Pope Francis' Homily on the Feast of Saint Ignatius

Vatican City, (Zenit.org) | 4912 hits

Here is a translation of the homily given by Pope Francis this morning during Mass at the Gesu Church on the Feast of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits. 

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In this Eucharist, in which we celebrate our Father Ignatius of Loyola, I would like to propose, in the light of the Readings we heard, three simple thoughts guided by three expressions: put Christ and the Church at the center; allow yourselves to be conquered by Him in order to serve; feel the shame of our limitations and sins, in order to be humble before Him and our brothers. 

Our Jesuit coat of arms is a monogram, the acronym “Iesus Hominum Salvator (HIS). Each one of you could say to me: we know it well! However, this coat of arms reminds us continually of a reality that we must never forget: the centrality of Christ for each one of us and for the whole Society, which Saint Ignatius wished in fact to call “of Jesus,” to indicate the point of reference.  After all, at the beginning of the Spiritual Exercises, he puts us before our Lord Jesus Christ, our Creator and Savior (cf. EE, 6). And this leads us and the whole Society to be “de-centered,” to have before us “Christ always greater,” the Deus semper maior,” the intimior intimo meo,” which leads us always out of ourselves, which leads us to a certain kenosis, to “go out of our self-love, will and interest” (EE, 189). The question which is not taken for granted  for us, for all of us, is: Is Christ the center of my life? Do I really put Christ at the center of my life? Because there is always the temptation to think that we are at the center. And when a Jesuit pust himself and not Christ at the center, he errs. In the First Reading. Moses repeats insistently to the people to love the Lord, to follow his ways “because He is your life” (cf. Deuteronomy 30:16.20). Christ is our life! To the centrality of Christ corresponds also the centrality of the Church: they are two fires that cannot be separated: I cannot follow Christ except in the Church and with the Church. And in this case also we, Jesuits, and the whole Society are not at the center, we are, so to speak, “married,” we are at the service of Christ and of the Church, the Bride of Christ our Lord, which is our Hierarchic Holy Mother Church (cf. EE, 353). To be men rooted in and founded on the Church: so Christ wants us to be. There cannot be parallel or isolated paths. Yes, a path of research, creative paths, yes, this is important: to go to the fringes, the very many fringes. This is why creativity is needed, but always in community, in the Church, with this belonging that gives us courage to go forward. To serve Christ is to love this concrete Church, and to serve her with generosity and a spirit of obedience. 

What is the way to live this twofold centrality? Let us look at Saint Paul’s experience, which is also the experience of Sant Ignatius. In the Second Letter we heard, the Apostle writes: “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own” (Philippians 3:12). It happened to Paul on the way to Damascus, to Ignatius in his home of Loyola, but the fundamental point is common: to allow oneself to be conquered by Christ. I seek Jesus, I serve Jesus because He sought me first, because I was conquered by Him: and this is the heart of our experience. But He is first, always. In Spanish there is a very graphic word, which explains it well: He “primerea” us, “He gets in first.” He is always first. When we arrive, He has arrived and awaits us. And here I would like to recall the meditation on the Kingdom in the Second Week. Christ our Lord, eternal King, calls each one of us, saying to us: “he who wants to come with me must work with me because, following me in suffering, he will follow me also in glory” (EE, 95): To be conquered by Christ to offer this King our whole person and our whole effort (cf. EE, 96); to tell the Lord that we wish to do everything for his greater service and praise, to imitate Him also in enduring injuries, contempt, poverty (cf. EE, 98). However, at this moment I’m thinking of our brother in Syria. To allow oneself to be conquered by Christ means to be ever outstretched to what is in front of me, towards the goal of Christ (cf. Philippians 3:14) and to ask oneself in truth and sincerity: What have I done for Christ? What do I do for Christ? What should I do for Christ? (cf. EE, 53). 

And I come to the last point. Jesus says to us in the Gospel: “whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake, he will save it … whoever is ashamed of me …” (Luke  9:23). And so on. The shame of the Jesuit. The invitation Jesus makes is not ever to be ashamed of Him, but to follow Him always with total devotion, trusting and entrusting oneself to Him. However looking at Jesus, as Saint Ignatius teaches us in the First Week, especially looking at the crucified Christ, we feel that very human and very noble feeling that is shame, of not being up to the measure ; we look at Christ’s wisdom and our ignorance, at His omnipotence and our weakness, at His justice and to our iniquity, at his goodness and our malice (cf. EE, 59). To ask for the grace of shame; shame that comes from the continuous talk of mercy with Him; shame that makes us blush before Jesus Christ; shame that attunes us with the heart of Christ, who made Himself sin for me; shame that puts, in tears, our heart in harmony and accompanies us in the daily following of “my Lord.” And this leads us always, as individuals and as Society, to humility, to live this great virtue. Humility that makes us aware every day that we are not the ones who build the Kingdom of God, but it is always the Lord’s grace acting in us; humility that drives us to put our whole self not in service of ourselves and of our ideas, but in service of Christ and of the Church, as vessels of clay, fragile, inadequate, insufficient, but in which there is an immense treasure that we carry and communicate (2 Corinthians 4-7). I always like to think of the sunset of the Jesuit, when a Jesuit ends his life, when the sun sets. And two icons come to me of this sunset of the Jesuit: one classic, that of Saint Francis Saverio, looking at China. Art has painted so many times this sunset, this finale of Saverio – also literature, in that piece of Peman. At the end, without anything, but before the Lord. It does me good to think of this. The other sunset, the other icon that comes to me as example is that of Father Arrupe, during the last talk in the refugee camp, when he said to us – something he himself said – “I say this as if it were my swansong: pray.” Prayer, union with Jesus. And after having said this, he took the plane, he arrived at Rome with the ictus, which was the beginning of his very long and exemplary sunset. Two sunsets, two icons which will do us all good to look at, and to return to these two. And to ask for the grace that our sunset will be like theirs. 

Dear brothers, let us turn to Our Lady. May she who carried Christ in her womb and accompanied the first steps of the Church, help us always to put Christ and His Church at the center of our life and of our ministry. May she, who was the first and most perfect disciple of her Son, help us to allow ourselves to be conquered by Christ, to follow Him and serve Him in every situation. May she, who responded with the most profound humility to the annunciation of the Angel: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it done unto me according to thy word” (Luke 1:38,) make us feel shame for our inadequacy in face of the treasure that is entrusted to us, to live in humility before God. May the paternal intercession of Saint Ignatius and of all the Jesuit Saints, who continue to teach us to do everything with humility, as maiorem Dei gloriam, accompany us on our journey. 

[Translation by ZENIT]