My dear Brothers,
Today we celebrate the feast of Saint Ignatius Loyola, born in 1491, one of thirteen children of a family of minor nobility in northern Spain, who was inspired by the dreams of doing great deeds. After injury in battle he saw the lives of the saints as the great model for his life and he realised that this was a clue to God’s direction for him.
As we come from a seminary, where for fifty years members of the Jesuit Order were the entire staff of the seminary and where in the remaining forty years there has been a Jesuit involvement, the idea of being contemplatives in action is valuable for us in our pastoral ministry.
My own experience in a Jesuit parish and a Jesuit school moved me strangely to join the diocesan priesthood. I am sure this is because I saw the sacramental role of the priest as intertwined with people and ministering to them; bringing the good things of God, leading people in worship, teaching and inspiring them to develop precisely that relationship with God, which is able to be deepened in all of us.
Spiritual direction is a feature of many Christian traditions. I believe that Ignatian spiritual direction has a theology behind it which is reflected in the exercises. It affirms the goodness of the world, but is acutely aware of the pervasive problem of evil. At the same time it is contemplative and service oriented.
Spiritual direction is the help given by one Christian to another, which enables that person to pay attention to God’s personal communication to him, to respond to this personally communicating God, to grow in intimacy with this God and to live out the consequences of the relationship. Spiritual direction in our life is our actual experience of a relationship with God. It is not isolated and does not consist of extraordinary events. It is what happens in an ongoing relationship between the person and God.
Most often, this is a relationship that is experienced in prayer. Through this relationship God is leading us to a deeper faith and more generous service, not just concentrating on what is happening, but what is moving forward. Through prayer, reflection and direction God touches the human heart directly and the Spiritual Director helps a person respond to God’s invitation to deeper relationship.
What is significant is that the Ignatian Spiritual Director does not impose a programme on the directee. The manner of the direction is adjusted to fit the person’s personality, life history and spiritual experience. Similarly, spiritual direction is a partnership. It demands mutual respect and openness to the other’s frame of preference and follows Saint Ignatius’s admonition: “Let it be presupposed that every good Christian is to be more ready to save their neighbour’s proposition than to condemn it.”
Why spiritual direction is of such importance for us is that Ignatian spiritual direction attempts to undercover the deepest desires of the human heart. Typically these are smothered by superficial desires for transitory things. Our most profound desires are shaped by the Holy Spirit and point towards new choices for spiritual growth and fruitful service. Many of you will know Ignatius Loyola’s rules for discernment of spirits, which are methods for identifying inner movements, reflecting on them and understanding where they come from and where they lead us.
Today as we celebrate the feast of Saint Ignatius Loyola, who did all for the greater glory of God, we are inspired also by Pope Francis’ emphasis on not merely doing what is expected, but seeking after that which is greater.
Ignatius’s leadership and teaching urge us to live at the deepest levels of the human spirit and to combine contemplation and action so that our deep prayer life and personal relationship with the Saviour will inspire and give light to our sacramental ministry, our teaching, our work with the people and our witness in the public square.
If we are men of Christ doing all for the greater glory of God and not placing limitations on what we are prepared to do, then the love of Jesus that inspired the great saints will be our light as well and give us confidence and ability to proclaim him.
So, my dear friends, Saint Ignatius and yesterday’s saint, Peter Chrysologus, have much to show us about preparing, about holiness, about preaching, about listening. All of this highlights the power which is given to us as priests, to preach the Word of God and to unfold God’s constant love and forgiveness for his people. Life is a learning process and as long as we are attempting to better others or ourselves God will help us grow spiritually.
My prayer, as we gather in these days of fraternity, is that we will come away with a clear perception of the importance of the work of preaching, of the need to teach the teachings of the Church revealed in the Scriptures and the Magisterium and by our own reaching out to holiness and good preparation to be instruments of God’s word and his truth. May Jesus live in our hearts forever.
+ Denis J. Hart,
ARCHBISHOP OF MELBOURNE.