July 28th, 2018
Annual celebration of Jesuits’ Founder on 31st July
The Feast of St Ignatius of Loyola, Founder of the Jesuits, July 31st 2018
The annual feast of St Ignatius on July 31st comes at a slightly awkward time of the year. Schools are out. Some people have drifted away onto holidays. What I used to think was only an Italian phenomenon, the ‘dead’ month (workwise) of August has all but in name begun! My own inclination is to think that Ignatius would not want a huge celebration of his feast. In keeping with all the saints, it is their message that they would want promoted and not their name. Unlike Franciscans or Dominicans, Jesuits are not called after their founder. They are not ‘Ignatians’. Ignatius suggested the bold and not uncontroversial step of calling the group of himself and his first companions, the Society of Jesus, or the ‘Compagnia di Gesù’ which perhaps gives a better understanding of the concept; these men being ‘friends in the Lord’. Ignatius wanted there to be no doubt that, like the Church, the founder of this new institute was Jesus Christ, not Inigo of Loyola as he began.
Today we might think of two aspects that this body (formed officially in 1540) was inspired to promote through the charism of its first Superior General, Ignatius of Loyola; the gift of discernment and a mission to the frontiers where people most need to hear of the Gospel, the Good News.
Discernment of spirits, good and bad, are at the heart of Ignatius’ most important gift to the Church and beyond, the Spiritual Exercises. Based on scriptural texts, the Exercises form a framework for helping people find God in their lives and being able to make important decisions with calm consideration leading to consolation in what they are to act upon. Being able to discern the spirits, that which leads to consolation or not, is in large part the practice of wisdom (1 Corinthians 12v.8). It is not a gift that can be taken as given once and for all. Solomon at the beginning of his reign as King of Israel was given a gift of wisdom for his humility before God but later ‘blew it’ with his fascination with the women of other religions!
Concern for the ‘Land of Prester John’, as part of Ethiopia got named in Ignatius’ day, reveals his desire, and that of his fellow companions, to go where there was great difficulty in bringing the Gospel. That ‘difficult’ work is not necessarily thousands of miles away. Ignatius and the first companions did much to help the women forced into prostitution in the Rome of his day. He also assisted with those displaced from the countryside into Rome when famine times fell in 1538. This involvement shows the early concern of Jesuits for displaced people, now more evident in the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS). JRS was founded in 1980 by a person who has been called a ‘Second Ignatius’, Fr. Pedro Arrupe, from the Basque country as was Ignatius and a reforming Superior General. The formation of JRS was a response to the outcry over the Vietnamese boat people who were fleeing persecution and being viciously attacked by pirates on their way. Today the greater awareness that people are forced to move out of desperation to escape violence or to provide themselves a future has spread to all parts of the world, including the streets of London and other British cities. St Ignatius would no doubt be happy to be with those who arrive here to assure them that his mission of consolation is among them however possible.
Stephen Power SJ