Ateneo Latin Mass Society: Homily for the Solemnity of St. Ignatius of Loyola by Fr. Timoteo Ofrasio, SJ
SOLEMNITY OF SAINT IGNATIUS OF LOYOLA
PROPHETS, LOVERS, DREAMERS: CATALYSTS FOR CHANGE
by Fr. Timoteo Ofrasio, SJ
Latin Mass (Ordinary Form) at the Ateneo de Manila High School Chapel of the First Companions, 28 July 2011, 6:30-7:30-pm.
The saint we commonly know as Ignatius of Loyola was born Iñigo López de Loyola in all probability in the year 1491, the last and youngest son of Beltrán Ibáñez de Oñáz and Marina Sánchez de Licona. He took the name Ignatius about the year 1540 out of devotion to the martyr-saint of Antioch. Around the year 1507, at about 16 years of age, he left his ancestral house for the town of Arévalo to serve at the court of a distinguished Castilian hidalgo, a friend of his father’s, Don Juan Velázquez de Cuellar, the contador mayor or chief treasurer of Castile. His first biographer, Pedro de Ribadeneira, describes the young Iñigo as “a lively and trim young man, very fond of court dress and good living.” A collaborator of Ignatius, Juan de Polanco, tells us that “Iñigo’s education was more in keeping with the spirit of the world than of God; for from his early years, without entering into other training in letters beyond that of reading and writing, he began to follow the court as a page; then served as a gentleman of the Duke of Nájera and as a soldier till the age of twenty-six when he made a change of life.” In Ignatius’ own words in his Autobiography, he was “up to the age of twenty-six…a man given over to the vanities of this world, and took special delight in the exercise of arms, with a great and vain desire of winning fame.” In 1521 while he was at the service of the Viceroy of Navarre, Don Antonio Manrique de Lara, the Duke of Nájera, he fought with others in a bitter resistance against the French troops in the siege of the fortress of Pamplona. The events of that day are well known. A cannon ball of a culverin or falconet passed between the young soldier’s legs, shattering the right one and damaging the other. The disabled Iñigo was out of the fight, and his fall meant the end of all resistance.
His conversion from worldliness to spirituality did not come easy. During his convalescence in the castle of Loyola, he read two books which focused his thoughts on Christ, whom he was to serve so outstandingly well, and on the saints he felt he wanted to emulate. He reflected and questioned himself on the ‘spirits’ he felt were at work within him, some disturbing and some consoling, and learned to distinguish what was authentic from what was false. This experience of ‘discernment’ was to be with him all his life. Renouncing his hopes of a great career, he left the world of human glory to lead a life of prayer and austerity at Manresa, racked by scruples and temptations. This hard apprenticeship, in which God treated him “as a schoolmaster treats a child,” helped him to master his tendency to extravagance and indiscretion.
Deeply sorry for his sins and disorderly life, he asked for the grace to have a horror of the sinful world, but this spiritual introspection was not morbid. Rather, it brought him face to face with Christ on the cross, who had died for his sins. His whole being was alive with the sheer wonder of having been pardoned and saved, and with what he came of speak of as ‘familiarity with God’. “What am I doing for Christ? What shall I do for Christ?” These colloquies of master and servant, friend to friend, reach out beyond the life of Ignatius so that his sins, together with the sins of the human race, are gathered into the redemptive dispensation, the work of the Blessed Trinity. His meditations and the mystical experiences granted him by God made of him an apostle determined, for the love of Christ, to save souls and lead them towards perfection. Later, a number of companions were to share his ideals and in their turn spread and defend the faith by preaching and the ministry of the word, by the sacraments and every form of charitable service. Ignatius never stopped urging them to come ever closer toward the pure love of Jesus Christ, to seek his glory and the salvation of souls until they excelled in the love and service of God. Thus the human dynamism of the convert Ignatius had found its firm and sure direction.
In our present context, how relevant is the experience of St. Ignatius to us who are over five hundred years removed from him and his time? Specifically, what does he say to us as we strive to live out in our daily grind the ideal of being prophets, lovers and dreamers for the renewal of the Church—the same Church which Ignatius so well loved, and for which he founded the Company of Jesus?
For starters, Ignatius was himself a prophet. He discerned the need for renewal for the Church in his time, just as Martin Luther saw the abuses committed by churchmen of his time, and sought change. But while Luther chose to effect change outside the Church, Ignatius sought change within the Church. He felt that a spiritual renewal was in order, and he proposed the fruits of his mystical experience at Manresa to change the lives of individuals—men and women who had influence and who could assist in his perceived mission of change.
Ignatius, too, was a lover – not in the worldly sense by which he understood the word, and probably has progeny to prove it – but in the sense that his worldly love that sought satisfaction in romantic exploits and knightly pursuits was transformed into a deep love for the person of Christ and his kingdom. Thus, from a vain and haughty man of the court skilled in the use of arms and warfare, he offered his sword to the Virgin at Montserrat, and exchanged his fine and elegant garments of a gentilhombre for a poor beggar’s rags. It was his deep love for Christ crucified that inspired him to offer himself completely, asking nothing in return save that of knowing and doing God’s will for him. It was this love burning so ardently in his heart that contaminated and inspired his first companions, not the least Xavier of Navarre, to go on a perilous mission in the unchartered East – India, Japan and China.
Ignatius was a dreamer. He dreamed of conquering kingdoms in the hearts of men and women, and replacing them with the Kingdom of Christ. His meditations on the Kingdom and the Two Standards in the Spiritual Exercises were transformed visions of his court experiences before his conversion. In his own lifetime, he witnessed the young Company of Jesus proclaiming the Kingdom of God in far-off places where only the conquistadores dared to venture – in the New World and in the East Indies. But where the imperial sword cut off life and looted the resources of the natives, his companions sought to defend the defenseless indios and planted in them the seeds of Christian faith. Many of his companions shed their blood for the realization of the dream they shared with him.
Only men and women of vision – men and women who have dreams, who are in love, and who are unafraid to venture into the unknown – can effect change. They are the visionaries who transform the Church in any age in order that the enduring message of the Gospel may speak and be understood by its hearers. The long, colorful, and tumultuous history of the Church bears this out: men and women of vision being catalysts of change: Peter and Paul, Ambrose of Milan, Augustine of Hippo, Francis of Assisi, Catherine of Siena, Ignatius of Loyola, and other great men and women of the Church after him.
I used to believe that compared to the youth of yesteryears today’s young people are devoid of idealism, of vision, of dreams, immersed as they are in the wonders of modern information technology. But the many fine young men and women I have met in my years as a seminary formator, theology professor, and more recently as pastor disproved my belief. Today’s young people—and you who are present here—are still capable of idealism, of vision and of dreams. Your very presence here says that you want to channel your dreams and ideals for the greater glory of God and for the good of this country. If radical leaders can harness the idealism of the young for their own political ends, more so can Jesus Christ our King inspire you and keep your hearts aflame for a greater, more noble venture for an even nobler purpose. He challenges you to follow His Standard, the Standard of the Cross. Unlike other human ventures, yours will not be a lost cause, because it is not self-serving. Our Church today needs young people like you to effect change, to strive for renewal. It will not be an easy task, but our Commander-In-Chief has already triumphed, and our victory is assured. Can you and will you, like Saint Ignatius of Loyola, follow Him? Praised be Jesus Christ!