In the Footsteps of Saints Ignatius

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Ignatian following of Christ

Both Ignatius of Antioch and Ignatius of Loyola were men who arrived to intimate union with the Most Holy Trinity through ardent devotion to the sacred humanity of the divine person of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Both had mystical experiences.  Ignatius of Antioch stated that he had mysteriously heard the voice of the Holy Spirit (Philadelphians, 7,2; Romans 7,2) and  that he had been graced with a vision of “heavenly realities and the thrones of angels” (Trallians 5,2). Ignatius of Loyola at the river Cardoner had a mystic experience that he frequently referred to as the source of light for all his major decisions.

These mystical experiences did not exempt them from continuing to journey on the only highway leading to the final and eternal union with God: the knowledge of the truths of the Catholic Faith and prayer, the imitation of Christ’s virtues, and transformation into Christlikeness through the sacraments. Their spiritual odyssey had to be an imitation of the heroic Christ who travelled to Jerusalem for the sake of man’s salvation. As Ignatius of Antioch stated, the true Christian imitates our “insulted, robbed, and scorned Lord” (Ephesians 10, 3), participates in “the Passion of God” (Romans 6, 3), and “puts forth branches of the cross” (Trallians 11, 1-2). Indeed, whoever does not do so is a “proud spirit” (Ephesians 5, 3) living by ideas “sown by Satan” (Philadelphians 3, 1). This was also implied in the vision of the Basque saint, who, on the eve of the foundation of the Compania de Jesus, perceived that the Eternal Father “placed him with His Son” who was, however, seen to be bearing the cross.

Hence, both men, like all the saints, were convinced that union with the Lord Jesus Christ meant a following of the Crucified Lord. Their battle cry was “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world!” (Gals. 6: 14) In the maxim  “My love is crucified” the Syrian bishop summed up his program of Christcentredness. The Basque soldier took his role model’s axiom as leit-motif of his own existence, writing “Jesus, my love is crucified” at the head of his list of favorite maxims.  For both men it summed up an indispensable part of their answer to the experience of the love of the Lord Jesus Christ, what St. Paul had stated: “The world has been crucified to me and I to the world” (Gal 6:14).

This meant that for both Saints Ignatius the journey to being authentic cooperators with Christ in His mission to save souls was along the roads of asceticism. St. Ignatius Loyola knew that his resolve to always choose and act  “ad majorem Dei gloriam” (“for the greater glory of God”) in selecting projects for the salvation of souls was intimately bonded to asceticism. To achieve the “more” and the “greater glory” Ignatius knew that his own heart had to be transformed by being sealed with the sign of the Cross. He had to become a “new man” by combating the evil tendencies within him, the corruptive influence of the surrounding world, and the influence of Satan whom he called “the enemy of the human race”. In other words it meant a Christian character formation lifestyle by which he subordinated even many good and beautiful realities to the service of Christ, to the point that he could say in all sincerity, “My love is crucified”.

This program of christification of one’s heart, life, and action implies three stages.

Firstly, “admiration” for the Lord Jesus Christ, a word which, etymologically, comes from the Latin admirari (to wonder at). This implied keeping one’s gaze fixed upon the person of the Savior: long hours of prayer, meditation, reflection and contemplation are necessary.

Secondly, it involves following Him along the royal road of the Cross. Ignatius well knew that  he had to break any stranglehold of his passions through detachment from the world’s goods, through purity of heart, through obedience to the Church and, above all, through reception of the sacraments. Admiration and prayer devoid of asceticism are only pseudo-admiration and pseudo-prayer. For, as the Master had said, “Not he who says Lord, Lord but He who does the Will of my Father is my disciple” (Mt 7:21). Doing the Will of the Father requires at the outset recognizing that our ability to do so is impaired by our human condition as fallen men with a warped intellect, a will at the mercy of unruly passions, living in a world that is counter-Christ, under the influence of the powers of darkness. Therefore asceticism is a vital need of the Christian soul.

Thirdly, if one steadfastly continues on the royal road of the Cross, travelling in the footsteps of the heroic Christ, by His grace one (in a sense) catches up with Him, and is welcomed as a comrade-in-arms in the struggle for the world’s salvation.

In other words, this is merely another way of describing the classical three stages outlined by Catholic ascetical-mystical theology in works by authors such as Tanquerey and Garrigou-Lagrange: purification, illumination, union.