St Ignatius Day 2014 – Homily

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Calling of Peter and Andrew, Duccio di Buonisegna (1308-1311)

This homily was given for the Feast of St Ignatius by Fr Peter Knox, S.J. on Thursday, 31 July 2014 in Johannesburg, South Africa.

To do justice to the readings and today’s feast, we have to deal with five periods of history:

i) the period of the literary Moses and specifically the re-affirmation of the covenant in Deuteronomy (30:11-14.)

(ii)   the period of St Paul in the psalm – (Tim 1:12-17) and the second reading (Eph 1:3-10.)

(iii)  the period of the historical Jesus (and then the re-membering of this period by the Johannine evangelist Jn 1:35-39.)

(iv)  the period of St Ignatius – the 458th anniversary of whose death we remember today.

(v)   our own day – the contemporary world, in which we try to live the inspiration of St Ignatius as an apostolic body of men under the banner of the Cross of Christ.

As a non-historian, I can’t bring all these ages together in one homily. So for a unifying idea, I’ll turn rather to Rahner’s idea of Geist in Welt – the title of his (rejected) philosophy dissertation. It is an affirmation that the Spirit of God is present in every age, in every people, since the moment of creation. It is what we believe with utter conviction when Jesus promised in his Matthean farewell discourse that he will be with us always, until the end of time. His Spirit, the Spirit of God, eternally hovering over the world.

We hear it in the first reading: God placed the Law (command), the Spirit, on us – in us. The Deuteronomist recognises that this is not some alien code, but is so near to us that we don’t have to search far and wide for it. It is already implicit, in our hearts, in our very human fabric and our every human fibre. It is what gives us our human dignity. And Rahner calls this eternal transcendenal experience of God pre-cognitional / “unthematic” / latent …. until we recognise it and name it in the more formal revelations, like our Scriptures, traditions, or other religions, and our own experience. That is why we do the Examen – that quintessential Ignatian prayer – to make explicit what would otherwise be forever implicit, to detect the breath of the Spirit in every moment of our lives, and to give thanks and acknowledgement to God.

In the Psalm, Paul recognises this significant action of God in the person of Jesus and writes about it to Timothy, acknowledging the elements of forgiveness and reconciliation in the ministry of Jesus. And our response was gratitude: “I am grateful to him who has strenghtened me, Christ Jesus our Lord.” How much more elaborated is Paul’s understanding in the 2nd reading, that “hymn” from Ephesians 1: Paul uses verbs like, blessed, chose, destined, granted, lavished, made known, summed up, and nouns like redemption, forgiveness, grace, favour, plan. All of this directed towards us from the moment of creation. If our spirituality is Pauline or Ignatian (who has us meditate on these mysteries) then it cannot but be a spirituality of thanksgiving.

In the Gospel, we have the two disciples of John wanting to know this Jesus more deeply, to transform their exterior knowledge of this man into an interior knowledge, to see his home, where he stays, what has made him who he is. As we have it in Sp. Exx. 104, which was used for the Gospel acclamation, we want to have an interior knowledge of our Lord, to love him more intensely and follow him more closely. We need to see where Jesus is coming from in order to know, love and follow him. We need to pay heed to how the Geist of God was moving in this unique Son of God, to realise how this Geist is operating in our faith and sacred tradition.

Ignatius was a man of his world, and read the “signs of the times.” By this, I don’t mean that he projected his political ideologies onto the activity of the divine Spirit – as we sometimes do when we claim to be reading the signs of our times. Rather Ignatius saw the world opening up, with the “discovery” and invasion of the Americas, and the vast potential of evangelising other continents. He saw this as the action of the Geist in Welt, an auspicious moment, a kairos, in which his band of friends in the Lord had to participate and co-operate with the Geist.  He saw Europe in the throes of the Reformation, and got his merry men to lead a Catholic Reformation. He saw in his contemporaries a great thirst for spiritual experience, or to make explicit their own experiences, and even though he wasn’t a cleric, he risked engaging in spiritual conversations. (The very first ‘Jesuit’ literature I came across was during the probation week retreat, John Moffett reading to us with panache, flair and sincerity, Tom Clancy’s work on “the Conversational Word of God.”)

The question for us today is, where is the Geist in Welt? How do we co-operate with it? How to preach in our parishes, engage the world in our institute, chaplain in our schools, direct retreats, and 1000 other things we do? Is Julius Malema a vexatious clown or a true voice of the poor? Is the Geist blowing more freely in the Catholic world with Pope Francis? Did the certainties of John Paul II and Benedict also express this Geist? How do we advocate for justice? How is the Geist leading us in this period of history?