St. Ignatius of Loyola: “Courage then, Courage!”

I delivered this homily on the Feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola, celebrated by the Ateneo de Manila High School on 30 July 2015. My congregation was young, 13-17 years old, with the faculty, staff, and some parents as the adult community. The real feast day, 31 July, is a holiday. Fr. JBoy Gonzales SJ

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[1] “Courage, then, courage! Be comforted in the Lord and in the strength of His power (Eph. 6:10)… For the Spirit of Jesus will give thee in all things understanding (2 Tim 2:7) and fortitude, to the end that through you the name of Jesus will be glorified and bear much fruit in many souls, with the hope of a better life.

[2] I write this to you with the idea of giving spurs to the willing horse, as the proverb goes. For the rest, you have won all our love in the Lord by your fearless activity in the Lord’s vineyard and have led me to form the great hope that Jesus Christ will be glorified in you right to the end.”

         – Letter of St. Ignatius of Loyola to St. Peter Canisius. Rome, 2 June 1546.

I.

My first point is from the first paragraph of the letter of St. Ignatius to St. Peter Canisius. For this, we remember, “Courage then, courage!”

St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits.
St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits.

Background. After his ordination to the priesthood, St. Peter Canisius was sent on a mission to obtain assistance against the apostate archbishop, Hermann von Weid. St. Ignatius therefore tells St. Peter to be courageous in his mission. He tells St. Peter Canisius to have his full trust in the Lord because He will provide what He will need: the mind to understand, and the strength of his heart in the face of adversity. That is why, Ignatius writes, “Courage, then, courage!” Courage is the ability to do something in the face of fear; courage is facing what we are afraid of!

But when do we need great courage? We need them when we know that what we are going to do is God’s will. For St. Ignatius, we need courage when we are to glorify the Lord’s name and when we are “saving souls!” We need courage “to go to the peripheries!” To put it more succinctly, when our courage is for the greater glory of God – the AMDG – or when our work will help others hope for a better life!

In 2011, I was sent to the Arizona-Mexican border to assist in a bi-province apostolate to undocumented migrants. (We call them, illegal immigrants, but that is not a politically correct term. Undocumented means that they do not have the documents to be legally working or living in the US.) The Jesuit mission of the Provinces of Mexico and California was called the Kino Border Initiative, named after the Fr. Eusebio Kino SJ, the first Jesuit of the missions of Nueva España in the Sonoran Desert. The KBI provided humanitarian aid to undocumented migrants. (Check one of the churches Fr. Kino built in the middle of the desert here.)

Cooking food for undocumented migrants.
Cooking food for undocumented migrants.

At around 6 AM, I would leave the Jesuit community in Nogales, Arizona, to cross the border to Nogales, Sonora, Mexico so that I would be in time to cook Mexican food for those who will be deported from the US border.

The undocumented migrants would line up at around 8AM for breakfast. When they arrive, I would pray the “Padre Nuestro” (Our Father), distribute the rationed food, clean the dishes, and then help distribute donated clothes. And if time permitted, I would station myself at the clinic for those who were sick, or those whose feet were gangrened from walking in the desert. Many of them tried to cross the desert from Latin America to the US, some trekked in dangerous territories like the vast Sonoran desert but unfortunately, the border patrol were able to catch them. I would sometimes go to the border gates to invite them to our little kitchen.

When I was there, I knew I was in the middle of a dangerous place. Vehicles of drug cartels would wait outside of our comedor or kitchen to lure undocumented migrants who would like to return to the US by hook or by crook. The drug cartels would provide assistance, but with the condition that they would be drug mules, meaning, they have to carry drugs to their contacts in the US.

In addition, the Border Patrol would detain me for around 20-30 mins in the afternoon, when I have to cross the border again from Mexico to Arizona. Yes, I was subjected to racial profiling (Check my experience here).

I knew that doing God’s work there would entail great courage. And I would hear St. Ignatius telling me, “Courage!”

(Read about my experiences here, here, here, here, and here.)

(Here is a slideshow of some photos of my work at the Kino Border Initiative.)

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But that is exactly what St. Ignatius meant by being a “soldier of Christ.” A soldier must be courageous. But we are asked of is not to become just a soldier, not just a jedi, but a soldier of Christ, fighting in the battle between good and evil. The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius is meant to assist people in finding God’s will for their life, and to give them the motivation and courage to follow that will.

Ignatian Spirituality therefore, is a spirituality of courage.

Ignatius writes in the 5th annotation that a person who will take the Spiritual Exercises should “enter into them with great courage” that God may use “of his person and of all he has according to His most Holy Will.”

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Responsory

What life situations do we need Ignatius’ great courage? Here are some, and I would like you to respond to me, with this: “Courage, then, courage!”

  1. If you have been given a new responsibility and it is enormous but noble, St. Ignatius would say: “Courage, then, courage!”
  1. If you feel that you need to rise from your own grief, disappointment, and rejection, St. Ignatius would say to you: “Courage, then, courage!”
  1. If your first term advisory marks have dipped, and you can’t tell your parents about them, then St. Ignatius would say, “Courage then courage!”
  1. If you are madly in love, and you find it difficult to tell her what you feel, St. Ignatius would say, “Courage, then, courage!”
  1. If you want someone to be your prom date, but you still do not have the strength to invite her, St. Ignatius would say to you, “Courage, then courage!”
  1. If you have to decide what course to take in college, but the course you want, which you believe is God’s will, may not be what your parents prefer, however you have to tell them, St. Ignatius would say to you, “Courage, then courage!”

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II.

But courage is not just about us being courageous, we are also given the responsibility to “give courage” to others; or in acknowledgment of the gift of the Holy Spirit, we are to inspire others to tap the gift of fortitude in them.

St. Peter Canisius SJ to whom St. Ignatius' letter was addressed.
St. Peter Canisius SJ to whom St. Ignatius’ letter was addressed.

Thus, the second and last point is about encouragement. St. Ignatius writes to St. Peter Canisius, thanking and praising him for his great work. But he urges him to work harder. Let’s return to the letter:

“I write this to you with the idea of giving spurs to the willing horse, as the proverb goes. For the rest, you have won all our love in the Lord by your fearless activity in the Lord’s vineyard and have led me to form the great hope that Jesus Christ will be glorified in you right to the end.”

The Old English expression, “Giving spurs to the willing horse” means that Ignatius urges St. Peter Canisius, who is already an excellent worker, to continue to work harder.

Note that spur (verb) means, “to urge a horse to move forward or go faster by using one’s spurs.” Spur (noun) is the metal spike on the back of a horse-rider’s boots; and the word, willing (adj.) means that that horse (or person) is ready or happy to do something.

In the 7th Annotation of the Spiritual Exercises, Ignatius tells the Spiritual Director that he should not be hard on those in desolation or temptation, but to “give him courage and strength for the future… and getting him to prepare and dispose himself for the coming consolation.” Ignatius tells the Spiritual Director to encourage the one making the retreat who is already in desolation!

Thus, Ignatian Spirituality is not just a spirituality of courage; it is also a spirituality of encouragement!

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Responsory

What life situations do we need to encourage someone to have Ignatius’ great courage? Here are some, and I would like you to respond to me, with “Tapang pa!” — the Filipino for “Courage, then, courage!”

1. If a friend of yours is too shy to express his feelings for someone, and you know that your friend might lose her to someone else, we encourage him using St. Ignatius words, by saying, “Tapang pa!”

2. If someone gets rejected in a prom proposal, we encourage the person that there is someone better, by saying what St. Ignatius said, “Tapang pa!”

3. If you find someone weak, like a classmate of yours, a fellow faculty or co-worker, we do not bully them or talk behind their backs, but we encourage them by saying what St. Ignatius said to St. Peter Canisius, “Tapang pa!”

4. And if you are in your immersion areas, and you are able to talk heart to heart with a member of your family who is dejected, discouraged, and depressed because of their family situation, we encourage them by saying, “Tapang pa!”

5. And if we all find ourselves doing the work of God and we get tired and stressed, we “give spurs to a willing horse” by encouraging each other like St. Ignatius, then we say to each other, “Tapang pa!”

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Let me end. So when we go to the peripheries, to where there is greatest need, we need the courage of St. Ignatius and many Jesuits who came after, especially the saints whose names mark each class in the Ateneo High School, like the Class of 10K whose patron is St. Peter Canisius.

And when a soldier of Christ falls to the ground, we pick him up, and we encourage him to fight again!

Now that you know what courage is, we will need this courage as a “soldier of Christ” who fights under the “banner of the cross.” That is why we pray the Prayer for Generosity” – let’s pray it together:

Dearest Lord, teach me to be generous, teach me to serve You as I should: To give and NOT to count the cost; to fight and NOT to heed the wounds; to toil and NOT to seek for rest; to labor and NOT to ask for reward. Save that I am doing Your Most Holy Will.

AMEN.

St. Ignatius, pray for us!

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