Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Influenced by St. Francis and St. Ignatius

A Jesuit priest writing in the Catholic Times tells us of two saints he admires, St. Francis of Assisi and St. Ignatius Loyola. Francis lived a life of sagacious poverty and Ignatius, the founder of the Jesuits, enlarged the horizons of the Church.

The writer said he fell in love with Francis when seeing the movie about his life, during his second year of college. He then read every book published in Korean about the saint, and some of them twice. During the lifetime of Francis (1181-1226), the power of the papacy was at its zenith, with many movements working for reformation and renewal. Francis was not interested in such activities. Being attracted to Jesus and the example of his life, and consequently loyal to the Church, he decided his spiritual path would be a simple imitation of Jesus. Though apparently an inconsequential decision at the time, it would lead to a radical change in the lives of many Christians, which brought about a new way of being Church.

A few years after seeing the Francis movie, the writer encountered Ignatius for the first time and was deeply moved, seeing him as a romantic and fabricator of grand dreams. Reading the autobiography of St. Ignatius, you would not easily understand who he was, he said. Only after the writer entered the Society of Jesus and took the one month Ignatian spiritual exercises did he fully appreciate the genius of Ignatius and his trust in providence.

Although there are many differences between the two saints, the writer points out significant similarities. Both were mystics; both had the crucified Christ as their motivation and goal; and both considered themselves as nothing. They knew the light and love that came from Jesus, and consequently also knew their avarice and weakness, which made them humble. Instead of blaming others they were merciful toward others. And both had a great love for poverty; Francis called poverty his esteemed wife; Ignatius loved poverty as he loved his mother. They both had no need to talk about poverty, they lived it. They were loyal to the Church, but living at a time which called for change they also desired to see it reformed. They did not however agitate for reform or make plans for renewal, but were content to experience the mystery of Jesus; imitating Jesus was their only goal, and yet their  influence, paradoxically, was felt far and wide.

At the time of St. Francis the movement of the Waldensians was calling for the reformation of the Church. They started out as reformers but ended by leaving the Church. At the time of St. Ignatius the Protestant Reformation had plunged all of Europe in turmoil.  Luther, seeing the corruption in the Church, in protest chose to leave the Church. And within the Church itself, there was a growing skepticism and opposition to Francis and Ignatius, and yet they remained loyal to the Church to the very end. Many young people were moved by what they saw and joined their movements, which helped to renew the Church.

Our new pope, a member of the religious order founded by Ignatius, was selected from a country considered outside the center.  A cardinal from Brazil, when congratulating the newly elected pope, asked him not to forget the poor during his pontificate, which immediately brought to mind Francis of Assisi and convinced him that would be the name he would choose as pope. The legacies of Francis and Ignatius having come together in this new pontificate will undoubted give direction to the pope's pastoral and teaching role in the years to come, a direction the priest hopes will inspire the followers of Francis and Ignatius, and all of us, to be more understanding and friendly to the poor.



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