18th Sunday B
1st August 2021
St. Colman’s Cathedral, Cobh
“Finding God in all things”
Yesterday July 31 was the Feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola. He died on that date in 1556 in Rome. After all these years he remains a very influential figure in Church principally through the Jesuit Order which he founded of which there are roughly 17,000 priests and brothers worldwide. Numbered among them is Pope Francis.
The other reason for his continuing influence in the life of the Church has been his legacy of the Spiritual Exercises which serve still as a kind of manual and guide for people lay and religious who seek to deepen their life in Christ. In fact, they were written as a guide primarily for lay people – a spiritual guide for everyday living and that is reflected in the note “Finding God in all things”.
Ignatius was a soldier in his youth in the course of which he was badly wounded. In the course of his recovery, he read everything he could until he exhausted the library and all he had left was a book on the Lives of the Saints and a Bible. It was in the course of that reading that his faith and mind were awakened. It was in the course of that re-awakening that he discovered and developed some key insights to how our minds and hearts can be moved and guided towards the good, the truth and what is right. Equally, the mind and heart can be drawn away from what is good and right to illusion and lies.
This whole inner mental and spiritual journey (sometimes a battle) goes on in our lives when we are sincere and concerned, conscientious and attentive. The word used to describe the process is discernment and within the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius as the Discernment of Spirits. It is from this tradition that Pope Francis draws so often in his talks – he does so naturally as it was so formative in his own Jesuit training.
All of this Jesuit history comes to mind as we reflect on the Old Testament reading from the Book of Exodus and the beginning of the Eucharistic discourse of St. John’s Gospel. The Readings echo each other – the people search for food – food that satisfies – their yearning too – that God is the one who should deliver. Our time in a sense is no different from any previous generation – we yearn for wellbeing – we sense that if we have and hold certain things all will be well. Would that it were so simple. The reality is the human mind and heart is capable of extraordinary goodness on one hand yet equally capable of great evil in all its many forms too. All arises from the unexpected sickness, loss and conflict.
That brings me back to St. Ignatius and his life experience. His injury from battle would prove to be the beginning of a conversion from one kind of life to a whole new understanding and commitment. Not sudden and dramatic like St. Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus his conversion was gradual and as it deepened, he brought others along that path too. Equally, for most of us our conversion is a continual giving up of an old way of life. In the words of the Letter to the Ephesians (2nd Reading) our minds get corrupted by illusory desires “your mind must be renewed by a Spiritual Revolution” …. “created in God’s way in the goodness and holiness of the truth”.
Where does this spiritual vision fit into our pandemic world? In a sense quite nicely. We, by our experience, have to confront many questions we can no longer avoid. We live with many illusions that bear little or no relation to the reality facing so much of humanity. We have questions about the way technology, which is itself a marvel and blessing, is being manipulated to exploit and enslave so many.
The Sabbath was made for man
Not man for the Sabbath.
Discernment of spirits is St. Ignatius and God’s gift through him to the Church.
The willingness to ask the deeper question
to look beyond appearances
To sort the wheat from the chaff
To sort priceless gold from worthless trinkets.