A Jesuit, Filipino, and Asian Ecclesiastical Faculty of Theology
Lk 9,18-26; Dt 30,15-20; 1Tm 1,12-17
We heard from the readings proclaimed, Jesus’ invitation “if any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me”. Moses in setting forth the commandments of the Lord for his chosen people encouraged them saying that “the Lord blesses those who walk in his ways”. Paul in gratitude for God’s mercy bursts in his praise “to the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever”.
Friends, today we gather to celebrate in advance the feast of Ignatius of Loyola. The readings echo appropriately the spirit with which he faithfully lived his life. He sought out and begged to be made a companion of Jesus and was gifted with that unique vision in La Storta where God the father placed him with Christ, His Son. Such intimate experience spurred him onward in his apostolic zeal proclaiming nothing lesser than God’s greater glory. At the time of his death, Ignatius left a brotherhood of men who vowed to dedicate their lives in serving our Lord under the banner of the cross and proclaiming God in the far reaches of the earth. They too share in that initial vision of God placing Ignatius with the Son and the Son accepting him to be his companion. In more than 455 years, Ignatius has inspired not just Jesuits but countless men and women to become disciples of Christ and heeding his invitation for them to deny themselves and take up their cross.
Today we are united in that long tradition, here in the Loyola School of Theology, as an academic community bound by our common desire and passion to know more about Jesus and his Eternal Word. Our goal is fides quaerens intellectum not only because we want to be knowledgeable of God but that in our seeking to understand him, we may live by him and proclaim his glory to others. Ignatius in his own journey realized that to be effective in the ministry of proclaiming God to others, a solid preparation was necessary. He was 34 years old when he started his program of studies undaunted by the fact that most of his classmates were literally boys. (I am sure many of our current Jesuit scholastics fully resonate with this experience of Ignatius.) However, beyond his formal schooling, Ignatius’ familiarity with Christ was deepened in the school of prayer and discernment. He sought and encountered Christ in a very personal way. Beyond the classrooms of the Sorbonne, he deepened this familiarity with God not just in prayer but in walking with other persons whether they were deliberately seeking God themselves as was the case of Pierre Favre, or were blessedly ignorant or indifferent of God as was the situation with Francis Xavier. (You have seen the three gazebos recently constructed just outside the main lobby. You must be wondering what they are for. One of the Jesuit fathers has suggested calling them the Transfiguration Tents to give them a biblical bent but the author of the project, Fr. Joe, was quick to clarify that they are the Gazebos of the First Theologians, Ignatius, Favre, and Xavier. It is hoped that with these new venues of encounter, theology and theologizing does not occur only in the classroom or in the library but that even in those informal moments shared by students and teachers as they sit under these huts enjoying the cool breeze and the panorama of the valley, we shall reach new heights of insight into the mystery that is God.)
This intimate knowledge of Jesus is a principal grace asked in the Spiritual Exercises devised by Ignatius from his own prayer experience and shared with those who desired to cultivate their relationship with God. Thus Ignatius’ profound experience and understanding of Christ can assure us of his answer were he asked by Jesus “Who do you say that I am?” We too are invited not only to be steeped in our theological pursuit but also spiritually nourished so that we may be able to respond to Jesus’ query not only from the mind but from our heart and our entire being, saying “You, Lord, are the Messiah of God.” Or in a more personal and intimate way, "You are my Lord and my God".
Peter’s answer “The Messiah of God” is one we can readily mouth and proclaim. However, we know from Peter’s own experience in the Matthean version of our Gospel how what we can easily proclaim might be quite difficult to live by. Peter's rejection of a suffering Messiah shows how little, in fact, he understood of what he proclaimed. “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves, and take up their cross daily and follow me” says Jesus. This self-denial and carrying of the cross was the human way that Jesus chose as our savior and he asks us to emulate him in this path. We are invited to different forms of self-denial and to carry different crosses. It meant for Ignatius the life of mission. He and his first companions had to forgo with their first idea of spending the rest of their lives in the Holy Land for a more pressing mission that the Pope had for them. When Ignatius sent Laínez and Salmerón to the Council of Trent, he gave three sets of instructions on how they could best serve that council, help souls, and bring themselves spiritual benefits.
This was their mission, the daily cross they were asked to bear. Ignatius would have wanted to go out to the world himself but he had to stay behind in Rome where he coordinated the functioning of the rapidly growing order he founded together with the First Companions. This was the cross he was asked to bear during the last sixteen or so years of his life. We live in a world that constantly challenges the invitation of Christ to follow him. The values of self-abnegation and the cross are often confronted and assaulted if not aggressively by the proposal of counter values of reason, then more subtly by the allures of pleasure. Today, the advancements of technology proposes one value, “comfort” - “the easy way” - an improvement in all aspects of our lives. Not bad at all, if it contributes to our betterment as persons, if it helps us in pursuing the path to Christ. We know for example how hundreds of millions of people are connected through social networking. On the one hand, many man-hours are wasted with the most inane posts one can imagine but on the other hand, such a network has proven its worth in mobilizing people during the Egyptian uprising that toppled Mubarak or right here in the Philippines when many provinces were devastated by Yolanda last year. In the end, it is only with a discerning heart that we are able to sift through this challenges and threats and be able to say, Yes, I want to walk in Jesus’ path!
Moses gives the Israelites the choice saying “I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses.” We who are gathered now have made an obvious choice for life, and an obvious choice to receive blessings. Here in LST, our challenge is making theology and the process of theologizing a lived experience of the God we profess. Let our intellect be the channel for catching more glimpses of this loving God who is constantly unveiling himself before us, through us, and for us. We pray through the intercession of father Ignatius that our lives be blessed with the sole thing that really matters: that we may see Christ more clearly so that we may follow him more closely and love him more dearly.
30 July 2014
Oratory of St. Ignatius of Loyola
Loyola House of Studies
Fr. Rogel is a doctoral student at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. He has taught courses on the Old Testament at Loyola School of Theology.