Solemnity of St. Ignatius of Loyola
Readings: Deuteronomy 30:15-20; Psalm 1:1-6; 1 Timothy 1:12-17; Luke 9:18-26
Picture: cc alantankenghoe
Sisters and brothers, I was at the Farrer Road MRT station yesterday, where I encountered someone who had taken the wrong train. I knew she had taken the wrong train, because she was complaining loudly on her mobile phone. Apparently, she had intended to meet someone at the Farrer Park Station on the North-East Line, but had somehow ended up at the Farrer Road Station on the Circle Line instead. Wrong train. Wrong line. Wrong direction. Wrong station. Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong. No wonder she sounded so frustrated, as she stood in front of the MRT map, desperately trying to figure out how best to get back to where she wanted to go.
It’s quite likely that some of us will find the woman’s predicament more than a little funny. How could she make such a silly mistake? She should have been more careful. But I suspect that there are also some of us who will be able to empathise with her. Perhaps we too have experienced what it feels like to be lost. Perhaps we too have taken a wrong train, or boarded the wrong bus before. Or maybe we were driving on a highway, and missed a turn-off, or went in the wrong direction, and ended up far far away from where we were supposed to be, from where we wanted to go. That can be a very scary experience. Whatever people may say, it’s usually no fun getting lost. When that happens, all we want is to find the quickest and shortest possible way to get back on track. And how relieved and thankful we are when we finally meet someone who can help us to find our way.
It’s good for us to remember such experiences today, sisters and brothers, as we celebrate our parish feast. For on this Solemnity of St. Ignatius, our readings remind us that, as with the MRT, in the spiritual life too, it’s possible to get on the wrong track. Except that in the spiritual life, the consequences are far more serious. It’s not just a matter of being a little late for an appointment. As Moses reminds the people in the first reading, in the spiritual life, the choice we have before us is between nothing less than life and death, blessing and curse. To stay on track–to choose to obey God–is to live and to flourish. To get off track–to choose to turn away from God–is to lose not just our bearings, but our very lives as well.
And yet, as important as it is for us to stay on the right track, our celebration today is not really about never getting lost. For we know that much of the early life of St. Ignatius was spent precisely on the wrong track. His Autobiography, for example, begins with this sentence: Until the age of twenty-six he was a man given up to the vanities of the world, and his chief delight used to be in the exercise of arms, with a great and vain desire to gain honour. In other words, right until he was a young adult, St. Ignatius was well and truly lost. Instead of obeying God, his life revolved around only gratifying himself. He was preoccupied with fulfilling his own worldly dreams and ambitions. Quite clearly, the young Ignatius was on a fast-track to spiritual destruction.
If this is the case, then what we are celebrating today is not the perfection of someone who always made the right choices. Someone who always took the straight and narrow path. Someone who never boarded the wrong train. Someone who never got lost. No. In remembering the life of Ignatius, we celebrate not so much his perfection, as we do the mercy that God showed him in Christ Jesus. Even though Ignatius was lost, God saw fit to set him back on track. So that what St. Paul writes about himself in the second reading, can quite easily be applied to Ignatius as well: The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. And I, says Paul, am the foremost of sinners; but I received mercy...
I received mercy... This, sisters and brothers, is the wonderfully consoling message–the marvellous piece of Good News–that we are celebrating today. For, however pious or faithful we may believe ourselves to be, isn’t it true that we all have, within us, similar tendencies towards getting lost? Isn’t it true that all of us need the mercy of God? The same mercy that was shown to both Ignatius and to Paul? And what we celebrate today is the wonderful news is that this mercy is continually being offered to us. However lost we may sometimes feel, God never fails to reach out to us. God never ceases trying to get us back on the straight and narrow.
But, if this is true, how do we allow God to keep us on the right track? How do we receive and benefit more and more from the mercy that has been showered upon us in Christ Jesus? The gospel shows us the way. And the way consists in pondering and responding appropriately to the question that Jesus poses his disciples: Who do you say I am? When we truly allow ourselves to consider this question in all seriousness, what we receive is a map showing us the road that leads to life. A road that involves leaving selfishness behind, in order to walk ever further into the mystery of God. Which is why Jesus is quick to remind us that to travel along the right track is also to walk the Way of the Cross: If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross every day and follow me. For anyone who wants to save his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for my sake will find it.
This too was the experience of Ignatius. Having been converted and set on the right track, he experienced a deep desire to follow Jesus. And, as you know, while in a chapel at La Storta, about ten miles north of Rome, Ignatius was blessed with a vision of God the Father placing him with Christ the Son. And what was Christ the Son doing at the time? He was carrying his Cross.
But that is not all. For Ignatius, getting back on track didn’t just mean denying himself and picking up his own individual Cross. For Ignatius, following Jesus also meant reaching out in some way to others who were still lost. From the early days after his conversion, Ignatius experienced a deep desire to, in his own words, help souls. And it is because of this desire of his, that we’re now blessed with the Ignatian tradition of spirituality. This too is what we celebrate today. Not just the mercy of God shown to Ignatius, but also the mercy of God shown in and through him. The mercy of God that led Ignatius to seek out and to save the lost, as Jesus and St. Paul did before him.
Sisters and brothers, in remembering our patron saint today, what we are celebrating is the mercy that Ignatius received from God and then shared so generously with others. We celebrate the wonderful way in which God brought Ignatius back when he had gone astray. And what God did for Ignatius, God also continues to do for us.
Sisters and brothers, do you perhaps know of someone who needs your help to get back on track today?