San Ignacio: Noon at Ngayon

(St. Ignatius: Then and Now)

by Fr. Jett Villarin, S.J.

Based on a talk delivered at the Klima Conference Room, Manila Observatory,
Ateneo de Manila University Campus, Loyola Heights, Quezon City, Philippines

28 July 2008

I.  Bukas

Before talking about St. ignatius then and now (noon at ngayon), let me start first with tomorrow (bukas) because Ignatius always begins his Spiritual Exercises with the end, the purpose of human life, as stated in his introductory section, the Principle and Foundation:

Human beings are created to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and by means of doing this to save their souls.[1]

This thinking about the end helps us to test the spirits, to discern.  Ignatius listed four methods for discernment.  The first is the rational way: what are the pros and cons?  The second is to imagine someone like you asking for advice regarding the same problem: what will you say to him?  The third is to imagine you are laid in a funeral: what will other people will say about you?  And the fourth is to imagine you are in front of our Lord on Judgement Day: what will He say to you?[2]

II. Noon

A. Conversion

Ignatius was born in a Spanish aristocrat family.  To be Spanish then is to be Catholic, and Ignatius was raised Catholic: son of the Church, servant of the Crown.

In 1521, Ignatius’s was tasked to defend the city of Pamplona against the French.  The Spaniards were already losing and the most sensible thing to do was to surrender.  But he would not, and he continued to rally his men, exhorting them to fight, even after a cannonball smashed his leg.  The French admired his courage.  They placed him in a stretcher and brought him home.

In his home Ignatius asked for books on chivalry: kings and knights, honor and courage, love and death.  But there were no books to read except the Bible and the Lives of the Saints.  Reluctantly, he read them.  He read about Love dying on the cross.  He read about courage before fire, rack, and sword. He read about a kingdom that is not of this world.  And his eyes were opened: What would it profit him if he gains the whole world yet suffer the loss of his own soul?  Or what exchange shall he give for his soul?[3] Ignatius got up from his mat and left.  No king shall he now serve except the King of Kings.  No kingdom shall he now aspire for except that of Heaven.

Ignatius went on a pilgrimage and passed by the town of Manressa.  He planned to stay a there few days, but he ended up staying for ten months.  He exchanged his rich clothes for that of a pilgrim and offered his sword to his Lady, the Blessed Virgin, as a pledge of love, devotion, and service.  In a cave he contemplated his sins and confessed them to a priest—day after day, week after week, month after month—not sparing one sin, however small.  His scruples he could hardly get past.

Beside a river, Ignatius had a vision: he saw God laboring in the world.  He then understood that God wanted him also to labor in the world, outside the walls of his cloister.  Where will he go?  To labor in the world requires competence and this can only be acquired by studying.  So Ignatius left his cave and travelled to Europe’s best university: the University of Paris.

B. Jesuits

Ignatius wanted to become a priest.  And to be a priest, he must study Latin.  The University of Paris, however, did not group students according to age but to ability.  So Ignatius, vassal of kings and captain of men, suffered himself to be seated with little lads learning Latin.  He was thirty-five.

In University of Paris Ignatius met two of his future companions: Peter Fabre and Francis Xavier.  Blessed Peter Faber became the Apostle of Germany at the rise of the Protestant Reformation and the eve of Council of Trent, winning many souls back to the Catholic Faith[4].  St. Francis Xavier became the Apostle of the Indies, converting thousands to Christianity in India, Malacca, Moluccas, and Japan[5];.  Faber died in the hands of Ignatius at forty; Xavier, in China’s Shangchuan Island at forty-six.  Both died in their labors.  Ignatius did not become a missionary like his two friends, but he sat in his office as the Jesuit Superior General in Rome, directing his highly-trained legions loyal and obedient the Pope, in the conquest of the world for Christ, for the salvation of souls.

After Ignatius’s death, the Jesuits numbered a thousand; now, four and a half centuries later, about twenty thousand[6]. The first Jesuits worked in hospitals; some preached in public squares. To train future priests, seminaries were built, which grew into universities. Many Jesuits became university professors; some confessors to kings; others organizers of the peasants. Where the need is greatest, there are the Jesuits.

Unlike Dominicans and Franciscans, the Jesuits do not wear a monk’s habit but the garb of diocesan priests: a black cassock, as Ignatius required[7].  The cassock may be tainted with scandal in Ignatius’s time—and even now, at the outbreak of clerical sexual abuse.  But wear it they must.  To wear the cassock is to be a sign of contradiction.  To wear the cassock is to carry a cross.  Where the scandal is greatest, there are the Jesuits.

III. Ngayon

A. Jesuits’s Global Mission

The Jesuit mission is global.  Did not God labored in the world?  Did not Christ commanded his apostles to preach the Gospel throughout the world?[8] As Ignatius said, “Our vocation is to travel through the world and to live in any part of it whatsoever.” [9] Because Ignatius wanted to deal with the universal good, which is always the greater good, the Jesuit Superior General Kolvenbach said that the mission for Ignatius could not be anything but the mission of a universal apostolic body, gifted with global apostolic availability.[10]

In the 35th General Congregation, the second decree is entitled A Fire that Kindles Other Fires: Rediscovering our Charism.[11] The fire here is the fire of the Society’s original inspiration, the fire whose heart is Christ.  Jesuits know who they are by renewing their love for Christ:

There [at La Storta], “placed” with God’s Son and called to serve him as he carries his cross, Ignatius and the first companions respond by offering themselves for the service of faith to the Pope, Christ’s Vicar on earth.  The Son, the one image of God, Christ Jesus, unites them and sends them out to the whole world.  He is the image at the very heart of Jesuit existence today; and it is his image that we wish to communicate to others as best as we can.[12]

Carrying the image of Christ as a banner, the image of the Sacred Heart aflame[13][14], the Jesuits ventured into the remotest corners of the world—Miguel Andrade (1624) crossed the heights of Himalayas in search for Tibet[15]; into the crossroads of ideologies—Miguel Pro (1927) was shot in Mexico as he raised his hands in imitation of Christ, shouting, “Viva Cristo Rey!”[16]; and into the frontiers of science—Christopher Clavius (1612) formulated the Gregorian system of leap years that we still use today.[17]

Today the new context that the Society of Jesus live is marked by “profound changes, acute conflicts, and new possibilities.”[18] In the words of the Holy Father, Benedict XVI, as quoted in the 35th General Congregation:

Your Congregation is being held during a period of great social, economic and political change; of conspicuous ethical, cultural and environmental problems, of conflicts of all kinds; yet also of more intense communication between peoples, of new possibilities for knowledge and dialogue, of profound aspirations for peace. These are situations that deeply challenge the Catholic Church and her capacity for proclaiming to our contemporaries the word of hope and salvation.[19][20]

The Church needs the Jesuits.  The Church relies on the Jesuits.  The Church turns to the Jesuits.  And Benedict XVI quoted Paul VI’s 1974 address in the 34th General Congregation[20]:

Wherever in the Church, even in the most difficult and extreme fields, at the crossroads of ideologies, in the social trenches, there has been and there is confrontation between the burning exigencies of man and the perennial message of the Gospel, here also there have been, and there are, Jesuits.

B. Manila Observatory

Let me end my talk with three challenges for the Manila Observatory, as the Jesuit presence here diminish:

    1. Interdisplinarity. We cannot anymore work in isolation—physicists, chemists, biologists, engineers, economists, managers. The present problems in climate, for example, require an interdisciplinary approach.
    2. Solutions. Monitoring is not enough: we can monitor rainfall, pollution, temperature, and sea levels forever. We need solutions. We have to engage the government and other insititutions to craft better policies.
    3. Love. We must cultivate our love for Christ. At the end of our life, the Just Judge will ask us only one question, the same question he asked Peter [21]:“Do you love me more than these?” And to which we hope to reply, “Yes, Lord. You know that I love you.”


Disclaimer: I transcribed this talk from my notes and my memory of Fr. Villarin’s words. I added some notes, quotes, and references for clarity. –Quirino M. Sugon Jr. email:

About the Author:  Fr. Jose Ramon “Jett” T. Villarin, S.J., is the present president of Xavier University in Cagayan de Oro City, Philippines.  He is an Assistant Professor of the Department of Physics at the Ateneo de Manila University and is a member of the Manila Observatory’s Board of Trustees.   He finished his Ph. D. in Physics at the Georgia Institute of Technology and is a member of the American Geophysical Union.


[1] George E. Ganss, The Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius: A Translation and Commentary, 2nd Indian Ed. (Gujaratsahitya Prakash, Anand, Gujarat, 1992), p. 32.

[2] Ibid., pp. 77–79.

[3] c.f. Mt 16:26.

[4] Suau, Pierre, “Bl. Peter Faber.” The Catholic Encyclopedia, vol. 11. (New York, Robert Appleton Company, 1911) 12 Dec. 2008 <>.

[5] Astrain, Antonio, “St. Francis Xavier,” The Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. 6 (New York, Robert Appleton Company, 1909). 12 Dec. 2008 <>.

[6] ”Jesuits acknowledge drop in vocations,” Catholic News Agency (10 May 2006). 12 Dec. 2008 <>

[7] James Martin, S.J., “Father General: Out of Habit,” In All Things, a blog of The America Magazine (posted 2008-03-08 19:28:00.0). 12 Dec 2008 <>

[9] Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, “Opening talk of the Father General,” in Loyola 2000: Corresponsible in Service of Christ’s Mission (Press and Information Office, Rome, 22 September 2000). 12 Dec. 2008 <>

[10] Ibid.

[11]“A fire that kindles other fires: Rediscovering our charism,” Decree 2 of the 35th General Congregation (7 March 2008). <>

[12] Ibid., Article 3.

[13] It was during the octave of Corpus Christi, 1675, probably on 16 June, when Jesus said to Sr. Mary Margaret Alacoque, “Behold the Heart that has so loved men…. instead of gratitude I receive from the greater part (of mankind) only ingratitude …..” and asked her for a feast of reparation of the Friday after the octave of Corpus Christi, bidding her consult Father de la Colombière, then superior of the small Jesuit house at Paray.  The mission of propagating the new devotion was especially confided to the Society of Jesus. Jean Bainvel. “Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus,” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 7. (New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910). 12 Dec. 2008 <>.

[14] “As I express the wish that the 50th anniversary will give rise to an ever more fervent response to love of the Heart of Christ in numerous hearts, I impart a special Apostolic Blessing to you, Most Reverend Father, and to all the Religious of the Society of Jesus, who are still very active in promoting this fundamental devotion.” Letter of His Holiness Benedict XVI on Occasion of the 50th Anniversary of the Encyclical ”Haurietis Aquas” to the Most Reverend Father Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, S.J., Superior General of the Society of Jesus (Vatican, 15 May 2006). 12 Dec. 2008 <>

[15] In 1624, the Portuguese Jesuit Antonio de Andrade, became the first European to cross the Himalayas. China History Forum (posted by Southern Barbarian 9 Jul 2006). 12 Dec. 2008 <>

[16]“Miguel Pro,” Wikipedia. 12 Dec 2008 <>

[17] “Christopher Christopher Clavius, S.J. and his Gregorian calendar,” (Mathematics Department, Fairfield University, Fairfield CT). 12 Dec 2008 <> (broken link)

[18] “A new context for mission,” in Decree 3 of the 35th General Congregation (7 March 2008). See Ref. [11].

[19] Ibid.

[20] Pope Benedict XVI, “Address of His Holiness Benedict XVI to the Fathers of the General Congregation of the Society of Jesus” (Clementine Hall, Thursday, 21 February 2008). 12 Dec 2008 <>

[21] c.f. Jn 21:15–19.


St. Ignatius’s rules for thinking with the church and the Ateneo faculty’s dissent against Humanae Vitae

A group of faculty members of the Ateneo de Manila University recently made a position paper in support of the Reproductive Health Bill 5043:

We respect the consciences of our bishops when they promote natural family planning as the only moral means of contraception, in adherence to the teachings of Humanae Vitae (1968).  In turn, we ask our bishops to respect the one in three (35.6%) married Filipino women who, in Declaration of support for the Reproductive Health Bill’s immediate passage into law their “most secret core and sancturary” or conscience, have decided that their and their family’s interests would best be served by using a modern artificial means of contraception. Is it not possible that these women and their spouses were obeying their well-informed and well-formed consciences when they opted to use an artificial contraceptive?

I disagree. St. Ignatius’s rules on thinking, judging, and feeling with the church, as stated in his Spiritual Exercises, is clear:

Rule 1. With all judgment of our own put aside, we ought to keep our minds disposed and ready to be obedient in everything to the true Spouse of Christ our Lord, which is our holy Mother the Church.

Rule 13. To keep ourselves right in all things, we ought to hold fast to this principle: What seems to be white, I will believe to be black if the hierarchical Church thus determines it. For we believe that between Christ our Lord, the Bridegroom, and the Church, his Spouse, there is the one same Spirit who governs and guides us for the salvation of our souls. For it is by the same Spirit and Lord of ours who gave the ten commandments that our Holy Mother Church is guided and governed.

The teachings of Humanae Vitae; regarding contraception are clear:

14. Therefore We base Our words on the first principles of a human and Christian doctrine of marriage when We are obliged once more to declare that the direct interruption of the generative process already begun and, above all, all direct abortion, even for therapeutic reasons, are to be absolutely excluded as lawful means of regulating the number of children. (14) Equally to be condemned, as the magisterium of the Church has affirmed on many occasions, is direct sterilization, whether of the man or of the woman, whether permanent or temporary. (15)

Similarly excluded is any action which either before, at the moment of, or after sexual intercourse, is specifically intended to prevent procreation—whether as an end or as a means. (16)

Neither is it valid to argue, as a justification for sexual intercourse which is deliberately contraceptive, that a lesser evil is to be preferred to a greater one, or that such intercourse would merge with procreative acts of past and future to form a single entity, and so be qualified by exactly the same moral goodness as these. Though it is true that sometimes it is lawful to tolerate a lesser moral evil in order to avoid a greater evil or in order to promote a greater good,” it is never lawful, even for the gravest reasons, to do evil that good may come of it (18)—in other words, to intend directly something which of its very nature contradicts the moral order, and which must therefore be judged unworthy of man, even though the intention is to protect or promote the welfare of an individual, of a family or of society in general. Consequently, it is a serious error to think that a whole married life of otherwise normal relations can justify sexual intercourse which is deliberately contraceptive and so intrinsically wrong.