Friday, July 31, 2015

Ronald Knox on St Ignatius Loyola

In 1951, Monsignor Ronald Knox wrote this quirky meditation on St Ignatius Loyola (1491-1556):

St Ignatius, who died on the last day of July, nearly 400 years ago, was described by John Wesley as surely one of the greatest men that ever was engaged in the support of so bad a cause. John Wesley was exactly wrong. He thought to defend the founder of the Jesuits from the charge of enthusiasm by representing him as a cool, long-headed business man. But an enthusiast was just what St Ignatius was. He was full of that fire which never says, It is enough.

Read his early history, and you find nothing there of the great organizer. All his great schemes for going out and converting the Sultan (copied from St Francis) came to nothing. All his early disciples left him: thou could a people raise, but could not rule, seemed to be his destined epitaph. In a sense, it was the enormous vagueness of his plans that saved the situation; just because he had no blueprint ready formed in his mind of what the Company of Jesus was to be like, the Company of Jesus proved to be exactly what was wanted.

If, during the last years of his life, he became the ruler of a world-wide Society, that was because he was a good enough Jesuit to accept the uncongenial task. The real charter which he left to his Society was not any set of rules. It was a set of meditations, chiefly on the following of Christ, which he composed when he was living as a hermit in the cave of Manresa. All that mattered was seeing the love of God as insatiable.

We live in times when great importance is attached to planning, and Christian people are apt to catch the infection from their surroundings. We must revise, we must reorganize, we must have a plan or we are lost! But I don’t think St Ignatius would encourage us to echo that cry. Rather, he would find fault with our half-heartedness - ready to believe, to do, to spend just so much and no more. But the fire never has enough.

Stimuli (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1951) pp.122-123

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When he read the Gospels, St Ignatius of Loyola would often picture himself as one of Jesus’ disciples so that he could observe closely everything that was going on. He would imagine himself as an extra witness at the Last Supper, drinking in everything around him as Jesus offered the first Eucharist. He would look closely at Jesus’ face as he forgave the woman caught in adultery or as he challenged the Pharisees and Sadducees. He would join Mary Magdalene and the apostle John at Calvary and observe the sights and sounds of the day when Jesus died for him. Inserting ourselves in the Scriptures this way shouldn’t be a passive thing. We shouldn’t just sit back and watch what is happening. We can become part of the scene as well. For instance, as you picture yourself on Mount Horeb with Moses and the burning bush, feel free to ask Moses what it felt like to hear God’s voice. Imagine him turning to you and sharing with you what he was thinking when God told him to confront Pharaoh and demand that he release the Jewish people. You just may be surprised at the answers you get!

Be sure not to limit yourself just to the stories in the Bible. Pope Benedict encourages us to do the same thing with the psalms, which have been called the Bible’s own prayer book: In the Psalms we find expressed every possible human feeling set master fully in the sight of God. . . . In this way our word to God becomes God’s word. . . and our whole existence becomes a dialogue with the God who speaks and listens. Imagine yourself as one of the psalmists as you bring your heart before the Lord. And like the psalmists, be bold enough to expect an answer from God. In place of the psalmist’s concerns, insert your own needs and desires, your own longings and hopes. Let his words of praise and thanksgiving become your own. As Benedict said, God’s words will then become your words. His thoughts will become your thoughts. His ways will become your ways, pushing aside anything in you that is opposed to his way of thinking. Slow Down and Listen.  

The Word Among Us. (April, 2011)

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A prayer of St Ignatius:

Teach us, good Lord,
to serve thee as thou deservest;
to give and not to count the cost;
to fight and not to heed the wounds;
to toil, and not to seek for rest;
to labour, and to ask for no reward,
save that of knowing that we do thy will;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


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