The Rev. Canon Laura Howell
Trinity Church, Bethlehem
We do not have anyone listed on our calendar for August 4, so I’ve written today about one of the saints who has been a companion for me personally, Ignatius of Loyola. His feast day would have been on Sunday, July 31, but was superseded, as he would have wanted, by the weekly celebration of Christ’s life, death and resurrection.
Inigo Lopez de Loyola was born in the Basque country of Spain in 1491. The son of a nobleman, he was raised to be a knight, and spent time as a page in the court of Ferdinand and Isabella. He fought in only one battle, but was badly wounded in the leg by a cannonball. The protracted and very painful recovery kept him bedbound for many months. The young gentleman, who otherwise would have been involved in duelling, wenching and gambling (by his own account), demanded romance novels to read. Instead, he was given only religious books: The Life of Christ by a Carthusian monk and The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis. They changed his life.
He experienced a conversion and when he healed enough, moved into a cave to live the life of a hermit and ascetic. During this time, he began to write his Spiritual Exercises–a handbook for spiritual formation, which he amended and perfected over decades. He encouraged people to imagine witnessing and even being part of the life and death of Christ, and to allow Christ’s enormous love and generosity to move them to love and gratitude in return.
Ignatius (the Latin version of his name) made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land to see with his own eyes the places that Christ visited. He desperately wanted to preach the Good News to the Muslims, but became convinced that he needed more education first. He returned to Europe for 10 years of study in universities in Spain and Paris. While in Paris, he and some of his classmates formed an organization, dedicated to education, the renewal of the Church, and missionary work. They called their group “the Society of Jesus”, and thus the Jesuits were formed, to serve to the Greater Glory of God.
Ignatian spirituality is above all practical. It seeks to find God in all things. The inner contemplative life is embodied through service to God in the world. There is great concern not only for the spiritual welfare of people, but also for their physical well-being, and Jesuits are much involved in ministries to the poor. Ignatius’ words: “What have I done for Christ? What am I doing for Christ? What ought I to do for Christ?” reminds us that since Christ is always actively at work in the world, and so ought we to be.
Most of all, though, Ignatius focused on developing love for the generous God who created this beautiful and amazing universe as a gift for us; who suffered for us; and who longs for us to respond to a call to return that love. This is one of his most beautiful prayers:
Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty,
my memory, my understanding and my entire will–
all that I have and call my own.
You have given it all to me.
To you, Lord, I return it.
Everything is yours, do with it as you will.
Give me only your love and your grace.
That is enough for me.
We reflect some of the same sentiments as we pray at the Offertory: “All things come of Thee, O Lord, and of thine own, have we given Thee.”
Almighty God, from whom all good things come: You called Ignatius of Loyola to the service of your Divine Majesty and to find you in all things. Inspired by his example and strengthened by his companionship, may we labor without counting the cost and seek no reward other than knowing that we do your will; through Jesus Christ our Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, now and for ever. Amen.