This was Fr Jojo’s homily from last year so the readings are different (Dt. 30:15-20; Phil. 3:8-14; Lk. 9:18-26). But his reflections and the lessons are timeless.
The readings for the Feast of St Ignatius of Loyola speak of discipleship. Even more importantly, they tell us about the radical way in which Ignatius lived this following of the Lord – a following that is complete and absolute. You follow or you don’t. No in-betweens. No maybe’s. No ifs or buts. Just yes or no.
The reading from Exodus presents this stark choice – between life and death, between light and darkness, between blessing and curse. It is the same choice presented by St Ignatius in his Meditation on the Two Standards – between Christ and Satan. Exodus exhorts us to choose life always.
In the letter to the Philippians, St Paul speaks of running the race to grasp the prize, which is Christ, and Christ alone. Once we have Christ, all else feels like rubbish. All else can be given up, set aside. All attention is focused, and the heart is consumed by that one pearl of great price. And if anything else must come in, it comes in through Christ. Otherwise, it does not come in at all.
In the Gospel, the Lord himself tells his disciples that it does not profit a man to gain the whole world, if he loses himself. The invitation is once again extended – to take up one’s cross, to deny one’s self and to follow the one and only true way. Through these readings run the clear theme of discipleship.
But I invite you to look again, and consider another level of consideration. On this feast day, we are reminded that Ignatius, himself, emphasizes not just what we choose, but that we choose … in a manner that is led by the Spirit.
Life offers many opportunities to make choices – from the simple everyday types that do not need much effort to consider to those that determine a whole future. It is in the face of these life-changing choices that Ignatius in his Spiritual Exercises gives us gifts to guide us. Of these many gifts, I emphasize three.
First, the gift of listening. Listening is the first act of any good decision. It is built on the basic premise that it is the Lord who first calls, who makes the first move. If one does not listen long enough and hard enough, one might well miss the message. This is why Ignatius places much premium on quieting down and silence, on distancing at some moments in life, on looking at things in perspective and taking a long view on things, on a spiritual indifference. In the spaces that we open in our lives, we begin to hear more clearly, and we allow the Lord to lead our lives. Good listening brings great openness and sensitivity.
A second gift is contemplation. The object is to re-visit the life of the Lord with imagination, by inserting ourselves in the different sequences of the Gospels. We do not just read the stories … we also see the crowds that are fed with the loaves and fishes, we hear the merry-making of the wedding at Cana, we feel the rocking of the boat and smell the distinct scent of wood that is wet when the winds and the waves beat on the vessel in the midst of a storm on the Sea of Galilee. The point of all this is to make Jesus and his whole life real to us, and to make our own the experiences of the Lord. Thus, we get to know the Lord in a less superficial way, we begin to enter into His world, and we begin to see a little more as He sees, and feel as He feels. Thus it is that in the end, contemplation brings with it strong compassion.
A third gift is desire. Silence and contemplation slowly awaken desires. Desire is not just about what we say or think we want. More importantly, it is about what we really long for deep in our hearts. We pray for what we truly desire, Ignatius says – id quod volo is the old Latin phrase. We do not ask for job security, we ask for a profound and personal peace. We do not ask for the resolution of some conflict, we ask for the gift of understanding others. We do not ask for food or clothes or money, we ask for the capacity to truly place ourselves in the hands of God. Once awakened, the desires bring action.
The gifts of silence and contemplation and desire move us forward. They make us ready to choose life and light and blessing, and reject death and darkness and curse. They allow us to see that God is the only real good, and that all else is rubbish. They grant us the freedom to embrace the cross, and the strength to take on any mission ad majorem Dei gloriam, for the greater glory of God.