If Jesus were to ask you and I, “Who do you say I am?” I think all of us here would know the answer to this question. Like Peter, in the Gospel we would say, “You are Jesus the Christ, our Saviour and Lord.” We all know who Jesus is, but it is when Jesus said, “If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross every day and follow me” that we find difficult to accept because all of us do not want pain. Thus, we would want to know what “carrying our crosses daily” mean. Let us reflect on this for a moment.
What would our reaction be if we met someone who loves to dress in fine clothing, spends much of his time, money and energy on wine, women and song? And as you get to know the person more you realise that he is also very vain about his looks and he speaks much about his dreams of his future success. Furthermore, when you realise he is a Catholic and ask him about God, he brushes it aside and simply say, “I do pray at times and go to Mass when I can.”
Would you be attracted to this person and consider him a suitable partner or allow your daughter to marry him? Or, would you recommend him to the coming Jesuit vocation camp that Fr Colin and our novices are organizing?
In all probability, if you were a serious person who is looking for a good husband or son-in-law or a good Catholic to become a Jesuit priest, I think you would have serious reservations about him on many counts. You would probably think that he is too materialistic, too self-centered and vain, and too superficial a person as he is too taken up by the wine, women and songs of his life.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, I know of a person who was worse than this. He not only changed so much for the better, through the great struggles of his life, in taking up his daily crosses that Jesus urge us to do; he even started a Religious Order that pledge the fourth vow of Obedience to the Pope, and serves in missions all over the world, and now has a membership of about 19,000. If not for him, I would not be standing here today in front of you. This person is none other than St Ignatius of Loyola.
Are you surprised by what I said? If there is a lesson to learn from what I just said, it is first, that there is a spiritual giant that is sleeping within each of us, regardless of how materialistic and secular we may be. Thus, Jesus does not write-off any person; in the Gospels, when the Pharisees and Scribes condemn Him for mixing with public sinners like tax-collectors, prostitutes, lepers and the poor and needy, he says, “It’s the sick who needs the doctor, not the healthy.”
Second, if Inigo Lopez, as he was called before he changed his name to Ignatius, in Latin, can be converted to become a great saint then there is hope for many people who are as materialistic and secular as he is. There is no big secret in how Inigo was able to have such radical transformation in his life.
In spite of his materialistic and very secular lifestyle and behaviour, at the depth of his heart he was a very sincere person who had a great passion in what he believed in. And so, when the Holy Spirit touched his heart, he responded openly and totally; he took up his crosses daily and followed Jesus. Let us take a step back and reflect on Inigo’s life more specifically for a moment.
Like millions of people in this world, Inigo in his teens and late twenties, was intoxicated by the values of the secular world. I read somewhere that he kept a long blonde hair and combed it often each day. Inigo was very vain when it came to his looks and appearances; he was very ambitious in his career and was gripped by the glamour and glory of the world that he would fight to gain. He would willingly give up his life just to win the hand of the beautiful princess of his dreams.
Inigo was a man of great passion and dreams; there were no obstacles in life that were too big to overcome and no setbacks that were too severe to surrender. He was also a man of great courage and pursued his goals in life passionately and relentlessly regardless of the price he had to pay; even if this meant that he had to die for his dreams.
However, all of these desires dissipated and his dreams shattered in a battle in Pamplona in 1521. In this battle, Inigo’s Spanish army was greatly outnumbered by the French army. Yet, contrary to the views of all the other soldiers, Inigo persuaded the commander to fight on; his courage was infectious and so they fought on. However, this lasted only until Inigo himself was shot down by a canon ball. When this happened, his army surrendered. The French soldiers were so impressed by his courage that they carried him back to his home in Loyolato recover.
The bones of his leg that were shattered by the cannon ball were not set well in the operation; one leg was shorter than another and a bone was protruding that made it look ugly. Inigo being vain could not see himself limping and having such deformities. He would have told himself, “How can I gain the glory and glamour of this world and win the heart of my princess with such physical deformity?” Thus, he asked his surgeons to break open the joints that were already set and perform a second operation to reset the bones; all these without any anesthesia. Doctors warned that Inigo this may even cost him his life, but he would hear none of this and was determined to go ahead with it. Although the pain must have been excruciating, Inigo bore it in silence and showed no external signs of pain during the operation.
While he was recovering in his family castle in Loyola for several months, he began to feel bored with nothing to do and read. He asked for books on the romantic tales of knights in chivalry, but there were none. His sister in law Magdalena, being a very devout Catholic, gave Inigo books on the life of Christ and the lives of saints. When Inigo was reading these books, he began to realise that there are different types of inner feelings within him. He began to admire the heroic courage of the saints.
Every time he thought of serving Christ like these saints, he felt spiritual consolations that brought him deep peace and joy, and even a desire to give up everything in life just so that he could devote his life to the service of Christ the Eternal King, instead of serving an earthly king. But, when his attention shifted back to gaining the glories and the glamour of the secular world, he experienced some inner contentment, but these feelings did not last long and they were somewhat superficial and dry.
In all of these thoughts and feelings, Inigo had experienced a deep spiritual conversion. This awareness of the differences of his inner stirrings was the beginning of Inigo’s conversion journey. In today’s terms we call these the “discernment of Spirits” or the discernment between the Good Spirits that lead us to God and increase our faith, hope and love for Him, or the Bad Spirits that draw us away from God and create confusion and division in our hearts about the presence of God in our lives and daily living.
As in today’s Gospel, Jesus too must have asked Inigo in his prayers, the personal question, “Who do you say I am?” Inigo was able to answer it very sincerely by being truthful both to himself and to the Holy Spirit’s promptings in his heart. This was Inigo’s way of facing the truth of himself and thus accepting the daily crosses of his life.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, to take up our daily crosses is to search sincerely for God’s Will in our lives regardless of the trials and pains that come our way. In his plans for the Society of Jesus this was what St Ignatius did for the next thirty five years of his life until his death in 1556.
This interior journey of discovery of himself and God in his life was far from easy and smooth. Inigo had to battle with the deep desolations of the pains and trials of scruples, doubt, confusion and temptations of the bad spirits that assailed him frequently in his prayer life and more so when he was trying to serve God in different ways.
When Ignatius wanted to serve the Church he found many enemies and much opposition and obstacles from all kinds of people. He was wrongly imprisoned several times by the Inquisition of the Church as he was suspected of preaching heresies. These were all Inigo’s daily crosses, but he was able to transcend them and carry on because he was able to keep his focus on living his life all for God’s Greater Glory and drawing strength from uniting all his pains and trials with Jesus’ sufferings.
As we conclude, it is good that we ask ourselves, “Are we able to persevere as St Ignatius did? St Ignatius would tell us, “Yes you can, but it all depends on how much we want to identify with Jesus in our daily living when He asks you daily, ‘Who do you say that I am?’ ” If your answer is, “You are the Christ,” then like St Ignatius and St Peter in today’s Gospel, we have no other choice but, to take up our crosses daily by facing the truth of our selves sincerely and know for sure that with God’s strength, nothing is impossible
Fr Philip Heng, S.J.
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