Commentary on Deuteronomy 30:15-20 or 11-14; Ps 1 or 1 Timothy 1:12-17; 1 Corinthians 10:31-11:1 or Ephesians 1:3-10;
Luke 9:18-25 or Matt 8:18-27 or John 1:35-39.
Three Gospel readings are suggested for today’s feast. Each of them reflects some of the spirituality of the Spiritual Exercises.
The first is from Luke and is his version of Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Messiah, followed by the first prediction of his suffering, death and resurrection and, finally, the conditions for following Jesus. In this text occur the words: “What profit is there for one to gain the whole world yet lose or forfeit oneself?” It is said that this text was proposed by Ignatius to Francis Xavier, who at the time was bent on a career of material success. After doing the Spiritual Exercises under Ignatius, Francis would devote himself to the Way of the Gospel and become an outstanding missionary covering huge territories of Asia. It is for us, too, to hear those words of Jesus and reflect on the values that govern our lives.
The second proposed passage is from Matthew. It is about two people who wanted to become disciples of Jesus. The first, a Scribe, said he would follow Jesus wherever he went. Jesus replied: “Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” It is clear that the man had to realise that to be a follower of Jesus, he had to be ready to let go of absolutely everything. Another person, who seems to be already a disciple, asks: “Let me go first and bury my father.” To which Jesus replies: “Follow me, and let the dead bury the dead.” It seems a severe answer but the message is the same. It is possible, too, that the man’s father was not yet dead but he wanted to be there when it happened. For Jesus, the service of God is always now. Ignatius expressed this teaching by his emphasis on ‘indifference’, a total openness to the will of God without expressing any preference one way or another.
The third text is from John. John the Baptist is with two of his disciples and, as Jesus walks by, John says, “Look, the Lamb of God.” The two disciples, one of whom was Andrew, begin walking behind Jesus. He turns and asks them: “What are you looking for?” They reply with a question of their own: “Rabbi, where do you stay?” And Jesus answers: “Come and see.” So they went and saw where he stayed. A simple dialogue but full of meaning. It is a dialogue that each one of us can have with Jesus. If he asks me, “What are you looking for?”, how will I answer? My answer will say a lot about where I am in my relationship with Jesus. And I can also ask, “Where are you staying?” Where do I go to find Jesus? Where in my life is he to be found? Finally, there is the invitation “Come and see”. Knowing Jesus is not a question of doctrines and deep theology. It is a matter of a personal experience of Jesus in my life. This is the purpose of the Spiritual Exercises – to know Jesus more clearly, to love him more dearly, to follow him more nearly.
Two texts from the Book of Deuteronomy are suggested for the First Reading. They are both from Chapter 30. We read: “If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God, which I enjoin on you today, loving him, and walking in his ways, and keeping his commandments, statutes and decrees, you will live and grow numerous, and the Lord, your God, will bless you in the land you are entering to occupy.”
The commandments mentioned here, of course, are the Law of Moses but we will rather look at the law of love that Jesus taught. Jesuits, too, will find God’s law expressed in the Constitutions of their Society and in the wishes of their superiors, in whom they recognise the voice of God. For a congregation whose members were often scattered far and wide and living very much on their own, obedience was very important as a bond joining them all together.
For the Second Reading there is a choice of two texts. The first is from the First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians. It reflects the motto of the Jesuits – “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God.” And the passage ends, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” The work of Thomas A Kempis, The Imitation of Christ, was much loved by Ignatius. And the goal of doing the Spiritual Exercises is to become as like to Christ as possible.
The alternative Second Reading is from the Letter to the Ephesians. It is a beautiful prayer at the beginning of the letter which speaks of how each one of us has been chosen by God long before we came into existence. “He destined us for adoption to himself through Jesus Christ, in accord with the favour of his will.” Ignatius would have been very much aware of how God worked in his life and, step by step, brought him from the life of a rather worldly soldier to a hermit’s life and eventually to becoming the leader of an apostolic group devoted to the spread of the Kingdom and God’s greater glory. Perhaps, we, too, can see God acting in our lives at different stages and see how he has brought us to situations we never dreamt of. And how he has lavished his gifts on us through the people we have encountered and experiences we have had.