Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

You may have heard about the Jesuit who crashed into another car. The other driver was a Franciscan friar. The Franciscan insisted, "It was your fault." The Jesuit replied, "You look shaken up. You could probably use a shot of whiskey." He handed a flask. The Franciscan drank and said, "Thank you." The Jesuit said, "You still look rattled, have another." He did. "One more," said the Jesuit, "and you'll feel fine." The Franciscan, after a third drink, said, "Why don't you have a drink." The Jesuit replied, "I'll wait until after the police arrive." Moral of the story: watch out for those Jesuits.
Seriously, more about the Jesuits later.

The word of God takes us back to the 6th century before Jesus (the 500s). God calls Ezekiel to be a “watchman,” answerable to God for the spiritual well-being of the Hebrews. Ezekiel’s mission is to challenge the Hebrews to do the right thing, to live up to the demands of God's covenant.

The author may be urging us to be “watchmen” as well, speaking up when we see wrongs done:  living up to the demands of discipleship with Jesus. How relevant are the words of the 18th century British statesman Edmund Burke: "The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing."

Paul, in his letter to the Christian community in Rome, says: "you shall love your neighbor as yourself." Yes, we love God to the extent we care for one another. And who is my neighbor? The person next to us: at home, in the workplace, in the shopping mall, in the parish community. If we want to know who our neighbor is, simply look around us. Paul may ask us, do we offer a helping hand to others?

In the Gospel according to Matthew, Jesus asks us to settle our differences, not by complaining to everyone else about people whose behavior annoys us, but by going directly to them first to resolve our conflicts. Conflicts are inevitable in human relationships, but if dealt with them constructively, they can create even better friendships.

I can imagine Jesus saying to us: always focus on the behavior, not the personality; avoid negative name calling. Identify the problem. Manage your emotions; stay positive; offer solutions. And be trustworthy, open, fair and calm. St. Paul wrote centuries ago, “Love does not brood over injuries.” All of us must be willing to forgive and work together to create positive relationships.

I have been reflecting these last few weeks on the guidance of some of the great “movers and shakers” in Christianity: Augustine, Benedict, Thomas Aquinas, holy men and women whose lives and writings can lift us up out of our routine and into a deeper relationship with God.

Today I would like to highlight Ignatius of Loyola, the 16th century founder of the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits. Ignatius’ masterpiece the “Spiritual Exercises” can guide us: about our true purpose, our spiritual life and our relationship with God.

Ignatius, born in the basque region of Spain, lived in the 16th century, a revolutionary era that split Christianity in Europe into Protestants and Catholics. Ignatius first became a pageboy in Castile's royal court, then a military officer. Gravely injured in battle, he had a long convalescence, and started to change his way of life. On a pilgrimage to the holy land, he stopped at the Benedictine abbey of Montserrat, near Barcelona, then stayed at Manresa where he began outlining the Spiritual Exercises: his own search for God in all things.

On his return from the holy land, Ignatius pursued his education. In Paris, he and six other men pledged to live a way of life in the company of Jesus. Pope Paul III gave his approval to the Society of Jesus in 1540. They vowed to live in the midst of the world with their eyes focused on God, with Jesus as their companion, and with a mission to dedicate themselves “Ad Maiorem Dei Gloriam.” (to the greater glory of God).

Ignatius was elected superior general and guided the Society as it grew quickly. The newly discovered lands of the 16th century beckoned the Jesuits as missionary disciples.  They set sail for the Far East, the Americas and Africa to speak to the minds and hearts of indigenous people about the things of God (the Gospel). They did this, all for the greater glory of God. Today the Jesuits number more than 16,000 in over 110 countries, with 28 Jesuit-sponsored colleges and universities in the United States alone.

Ignatius recognized the priority of the spiritual life. He gave us missionary disciples formed in the Spiritual Exercises as a guide to their life with God, and also myriad ministries where Jesuits serve God's people however and wherever the Church calls. Education, religious education in particular, was a priority for Ignatius in the Reformation era. 

Jesuit spirituality emphasizes discernment. Learning to discern where the Spirit is prompting and guiding us is a lifelong task for all of us. Discernment, of course, is not only learning to sense the presence of God within our own selves; it also has to do with analyzing social situations in light of Gospel values: reading the signs of the times and responding to poverty and injustice and violence in our world by doing our best to right wrongs. 

Jesuit spirituality invites us to deepen our own life with God through the Spiritual Exercises so that we can become missionary disciples to others, bearers of the good news that Jesus Christ is risen, alive and among us, transforming this universe into a new  and a new earth.

The Exercises themselves are an organized process of spiritual growth with a variety of tools: rules for discernment of the spirit and for “thinking with the Church,” an examination of conscience, meditations, and various prayer forms. Their purpose is to free us from earthly worries so as to find God “in all things” and recommit ourselves to Jesus and to service.

A seasoned guide is indispensable in this process. The meditations in the first stage aim to free us from self-centered attitudes and behaviors that get in the way of following Jesus. The second stage meditates on the life of Jesus, for example, his sermon on the mount, his ministry of healing and teaching, so that we can model ourselves after Jesus. The third stage focuses on the last supper, the passion and death of Jesus, signs of his tremendous love for us. The fourth stage concentrates on the risen Jesus so that we can become his hands and feet and voice and eyes in the world, finding God in all things. 

Yes, embracing Jesus, finding God in all things, were the passions of Ignatius of Loyola. I close with a prayer of Ignatius that could well be our own:
Take, O Lord, and receive all
my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my entire will,
all that I have and possess.
You have given all to me; to you, O Lord, I return it.
All is yours; dispose of it wholly according to your will.
Give me your love and your grace; for this is enough for me.

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