Sunday remembering Ignatius

ignatius loyola mosaic



2 Praise the Lord with the lyre;

   make melody to him with the harp of ten strings.

3 Sing to him a new song;

   play skilfully on the strings, with loud shouts.

4 For the word of the Lord is upright,

   and all his work is done in faithfulness.

5 He loves righteousness and justice;

   the earth is full of the steadfast love of the Lord.

6 By the word of the Lord the heavens were made,

   and all their host by the breath of his mouth.

7 He gathered the waters of the sea as in a bottle;

   he put the deeps in storehouses.

8 Let all the earth fear the Lord;

   let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him.

9 For he spoke, and it came to be;

   he commanded, and it stood firm.

10 The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing;

   he frustrates the plans of the peoples.

11 The counsel of the Lord stands for ever,

   the thoughts of his heart to all generations.


So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God. Give no offence to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, so that they may be saved. Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.

I Cor 10:31 – 11:1 


Now large crowds were travelling with him; and he turned and said to them, ‘Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, saying, “This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.” Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.

Luke 14:25–33

Sermon on Sunday remembering Ignatius

“Do everything for the glory of God!” says Paul, and this is, I think, the motto of the saint we remember today. But I would like to start with one of the most important Jesuits of the present day – Pope Francis.

Pope Francis said in an interview: “Ignatius, for understandable reasons, is the saint I know better than any other. He founded our Order. … Jesuits were and still are the leavening – not the only one but perhaps the most effective – of Catholicism: culture, teaching, missionary work, loyalty to the Pope.” [2]

So let us begin with this saint as a person. “As a young man Ignatius Loyola was inflamed by the ideals of courtly love and knighthood and dreamed of doing great deeds.”[1] He went off as a soldier and spent about ten years fighting until he made a forlorn stand with his company in a small fort at Pamplona surrounded by the French army. There he was shot and his leg was catastrophically damaged. His recovery was not smooth. The bones had to be reset twice and he had a further operation. Unfortunately, after all that one leg remained shorter than the other.

It was during his recovery that he was moved by a new goal, no longer the life of the soldier-knight, but Jesus Christ became his chivalric ideal. How could that happen? Well, according the biography, Ignatius was bored and tried to read to get over his depression. All that was available were a book of the lives of the saints and a book on the life of Jesus Christ.

“The version of the lives of the saints he was reading contained prologues to the various lives by a Cistercian monk who conceived the service of God as a holy chivalry. This view of life profoundly moved and attracted Ignatius.”[3]

What a gift that was to a young man enlivened by the daring-do of the courtly knights of honour!

In February 1522 Ignatius bade farewell to his family and went to Montserrat, a place of pilgrimage in northeastern Spain. He spent three days in confessing the sins of his whole life, hung up his sword and dagger near the statue of the Virgin Mary as symbols of his abandoned ambitions, and, clothed in sackcloth, spent the night of March 24 in prayer.[3]

Then began his life in an active faith. He had a reformer’s zeal and the humility of a cloistered monk. Travel ensued that night of prayer at Montserrat. He studied as much as he could, even enrolling in a Latin class with young boys in order to learn – it was a rather odd sight, a thirty-year-old man amongst children, all of them struggling with the lingua franca of the medieval period. Eventually, he found himself in Paris studying theology where Latin came in very useful. Then began his work in earnest.

The foundation of the Jesuits began with six students and Ignatius vowing poverty and chastity in order to work for the conversion of “the infidel” in the Holy Land – for Jerusalem was still an object of concern for the Church. However, that object was not obtainable, so they dedicated themselves to the Pope’s service  in the apostolic mission. This all happened between 1534 and 1540 when the Order of the Society of Jesus was formally recognised by the Pope. Ignatius and the Jesuits became involved in the Council of Trent – the so-called “Counter-Reformation” – because of their special dedication to the Pope. From that group of seven in 1534, the Jesuits expanded to 1,000 in 1556 the year of Ignatius’ death. The Jesuits were missionaries, and as such became teachers and healers as well as scholars. They worked as missioners in the Counter-Reformation to recall Protestants back to the faith; they were also used to convert “the heathen” outside of Europe even in Ignatius own time.

This apostolic mission continues as the Jesuits have been important in the ecumenical movement. I suppose this fragment from one of Ignatius’ letters to the delegation at the Council of Trent indicates the Jesuit intention:

In your sermons do not touch on subjects on which Catholics and Protestants are at variance, but simply exhort your audience to virtue and to devotions approved by the Church. Awaken in souls a thorough knowledge of themselves and a love of their Creator and Lord. [4]

Those devotions Ignatius promoted are what Paul suggested in the reading, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” Paul never gave us a clear set of exercises to perfect our performance as christians, but Ignatius has.

The Spiritual Exercises is a manual of spiritual arms containing a vital and dynamic system of spirituality. During his lifetime, Ignatius used it to give spiritual retreats to others, especially to his followers. [3]

The Jesuits have continued to use these “exercises” within their own communities and other congregations have benefited from them as well. Even we anglicans have been heirs to the bounty of the Exercises. Many of us have been on retreats which have been based on them.

I have been busy rootling about on the internet and in my library to find out more about the Exercises and Ignatius. Happily I came across some recent items about them. One of most interesting is the theologian Karl Rahner, The Exercises of Ignatius is, he says, “the concrete way in which Christianity can become a living reality in us.” [5]

St Ignatius is only interested in this: that a man place himself before the Lord of the “Kingdom of Christ” and the “Two Standards” and ask: What should I do? What do you want from me according to the sovereignty of Your divine will? [5]

These questions actually do confront us every day, if we are attuned to our vocation, but in the Exercises, as Rahner says, these questions are foremost in our thoughts. We are focussing on the divine will for us whenever we take an Ignatian retreat, “if I have the courage and the vitality to believe that God will say something to me that I will never be able to disregard in the future.” [5]

The retreat is where we do our “exercises”. They are to be practised “earnestly and with recollection …  calmly and peacefully”, “if we will only move aside the debris of everyday life.” [5]

The structure of the exercises is complex in practice, but simple in theory – this is the exact opposite to what we normally think, isn’t it?

The retreat consists of many parts, lasting not a weekend, not a week or eight days, but “the Exercises will be finished in thirty days, a little more or less.” [4]

By this name of Spiritual Exercises is meant every way of examining one’s conscience, of meditating, of contemplating, of praying vocally and mentally, and of performing other spiritual actions …. For as strolling, walking and running are bodily exercises, so every way of preparing and disposing the soul to rid itself of all the disordered tendencies, and, after it is rid, to seek and find the Divine Will as to the management of one’s life for the salvation of the soul, is called a Spiritual Exercise. [4]

Each day of the first week consists particularly in examination of one’s self – words, actions, intentions – in relation to the ultimate transcendent in our lives, for instance as a creature amongst the myriad standing before the creator of all things, that is “to look at who I am, lessening myself by examples” as Ignatius writes,

First, how much I am in comparison to all men;

Second, what men are in comparison to all the Angels and Saints of Paradise;

Third, what all Creation is in comparison to God: (Then I alone, what can I be?)

Fourth, to see all my bodily corruption and foulness;

Fifth, to look at myself as a sore and ulcer, from which have sprung so many sins and so many iniquities and so very vile poison. [4]

These critical self-examinations become the substance of colloquies. All of this becomes the source for meditations in tandem with events from the passion of Jesus Christ. Thus the retreat becomes the clearing of one’s own house like that soul of Mary Magdalene whom Jesus cleansed of the demons.

That sweeping away of the debris of the everyday is accomplished by meditation on the saints, but more specifically through the events of the life of Christ. This is the focus of the later weeks of the Ignatian retreat. Rahner explains:

By means of a true retreat a person is able to get out of his own desperate situation and into the infinite breadth of God. If we do what we can, then God will bless us with His grace during these days, even though we may not be able to perceive it, and perhaps we will then be able to say with Jacob: “I have seen God!” [5]

However, Rahner explicitly says that there is no guarantee of such a vision, and so he wants us to ask “What does God want from me now? … We only really begin to make a retreat when we have found such an Archimedean point in our lives.” [5]

That single point in my life is when I have a vision, when I can see this, that “our finite freedom can never embrace the totality of our life in one act.” However, our faith is the hope for that totality, which our present everydayness can never give us. The messy debris of life as we know it can never be ordered by our own power completely, Ignatius tells us. The Holy Spirit does guide and help in grasping the totality of what bishop Rachel calls “life”.

You may remember I began with an interview with Pope Francis. He went on in that interview to say:

Ignatius who founded the Society, was also a reformer and a mystic. Especially a mystic. … [Mystics] have been fundamental. A religion without mystics is [merely] a philosophy. … The mystic manages to strip himself of action, of facts, objectives and even the pastoral mission and rises until he reaches communion with the Beatitudes. Brief moments but which fill an entire life. [2]

That is why so many anglicans are celebrating the life St Ignatius as an inspiration to their own lives. They are also able to benefit from the legacy of The Spiritual Exercises to become active christians. No longer is his or her situation desperate and limiting, but infinite and transcending. He is traveling in the infinite breadth of God, with no constraints to his will to accomplish good. This is the true mission of religion, that the good of salvation will be realised here and now. With Christ’s help and Ignatius’ example, the Kingdom of God will come on the wings of the Holy Spirit.




[2] Pope Francis, the first Pope to have belonged to the Society of Jesus, interviewed in “How the Church will change” by Eugenio Scalfari in La Repubblica (1 October 2013)


[4] Ignatius Loyola, The Exercises (Text from The Catholic Resource Network via Project Gutenberg)

[5] Karl Rahner Spiritual Exercises (Sheed and Ward, London; 1966 (1980 edition))

This sermon is from Stilman Davis. It is copyrighted. You are welcome to use it, but put some extra money in the plate if you do.

Sermons are spoken. They whistle in the wind and enter your ears to echo for some time between them. However, sermons are destined to go on into the distance after they have resonated with you.