St. Ignatius of Loyola
By Fr. Heyrman S.J.
ST. IGNATIUS OF LOYOLA
1. The characteristic features of the holiness of St. Ignatius, that is, of his relations with God, probably are reverence and love. These words frequently occur in his writings, generally together. Throughout his life these two sentiments were uppermost in his soul, and made him, during his last lonely night, sigh repeatedly: Mi Dios, my God!
2. Petition: The grace to admire God’s work in this great Saint; “may his intercession conduct us safely to the eternal praise of the Divine Majesty” (Postcommunion of the Mass of today).
I. Relevance for the Divine Majesty
A German commentator on the Spiritual Exercises wrote: “Modern man has lost the sense of rank and of distance, the fundamental instinct of reverence. He wants to deal on equal terms with every Superior, even with God. That implies the end of all true piety.”
To Ignatius, the scion of a noble Spanish house and a knight of the sixteenth century, reverence for the King – for “His Majesty”, as the Spanish kings had begun calling themselves – came natural. To serve the King, to go forth to conquer in his name, to perform great feats and earn fame, such had been the ideal of Ignatius until he was thirty years. When in 1521 he is converted, it is noteworthy that grace, in him, by no means destroyed nature but ennobled and purified it. He will now serve the “Divine Majesty”, and he will perform great feats in the service of Christ the King, not to earn glory for himself but for the greater glory and honour of God. His great soul has been thoroughly cleansed of all dross, and now is bent exclusively on serving God. When read against this background, the matter of fact and very concise terms of the “Principle and Foundation” of the Exercises become pregnant with meaning: “Man is created to praise, reverence and serve God.” The soul must offer itself to God freely and with great liberality, “so that the Divine Majesty may make use of it according to His most holy will.”
St. Ignatius was resolved “to show greater affection, and to distinguish himself in every kind of service of his eternal king and universal Lord”. In all these expressions we feel the deep sense of reverence, which never forsakes Ignatius, not even in his loftiest mystical flights. There is something awe-inspiring in this fundamental feature of the spirituality of St. Ignatius.
II. Love of God, Our Lord
The closing contemplation of the Spiritual Exercises is a “Contemplation to obtain Love”. And on the last page of the Exercises, where St. Ignatius lays down rules “in order to think truly as we ought in the Church Militant”, his closing words are these, “Although it is above all things praiseworthy greatly to serve God out of pure love, yet we ought much to praise fear of His Divine Majesty … filial fear, which is wholly acceptable and pleasing to God our Lord, because it is inseparable from divine love.” So here we have as his last word, be it said ever so gently, the word which some wanted to read on the first page. But for Ignatius “to praise, reverence, and serve God” are ways of loving God. The love of Ignatius was not a love expressed in an exuberant manner but a deeply reasoned love, and translated into generous action.
After his conversion, love prompted him to visit the Holy Land, where Jesus had lived; he ardently desired to stay there all his life, to work and die for the conversion of the infidels. After his ordination to the priesthood, he postponed the celebration of his first Mass for more than a year because of his hope to celebrate it in the cave where Jesus was born. His order would bear the name of Jesus, and no other; and contrary to the rule he had laid down for himself as to all other matters, he had asked his companions to leave him alone the choice of that name.
III. Reverence and Love
It is remarkable how in the spiritual life of Ignatius reverence and love have mutually sustained each other, purified and lifted to the loftiest and most intimate experiences of the mystical life. “With Ignatius we find no trace of bridal mysticism”! In the short fragment of his Diary, which has been preserved, we read on the 14th March, 1544, “All this time, before, during and after Mass, one thought kept striking the depths of my soul, viz. with what reverence and awe I should pronounce the name of our Lord, etc., whenever I celebrate: and how I should not seek tears, but rather reverence and awe.” And a little further he returns to the same thought, “Meanwhile I saw that humility, reverence and awe must be animated not with fear, but with love; and I felt so certain of this in my soul, that I prayed incessantly: Give me, O Lord, loving humility, loving reverence and awe; and the more I prayed, the more I felt consoled!”
How far we are here from the passionate outcry of St. Bernard, the holy medieval monk, whose soul was aflame with love: “Love knows no reverence; love has nothing in common with fear. He that loves, just loves and cares for nothing else.” God is wonderful in his Saints; wonderful also in the differences that exist between them.
Fr. De Guibert characterized the mysticism of St. Ignatius as “a mysticism of the service of God, rendered out of ardent love”. And this helps us much more to understand the essence of the sanctity of St. Ignatius than considerations about his profound knowledge of men, about his great abilities, and about his talent for government.
From his Diary we learn that, as was permitted in those days, he very frequently celebrated the Votive Mass of the Blessed Trinity. The Trinity was indeed the centre of his spiritual and his mystical life.
Prayer: May the gracious suffrages of St. Ignatius, O Lord, accompany our offerings so that these most holy mysteries, in which Thou hast established the source of all sanctity, may truly sanctify us. Through our Lord (Secret of the Mass of today).
Jesu mitis et humilis corde, Fac cor nostrum secundum Cor tuum. (ter)