lord, receive all my liberty, my memory, my will. You have given all to me and now I return it. Your love and your grace are enough for me.” May that prayer be ours as we respond to Jesus’ call to be his disciples.

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