Commemoration of Ignatius of Loyola – (1491-1556), Monastic, theologian, founder of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits)
1 Corinthians 10:31 – 11:1
Act as if everything depended on you; trust as if everything depended on God. — Ignatius of Loyola
Growing up a good little Southern Baptist girl, we didn’t hold much truck with people who had “Saint” in front of their name. Ok, the gospel writers were big names, as were the disciples, Paul, occasionally Mary, Jesus’ mother, and Mary Magdalene (in the role she was assigned in the 5th century, not the 1st), Valentine and, of course, Saint Patrick. In fact, I think Patrick was the only one I ever heard of referred to with the name “Saint.” Likewise I never heard of Benedict, Francis, Dominic, and Ignatius who were all monastics and whose words still touch the world today. I’ve come to begin seeing the saints, including the monastics, as friends and guides and I’m glad I’ve found them.
Iñigo Oñaz López de Loyola was born in privilege and followed the path of many of his contemporaries by joining the army. At age 30 he was critically wounded in the leg and returned home from the wars. During his convalescent he needed to keep his mind occupied so he asked for romance novels to read but the only books available were religious ones. He read them and reached a crossroads that changed the whole focus of his life. Over the next years he studied, made friends, preached, was a prisoner of the Inquisition twice, and finally, with the approval of the Pope, formed the Society of Jesus, known familiarly as the Jesuits, as an order devoted to poverty, chastity and obedience and with a focus on mission and education.
The Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius are the foundation of the Jesuit order, just as the Rule of St. Benedict guides the Benedictines and the rule written by Francis does the same for the Franciscans. The Spiritual Exercises are a four-week series of meditations, reflections and practices that encourage the person to perfect their own life and mold it to more completely to reflect the true image of Christ. One exercise that I find particularly interesting is the one where I imagine myself in the middle of a piece of scripture, see who is standing where and saying what, who is responding, who is acting and how. It’s not just about seeing the scene, it’s finding insights and asking God where the lesson is that I am supposed to learn from the story and the insight I gained from it.
The quote from Ignatius sounds like some pretty good advice, particularly in light of reflecting on life and mission. “Christ has no hands but ours,” as Teresa of Avila, another monastic, once said. Ignatius was getting at the point that one person can–and should–make a difference, acting as if fixing the world’s problems depending solely on them, but with the caveat of believing that God can be trusted to give all that is needed. I’m sure Mother Teresa didn’t think she could solve all the problems of the world, but even in her darkest moments, she acted as if helping the poor was her job, making life better for them was her mission, but trusting that God would help to accomplish all that needed to be done. Ignatius seems to have invented the “act as if” statement long before it became a slogan and a way of describing a path to follow.
I think the lesson I learn from Ignatius is that imagination can lead to insights, insights can lead to understanding, understanding can lead to action, and action can be built on trust. I can also pray a prayer attributed to Ignatius:
Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty,
my memory, my understanding
and my entire will,
All I have and call my own.
You have given all to me.
To you, Lord, I return it.
Everything is yours; do with it what you will.
Give me only your love and your grace.
That is enough for me. ~Amen