Monday, February 14, 2022
Fr. Eduardo Barrios, SJ
This is the third of a four-part series on the Ignatian Year, which began May 20, 2021 and will conclude in July 2022.
St. Ignatius was not a Catholic "in his own way" as those who do not feel particularly attached to the Church say. Our saint had great faith in the Church, which he called "the true bride of Christ, which is our holy mother hierarchical Church" (Spiritual Exercises, 353). It never occurred to him to contrast Christ and the Church, nor to distinguish between the institutional Church and the charismatic Church. For him there is only one Church. And he believes that "between Christ our Lord, the Bridegroom, and the Church, his bride, is the same spirit that governs and rules us for the health of our souls" (SE, 365).
The pope occupies a privileged place in Jesuit ecclesial spirituality. St. Ignatius’ devotion to the Petrine See, in times when popes were not as focused on their ministry as the exemplary popes of today, gave rise to a special fourth vow of the Jesuits. The professed vowed obedience to the pope for the missions.
He expressed his faith in the role of the pope in the Church in these words: "[W]e firmly profess that all the faithful in Christ are subject to the Roman Pontiff as to their head and the vicar of Jesus Christ" (Formula of the Institute, 4).
For every Catholic the Eucharist is "the fount and apex of the whole Christian life" (Lumen Gentium, 11).
In the case of St. Ignatius this great truth was reinforced by a mystical experience he had in the city of Manresa in 1522. Let us read his testimony: "[W]hile assisting at Mass, he had another vision in the church of the monastery. At the elevation of the body of Christ Our Lord he beheld, with the eyes of his soul, white rays descending from above. Although he cannot, after so long an interval, explain the details of this vision, still the manner in which Our Lord Jesus Christ is present in the Blessed Sacrament was clearly and vividly stamped upon his mind." (Autobiography, 29).
His spiritual life revolved around the Holy Mass. Once ordained a priest, he began very early in the morning with preparatory prayers for the celebration. The day before, he would meticulously prepare the liturgical books. He lived his Mass with such intensity that he rarely celebrated in the big church, but in a small chapel assisted by a Jesuit brother as acolyte. During the Eucharist he received profound inspirations, some of which were related to the Constitutions of the Society of Jesus that he was writing.
His working day began late, for according to a witness in 1555, St. Ignatius remained in the chapel giving thanks for a couple of hours after Mass.
All Catholic spirituality is apostolic, even that of cloistered monks and nuns who do not leave the monasteries for pastoral services. The contemplatives practice mostly the apostolate of prayer and sacrifice. Some of them are involved in the apostolate of religious art and publications.
There are religious institutes focused on education, the care of the sick and other specific ministries. The Society of Jesus, on the other hand, embraces all kinds of apostolate as outlined in a non-exhaustive way in the first founding document: "[A] society, instituted for the purpose of perfecting souls in life and in Christian doctrine, for the propagation of the faith through public preaching, ministering the word of God, spiritual macerations, works of charity, and especially through the teaching of the young and uninstructed in the Christian precepts; and lastly for giving consolation to believers in hearing their confessions." (FI 1)
The only ministry that St. Ignatius declined was that of governing women religious. He did not do so out of misogyny, but because the attempts proved frustrating. There was only one woman who died with the vows of a Jesuit: Doña Juana of Austria, younger sister of Philip II, widow of the Portuguese prince Joao Manuel and mother of the ill-fated king Don Sebastian.
Every Catholic professes devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. It is not just one devotion among many, but a permanent dimension in the worship and life of the Church.
The Virgin Mary played a very important role in the conversion of St. Ignatius, especially with regard to the virtue of chastity. He says so in his Autobiography: "While watching one night he plainly saw the image of the Blessed Mother of God with the Infant Jesus, at the sight of which, for a considerable time, he received abundant consolation, and felt such contrition for his past life that he thought of nothing else." (Autobiography, 10)
St. Ignatius relied greatly on Our Lady in the practice of the Spiritual Exercises, especially in the colloquies (cf. Spiritual Exercises 63, 109, 147), and at the moment of a solemn oblation (cf. Spiritual Exercises 98).
The Ignatian Year concludes on July 31, 2022, the day of his liturgical feast. But the jubilee event being commemorated is the fourth centenary of his canonization. It was celebrated by Pope Gregory XV on March 12, 1622. On that day St. Philip Neri, St. Teresa of Jesus, St. Isidore the Farmer, and St. Francis Xavier were also canonized.
This blog was originally published as a column in the December 2021 edition of La Voz Católica.