November 11, 2016

On Ignatian and Jesuit Identity:                                                                                           
A Follow-Up on the JESCOM movie “IGNACIO”

“What is your response to Jescom’s IGNACIO movie?”: a  question quite often addressed to  Jesuit Fathers by alumni of Jesuit schools, by people  who have themselves seen, and – for most, it seems – much liked the film.

We are told that of course the responses given by Jesuits vary, but many of them go something like this:   One: As cinema-craft goes, it seems to be a near-unanimous agreement that IGNACIO gets very good marks, as local movies are rated.  Even in reviews of the secular newspapers, the same judgment is most frequently given: “Well made.”  Two: As an interpretation of the Saint’s person and character, the reaction is rather ‘mixed’.  Often enough, the point is raised that the movie’s ‘historical frame’ ends where the real core of St Ignatius’ biography really begins. 

So, many respond, the movie might be said to ‘sin by omission’. While it does not say anything about ‘Ignatian identity’ which might be contrary to the basic driving force in Ignacio de Loyola and his life, it fails to bring it up.   If this question regarding that identity, that driving force,  is pursued, perhaps in the context of a possible ‘IGNACIO DE LOYOLA, PART TWO’ what helpful answer might be given?

What is that “basic driving force” in Ignatius’ person and life?  By happy accident, reading one volume (Volume 2) of Father John P. Delaney’s CHAPEL CHISMIS  just a couple of days before I wrote this, I found his sharply clear answer to our inquiry.  One of Fr Delaney’s great gifts as a teacher (and he was a genius as a teacher)  was a getting unerringly to the heart of the subject-matter he was presenting, and putting it in language and images his students would lastingly remember.

(Editorial note 1 - I suppose the reader knows who Fr John P Delaney SJ [JPD] was, and what he did to “create” in those who were taught by him, the Christian vision and mindset, with the Sacrifice of the Mass at its core.  This he did, first at the Padre Faura Ateneo de Manila, in the High School above all (1946 ff.)  and later at the University of the Philippines (UP) where he lived and labored for eight years (1948-56). Especially at UP, in an outstandingly effective way, he [JPD] was the priest-chaplain who by his superb teaching and his own deeply-committed life, profoundly inspired mind-and-heart and spirit. He led the Catholics at UP to become a genuine community, helped them to grow into – surely -- one of the most involved, committed, creatively active and ‘performative’ Catholic communities in the country.)
In the 26 July 1953 issue of CHAPEL CHISMIS. i.e.,  the “parish-community bulletin”  JPD published more or less once a week, he said this, regarding the  ongoing novena in preparation for the Loyola saint’s feast-day:  “St Ignatius’ basic driving force was a deep, personal devotion to the person of Christ. So we ask him to help us gain a PERSONAL DEVOTION TO THE LIVING PERSONALITY OF CHRIST.”

Fr Delaney was only echoing for the UP community what (in our own time) the renewed Jesuit understanding is, of what  the “core mystical grace” given to St Ignatius was, a “charism” which then became the source of “Jesuit identity”.  Scholars  of our  time are agreed that this  “charism” finds its sharpest, clearest expression and definition in Ignatius’ key experience in mid-November 1537 at the chapel of La Storta.

(Editorial note 2 -  A charism is a ‘special grace-gift’ granted by the Holy Spirit for the benefit  of the Church, given to a person or a group of persons to enable him/them to collaborate [sometimes in a special way, e.g., the charism of miracles, or of healing, or of tongues] with the work of the Church. Charisms are intended for the service of the Church’s life, growth and ministry, for the common good of the Church.)

Even in this brief article, we have to dwell a moment on La Storta and “the experience that lies at the heart of the Ignatian charism.” 

La Storta is a village on the Via Cassia, a little more than ten miles away from Rome.  There Ignatius and his two companions, tired, cold and weary, entered into an old and half-ruined chapel.  They were drawn to deep prayer.  They had traveled a long way, from Venice, on their way to present themselves to the Pope. There must have been some sense of relief already; they were now not far from the end of their journey.

To give a bit of background: Ignatius had been ordained a priest on 24 June in Venice, but he postponed offering his first Mass because he wanted to do that in the Holy Land, preferably in Bethlehem. The months following, he spent time doing ministry among the people in the Vicenza area, he and his companions doing the really dirty unpleasant work in hospitals and the slums, all the while waiting to sail for Jerusalem. But the Mediterranean was then just not safe for travel.  “The fortunes of Venice were at a low ebb,” chroniclers tell us. Finally it became imperative “to implement the reserve clause of the earlier vows they had previously made in Paris”.  If they could not get themselves to the Holy Land, to live and work where the Lord had himself lived and worked, they would go to Rome to place themselves at the disposition of the Pope.
In all this period, his post-ordination time, Ignatius (so he would relate, later in his autobiography) received many profound ‘spiritual  visitations’, very much like those he was first given at Manresa, where the Holy Spirit first formed him in the ways of the mystical life. These ‘visitations’ were again abundantly granted him as he made his way to Rome.  He was constantly filled with an intense, overwhelming desire to obtain from God the one great gift which he had longed for since his Manresa days. As he later recounts it, he prayed constantly -- to Our Lady --  “to place him with her Son, to be received under His standard, to be wholly accepted into His companionship, to share in his labors and even in his suffering and the self-giving of his life.”

But back now to La Storta:  as Ignatius prayed in that chapel, he was granted a vision, the answer to his supreme longing. This vision-experience Ignatian scholars would compare to the stigmatization of Francis of Assisi at Mount Alvernia. It was the confirmation and the term of the divinely-guided  ‘process-history’ in his life that had gone before.

Ignatius himself related later:  “On this journey the Pilgrim was very specially visited by God. He had decided that after becoming a priest he would remain a year without saying Mass, using it in preparation and in prayer to the Blessed Virgin to place [unite] him with her Son.  One day, a few miles before arriving in Rome, he was praying in an oratory when he felt so great a change in his soul and he saw so clearly that God the Father was placing him with Christ His Son that he would not dare to doubt the experience.”
Ignatius’ companion, James Lainez (who was later to succeed him as the General of the Jesuits) would recount what took place then, recalling what Ignatius himself had shared with him of the event.  Ignatius had given Lainez many more details of the vision.

Lainez’s account.“He told me that it seemed to him that God the Father had imprinted these words in his heart,  Ego ero vobis Romae propitius. (I shall be favorable to you in Rome.)  As our Father did not understand what these words implied, he said to me,  ‘I know not what will happen to us. Perhaps we will be crucified in Rome.’ Then he told me that he seemed to see Christ with the Cross on His shoulders and beside Him the Eternal Father, who said to Him, ‘I wish You to take this man as Your servant’, and Jesus so took him and said, ‘My will is that you should serve Us.’

“Being placed with the Son. Puesto con su Hijo.”  What does “being placed with the Son” mean? It means, “given by the Father to the Son, given for the service of the Son, and more fully, for the service of the Church”.  From this moment, for Ignatius  everything now derives from “being placed with the Son.” From this moment Ignatius moves forward, forward with the Son bearing the Cross. When, a few years later, the Jesuit ‘company’ would come into being, the ‘companions’ would be missioned with Ignatius, “with the grace of La Storta”, i.e., a ‘special charism’ to follow the Son bearing the Cross; to follow the Son, through the years to come, traveling with the Son on ‘the roads of humanity’, furthering His redemptive  mission.

At the memorial celebration of the La Storta event, on 21 November 1987, at the Mass held in the Gesu Church in Rome, Fr General Peter Hans Kolvenbach told his brother Jesuits that this grace of La Storta is meant to enter into every Jesuit’s being, life and mission; into all Jesuit mission choices and decisions, planning and  activity;  in the Jesuit style of service and way of proceeding.Everything must be “in Christ Jesus, with Him and through Him – in the here and now of today, plunging ourselves into the work that must be done, to the measure of our strength and our capabilities and our possibilities. ... But in making these concrete choices, we must never forget the event of La Storta, which is their source of inspiration.”

The “grace of La Storta” is the spiritual confirmation by God, of the “one driving force that should be in every Jesuit’s life.”  That driving force, Fr Kolvenbach defined  as– after the La Storta experience -- already St Ignatius’ only concern, his one passion, i.e., the constant longing and striving to become more and more like Jesus Christ;  the constant longing and striving to bear the cross with Him, so that the world may have ‘life to the full.’

And then of course we ask, what burns within that grace-given longing and striving, that choosing and planning and laboring in mission,  ‘with all our might and main’?  To answer that, here are words we might cite from Father Pedro Arrupe, written (on 25  April 1965)  to a young Jesuit priest, just some days before Arrupe would himself  be elected Jesuit General:  “In life have but one desire, one only. To love Jesus Christ with all your heart and soul.  Let that be the one fixed idea of your entire existence.”

Beneath everything else, innermost and deepest within the Jesuit’s being and life, there is present:  but one idea, one only; but one desire, one only; but one passion, one only: “In life have but one desire, one only. To love Jesus Christ with all your heart and soul. Let that be the one fixed idea of your entire existence.”

There we have defined what is at the heart of “the driving force” which was, so to speak, ‘Ignatian identity’  for the Loyola Saint himself, and now lies at the core of  Jesuit identity. We could fill a book from the lives of Jesuit saints and ‘greats’ where this is ‘professed, suffered, lived’.  But given our purpose here, we might end by just citing a few lines Fr Horacio de la Costa wrote, commenting on the document entitled, “Jesuits Today,” which was issued by the 32nd General Congregation of the Jesuits in 1974:

In that identikit document, de la Costa  says, there is “the emphasis on love: that the Jesuit isessentially a man moved by a personal love for the personal Christ,” and “this is an echo ... of what might be called the La Storta insight,  which seems to have been recaptured, ... by so many delegates of this Congregation.”
This will be enough for our purpose here. In a true way, what “defines” Ignatius, what “defines” the Jesuit, is the charism, the gift God gives him to him, who is admittedly a sinner,  in response to his own “one desire, one only; one passion, one only”, which is: to love Jesus Christ with all his heart and soul.  And the heavenly  Father’s confirming response to that desire  is “the grace of La Storta”: to be  placed with Jesus,  God’s Son and Mary’s Son. “Puesto con suHijo”.

(Editorial note 3  - The specifically Eucharistic and Priestly dimension – and thus the “specifically Jesuit priestly dimension” present in the grace of La Storta I have not developed here. Fr Hugo Rahner, to whom [before anyone else] we owe the “rediscovery of the weight and centrality of the grace of La Storta” in our time. also rediscovered the renewed understanding  of the  ‘Jesuit priestly dimension’ within it..  Fr General Kolvenbach in his own essays on La Storta takes up and insists on the weight and centrality of this dimension also. This essay does not address itself primarily to Jesuits to whom La Storta does not need to be explained;  already it is the focus of their spirituality, hopefully from the start of their Jesuit lives.)

C G Arevalo, S J,  5 November 2016