Will we invite the Spirit of God to illuminate our reflections as we pray An Ignatian Examen for Civic Life?  Amid our discontent and disquiet, are we inspired to pray for our nation at this particular time? “What energizes you or brings you closer to God…what distracts you or makes you feel farther from God as you reflect on our country?”  It may be a challenge to identify how “your identity and privileges shape your perspective and vision for our country.” In an experience of discernment, of careful attention to emotions and reactions, are you able to “allow your honest reactions, emotions, and desires to surface?”  Do we open ourselves in prayer to feelings about current realities of our country?  We may not have clear answers, but we can direct our hearts and minds toward God as we ponder our questions and concerns.

When praying the Ignatian Examen, we invite God to illuminate our reflections and give them direction.  We enter into conversation with God, knowing that he is there in our thoughts, concerns, and emotions. In the booklet An Ignatian Examen for Civic Life, distributed by Ignatian Solidarity Network and available at church entrances, we are guided in the format of the Examen with regard to our country’s upcoming election.  In this valuable way of conversing with God, we are asked to “consider perhaps one or two of the strongest desires or feelings evoked by prayer about our country and bring this to God…speaking simply, clearly, directly, and honestly, as one friend speaks to another.”  This is relationship.  “Listen with your heart—how is God present to you through your reactions and desires?”

In praying the Examen or experiencing the Spiritual Exercises, you may actually discover a new way of praying.  It is beneficial to designate a comfortable place to pray.  Ignatius expresses: “As you move to your place of prayer, stop for a moment or two and realize what it is you are about to do.  Know that God awaits this time with you. Ask for the grace that this prayer is for his honor and glory.” (Ignatian Spiritual Exercises) Whatever you bring to God in prayer already has value because you are in His presence. Let our attention focus on God being with us, rather than on what we ‘say’ to Him.  If we are focused on how to express what is on our minds and in our hearts, we may be distracted from the moment of just ‘being.’

At our church entrances you will find a copy of An Ignatian Examen for Civic Life, issued by Ignatian Solidarity Network.  This variation of St. Ignatius’ Examen invites us to reflect on our country’s realities during these weeks before the Election.  We begin by gratefully acknowledging that we are in God’s presence.  With our hearts turned toward our loving, merciful and forgiving God, we openly and honestly share ourselves in several prayerful steps: Begin with Gratitude, Ask for guidance of the Holy Spirit, Reflect on the emotions and reactions in our day, Consider one or two strong desires or feelings and seek forgiveness for failings as well as strength and wisdom, and Pray about the next day with Renewal and Resolution.  Above all, this is a time for you to encounter God in the bits and pieces of everyday life….your everyday life!

Ignatian spirituality is grounded in the conviction that God is active in our everyday lives and that he is present to us in a personal way - in our work, in our families and friends, in our personal relationships, in our joys and in our sorrows, and even in the most mundane details of daily living.  How awesome to recognize God’s hand in all things!  Let us reflect further on the depth of this vital relationship: God’s presence is a gift - recognition is grace.  Believing that we ‘find God in all things’ liberates us from questioning how we can connect with God.  This perspective allows us to just ‘be’ with God as we navigate through the nuances of everyday living.  A look at past experiences often reveals God’s presence, but we can build on this reflection to recognize His ‘present presence.’

Today we celebrate the authority of Christ as King and Lord of all things. It seems fitting that this feast celebrating Christ's kingship falls right before Advent, when we will liturgically wait for the promised Messiah (King). As we praise and glorify the loving and merciful king of the universe, we can begin reflecting on the nature of our own daily living.  We are about to re-set the church’s clock, leaving Ordinary Time to enter into the mystery of the Incarnation, waiting for God, as Ignatius expressed in the Spiritual Exercises, to “work the redemption of the human race.” (SE 107)  This all-knowing and all-powerful King will come to save us amid the beauty and suffering in our world, in the details of our daily living.  For what graces might we pray upon entering into the Advent season?

Advent, a season of hope, seems a perfect time to appreciate God’s presence in our daily living.  We trust in his love for all humanity, and this particular season echoes his generosity and constant care.  Hopes and prayers for God’s grace can shape our relationships and discernments in daily living. In our Advent prayer we might ask to live as God intended us to live: to see the good in people, to forgive and be patient with ourselves and others, to reach out to those in need, to unwind each day with an experience of the Examen, to adopt an attitude of gratitude, and to respond to God’s invitation just to be in His presence. Inspired by a hallmark of Jesuit spirituality to find God in all things, we know he waits for us in the light and in the shadows, just as we wait for his coming.  Will hope be visible in your journey through Advent?

This Advent season might be a good opportunity to re-align our hopes and goals with what God wants us to become.  Let’s slow down and savor the graces of Advent.  Amid the rush and anxiety of these weeks before Christmas, can we overlay a sense of gratitude for all the blessings and gifts we already have? Am I grateful for God’s constant and active presence in my life?  Where do I find God in my everyday living: in family, work, church, social activities?  Am I open to the direction that God will take me?  In this time of waiting for Christ’s coming, do I share the journey with Mary, my model of hope and trust?  Do I see this as an opportunity for my faith to grow and deepen?

Advent means ‘a coming into place, view, or being,’ reminding us of a movement, a journey, having a goal or destination.  At this time the church resets its clock and begins a new year. Advent is very much about hope and waiting and longing. It is also about connection; it coincides with the end of our calendar year, creating a connection between looking back and moving forward.  These weeks of Advent present an opportunity for a sort of tune-up or realignment in the course of our faith journey that may help us better navigate our way forward. The spiritual life is all about union with God.  Advent seems a perfect time to affirm, appreciate, and strengthen this relationship.  Let us welcome this Advent journey, this chance to let go of our distractions and encumbrances and to re-route our thoughts and actions to echo His purpose.

As we begin this 4th week of Advent, we are getting closer to receiving the great gift of love which Mary brings forth in the flesh. What does your Advent look like?  Perhaps these goals could be on your Advent ‘to do’ list:  to pray, to be grateful, to keep Jesus as your fixed point, to share the grace of Mary’s hope and trust, to seek, to find, to be found, to ‘see’ and to ‘listen’ with your heart, to give the best of yourself as your gift to God, and just to BE WITH God and let him love you.  Let your Advent be filled with gratitude for God’s love and mercy as you prepare, pray, wait, long, and align your hopes and goals to what God wants for you.  May Advent allow you to nourish your spirit and prepare your heart, so that you will truly be able to say “I’ve had a good Advent!”  

The Birth of the Holy Child, which we celebrate today, makes God’s love immediately available to all.  We embrace the light of divine love, this gift of the divine self freely-given.  Awareness of and gratitude for this great gift can truly change us, inspiring us to respond in word and in deed, in prayer and in love.  The human Jesus allows us to know the Divine!  St. Ignatius says: “It is the prerogative of the Creator alone to enter the soul, and cause a motion in it which draws the whole person into love of His Divine Majesty.” (SE330) Has this motion become real for you? Has God drawn you to Himself? To His heart? To this moment?  Having journeyed with Mary and in gratitude for the gift of bounteous love, you are ready to greet the Prince of Peace!

Happy New Year!  St. Ignatius might view this as an opportunity to make some practical spiritual resolutions!  A little inspiration and motivation can go a long way: incorporate the Examen at a regular time into your daily prayer, set aside some time just for you and God to have conversation, recognize God’s hand in your everyday living, find more ways that you can serve others.  You might tap into one or more of the convenient online sites and/or apps for daily reflection: Jesuitprayer.org, Sacred Space Prayer for 2017, Loyola Press’ 3-Minute Retreat and others. This writer promises to start and end each day with gratitude for many blessings realized.  We’ve just celebrated the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ, the light of divine love.  May this great gift prompt us to recognize God’s grace in His unfailing love and constant presence, and to strengthen our personal relationship with our Savior and Creator.

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany – the manifestation of Christ to all the world.  We rejoice in the revelation of God in the humanity of Jesus Christ!  Through an Ignatian lens let us enter into the Scripture scene and pray with imaginative Gospel contemplation.  Are you journeying with the Magi, following the star that leads you to the Baby Jesus?  Is it night?  Is it quiet?  Are you bringing gifts to this special newborn child, gifts that are symbolic of the importance of Jesus’ birth: gold to represent his royal standing, frankincense to mark his divine birth, or myrrh to symbolize the mortality of Jesus as human?  What other gift would you bring?  How do you feel when you gaze upon the baby?  Is Mary holding him?  How does Joseph look?  Who else is present?  Will you emerge from your imaginative experience with renewed promise to reflect joy and gratitude for the great gift that has been revealed?

Millions of believers have embraced and been enriched by the foundations and legacy of Ignatian spirituality set in motion by Ignatius of Loyola and the early Jesuits.  We are blessed here at Gesu to be exposed to this ‘way of proceeding.’  Finding God in all things is a hallmark of Ignatian spirituality.  In seeing the hand of God in our everyday lives, we are reassured of his love.  Even in challenging times we can trust in His care.  Do you ever think about how much God wants to find you…how he constantly pursues you?  We have celebrated the birth of Jesus Christ – God’s love made immediately available to all, and the Feast of Epiphany - the manifestation of Christ to all the world. God came to us...to find us and to love us.  He wants us to know him and love him in return.  Perhaps in this new year we can let ourselves be found, knowing we are truly loved.

Most of us probably start and end our day with some experience of prayer: a regular time and place designated for daily Scripture reading, saying a Rosary, reciting familiar prayers, praying the Examen, reflecting on daily offerings as in The Ignatian Book of Days, Sacred Space, Sacred Reading, or the 3-Minute Retreat, or a few minutes of personal reflection. Of course, now you can link to daily prayer and reflection on your electronic devices. A search of ‘daily Jesuit prayer’ will yield apps and/or downloadable daily prayer opportunities. Consider, also, how often we offer a petition for circumstances to have a good outcome, or a prayer for someone in need of safe travel, better health, or support of some kind. We believe that God hears each prayer, but the response is not ours to determine. As we travel into this new year, perhaps we can increase ‘conversation’ experiences with God and strengthen our trust in his ‘answers’ to our daily prayers.

Ignatius of Loyola offers us a vision in the Spiritual Exercises, his guidebook for our journey toward a closer relationship with God.  It inspires us to reflect on who we are before God, why we were created, and what our response should be.  It’s not unlike a question posed in the Baltimore Catechism: “Why did God make me?”  We recited: “God made me to know him, to love him, and to serve him, and to be happy with him forever in heaven.”  Ignatius offers a reflection called “The Principle and Foundation” which David L. Fleming, S.J. translates: God who loves us creates us and wants to share life with us forever.  Our love response takes shape in our praise and honor and service of the God of our life. God is constantly seeking a relationship with us.  Let us show our gratitude for this gift in how we cultivate relationships in all aspects of our lives.

Pedro Arrupe, S.J. was born in 1907 in the Basque region of Spain and joined the Jesuits in 1927.  He was sent to Japan in 1938, expecting to do mission work for the remainder of his life. Following the Pearl Harbor attack, Arrupe was imprisoned, believing he would be executed for espionage, but was released after 33 days. This experience instilled in him a profound trust in God. In 1958 he was appointed the first Jesuit provincial for Japan. He was elected Father General of the Society and served from 1965 until 1983.  Arrupe and Saint Ignatius of Loyola were the only Basques to hold this position. He was wheeled in during the opening of the 33rd General Congregation and read his final prayer expressing the profound spiritual experience “to know and feel myself so totally in God’s hands.”  Fr. Pedro Arrupe, S.J. died February 5, 1991; his body lies in a side chapel in the Church of the Gesu in Rome.

In the fall of 2015 Gesu presented a retreat “Praying with St. Ignatius.” Facilitators from the Jesuit Retreat House met weekly with about 20 participants. We experienced praying in traditional Ignatian ways of lectio divina and imaginative Gospel contemplation. Small groups shared insights about the Gospel and offered personal reflections in a setting of trust and companionship. Our monthly ’Ignatian Prayer and Faith Sharing’ gatherings have followed this format. Participants enjoy these and receive many benefits.  Some remarks: “Individual reflection and group sharing are supportive and prompt new insights;” “a very profound experience; it bolstered spiritual growth and enrichment with sharing;” an “excellent hour with everyone exchanging ideas towards relationship with Jesus.”

Monthly “Ignatian Prayer & Faith Sharing” is for anyone who wants to pray!  Participants experience two methods of praying with Scripture that open us to see God in our lives through an Ignatian lens. We listen to the coming Sunday’s Gospel, and often other readings for that particular Mass, while letting God show us what he wants us to see.  If directed to pray with lectio divina, we listen for a word or phrase that ‘jumps out’ with personal meaning for us.  We ask God to illuminate the significance of this word or phrase as it becomes part of us—to speak into our present as well as our future.  In imaginative Gospel contemplation we enter or into the story using our senses and imagination.  We place ourselves in the scene: observing, participating, interacting, trusting that we are encountering Jesus.  The goal is to be with God in prayer and in conversation.  He is present to us; he is the goal. Please consider joining us on Thursday, March 16 at 7:30 pm in the Sacred Heart Room.  … we would love to have you!

Lent begins this week!  Ash Wednesday occurs 46 days before Easter, in remembrance of Jesus’ fasting in the desert for 40 days.  Every Sunday commemorates the Sunday of Christ’s resurrection, so fasting is excluded from the six Sundays in Lent.  Ashes made from the palm branches blessed on last year’s Palm Sunday are placed in the form of a cross on foreheads of participants, with the words ‘Turn away from sin and be faithful to the gospel’ or ‘Remember, you are dust and to dust you will return.’  How do YOU prepare for Lent? Prayer, fasting, and charitable giving continue to be excellent practices during Lent or at any time.  But, consider asking yourself this: “How do I prepare myself for this season? What needs to happen within myself so that my actions on the outside are filled with greater purpose, intention, and integrity? It is good to have a plan for doing; it is also good to have a plan for being!

Saint Francis Xavier, to whom a window in our sanctuary is dedicated, and whose statue is in our narthex, met Ignatius of Loyola when both were students at the University of Paris, himself a roommate of Peter Fabre, another Jesuit saint.  Francis was among those who, in 1539-40, petitioned the pope to allow the First Companions to form the Jesuits as a religious order in the Catholic Church.

Francis is remembered as one of the greatest missionaries in the history of the Church.  Most of his activity was in Asia, healing as well as baptizing tens of thousands of people into the Catholic Church. Francis was the first Jesuit missionary in Japan, who then turned his eyes toward China.  God must have been satisfied with his labors.  Francis Xavier died from fever on December 3, 1552, while waiting to depart for China. The correspondence between Francis Xavier and Ignatius Loyola would inspire many young men to enter the Society of Jesus and serve as missionaries in his footsteps.

In the bulletin and on yellow cardstock notices at church entrances you will find suggestions for Lenten prayer experiences online, with Apps, and in reading material.  These provide avenues for you to move away from the distractions of your busy everyday living to a place of meditation, prayer, and self-examination. One particularly helpful option can be found at www.loyolapress.com.  Select Living Lent Daily for “a daily practice of spiritual calm where God is at the center.” These offerings explore Scripture readings of the day as well as deepen your understanding of Lenten themes. By entering your email address, you will receive a message for reflection every day through Easter Sunday.  May you know God’s grace in whatever path you choose to make this Lenten season more prayerful.

Last week we suggested looking into Living Lent Daily on the Loyola Press website, for reflections through Easter Sunday.  You might also explore www.ignatianspirituality.com for Ignatian topics and links, such as the Dot Magis blog.  Enter your email address in the area “Receive updates from DotMagis” and begin receiving messages that connect your faith with daily living.  Also, a good option for experiencing the benefits of the Examen is to pray with the Lunchtime Examen, an audio series narrated by Jim Manney, author of A Simple, Life-Changing Prayer: Discovering the Power of St. Ignatius Loyola’s Examen. This can be accessed at www.loyolapress.com. Enter “Lunchtime Examen” in the search box; select these words in the text, and enter your email to receive this Examen.  We are fortunate to have access to so many tools that help enrich our spiritual life during this Lenten season.

 

Are you having a good Lent?  This is not a time we particularly look forward to, considering the sacrificial, self-denial aspect that generally characterizes Lent as something to be endured.  Lent, however, brings an opportunity!  Believing that God invites us to be with him always, Lent offers a time to deepen this connection.  Lent is actually a time of grace, a time to foster spiritual growth, by adopting a positive attitude and being grateful for the chance to look honestly and courageously at our lives.  Do we feel that our values and priorities are in line with God’s desires for us, or have we wandered from this path?  We trust that God’s grace is great enough and merciful enough to heal us and help us so that, in our soul-searching and repentance during the Lenten season, we open our hearts to welcome our loving God.

A recent post on DotMagis blog, illuminates the correlation between Lent and Spring: “Spring and Lent fit quite nicely together. While we might be busy starting to work on those spring clean-up things, we can also do our Lenten spring clean-up preparing for Easter. As the snow slowly melts, it exposes the dead roots and leaves—the things that only add to the messiness of our lives and prevent our souls from blooming. We can take some time during Lent to take a hard look at what those things might be and rake them up. We can rid our wardrobes of any jealousy, selfishness, and anger we may have worn a little too often this past year. We can take some time to ponder the gifts God has given us in abundance to find new ways of sharing those gifts with those who might benefit from them.”

Used with permission of Loyola Press. “Lenten Spring Cleaning” at www.ignatianspirituality.com

Last week’s feature encouraged us to engage in a spiritual ‘spring cleaning.’  It takes courage to look inside ourselves and admit to our shortcomings, jealousies, and distractions from what God wants for us.  In fact, these realizations can be the very thing that directs us back to God, as a sort of ‘spiritual GPS.’  Someone said that God writes straight with crooked lines.  Day in and day out, our lives are paths with many twists and turns, some of which we prefer to reject or avoid altogether, but they confront us nonetheless.  God is in charge!  He remains the ultimate tour guide who has designed the itinerary for our journey.  As we walk in faith through Lent, we spend time in the desert with our reflections and discernment.  Will we experience the real spiritual growth that comes as grace from God’s mercy and love so that Easter will truly be a time to rejoice?

In the Fourth Week of his Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius invites us to experience joy as we share in the consolation of the Risen Christ.  We gratefully contemplate the great love God has for us and the blessings he has bestowed upon us.  In response we ask for the grace to love as God loves, and to manifest in deeds this boundless love that is given and received. Our Lenten journey guided us to many encounters with Jesus, as we sought his mercy and love throughout the forty days.  We drew closer to our loving God by seeing ourselves as God sees us: created out of love, to respond in love.  Let us continue to find God in our daily living as we allow the beauty of this relationship to grow and overflow.  We need not look far; he is right there! Rejoice and be glad!

In today’s Gospel Jesus appears to the disciples after his resurrection.  How is the Risen Jesus present to us now?  “Lord, strengthen my faith in the miracle of your resurrection.  Let it be so real to me that the living Jesus becomes the center of my life.  Let others see you through me.” (Sacred Reading for Lent 2017).  In The Ignatian Adventure, Kevin O’Brien, S.J. writes that “our God is a God of life. The Resurrection reveals how God is always bringing life from death, hope from despair, love from hate, and light from darkness.  So we celebrate the ‘risings’ as well, such as reconciled or new friendships, unexpected opportunities, renewed vigor, and meaningful learning experiences that come from losses.”  As we reflect on the risen Christ, we realize solace and joy in the total redemption of ourselves.  With God’s grace we are made whole, to continue our journey in hope and promise.

How fortunate we are that the Risen Jesus is a truth we know and believe. Let’s reflect on those who knew Jesus in his earthly life and experienced the pain, fear, and confusion of what happened to him.  Are we sometimes like the disciples on the road to Emmaus who didn’t recognize Jesus even as he walked beside them?  If we pray with imaginative contemplation about today’s Gospel, do we find ourselves slow to believe that what the prophets declared had come to pass … that Jesus Christ had lived among us, suffered, Z43died, and is now Risen?  Do our hearts burn within us as we ultimately recognize Jesus in the breaking of the bread? What a blessing to be able to receive Jesus in the Eucharist, to recognize his presence, and to believe that he is active in our everyday lives.

Are you savoring the graces of this Easter season? Do you follow the Risen Jesus with deep love and gratitude for all that has impacted our lives because of his life, death and resurrection?  In today’s Gospel Jesus connects the Shepherd of the sheep to the Gate through which the sheep must pass. He is The Shepherd; He is The Gate.  John concludes with the statement “I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.”  We have that life. Ignatian spirituality inspires us to recognize God’s presence in our lives. With prayer and practice, we learn how to use our ears to hear and eyes to see what will lead us to a deeper relationship with our loving Lord.  We turn to God in prayer; we listen with our hearts and follow the Shepherd.

In these last few weeks of the Easter season, we continue to savor the joy of Christ’s resurrection.  Consider that we need joy, where we find that joy, and who or what brings us joy.  Do you see signs of God’s presence, of his consolation?  Are your eyes and ears trained to realize where God is active? In Week #28 of The Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius urges us to reflect on the various ‘dyings’ in our lives:  losses, major life changes, etc., and through these human experiences to let God reveal himself as a God of life. Our realization of truth and our openness to God’s presence can elicit a response in our hearts and spirits that will lead us to a deeper relationship with our loving Lord.  We listen with our hearts. We come to the Father responding to Jesus’ words: “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.”

God gave the greatest gift: Himself.  In these past weeks we have experienced liturgically the fullness of this gift.  In today’s Gospel Jesus reassures his apostles with great love and concern that he is not abandoning them. He avows that he will still be with them, but in a different way: “You will realize that I am in my Father and you are in me and I in you.”  How difficult this concept must have been for them.  Likewise, we do not fully understand but we find solace in his words. Ignatian spirituality teaches us to find God in all things. Jesus’ farewell discourse to his apostles proclaims that God is indeed in all things. He invites us to open ourselves to the depth of this relationship. We are greatly loved by our Creator, “and whoever loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and reveal myself to him.”

Today’s Gospel celebrates The Ascension of the Lord.  Using imaginative Gospel contemplation let us put ourselves on that mountain to where Jesus had directed his disciples. In Scripture, mountains have been settings of transcendence, places to ‘meet’ God.  We come to see what our Risen Lord wants to show us or tell us; we come to meet him again after his Resurrection. This will be Jesus’ final appearance before he departs from us and ascends to the Father. In our imaginings, we feel the joy of his presence, though we cannot conceal our concern.  We are new disciples.  We have traveled with Jesus, heard his teaching, and witnessed his amazing deeds.  Now he is telling us to be the teachers and go out to make disciples in all places.  As we reflect on how we can carry out this mission, we are strengthened by Jesus’ words to us: And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.

We hear in today’s Gospel that a locked door does not prevent the Risen Jesus from joining the gathering of his fearful disciples. He appears recognizably and stands in their midst. How do we perceive and receive the Spirit of God? Do we open the door of our heart to let the Holy Spirit come in and make a dwelling place? Do we reflect on Jesus giving us the gift of the Holy Spirit? As we often do before an Examen, we can breathe in the Spirit and let out the cares and distractions of our day.  We trust in the same ‘Spirit’ that breathed on the disciples when Jesus spoke; “Receive the Holy Spirit.”  With this offering is proclamation of the first gift of the Holy Spirit, when Jesus said: “Peace be with you.”  How simple these brief words; yet, how profound the message!  

In today’s Gospel celebrating The Most Holy Trinity, we hear Jesus’ words: “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.” In Week #29 of The Spiritual Exercises, many weeks of prayer culminate as we experience God’s boundless and unconditional love.  Our response should be to love God with as much faithfulness and abundance as as humanly possible.  It is because of God’s immense love for us, which is beyond our understanding, that he sends his only Son to save us and to promise eternal life. We are inspired by John’s Gospel and by St. Ignatius to respond to God’s great love.  May our everyday living reflect the richness of The Most Holy Trinity: God, the Father, who loves us unconditionally; Jesus, the Son, who gives his life for us; and, the Holy Spirit who remains God’s active presence in our lives.

As we celebrate The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, we hear Jesus tell people he is “the living bread that came down from heaven” and that “whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life.”  If we reflect on this passage using imaginative Gospel contemplation, we put ourselves in Jesus’ presence, listening to this man speak of “true food… and true drink.”  The words “flesh and blood” used together convey for us a very rich meaning, reflecting on how St. Ignatius identifies the Eucharist as “the greatest mark of God’s love.”  It is the place where Jesus is!  Considering that the Ignatian way calls us to be close to Jesus, here we meet Jesus in the most intimate relationship, receiving his body and blood.  God brings himself to us in love and we in gratitude are compelled to return that love in our everyday living.

Jesus reassures his followers in today’s Gospel from Matthew, dispelling all fears and reminding them of the value God places on them.  He knows them well, just as he knows us well.  We can almost hear God speaking to our hearts: “Do not be afraid.”  In the Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius asks us to pray for the graces of wisdom and courage, along with gratitude God’s gifts and enthusiasm for our own mission.  (Week #32)  In discerning our own courses of action, we may benefit from reflecting on what David Fleming, S.J. calls the greatest gift about decision-making: “the gift of a reasoning heart.”  With trust in God’s presence in each of our lives, let us consider interior movements beyond intellect and emotions in our discernments.  If we enter the scene with Jesus and his followers, admitting a measure of hesitation and even fear, we are inspired to make him the center of our lives and to make decisions in the context of this relationship.

In today’s Gospel Jesus refers to our ordinary relationships: father or mother, son or daughter.  These are important bonds.  But Jesus is saying there is one even more important than these: our relationship with him.  We might reflect that he is asking us to find our worthiness and purpose in a family formed in him.  We might also wonder what these words mean for us: “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”  Jesus holds back nothing in his relationship with us. St. Ignatius would have us recognize that everything has been given to us by the Father.  Our grateful response should be to return that love by our actions.  Our time of service in this life is short; our time of reward will be long.  May we have a generous spirit toward others, praying with St. Ignatius: “Give me only your love and your grace. That is enough for me.”

In advance of celebrating the July 31 Feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola, we will feature stories of his life.  Born in 1491, Ignatius was a Spanish Basque priest and theologian, who founded the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) and became its first Superior General.  Until age 26 Ignatius sought fame and renown, especially through combat and warfare.  In 1521 while fighting for King Ferdinand of Spain against the French at Pamplona, his one leg was shattered by a cannonball.  During his long recovery in Loyola, he asked for books to pass the time reading, hoping for courtly adventures or kingly tales.  All that was available were books about the life of Christ and lives of the saints. Ignatius developed interest in a different kind of greatness as he imagined what kind of saint he might be.  His imagination shifted from fantasies about knights and ladies to the direction of service to an Eternal, not an earthly, King.

Inspired by prayer and lives of the saints, Ignatius journeyed to Jerusalem, to walk in the footsteps of Jesus. He bought a pilgrim’s staff and cloth for a robe and gave away his expensive clothing.  At the altar of Our Lady of Montserrat, on the night of March 24, 1522, vigil of the Annunciation, Ignatius laid down his armor and sword, and clothed himself in what he saw as ‘the livery of Christ.”  He then spent a few days in the village of Manresa in solitary prayer.  In a book he carried for years and later showed to his companions, Ignatius recorded thoughts and prayers as well as words of Jesus and Mary from the Gospels. He experienced and kept track of moments of desolation and despair, as well as times of great joy and consolation.  Ignatius came to consider his experience at Manresa as a time when God taught him how to pray.

Ignatius felt that God had called him to reject his old way of life, and he had a desire not to offend God again.  As a result of spiritual conversations and insights recorded in his book, Ignatius began having revelations that prevented him from sleeping.  He asked for God’s help in discerning what he ought to do.  After a prayerful year at Manresa, living in a Dominican house where priests served as confessors, Ignatius found peace in praying about the Holy Trinity.  Visions helped him understand the humanity of Jesus and the sinlessness of Mary.  His prayer continued and so did his personal calm.  Ignatius continued to have spiritual revelations that gave him great joy, and he continued to hold spiritual conversations with those who came to him and with whom he shared the results of his prayer and writing – the book that eventually became The Spiritual Exercises.

Ignatius died in Rome in 1556 on July 31, which we celebrate annually as his feast day.  His body was covered with his priestly garments and placed in a wooden shrine, which was buried in the small Maria della Strada Church.  That church was demolished in 1568 and replaced with the Church of the Gesu.  The body of Saint Ignatius was put into a new coffin and reinterred in the Church of the Gesu in Rome, which is the mother church of the Society of Jesus. He was beatified on July 27, 1609 and was canonized by Pope Gregory XV on March 12, 1622.  He is honored as patron saint of Catholic soldiers and, of course, remembered as one of a group of priests who formed the Society of Jesus and as the first Superior General of the order, entitled Father General by the Jesuits.

In these past few weeks we described the life of St. Ignatius of Loyola, including notable events on his journey toward establishing the Society of Jesus and writing the Spiritual Exercises.  Notice the windows to the right of the altar. These depict significant events in his life: 1. recovering at Pamplona after serious battle injury, 2. laying his sword at the altar in Montserrat, 3. composing the Spiritual Exercises at Manresa, 4. pronouncing vows as first Jesuits with his Companions, 5. holding the document of Jesuit rules with the slogan “All for the greater glory of God” (Ad maiorem Dei gloriam), 6. celebrating Mass in the Jesuit House in Rome, and 7. Ignatius in the glory of heaven showing the “IHS” seal of the Society of Jesus inside a sunburst, symbol of the Jesuits.

Stained glass windows​ to the​ left of the altar depict the life of Saint Francis Xavier, whose feast day was August 1. Francis met Ignatius at the University of Paris, along with Peter Fabre, another Jesuit saint.  He abandoned ambitions for fame and wealth when Ignatius convinced him to serve God and the Church.  In 1534 Ignatius, ​Francis ​Xavier, Peter Fabre, and four others expressed vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience at Montmartre, referring to themselves as the Company of Jesus, with overtones of the military (an infantry “company”) and of discipleship (“companions” with Jesus).  “Company” derives from the Latin meaning cum + pane “with bread.”  They also called themselves Amigos en El Senor, or “Friends in the Lord,” believing that they were “placed together by Christ.”   They were granted permission by Pope Paul III to be ordained priests, a historic event which led to the establishment of what would be called the Society of Jesus in 1540.

Shortly after the Society of Jesus was established, Francis Xavier was sent to Portugal, as apostolic nuncio to the East.  He departed Lisbon with two other Jesuits on April 7, 1541 his thirty-fifth birthday, and would devote the remainder of his life on mission in Asia.  Francis gained reputation as the First Jesuit Missionary, and would be remembered as one of the greatest missionaries in the history of the Church: healing the lame, the ill, and the blind, as well as baptizing tens of thousands of people into the Catholic Church.  Ignatius and Francis would share correspondence, but would never see each other again.  Francis was the first Jesuit missionary in Japan, following which he turned his eyes toward China.  God must have been satisfied with his labors.  Francis Xavier died from fever on December 3, 1552 while waiting to depart for China.

Window panels to the left of the altar depict the life of St. Francis Xavier: 1. Francis and Ignatius early in their relationship; 2. Ignatius sends Francis on mission to the East Indies; 3. Francis on his voyage to India; 4. Francis preaches in Asia; 5. Francis heals a sick man with family looking on; 6. Francis baptizes for hours at a time; and, 7. Francis dies on the island of Sancian, within sight of the Chinese mainland, awaiting a boat. His incorrupt body was first buried on an island beach, then moved to Portuguese Malacca where an open grave still marks the place. On December 11, 1553, his body was shipped to Goa.  On December 2, 1637, it was placed in a glass container encased in a silver casket with 32 plates depicting episodes from his life. Francis’ dream of bringing the Gospel to China would be realized by later Jesuits. The correspondence between Francis and Ignatius would inspire many to enter the Society of Jesus and serve as missionaries in his footsteps.

Another Jesuit saint, Peter Faber, was the first man recruited by Ignatius of Loyola to be a Jesuit.  Others had joined Ignatius, but had fallen away.  Peter Faber was the first among the “First Fathers” who stayed.  It is interesting that the first Jesuit saint was canonized by the first Jesuit Pope.  Peter Faber had been a “Blessed” for over 140 years when, on December 17, 2013, Pope Francis, on his 77th birthday, issued a decree of “equivalent canonization,” naming Peter Faber a saint. Such a decree is used when there are not the requisite number of miraculous cures attributed to the saint, and such a canonization foregoes the usual Mass in Saint Peter’s Square. In declaring this Jesuit priest a saint outside of the usual way of proceeding, Francis might have been considering the story that Saint Ignatius had once recognized Peter Faber as the best director of the Spiritual Exercises.

Peter was a Savoyard born into a family of shepherds.  Knowing his desire to study for the priesthood, his parents sent 10-year-old Peter to a small school sponsored by their parish priest. He entered the University of Paris in 1525, where he and his roommate, Francis Xavier, studied philosophy and theology. In October, 1529, they added a third roommate, a man several years older than themselves. This new man, Ignatius of Loyola, was known to have a positive effect on the people with whom he came in contact. With Ignatius’s guidance, Peter decided to become a priest.  Peter made the Spiritual Exercises with Ignatius just before his ordination.  So it was, that, when, on August 15, 1534, after preliminary papal approval of their plans to begin a religious order, Ignatius and his six companions made their First Vows in the Chapel of Saint-Denis at Montmartre in Paris, they did so at a Mass that Peter Faber celebrated. Peter was the only priest among the First Jesuits.

When their plans to go Venice and then to the Holy Land collapsed because a war forced most sea captains to suspend sailings, Ignatius Loyola and Peter Faber offered the infant Society’s services to the Pope.  His first appointment of a Jesuit was to name Peter a lecturer at Rome’s Sapienza University.  Later, Faber was commissioned to the Diet of Worms in Germany, where a conversation was to take place between Martin Luther and Catholic Church authorities.  In this Lutheran city, Faber preached, heard confessions, and conducted the Spiritual Exercises. In 1546 Pope Paul III appointed to the Council of Trent. By them, at age 40, Peter’s was in poor health, exhausted by constant journeys, always accomplished on foot.  He left Spain to attend the Council, but weakened by fever, the future Saint Peter Faber died on August 1, reportedly in the arms of Ignatius Loyola. In a diary of his spiritual life, Faber entered a final quote from Psalm 103: “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget none of His benefits.”

Peter Faber had a gentle spirit and a tendency to be very hard on himself. Ignatius proved to be the perfect mentor for him, and Faber eventually became the master of the Spiritual Exercises. He was sent to Germany in 1541, where he found the state of the Church in such disarray that it left his heart “tormented by a steady and intolerable pain.” He worked for the renewal of the Church one person at a time, leading many in the Spiritual Exercises. Princes, prelates, and priests would especially find Peter Faber a gentle source of instruction and guidance leading to renewal. His final journey in 1546 was to Rome where, exhausted from his labors, he died in St. Ignatius’s arms at the age of 40. Pope Francis announced the canonization of Peter Faber on December 17, 2013.

Nearly one year after the Pope’s original approval of the new Order, the official Papal Bull documenting this agreement was published on September 27, 1540. The new Society of Jesus acted on two initiatives:  First, to elect the official leader or head of the Order. The title given is usually “General.” To lessen the association with military officer, they added the word “Father” identifying with family.  All votes were for Ignatius, except for his own, as he considered himself unworthy of the office. Through prayer and counsel he relented and accepted, thus becoming the first “Father General” of the Society of Jesus.

Secondly, the ten founders were to pronounce their solemn vows. At the Basilica of St. Paul outside of ancient Rome, they would publicly repeat vows made at Montmartre on August 15, 1534.  In addition to vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, they affirmed their dedication to “missions anywhere in the world” in what is commonly referred to as the Fourth Vow.  

For over 450 years millions of believers have benefitted from the foundations of Ignatian spirituality set in motion by Ignatius of Loyola, Francis Xavier, Peter Faber, and other early Jesuits. Their ‘way of proceeding’ has impacted countless lives over the centuries. We are blessed here at Gesu to be exposed to this legacy.  Early companions of Saint Ignatius were in contact with the situation in Germany, where reform efforts of Martin Luther and others had exposed problems in the Catholic Church there, especially regarding the education of the clergy and laity in their Catholic faith. Peter Faber spent a great deal of time in his last years in pastoral missions involving attempts at reconciliation between Catholics and Lutherans just before the opening of the Council of Trent. Faber made a singularly important contribution to the eventual stability of the Catholic Church in at least one part of Germany by admitting the young Peter Canisius into the Society of Jesus after directing him in the Spiritual Exercises.

The Pope granted special permission for the newly formed Jesuits to teach theology in any university. This was a difficult permission to obtain at that time. Young Peter Canisius had just passed his own doctoral examination at the University of Bologna in Italy when he was assigned by Ignatius to teach at the University of Ingolstadt in Bavaria.  John W. O’Malley, S J, in The First Jesuits, relates this about Saint Peter Canisius: “In no other part of Europe where the Society of Jesus established itself did it owe its success and identity so manifestly to a single individual as it did to Canisius in the German Empire.  In no other part of Europe did the Society, especially in the person of Canisius, so early come to play such a pivotal role in determining the character of modern Catholicism.”