St Ignatius Day 2015 Homily



At the garden exit, where you are invited to go after this Mass to enjoy refreshments and typical Farm Street socialising, you will see a fine statue of St. Ignatius. He looks steadily ahead, serene, strong, trusting in the Lord. He holds an open book on which is printed AMDG- Ad maiorem Dei gloriam- to the greater glory of God. Many of you here learnt to write those initials on your school or college exercises. The book he is holding really represents two books: the Spiritual Exercises, a manual of prayer for retreat directors which has had such an influence on many lives, and the Constitutions of the Society of Jesus, our Jesuit rule for living in community and responding to the needs of the Church. Both books were completed after his years of conversion, of seeking the will of God in his life, of gathering together the first companions who were to make up the Society of Jesus. Both books were the fruit of years of prayer and experience, following where the Lord was leading him and answering many requests from popes, kings and dukes, and from people who brought to him their spiritual problems. There were many in the Church of his day. He toiled away in Rome writing thousands of letters in reply to those requests and to members of the Society, such as St. Francis Xavier sent as a missionary to the other end of the world. The simple rooms where Ignatius worked on these letters day after day have been restored. You can visit them in Rome next to the church of the Gesu where Ignatius is buried.

Fr Tony Nye preaches his homily on the Feast of St IgnatiusSo that statue reminds us of Ignatius’ years as Father General. They may be less romantic than the story you have often heard of his pilgrim journey, but they were eventful in their own way, years of quiet, thoughtful work for the Church. Many of the requests to which he was responding were requests for schools and colleges, like the very first Jesuit school in Messina in Sicily, requested by the city council and funded by them. Ignatius was practical, like the Jesuits today, and saw the importance of funding to the greater glory of God. The works of the Church don’t live on air.In earlier years he had even come to London on a begging expedition to Spanish merchants to cover the costs of his priestly studies in Paris. The result of all this is that so many of you are thanking Ignatius in this Mass for the Jesuit school or university that has formed you.

But not all of us here can thank him for that. I can’t, as i am a convert and was at an Anglican state school. But in earlier years as a Jesuit ( 60 of them this year ) I have taught at St. Francis Xavier’s, Liverpool and at Mount St. Mary’s, where I was later to be headmaster for 8 years- in the deep end in my 30’s. Jesuits are used to going in at the deep end. Not all of us thanks Ignatius for our schooling, but we can all, I think, thank him for another form of education that goes with it: education in how to pray, how to make decisions, seeking God’s will in our lives, what we call Ignatian spirituality. I recently read something a Dominican wrote about Ignatian, or Jesuit, spirituality. It can be good to see ourselves from the outside. That Dominican considered the nub of the Jesuit approach, St. Ignatius’ approach, is a combination of principles and a strong love of Christ with respect for personal human experience. He said ( and surely we can agree with him ) that combination helps to explain our Jesuit Pope Francis.

From St. Ignatius we have learnt a way of praying and thinking which helps us firmly to choose life ( as heard in the First Reading), to recognize ( in St. Paul’s words ) ‘ the supreme advantage of knowing Christ my Lord.’ Ignatius teaches us a way of meditating, as in today’s gospel, by which we enter into the experience of Scripture in a vivid and personal way. It is called Imaginative Contemplation. You will detect it often in Jesuit homilies. So we are enabled to respond to Our Lord: ‘I will follow you wherever you go’, whatever it costs, learning to trust in the Lord as Ignatius showed, and as so many have followed in his way. Many, even today, have followed even to martyrdom. Look at our English martyrs in the window at the back of the church. Look at the notice board by the garden exit showing what is happening in Syria, where a Jesuit has been put to death and another taken hostage.

By his way of praying, Ignatius also teaches us to come to know Our Lord more intimately and to reflect on our experience each day, what we call the Examen. You hear that often too in our homilies and retreats. I like to think it was the approach Jesus took with the Woman at the Well in St. John’s Gospel. We are encouraged, as it were, to look into the well of our lives. He gives us the grace and the courage to look over the rim with him, just as he encouraged that woman. In that way we learn to respect our experience of life, not to be afraid of it but to find God in all things and all things in god. Thank you, St. Ignatius.

Fr. Tony Nye, SJ