Ignatians: Men Who Resolve to Change the World!
To change the world! After all, isn’t that one of the chief reasons inspiring you to become a priest?
Humanity suffers, shouts for bold apostles and waits for apostles like Philip who, flinging human respect to the winds, approaches the chariots of men to ask : “Dost thou then understand what thou art reading?” and to hear the same reply “Why, how can I unless someone guides me?” (Acts 8:31)
St. Paul’s urging “Be ambitious for the higher gifts” (1 Cor 12:31) has always led the saints to think big, be restless, be ambitious to the degree that they often became awkward and disturbing for those around them.
Even if their projects were within the radius of the parish, even if at the end of life they echoed the words of St. David of Wales who told his monks “Do the little things that you have seen me do”, there was nothing little about their aspirations for God’s glory: they were never small-minded people, their hearts were huge, they -like the Gospel personage – put their all into the treasury for building up the Church.
Should a priest be less ambitious than statesmen who want to change their political system?
Than industrialists and businessmen who want to give employment to thousands?
Than generals who want to defend their country?
If men spend their lives concocting ever more elaborate special effects for the movie industry, far more so should we as priests and seminarians develop imaginations capable of finding new ways of guiding souls for Christ.
And like the greatest among the men of the world, we should be willing to stake all for Christ and souls, risking loss of comfort, possessions, health and even life.
With such holy ambition, the pioneering priest acts as if he were a young entrepreneur rebuilding a big business fallen on hard times.
He does not wait around to be given a plan and a strategy since nine times out of ten he won’t receive one. He knows that beyond the rather minimum requirements stipulated by most authorities, what he does with his days is up to him.
With a keen alertness to the value of time and the shortness of life( nurtured in meditation about his own death from time to time as has been customary among the saints) he lives on the fast track, seizing time and wringing results from every minute of it!
He never forgets that he didn’t make the sacrifices involved in becoming a priest – especially sacrificing the possibility of a wife and children – in order to sit around and just wait for things to happen!
With humility he recognizes when some task is beyond his individual capacities and finds a way of achieving it by enlisting the support of others. He knows he has brother priests and so many laity just waiting to be asked to do something creative for the Church!
Thus, the world cries out for the type of priest who by his Spirit-created drive, daring, and enterprise can factually say of himself “I am a verb” (General Ulysses S. Grant).
The only Priests feared by the Enemies of the Church
Saintly priests are never status quo, “business as usual”.
How could they be since their hearts vibrate with the energetic love of the divine life ( sanctifying grace), they irrupt onto an unsuspecting world as torrents of vision, daring and enterprise.
For that reason the history of the Church is propelled by the history of the saints who hand on the torch of the great traditions and light new ones.
They are restless men seeing the good as the enemy of the great and unsettling those around them with their “Why can’t things be different, better, more effective?”
And they are willing to pay the price for men who want the greater glory of God are often seen as dangerous men: dangerous to others laziness, ambition and comfort. As a historian remarked about one of the revolutionaries determined to exterminate Christianity:
“On the contrary, Lenin had no real feelings about corrupt priests, because they were easily beaten. The men he really feared and hated, and later persecuted, were the saints. The purer the religion, the more dangerous. A devoted cleric, he argued, is far more influential than an egotistical and immoral one…..It was as though he recognized in the true man of God the same zeal and spirit which animated himself, and wished to expropriate it and enlist it in his own cause.” (Paul Johnson, Modern Times)
Not a Tame Lion: A Man who Acts with a Deep and Daring Love
In the age of the Dictatorship of Relativism, Catholics anxiously scan the horizon for reinforcements, for a new type of priest to bring about the conversion of souls and a Christian civilization.
The Church hopes for a man of vision and enterprise whose mind is a laboratory of initiative; a man who rejects the bureaucratic image of the priest in favor of a restless drive characteristic of the masculine psyche; not only a shepherd but a fisherman who dares to sail into new initiatives of evangelization; a man who seems to live “a life of storm, from beginning to end; fighting all the way; never a pause, never a truce, never a rest ” (Churchill).
To attain this he forges a proactive spirit, with a supportive rhythm of life favoring the roles of silence, mental prayer, creativity and organization.
If the priests of the Church have vision, daring and enterprise then they will arouse the sleeping laity to penetrate all sectors of society with the truths of the Gospel.
For the priest is meant to be the “verb” among the lay faithful. If the priest is what he should be – an authentic leader, teacher and sanctifier- then he will usher into the world, according to the degree of his own personal qualities and circumstances, such venturesome individuals and groups.
Everything hinges on the character he is forging from the talents of birth, baptism and ordination.
As our Lord Jesus Christ indicated in a certain parable, we are called to get down to business with the talents of birth, the years of life and the graces of ordination.
“The Glory of God is Man Alive!” and noone should be more vibrant than the priest who is the bearer of divine life!
Therefore although classic in adhering to the unchanging and unchangeable priestly identity, the priest is called to be avant-garde in pastoral methods: he looks to tradition to inspire him and to his surroundings to alert him.
“Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”(Mt.13:52): “conservative” in doctrine, “liberal” in action.
“Those closest to God are the most daring”
“Those closest to God are the most daring” wrote St.Thomas Aquinas in the Summa Theologiae, I-II, 45,3.
History backs up his assertion.
The true turbo-engine of the Church’s progress through the centuries is the drive of the saints whether it was Odo, Odilo and Hugh of Cluny, St. John of God, St. Cajetan, St. Charles Borromeo, St. Juan of Avila or countless priests in our times.
By their “gracious” imagination the saints see opportunities for evangelization; by “graceful” willpower they move and by grit they keep moving; always willing to pay the price for being “different”, for going against “common sense”; relentless until they either achieve the goal or fail but even when they fail in the matter in hand, history shows that their efforts often inspire others to take up the torch and faith tells us that their merits gain invisible victories for the Church’s progress.
That was the secret of the saints: Benedict of Monte Cassino came with the monastic method well-suited to the needs of man’s body and spirit having prayed in the cave of Subiaco and thought long and hard about the wisdom of Basil and Cassian; the Celtic monks with their missionary and fierce monasticism gave witness to the barbarian age of the virility of Christianity and of the need for radical penance; Cluny restored prayer and discipline in a moment of decadence; the first Dominicans and Franciscans moved with the times by putting their friaries in the midst of the newly built towns and close to the universities; St. Margaret Mary Alacoque aided by Saint Claude de la Colombière gave the antidote of dedication to Christ’s heart against the poison of Jansenism.
Nor can we forget that pastor of a tiny parish in France who with his life wrote “initiative” across the church, village and countryside – and set the nation travelling on the roads to Ars.
Empowered by the Holy Spirit to be a Man of Imagination, Daring and Enterprise
Imagination, Decision, Daring, Enterprise: these must shine in the Ignatian by his opening himself to the action of God’s sanctifying grace received through the sacraments.
When he allows himself to be “led by the Spirit of God” (Romans 8:14), the light of the Holy Spirit’s gifts of wisdom, understanding and knowledge sharpen the vision of his intellect allowing him to see further and deeper; it impels him to take considered risks which are compatible with the virtue of wise decision-making.
“The pattern of the man of the masses is the technocrat or the specialist”, wrote the Spanish philosopher Ortega y Gasset in The Revolt of the Masses, “the person who knows a small corner of the universe very well but is ignorant of the rest. The creative minority [individual] is a man of dynamic excellence. This man is a hero in that he exerts his will in service to values and goals that are larger than himself; he lives the noble rather than the common life in that he lives it as a discipline for which he constantly trains.”
The Society of Ignatians will foster, encourage, and stimulate this sense of imagination, drive, and enterprise throughout the Ignatian’s equipping.
“To Fail While Daring Greatly”
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly…who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who have never known neither victory nor defeat.” (Theodore Roosevelt)
A complete failure it will not be for -to paraphrase St. Paul in Romans 8:28 – all things form part of a conspiracy for those who love God: all things even opposition and stunning failures.
For we are followers of the Victorious One who conquered not by armies and power structures but by shedding his blood on the wood of the cross. In refusing to be bent by failure we make up in our flesh “what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the Church”(Col.1:24) and from the winter of our crushed hopes will come a springtime of new life in our own and others souls.
Even if in extraordinary cases the lifeblood that we shed over an institution or project for the finest years of our youth is suddenly revealed as a failure in its apostolic purpose, nevertheless it enters into the secret strands of the divine cosmic conspiracy for the salvation of souls. On that Good Friday of our life let us climb the Hill of Calvary to be alongside our beloved Savior; let our momentary agony be united to his; and let our minds rest because “in His will is our peace” (Dante).
Supernatural power will radiate outwards from our personal Good Friday for the eternal salvation of souls in mysterious ways that will ripple through history to be discovered at the final reckoning of Judgment Day.
Such has been the attitude of the saints: on the tombstone of Saint John of Avila was written the epitaph “The Sower”: appropriate for a man who had generously cast the seed everywhere seeking to build a stronger priesthood even if only after his death did the harvest occur when his writings became a major influence at the Council of Trent’s decisions about priestly renewal.
And let us not give up if after all our valiant efforts the results are apparently meager for even the most meager results in the greatest cause –the salvation of souls – are worth more than all the triumphs of business, politics and war! For each soul per se is worth more than the entire universe per se!
In any case you will have done your part and no more is asked of you for you will have fulfilled God’s Will over your priesthood: to care for souls like a good physician even if in the end they do not accept to be healed. “For us there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.” (T.S.Eliot)
“Beloved priest, says St.Bernard, be not discouraged by your lack of success, but rest secure in the reward that awaits you. God does not require of you to save souls: labor for their salvation, and he will reward you, not in proportion to your success, but according to the toils you have endured.” (Sermon 2 on the Death of Malachy)
For it is singlemindedness and purity of intention that matter, as St. Bernard noted elsewhere when speaking of the life and work of the priest and bishop, St. Malachy of Ireland:
“Acceptable and well pleasing to the Lord was his minister’s purity of intention, and grateful and well pleasing was the fruit of his ministry. But even though Malachy’s ministry had been less fruitful, the Lord would still have had regard for him and for his works, for the Lord loves purity and delights in singlemindedness. In his righteousness he weighs the work by the intention, and he judges the state of the whole body by the soundness of the eye. Great indeed were the works of the Lord that Malachy’s every will and desire sought out; great and manifold and exceedingly good in themselves, but made still better because of their good beginnings in a pure intention.” (Sermon 2 on the Death of Malachy)
Ignatians: Resolving, Biting the Bullet, Equipping
Those who enter the Society of Ignatians are men who want to change the world; they are prepared to take bold steps, make great sacrifices, and in turn the Society of Ignatians will resolutely equip them for a lifetime that along with the greatest of fulfillment requires the maximum of spiritual combat.