Monday in the 17th Week of Ordinary Time (II)
Memorial of St. Ignatius of Loyola
Memorial of St. Ignatius of Loyola
On this feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the readings for ordinary time help us to reflect upon some characteristically Ignatian themes. In keeping with Ignatius’s own preference for referring to himself as a pilgrim, we shall organize our reflection along the lines of a spiritual journey. There is an intended destination, a way of proceeding, and a strategy for moving along the way.
The destination of Ignatius’ pilgrimage is summarized in the well-known and oft-quoted Ignatian phrase: to the greater glory of God. Reference is made to it in the opening prayer today. But what does this mean? Our first reading from the prophet Jeremiah brings out one important aspect. Notice how the reading ends: I had intended the whole House of Judah to cling to me… to be my people, my glory, my honor and my boast. God’s glory is found in God’s people, but only and especially when they cling to Him, as God intended. Here we are reminded of the following words from St. Irenaeus: the glory of God is the human person fully alive. God is not a tyrant. His glory is not opposed to, but consists precisely in human flourishing. When people enjoy intimate communion with their Creator (remember the loincloth), when the love of Christ comes to maturity in their hearts and bears fruit in their lives, that is when God is glorified. The greater the intimacy and communion, the greater the glory.
If this is so, the glory of God does not – indeed cannot – consist solely in the external observance of rules and rites, religious or moral. One can do all the right things for the wrong reasons. Rather, the way to the greater glory of God must pass through one’s heart. Notice the nature of God’s complaint in the first reading: this (is an) evil people who refuse to listen to my words, who follow the dictates of their own hard hearts… What is needed then is a softening of the heart – a turning from arrogance to humility. The crucial point is that the way begins with the desires of the heart. We find a similar approach in the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. At the beginning of each prayer period, Ignatius encourages the one who prays to beg for that which I desire. Indeed the whole of the Spiritual Exercises is structured according to these graces, these desires for which one begs. Ironically, this is not always easy to follow. We are not always comfortable with allowing ourselves to become aware of and to express our own deepest desires. If something is truly of God, if something is to lead to God’s greater glory, it must be something very difficult, something that goes against the grain, or so we tend to think. There’s some truth in this. Jesus himself had to struggle in Gethsemane. But notice how Jesus’ struggle was also to discern and follow what was his own deepest desire: not just to be safe from physical harm, but to follow His Father’s will.
Given what we have said so far, what might be an effective strategy for helping ourselves and others to move along this way to God’s greater glory? If the way is that of the heart, of intimacy and love, then the strategy cannot be the strict imposition of rules and regulations. People cannot be forced to fall in love – even with God. They instead have to be allured, even seduced (see, e.g., Jeremiah 20:7). One has to start from where people are, what they are comfortable with, and gently lead or accompany them to where they need to be. Ignatius expresses this in terms of entering through another’s door in order to lead him/her through ours. And is this not what God is doing in the first reading? The use of the parable-in-action is not simply because God is keen on theatrics. Rather, the strategy is to help the people to see that their happiness lies in intimate contact with God, just as a loincloth clings to a man’s waist.
Of course, this strategy is not always the quickest. Neither are the results always the most obvious. But, like the mustard seed and the yeast in the gospel, once the process is begun, the growth is inevitable and impressive, not just for the pilgrim but also for all with whom the pilgrim comes in direct or indirect contact. It was so with Ignatius, as it was for Christ.
How are we being called to walk this Ignatian and Christian way today?