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The Feast of St Ignatius

Ahead of the Feast Day of Ignatius Loyola (July 21), ANDY HAMILTON SJ writes that the Ignatian tradition of travelling lightly with firm and respectful commitments to people is designed for living in times of crisis and uncertainty.

The Feast Day of Ignatius Loyola this year has been affected by the coronavirus and its restrictions. So indeed has the Ignatian Year, marking the 500th anniversary of his change of life. Ignatius himself would not have been surprised at the restrictions. He lived in a time of recurrent plague and some critical years of his life were spent on the streets. Had a vaccine been available he would most likely not have been offered it.

That alone makes him a suitable patron for Jesuit Social Services. Many of the people whom we accompany in our work are vulnerable in a similar way to St Ignatius. In our society they are also often not seen as a priority.

Ignatius is a suitable patron also because he modelled a way of living in a time of uncertainty. It was built on a steady sense of what matters in human life and it provided a compass bearing to help him walk the twisting paths that uncertainty entails. What mattered to him was a deep sense of the mystery that lies deeper than the ebb and flow of our everyday lives, and a steady commitment to who matters. A commitment that was welcoming and courageous. For him and for the Ignatian tradition, this mystery was focused on God. Many of us who inherit the tradition will name it in different ways.

The compass needed for walking in a time of uncertainty is discernment. This involves attention to the movements of our own hearts, attention to the mystery of our world that lies beyond words, and attention to the precious humanity of people in their needs. These are the elusive things that we seek to catch in the reflection periods that precede our meetings. They bring the people who matter to us into our shared lives.

Such reflection guides the way in which we adjust our work to changing situations. Our local searching is part of a larger reflection by Jesuits on their international mission. To meet the challenges of our own day, they have identified four preferences that should fill and energise our dreams. They are to encourage deep discernment, to walk with people who are marginalised and outcast on a path that leads to reconciliation to justice, to walk with young people along a path that gives them hope, and to care together for the earth, our common home.

These preferences echo Ignatius’ own experience. His change of life led him first to walk barefoot with the poor and to engage people in conversation about the direction of their lives. When his immediate world shrank to his responsibility for the rapidly growing Society of Jesus, he delighted in the evening time spent wondering at the beauty of the stars, and he changed the profile of the Jesuits as he came to see the importance of education for the young.

Much has changed since Ignatius’ time. But the Ignatian tradition remains one of travelling lightly with firm and respectful commitments to people. And it is designed for living in times of crisis and uncertainty. Altogether, not a bad inheritance for Jesuit Social Services.