Saint Ignatius Loyola, Priest and Founder of the Society of Jesus – Readings

Commentary on Deuteronomy 30:15-20 or 10-14; Psalm 1:1-4,6; 1 Corinthians 10:31-11:1; Luke 9:18-25 or Matthew 8:18-27 or John 1:35-42

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 the last verse of this text occur the words:

For what does it profit them if they gain the whole world but lose or forfeit themselves?

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 holes, and birds of the air 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, says: “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” To which Jesus replies:

Follow me, and let the dead bury their own 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 in the 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 Gospel of John. John the Baptist is with two of his disciples and, as Jesus walks by, John says,

Look, here is the Lamb of God!

The two disciples, one of whom was Andrew, begin walking behind Jesus. Jesus turns and asks them:

What are you looking for?

They reply with a question of their own:

Rabbi…where are you staying?

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 that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess.

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.

The Second Reading 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.

There is also a beautiful prayer at the beginning of Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians (1:3-10) which speaks of how each one of us has been chosen by God long before we came into existence.

He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.

Ignatius would have been very much aware of how God worked in his life. Step by step, God brought him from the life of a rather worldly soldier to a hermit’s life, and eventually to become 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 of which we had never dreamt – and how he has lavished his gifts on us through the people we have encountered and experiences we have had.

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