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 Ignatius and death.
Church of the Gesù, Rome, July 31st 1992
Brothers and sisters, before briefly meditating on the word of God we have just listened to, I would like to thank you all for having come here this evening to celebrate Saint Ignatius.
The gospel of this feast mentions the experience of death twice. The Lord integrates his death on the cross in the mission for the life of the world, and he himself draws the practical consequence for us all: what does it profit a man to gain the whole world if he loses himself forever, if he dies forever? A constant tradition says that Ignatius often repeated these words of the gospel to his companion of studies Francis Xavier. It was his conversion. Not through desperate or morbid meditation on death but through a light for life discovered through these words of the gospel.
This evening, commemorating Saint Ignatius’ death by the side of his tomb, the gospel leads us to a more in-depth study of the experience of death in Ignatian spirituality. It was a habitual dimension of Ignatius’ life. As a young man in Loyola, while the doctors were trying to heal the wound he received at Pamplona, Ignatius was given up as dead. Later, at Manresa, he lived such an austere and impossible kind of life that he was often at death’s door. Finally, during his long wanderings, Ignatius was often at the point of death, in storms and because of serious illness.
However all these experiences of death did not turn Ignatius into a sad, pessimistic man who was obsessed by the thought that after all man is here only to die, or that death anyhow has the last word in all things human. He was well aware that he was mortal and, as each one of us, he feared sickness and desired a long life in good health for the greater service to God. But Ignatius integrated the repugnance for the reality of death in the grace of existing for life, and for a life forever in he who is the Living One. For Ignatius death was a companion to life which, instead of obscuring it with anguishing shadows, illuminated it with the joyous light of grace. Death makes us feel that life is grace, that it is a loving gift of God. The Lord has given me life up to this very moment, Ignatius exclaimed, full of gratitude, in the Spiritual Exercises (71). In this way death questions, interpellates life: is it truly lived every day and in every way as an answer of love to tills gift of love which is life? Hence Ignatius’ invitation to make our decisions in the light of death (cf. Sp. Ex. 186,340), not because death is an absurd break which makes many things vain but because it illuminates the present moment with the joyful and exigent truth of the risen Lord.
In this paschal perspective Ignatius was not afraid of crystallizing in mortification this blessed presence of death, thus signifying the refusal of everything which destroys or diminishes true life – the vivifying encounter with the Creator and Saviour of life – in a human person. Ignatius did not despise creatures because of their mortality; on the contrary, the truth of death purified ills love for the Creator’s work, discarding from this love any attachment which prevents love for the living God in all creatures and the love of all creatures in God, the spring of their life. Through tills mortified love, through tills love lived under the joyous light of death, we think that we lose everything but, in truth, we gain life in its truth and fullness. Tills is the sense of the gospel of tills feast, it is the sense of Ignatius’ experience of death.
Once again in this Eucharist we are communicating with the Lord’s death, nourishing ourselves with the broken bread and the spilt blood in order to always live with he who is already our resurrection and our life.
Read the other homilies here.