A simple plaque placed in the castle of Loyola, Spain dated 1491 says, “Aqui nacio.” On a literal level, it means St. Ignatius was born there. Symbolically, it reaches more broadly: the start of a creative, alternate narrative no one dreamt would spread so far, endure so long.
At a time when clergy were the only intermediaries between ordinary people and God, Ignatius differed. Gloriously, he told ordinary shmucks: “God has a dream for you.” Ignatius’ alternative didn’t emphasize external rules. Instead, the interior process of the Spiritual Exercises asked not what? but who? Called into “conscious living relationship with the person of Christ,” Ignatius exchanged his sword for a walking stick. He traded the macho drama of a knight’s life for a mysterious process. He had no idea where it would end, but limped into it trustingly.
With genius and craziness, Ignatius directed his followers into the swirl of cities, where lively plazas offered places to preach and exchange new ideas. His directions for the order he founded, the Jesuits are remarkably flexible: no office in common, no excessive penances; regarding dress, “the manner is ordinary.” He often inserts the realistic qualifier to fit circumstances: “or whatever’s best.” Just as Biblical prophets clash with worldly authority, so the Jesuits have had perpetual differences with the powers-that-be. Gospel fidelity often conflicts with unjust human law; no other religious order has spent as many man-years in jail.
A recent example is Fr. Stan Swamy, an Indian Jesuit imprisoned for defending the rights of the Dalit (untouchable) people and rural poor. The government charged him with links to violent Maoist groups, which he denied. Despite being 83 with advanced Parkinson’s, he was jailed under anti-terror statutes. Unable to even drink from a cup, he relied on fellow prisoners to meet his needs. He died of COVID in 2021.
In what seems a tribute to St. Ignatius, Nativity School of Worcester, MA, started flying the Pride and Black Lives Matter flags In January 2021. This was a response to their students, primarily under-resourced boys of color who receive an excellent, tuition-free education there. Laudably, the students wanted to symbolize their stand with the marginalized. Bishop Robert McManus, however, believed “flying these flags is inconsistent with Catholic teaching.” In March 2022, he told the school to take down the flags. When the school refused, he removed its Catholic identity. A letter on the school website (https://nativityworcester.org) from its president assures the community, “Please know that any decisions made by the Diocese will not change the mission, operations or impact of Nativity.” Ignatius might give them a “thumbs up” for spunk. Who could’ve dreamed that seed sown in the 16th century could flower so boldly today?
This reflection was originally published in Give Us This Day, 7/31/20. www.giveusthisday.org, 888-259-8470. The last two paragraphs were added as an update.