Father Frans Jozef van Beeck, a Jesuit whom I've discussed here before
, once began an autobiographical essay with the admission that "I am by no means the sole Jesuit for whom the Society of Jesus is in the first place and very palpably something international." This has certainly been true for me: as I have noted in the past
, part of what drew me to the Society of Jesus was its cosmopolitan character – the sense in which, as Jerónimo Nadal put it, "the world is our house." I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to celebrate the feast of the Society's founder, St. Ignatius of Loyola, in a number of different countries and in various circumstances, ranging from large public festivities to low-key community celebrations to virtually private observances (last year, for example, St. Ignatius' Day fell in the middle of my eight-day retreat
, so I passed the feast in silence).
In whichever place and in whatever way I spend St. Ignatius' Day, this feast inevitably leads me to reflect upon the roots of my vocation. Some of the better things I've written on point are in posts produced four years ago in Innsbruck
and two years ago in Philadelphia
. I have nothing really new or original to add this year, but I would like to share some excerpts from a 1937 essay by Karl Rahner entitled "The Ignatian Mysticism of Joy in the World," in which Rahner considers how one might reconcile the mystical and contemplative dimensions of Ignatian spirituality with the decidedly 'worldly' mission of the Society of Jesus. In explaining how the mystical and the worldly fit together in an Ignatian context, Rahner also shows how the Society of Jesus stands in essential continuity with the monastic tradition that came before it:
Ignatian piety is a piety of the Cross, like all Christian mystical piety before it. One would lay oneself open to the danger of completely misconstruing Ignatian piety, were one to overlook this first fundamental characteristic. We must take note of the fact that Ignatian piety is and intends to be primarily 'monastic' piety; 'monastic' not in a juridical sense, nor monastic in the external arrangement of the community life of his disciples, but 'monastic' in the theologico-metaphysical sense which constitutes the first and last meaning of this word. What we mean to say by that is that Ignatius in his life, in his piety, and in the spirit which he impresses upon his foundation is consciously and clearly taking over and continuing the ultimate direction of life by which the life of the Catholic Orders, the 'monazein,' was created and kept alive. Proof of this is the simple fact that he and his disciples take the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. And with them necessarily take over the attitude of the monachos, of one alone in God far from the world. Ignatius stands in the line of those men who existentially flee into the desert in a violent fuga saeculi, even though it may be the God-forsaken stony desert of a city, in order to seek God far from the world. It is nothing but superficiality if one allows the difference in external mode of life between Jesuit and monk to mask the deep and ultimate common character which dominates the ideal of every Catholic order.
At times, some Jesuits have tended to regard our particular charism in the light of rupture, insisting (sometimes a bit grumpily) that "we're not monks" and that St. Ignatius offered the Church something essentially discontinuous with the traditions of older religious orders. I've always been skeptical of that approach, partly because of my appreciation for the Benedictine tradition
, but also on account of my awareness of Ignatius' debts to the writings of the Benedictine abbot Garcia de Cisneros and to the monks of the Abbey of Montserrat. I appreciate what Rahner has to say about the 'monastic' character of Ignatian piety because he helps to confirm certain intuitions I've always had about my Jesuit vocation. As Rahner emphasizes, the worldly dimension of the Ignatian charism must be seen in the context of an inward "flight into God," which is ultimately the same fuga saeculi
that has always driven Christian monasticism: "Ignatius approaches the world from God. Not the other way about. Because he has delivered himself in the lowliness of an adoring self-surrender to the God beyond the whole world and to his will, for this reason and for this reason alone he is prepared to obey his word even when, out of the silent desert of his daring flight into God, he is, as it were, sent back into the world, which he had found the courage to abandon in the foolishness of the Cross." Rahner further suggests that the Ignatian vision of 'finding God in all things' presupposes a healthy indifference that allows us to find God wherever God wishes to be found: "Ignatius is concerned only with the God above the whole world, but he knows that this God, precisely because he is really above the whole world and not merely the dialectical antithesis to the whole world, is also to be found in the world
, when his sovereign will bids us enter upon the way of the world." In other words, we seek God in the world because the One whom we seek in the desert of the heart has bidden us to seek him also in what Rahner calls "the stony desert of a city."
As I read Rahner's lines about seeking God in the urban desert, I am mindful of some of tensions inherent in our lives as Jesuits. The Society of Jesus is well known in the wider world for the adventurous missionaries and cosmopolitan nomads who have sojourned in our midst, even though just as many of us have, as Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote of St. Alphonsus Rodriguez
, merely "watched the door" for "years and years . . . without event." Finding God in all things obliges us to work out our salvation in a variety of different circumstances, and sometimes to serve in ways very different from what we might have hoped for or imagined when we entered the Society of Jesus. The lifelong challenge for each of us is to nurture and cultivate the interior freedom and stillness, the spirit of fuga saeculi
, that allows us to be what Jerónimo Nadal described as "contemplatives likewise in action." In the words of the current Superior General of the Society, Father Adolfo Nicolás, "every Jesuit should be able to live like a monk in the middle of the noise of the city... That means that our hearts are our monasteries and at the bottom of every activity, every reflection, every decision, there is silence, the kind of silence that one shares only with God."
On this Feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola, I pray in gratitude for the gift of my vocation. I pray also for my brother Jesuits, that the Society of Jesus may be for all of us a help to salvation and a means of doing God's will. Finally, I pray for you who are reading this and for your intentions, and I ask also that you pray for me and for the members of the Society as we remember our founder. AMDG.