During this Ignatian Year, we are publishing a series of homilies that Fr. General Kolvenbach held on the feast days of St. Ignatius. In this homily, Fr. Kolvenbach focuses on the importance of service for St. Ignatius.
Church of the Gesù, July 31st 1989
I want to thank you all for having come to the church of the Gesù this evening to celebrate the feast of Saint Ignatius in the Eucharist. It is always deli cate and often unfair to want to sum up a saint’s whole spirituality in a few words. However Saint Ignatius himself showed a clear preference for certain words which best expressed the depths of his heart. His most frequent expression was “ad maiorem Dei gloriam” (to the greater glory of God) which stated both his loving adoration of a God whose heart will always be greater than ours, and his complete availability to follow the Lord wherever he goes in his passion, for the glory of the Father. In order to put into everyday practice this desire to be placed next to the Son in order to take part in his work of our salvation, Saint Ignatius had a preference for the word “to serve”. Ignatius said and repeated under the most diverse forms that “the zealous service of God our Lord out of pure love should be esteemed above all” (Sp. Ex. 370) and that the only meaning of our entire existence is that “we are moved to love and serve God our Lord in all things” (Sp. Ex. 363).
Serving remains a noble word for us and an ideal for life, but if serving means “to be a servant” or even more radically “to be a slave”, man, in the thrall of his passion for freedom, does not hesitate to make use of others while rebelling against all servitude and slavery. It was only through contemplating Christ who came among us not to be served but to serve that Ignatius culled the divine fullness and the human sense of “serving”. “In your minds you must be the same as Christ Jesus: His state was divine, yet he did not cling to his equality with God but emptied himself to assume the condition of a slave” (Ph 2:5-7). Seeing that the greatest one of all is serving at table, the servant of us who are his servants, transforms Jesus’ companion into a person who “is urged on by the desire to serve” (Const. 540). Speaking in the Spiritual Exercises of his personal experience, Ignatius clearly understood that the one who is a liar from the start continues convincing us that every service to the Completely Different One, and to all the others in his name, is unworthy of a self-respecting man and against the rights of the man who knows that he is modern and emancipated. Our joy in serving will always be threatened by the temptations which the Lord himself wished to experience. Ignatius did not hesitate to repeat that “greater service” (Sp. Ex. 183) requires a conversion, a radical turnover of perspective: serving is reigning, Christian freedom consists in offering all one’s own freedom so that “his divine Majesty may dispose of us” entirely (Sp. Ex. 5). At the court of the great of this world Ignatius grew to know those who only give lip service in their own interest, serving themselves in fact. This is why he did not conceive service outside personal love between the Lord and man who was created for love, saved for a greater love. Service is our heart’s answer to God who loved us in the first place. Ignatius refused to draw up a list of the services we should render or to dictate a program of things to be done in service. We must serve God in all things: and this means a great diversity of possible vocations and missions in the Lord’s service and loving availability on our part to leave the Lord of the vineyard to choose, among all things, how He – and not I – wish this service to effectively be. At all events it is the desire to serve which decides lay, religious or priestly service as well as the smallest details of our lives (cf. Sp. Ex. 155). Thus greater service to God is at the same time the Spirit, the breath of our life and the incarnation of this Spirit in the image of the Lord Jesus in concrete forms of service – everything – to the greater glory of God.
Receiving the body and blood of the Lord, may the intercession of Saint Ignatius obtain that we answer generously, gratuitously and joyfully to the Lord’s invitation to serve him and love him more and more in all things to the greater glory of God.
Read the other homilies here.