Celebrating Our Jesuitness on the Feast of St. Ignatius
The feast of St. Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits), occurs on July 31 each year. For Our Lady of Hope, this feast provides an opportunity to consider what it means to us to call ourselves “a Jesuit Ministry.”
At the Thirty-First General Congregation of the Society of Jesus in 1975, we Jesuits asked ourselves this question, “What is it to be Jesuit?.” The answer that we gave was, “It is to know that one is a sinner, yet called to be a companion of Jesus as Ignatius was…To be a companion of Jesus today is to engage, under the standard of the cross, in the crucial struggle of our time, the struggle for faith and that struggle for justice that it includes” (GC 32 Decree 2, 1975).
Fifteen years later, as I began to respond to God’s Call in my life, I was deeply moved and inspired by this mission of the Society of Jesus – the service of faith and the promotion of justice remains for me an orienting principle.
Called as Ignatius Was
Ignatius Loyola’s story may be very familiar to many of us. Ignatius, a Spanish nobleman born in 1491, was wounded when a cannonball shattered his leg while he was defending the city of Pamplona from an invading army. Beginning during his recuperation and over the next decade, Ignatius experienced a profound conversion experience. In these years, Ignatius traveled widely. He begged, preached, and helped the poor as he traveled. His insights began to coalesce into the manual that became the Spiritual Exercises. The Spiritual Exercises are a series of biblical and non-biblical reflections designed to help individuals draw closer to God and to discern God’s call in their lives. He began to share these exercises with others and many began to have profound spiritual experiences. After being questioned by the Spanish Inquisition, Ignatius decided to complete his education – ending up at the University of Paris where he met the other men who would become the first companions – the original Jesuits.
Rooted in the Spiritual Exercises
Jesuit life is deeply rooted in these Spiritual Exercises and the answer the Jesuits gave to the question “what does it mean to be Jesuit” draws from the Exercises – which are divided into four periods referred to as weeks (but not necessarily a 7-day period):
- The grace of the first week is a deep understanding of oneself as “a sinner loved by God.”
- The grace of the second week is “accompanying Jesus on mission.”
- The grace of the third week is accompanying Jesus through the events of his passion and death (the Standard of the Cross).
- Finally, the grace of the fourth week is experiencing the joy and sharing the consolation of the risen Lord.
Responding to the Call today – On Mission for Justice
In 2008, at the conclusion of the Thirty-fifth General Congregation, Pope Benedict XVI addressed the delegates, saying in part, “As my Predecessors have said to you on various occasions, the Church needs you, relies on you and continues to turn to you with trust, particularly to reach those physical and spiritual places which others do not reach or have difficulty in reaching.”
What this Means for Our Lady of Hope
Our desire to join others in the struggle of faith and the struggle for justice is the basis of this parish’s decision to seek to be a welcoming parish – especially to those on the margins – members of the LGBTQ community, new Mainers, refugees, and those who may be separated and divorced. The challenges that Pope Benedict named as a context for GC-35 have only grown more challenging since that time. These challenges included social, political, and economic change; ethical, cultural, and environmental problems; and conflicts of all kinds.
The animating spirit – based in the Spiritual Exercises and the history of the Society of Jesus – asks us to focus on the now and to stand on that border between the sacred and secular – helping all to “find God in all things.” As a parish, we seek to share the graces of the Spiritual Exercises with others.
- We seek to help all people to experience themselves as deeply loved.
- We join in Jesus ministry of healing the sick, feeding the hungry, and proclaiming the Kingdom of God all around us.
- We seek to respond particularly to places of human suffering as an orienting principle – confident that Christ crucified is present in those places.
- We seek to do all of this a community that knows the Joy of the resurrection and is open to the guidance of the Spirit.
Fr. Brian Conley, S.J.