Pope Francis’ Homily on the Feast of Saint Ignatius

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In this Eucharist in which we celebrate our Father Ignatius of Loyola, in the light of the readings that we have heard, I would like to pose three simple thoughts guided by three expressions: placing Christ and the Church at the Center; allowing oneself to be conquered by Him to serve; to feel ashamed of our limits and sins, in order to be humble in front of Him and our brothers.

1. The coat of arms of us Jesuits is a monogram, the acronym of Iesus Hominum Salvator (IHS). Everyone of you can tell me: we know that very well! But this coat of arms continuously reminds us of a reality that we should never forget: the centrality of Christ for everyone of us and for the whole Society, which St. Ignatius wished that it be called of Jesus to indicate the point of reference. Of the rest, even in the beginning of the Spiritual Exercises, he places in first place our Lord Jesus Christ, our Creator and Savior (cfr. EE,6). And this places us Jesuits and the entire Society to be decentered, to have in front Christ always greater, the Deus semper maior, the intimior intimo meo, which continuously takes us out of ourselves, it takes us to a certain kenosis, to escape from our own love, wants and interests (EE, 189). We cannot take for granted the question made to us, to all of us: is Christ the center of my life? Do I truly place Christ at the center of my life? Because there is always the temptation to think of us as being in the center. And when a Jesuit places himself at the center and not Christ, he is mistaken. In the first Reading, Moses repeats with insistence to the people love the Lord, to walk in his ways because He is your life (cfr. Dt. 30, 16.20). Christ is our life! The centrality of Christ corresponds as well to the centrality of the Church: they are two flames that cannot be separated; I cannot follow if not in the Church and with the Church. It is also in this case that we Jesuits and the entire Society are not in the center, we are, so to speak, displaced, we are at the service of Christ and of the Church, the Spouse of Christ our Lord, which is our Holy Mother Hierarchical Church (cfr EE, 353). To be men rooted and founded in the Church, that is how Jesus wants us. There cannot be parallel or isolated paths. Yes, paths of searching, creative paths, yes, this is important: going to the outskirts, the vast outskirts. For this creativity is needed, but always in community, in the Church, with this affiliation that gives all of us the courage to continue forward. Serve Christ and love this Church concretely, and serve with generosity and with a spirit of obedience.

2. What is the path to live this dual centrality? Let us look at the experience of St. Paul which is also the experience of St. Ignatius. The Apostle, in the Second Reading that we have listened to, he writes: I strive towards the perfection of Christ for which also I was laid hold on by Christ Jesus. (Phil.3,12). For Paul this occurred on the road to Damascus, for Ignatius, in his house in Loyola, but the fundamental point is the same: to let oneself be conquered by Christ. I search for Christ, I serve Jesus because He searched for me first, because I have been conquered by Him: and this is the heart of our experience. But He is first, always. In spanish there is a very graphic word that explains this well: El nos primerea. He is always first. When we arrive, he arrives first and waits for us. And it is here that I wish to recall the meditation on the Kingdom in the Second Week. Christ our Lord, Eternal King, calls each and every one of us saying he who wishes to come with me must work with me, because following me in suffering, will follow me also in glory (EE,95): To be conquered by Christ to offer to this King all ourselves and all our labor (cfr. EE, 96); to tell the Lord that you wish to do everything for his greater service and praise, to imitate Him in bearing even insults, rejection, poverty (cfr EE, 98). I think of our brother in Syria at this time. To let oneself be conquered by Christ means to always reach out to those in front of me, towards the other half of Christ (cfr. Phil. 3,14) e to ask yourself with truth and sincerity: What have I done for Christ? What do I do for Christ (cfr. Phil. 3,14) What should I do for Christ? (cfr. EE, 53)

3. And I come to the final point. In the Gospel, Jesus tells us. For whosoever would save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it….He who is ashamed of me…. (Lk. 9,23). And so on. The shame of the Jesuit. The invitation that Jesus makes is to not be ashamed of Him, but to follow him with total devotion, trusting and relying in Him. But looking at Jesus, as St. Ignatius teaches us in the First Week, above all looking at Christ crucified, we feel that very human and very noble feeling that is the shame of not being at that height; we look at the wisdom of Christ and our own ignorance, at his omnipotence and our own weakness, to his justice and our own iniquity, to his goodness and our wickedness (cfr. EE, 59). Ask for the grace of shame, shame that comes from the continuous discussion of mercy with Him; shame that makes us blush in front of Jesus Christ; shame that places us in tune with the heart of Christ who has made himself sin for me; shame that places in harmony our hearts in tears and accompanies us in the daily sequence of my Lord. And this takes us, individually and as a Society, towards humility, to live this great virtue. Humility that makes us aware every day that it is not us that constructs the Kingdom of God, but it is always the grace of the Lord that acts in us; humility that urges us to place all of ourselves not at the service of ourselves or our ideas, but to the service of Christ and to the Church, like earthen vessels, fragile, inadequate, insufficient, but in which there is an immense treasure that we carry and make known (2 Cor. 4,7)

It is always pleasing for me to think on the sunset of the Jesuit, when a Jesuit finishes his life, when the sun sets. There are two icons of this sunset of the Jesuit that comes to mind: one classic, that of Saint Francis Xavier, looking towards China. Art has always depicted many times this sunset, this ending of Xaver. Even in literature, in that beautiful piece by Pem├ín. In the end, with nothing, but in front of the Lord; this does well to me, to think of this. The other sunset, the other icon that comes to mind as an example, is that of Father Arrupo in the last discussion in the refugee camp, when he tells us – this is how he himself would say it – this I say as if it were my swan song: pray. Prayer, the union with Jesus. And, after saying that, he boarded his plane, and arrived to Rome with a stroke, which began that long and exemplary sunset. Two sunsets, two icons that will do us well to look at, and return to these two. And ask for the grace that our sunset will be like theres.

Dear brothers, let us turn to Our Lady. She who carried Christ in her womb and accompanied the first steps of the Church, may she help us to place Christ and his Church always at the center of our life and our ministry; She who was the first and the most perfect disciple of her Son, may help us to let ourselves be conquered by Christ to follow and serve Him in every situation. She who responded to the announcement of the Angel with the most profound humility: Behold the servant of the Lord, be it done to me according to your word. (Lk. 1,38), may she makes us taste the shame of our inadequateness in front of the treasure that has been entrusted to us, to live humbly in front of God. May the paternal intercession of Saint Ignatius and of all the Holy Jesuits accompany us on this path, may the continue to teach us to do all with humility, ad maiorem Dei gloriam.

[Translation by Junno Arocho Esteves]

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