The Ignatian is first and foremost a man who is Catholic in the very depths of his identity; who cannot imagine himself without Christ whom he cannot imagine without His Mystical Body, the Church.Hence, he lives in intimate union with the other members of the Mystical Body, not only his contemporaries in the Church Militant but also those in the Church Purgative and the Church in Glory. So, his heart and mind, alien to sterile individualism and to the isolationism of one who is imprisoned in the mentality of his age, has the Catholic hoizon of time, stretching through the millennia to Our Lord Jesus and to His Apostles and beyond them to our saintly Jewish forefathers who heralded His coming.
Indeed the priest must be four thousand years old in mind because he can – and must – look with pride to the greatness of his spiritual ancestors, the noble Jewish race, chosen by God as the repositories of divine revelation, amid whom, in the fullness of time, the most beautiful woman of history, the “woman clothed with the sun” would give birth to the “Hope of the Nations”. The Ignatian mind therefore aspires to have the “redemptive breadth”(Ratzinger) of Catholicism. Accordingly, the Ignatian’s glory and joy is to be the inheritor of four millennia of glorious achievements and to follow in the footsteps of men and women of heroism and genius.
All that is true and beautiful from the Church’s history, whether from East or West, from the Apostolic Fathers headed by St. Ignatius of Antioch from Asia Minor, from the great African Fathers of the Church led by St. Augustine, the Ignatian venerates. To them we look with the pride of sons for inspiration and guidance so that we continue along the tracks they laid out.
The Society of Ignatians precisely because it is Catholic, because its raison d’etre is from the Church, in the Church, with the Church, aspires to be integrally Catholic. To be integrally Catholic is to have the vision of the Catholic Church as a reality not only against the backdrop of time but in the light of eternity. It is to know and love it as it has moved through history, impelled by the Spirit-derived dynamism of the saints of every age and by the sensus fidelium, which time and again brought new and renewed beauty to the Mystical Body of Christ.
And so Ignatians love the Church – past, present and future. They love and venerate all that their spiritual forefathers, whether from East or West, whether from North Africa or Asia Minor or Europe or elsewhere, contributed to the grandeur and beauty of Holy Church in her liturgy, her doctrines and her evangelization. With a sense of deep awe in the presence of these giants of history and with profound veneration for all they have left us, their only desire is to walk behind them along the tracks that they have carved amid the high mountains of Catholicism. For they know that by walking behind them they will be empowered, if God so wills, to find new tracks for evangelization that continue upwards to the summit.
By keeping these tracks in sight we will have long memories of the grandeur of the Church’s achievements and long memories of treacherous betrayals by Churchmen through sins of commission and omission, sins of hypocrisy and cowardice so that we will do everything possible and imaginable to make sure they never ever occur again. We will have a long memory for instance of the importance of asceticism in priestly life. Where there is no asceticism, there is no mystical life and where there is no mystical life there is pure legalism, conformism and Phariseeism.
Ignatians are Guardians because they are Lovers
For the Ignatian the truths of the Catholic Faith are no abstract truths. They are truths that penetrate the very depths of his mind; that grip his heart; that determine his identity. For the Ignatian Christ the Truth known to him through the truths of Catholicism is the compass of his soul and the guardian of his conscience, his inspiration and his urgency in living.
Accordingly, the Ignatian, treasures the dogmas of the Catholic Faith and lives out the words of that defender of the Faith, St. Irenaeus: “we guard with care the faith that we have received from the Church, for without ceasing, under the action of God’s Spirit, this deposit of great price, as if in an excellent vessel, is constantly being renewed and causes the very vessel that contains it to be renewed.”( St. Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses, 3,24, 1).
And thus he also commits himself with a special sensitivity to defend them, “in season and out of season” to defend the liturgical, devotion, disciplinary and devotion traditions that express and protect the core truths of the Faith (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 83). In particular the sacred liturgy since “lex orandi, lex credendi”; it is in the public prayer of the Church that one readily discovers what it holds to be the truth, as many a convert to the Church has demonstrated.
In the Footsteps of the Saints
The saints especially for two thousand years have shown unshakeable loyalty to Tradition as the priceless heritage that may never be tampered with but only guarded and transmitted as an heirloom, intact and made more splendid by greater appreciation, to the future generations. Just as St. Paul declared: “I hand on to you what I myself have received” (1 Cor 11:23). Even when vast numbers of bishops betrayed Tradition at the time of the Arian heresy, a few stalwart saints, headed by St. Athanasius, kept the line unbroken.