Friday, July 31, 2015

St. Ignatius Loyola, Soldier for Christ

 I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)  

Saint of the Week, St. Ignatius of Loyola
     When I think of today's saint, St. Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus, I think of the quote above from St. Paul's letter to the Galatians.  The impoverished Spanish nobleman Inigo Lopez was indeed reborn as a different man when he became Ignatius. 
      Like St. Martin of Tours, St. Ignatius had been a soldier before he turned his life over to  God.  After his conversion he sought to live his life in a different way.  Instead of the military officer’s stern and harsh way of addressing his subordinates, for instance, he employed a humble and gentle mode, even when administering necessary discipline.  At the same time, he never lost his “fighting spirit”, even if he expressed it in a different way; and instead of directing his fire at human enemies, he was now concerned with “the principalities, . .  .the powers, . . . the world rulers of this present darkness, . . . the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12)
     In fact he saw the inner life of every believer as a battlefield, where each one of us must choose between following the battle standard of Christ, or that of Satan.  His distinctive spirituality includes an emphasis on the “discernment of spirits”, which is a prayerful sifting of feelings and other influences to determine whether they are from the Spirit of God or the Spirit of the Devil.  Drawing on his own experience of conversion, St. Ignatius forged an extraordinarily effective weapon to assist followers of Christ in this internal combat: the Spiritual Exercises, a potent mix of imagery, prayer, self-examination, and spiritual direction.
     Having self-disciplined himself in this way, Ignatius believed that the Christian should then, like a good soldier, submit to his superiors in obedience:  “ . . . we ought always to hold that the white which I see, is black, if the Hierarchical Church so decides it”, St. Ignatius says in that part of his Spiritual Exercises called “To Have the True Sentiment Which We Ought to Have in the Church Militant”.  This is not, however, simply the outward obedience that is required of the man under arms, but also the inner obedience of both the Will and the Intellect, as he explains in his famous Letter on Obedience [text here] . In other words, an obedience born of love, not fear.

     This seems a good time to remember the concept of the “Church Militant”, and that each of us is called to be a Soldier for Christ.  I’m not talking about soldiering in a literal sense, although with our ancient rivalry with Islam heating up again it’s possible that there will be an increasing need for that.  I’m thinking more of the war to defend our souls and the souls of others against the “spiritual hosts of wickedness” that St. Paul mentions in his letter to the Ephesians.  Of course, the two kinds of warfare are not unrelated: the Jihadists and their allies can see the spiritual decay in our culture, which only serves to embolden them (just as Osama Bin Laden says he was inspired by the apparent weakness of the United States after our inelegant withdrawal from Somalia).  As the forces of Jihad discovered at Lepanto, however, they can’t hope to succeed against a Christendom united in Faith and fortified with Prayer; but against Secularism, well, what’s to stop them?  
    Having said that, it is good to remember that any conflict with Islamism, secularism, or any other "ism" that threatens Christian culture in this world is secondary to the big cosmic struggle.  The outcome of that battle is not in doubt, but there will be casualties along the way. St. Ignatius, a seeker for his own glory who, by God's grace, was transformed into a soldier for Christ, shows us how to stay on the winning side, and follow the Standard of our Lord.