Father MIKAEL SCHINK S.J.
Feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola
2022-07-31, St. Eugenia Catholic Church
+ Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
today, the Church celebrates saint Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit Order. And since this is a Jesuit parish, the feast of saint Ignatius takes precedence over the 18th Sunday in ordinary time.
Saint Ignatius is well known for his fidelity and devotion to the Church. In fact, this was one of the reasons for the founding of the Society of Jesus in 1540. The first companions decided to go to Rome and place themselves at the disposal of the Pope. That was also the basis for the fourth vow taken by Jesuits. Besides the three common vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, Jesuits also promise a special obedience to the Sovereign Pontiff with regard to the missions.
Ignatius has expressed his attitude of service and obedience to the Church in some twenty rules ‘for the true attitude of mind […] within the Church militant’ in his book “The Spiritual Exercises”. In a time as ours when the true religion and thus the Catholic Church experiences so much resistance both from within and from without it can be particularly instructive to meditate on these rules.
The first of Ignatius’s rules is that we should ‘lay aside all our own judgments and keep our minds open and ready to obey in everything the true bride of Christ Our Lord, our holy mother, the hierarchical Church’ (rule 1). This is in fact nothing else than the attitude of faith. Faith is not something that we approach from the outside, judging it as it were by our own natural and man-made standards. In that way, we would never be able to come to faith since faith is a supernatural knowledge that is not accessible by natural means. Faith is rather the very foundation on which everything else is built. If we therefore allow ourselves to have doubts about our faith and try to adapt it to contemporary sensibilities in a way that is not reconcilable with the Church’s teaching, we can be sure that we are on the wrong track. And this is what saint Ignatius warns us about.
Another rule states that ‘we should be more inclined to approve and praise the decrees and regulations of those in authority, and their conduct as well; for although some of these things do not or did not in the past deserve approval, more grumbling and scandal than profit would be aroused by speaking against them’ (rule 10). This sounds as the opposite to a critical attitude that is thought in so many places today. But this rule makes perfect sense if we look at the Church as the mystical body of Christ. We are all members of Christ and so if one member suffers, all members suffer. In charity, we are called to support each other and give each other the benefit of the doubt. There is of course room for fraternal correction in the Church, but if we foster an overly critical attitude, we will soon find that we are cutting ourselves off from the mystical body of Christ. And so, in the name of the unity of the Church, Saint Ignatius cautions us to foster a positive and merciful attitude towards each other.
The perhaps most difficult rule of saint Ignatius is number 13. There, he says that ‘we must always maintain that the white I see, I shall believe to be black, if the hierarchical Church so stipulates; for we believe that […] it is by that same Spirit and Lord of us all who gave the Ten Commandments that our holy mother Church is directed and governed.’ At first glance, it would seem that Ignatius is suggesting a kind of blind obedience that is completely contrary to reason. In fact, this is not the case, because since the Church is guided by the Holy Spirit, it cannot oblige us to something contrary to reason or to something that is contrary to its own teaching, for it is the same God that established and governs the Church who also created the world. We can therefore be assured that whatever the Church teaches authoritatively is reasonable to believe.
A final point very relevant for our times is the last rule of Saint Ignatius where he writes that we ought to greatly ‘praise fear of the Divine Majesty’, not only filial fear but also servile fear. He says that ‘even servile fear can be a great help to escape from mortal sin, and once free [from mortal sin] a person can easily reach the filial fear’. In other words, Saint Ignatius not only commends fear in the sense of a fear of offending God but also a fear of the punishment of God. This can indeed be a great help for those that struggle with mortal sin: to remind ourselves that by committing a single mortal sin, we exclude ourselves from the supernatural communion with God and thereby run the risk losing our soul forever if should die in that state.
Let us therefore turn to the Lord and ask for the intercession of Saint Ignatius of Loyola: that we also may have the true mindset in the Church militant. Let us pray that we may believe, love and praise the teachings of the Church, by which eternal life is passed on to us, so that we may persevere to the end and thereby avoid the punishments of hell and finally reach heaven, where we will see God face to face. +Amen