St Ignatius Feast Day Homily

Jesuits in Melbourne gathered to celebrate the Feast of St Ignatius at Newman College on 31 July. Fr Des Dwyer SJ, Parish Priest of Immaculate Conception in Hawthorn, who this year celebrates 60 years in the Society of Jesus, gave the homily.

There has been a proposal in the Victorian Parliament this week to stop saying the Our Father at the beginning of each parliamentary day. When asked about this Rev. Tim Costello, the well-known Baptist minister, said he was pleased that politicians began the day by asking for forgiveness for their racism, sexism, and other failures; that it was good for them to pray for universal justice and peace; and for them to recognise that there is a transcendent reality beyond all of us.

It seems to me such vision and values are most important in times of change, and is exactly what St Ignatius had to offer in his own era of rapid change. The 16th Century was the time of the Renaissance and Reformation, the rise of the nation state, the European discovery of the ‘new world’ of the Americas and Asia. In the midst of this, Ignatius’ spirituality was quite different to the monastic spirituality that had dominated the Church for the previous thousand years.

The catalyst for Ignatius was of course the cannon ball that led to his conversion. In conversion it is God who becomes central, and this is what happened to Ignatius. His example invites us to ask where we need to focus our attention, so that we are really living, recognising that sin is paying attention to the wrong things in our lives.  Just as the Our Father offers both vision and values to our politicians, Ignatius found a way to lead people to that vision and values in the Spiritual Exercises.

A vision is a revelation which removes the veil so that we can see. The Kingdom breaks down the barriers of our numbness and divisiveness, leading to a new type of community where we are all children of the one Father. This leads to a new type of community, for which so many hunger. What holds us back is our blindness and the woundedness that needs healing. When healed, we respond with compassion rather than fear or anger. Ignatius leads us to find God by realising we need him to live with that compassion.

Ignatius’ vision by the Cardoner river, recognising that everything is in God and God is in everything, shines through in the Spiritual Exercises in both the First Principal and Foundation and the Contemplation to Attain Love. God is to be found everywhere and just as lovers exchange gifts, including and especially the gift of themselves, this is how we ought to live out our relationship with God.

Ignatius focuses our choices in the Spiritual Exercises’ meditation called The Two Standards. The meditation invites us to ask: how are we to act? Do we use things and people to give ourselves value, a self-centred approach, or do we choose a God-centred life, identifying with Jesus who is humble and poor?

Finally, to give context to these questions, a few of Ignatius’ insights that I love:

  1. That God deals with each person individually and we must elicit people’s deepest desires, and not impose them.
  2. That reality is complex, and so the governing documents of the Jesuits express nuance for differences of culture, age, local circumstances and so on.
  3. That there is great value in drawing lay people together and forming them for their role in the world.
  4. That life itself is sacramental – it is where God is encountered and Ignatius’ prayer, the Examen, is his great gift to help enable us to discover this.

Let us pray that like Ignatius we can help people to experience God at work in their lives and world through the pathways he has left us.