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 mission with the Son.
Church of the Gesù, Rome, July 31st 2001
In celebrating Saint Ignatius’ feast with you for the first time in this new millennium, John Paul II’s request never ceases echoing in our ears: he asks that we start again from Christ and “duc in altum” which translates Christ’s desire to see his tired and discouraged disciples bring the boat into deep and uncertain waters and cast their nets to fish (cf. Lk 5:4). We need only look at Saint Ignatius’ statue in this church of the Gesù: it is not that of a penitent pilgrim, it is not that of a master of the consecrated life, it is that of a man of the Church, a minister of Christ our Lord’s true spouse (Sp. Ex. 353) who, in the name of this Lord, sends men on the mission, on the high seas, to light the fire which Christ came to bring on earth (cf. Lk 12:49). Ignatius knew that in order to accomplish this mission it was necessary to follow Jesus, to start again and again from him to announce here and now the good news of salvation.
This evening’s gospel highlights an important moment in this pursuit of Christ. Two disciples wanted to go far from the shore with Jesus. The first one thought that he had found a safe house and solid family in Jesus and his Church, possibly not a comfortable life but at least a lasting one, not always an easy path but at least a tranquil one. But with Jesus we must constantly start over and over again; we cannot find security and stability in his wake because Jesus, the Son of man, has no place where to lie down and rest. Following the Lamb wherever he goes is experiencing the fact that our thoughts are not always Jesus’ thoughts and that he leads us like his apostle Peter, where we do not want to go. In order to start again from Christ Ignatius frequently makes us ask for the grace of not being deaf to his cal1 but prompt and diligent in accomplishing his most holy will (Sp. Ex., 91).
The second disciple wanted to start again from Christ, but only after his father’s burial, a ceremony which could require time and effort in an oriental family. Jesus reacted to this understandable request with a radical answer: fol1ow me and let the dead bury the dead. Strange words since it is the living who take charge of funerals. However, anyone who does not see beyond a burial, anyone who does not believe that even in death Jesus is life, remains like a dead person who, without hope or faith, buries a dead person. Jesus expects those who wish to start again from him to have a broad outlook on the whole of human existence in their life and in their death.
Thus the gospel presents us these two disciples who very much wanted to start again from Christ and follow him into deep waters in his mission, but Jesus had to remind them that enthusiasm in following him wherever he went always implied a renunciation. Saint Ignatius clearly understood Jesus’ teaching when he summed up his words as fol1ows: “For everyone must keep in mind that in all that concerns the spiritual life his progress will be in proportion to his surrender of self-love and of his own will and interests ” (Sp. Ex. 189). Here Ignatius is not speaking to a spiritual elite but to every man and woman who wants to start again from Christ, fully aware that following the Lord into deep waters implies concrete choices to amend and reform his or her own life and way of living in his or her own family and profession, in the joys and sorrows of his or her own lay, religious or priestly vocation.
To go into deep waters one must renounce … Undoubtedly we will always be tempted to say, like the fishermen of the lake of Galilee: Master, we have worked all night and we have caught nothing. But an apostle, according to Saint Ignatius, is precisely this man of the night who is not satisfied with waiting for the dawn of a new world but, in the light of faith, answers the Lord’s call and simply leaves the coast with its security and guarantees to go into deep waters towards what is unknown to us but known to God, saying: I trust your word, I will cast my nets.
“Duc in altum”: take to the high seas courageously with your sails set to the breath of the Spirit. As the Father sent Jesus so the Lord sends his disciples on the mission. Saint Ignatius introduced the mission not as a missionary business, not as an evangelizing enterprise, but as a familiarity, a “being with” Jesus on the mission as companions and servants of Christ’s mission. Saint Ignatius insisted on the invitation not to participate in the missionary task with a labour contract but with a personal and gratuitous “yes” to Jesus the person. The “duc in altum” starts again and again from Christ because it is he who sends us on the mission to the men and women of our time to help them – Saint Ignatius repeated – to personally meet him who is lovingly at the beginning and end of every life. On this feast of Saint Ignatius let us ask that this participation in the body and blood of Christ may confirm in us the mission to take to the high seas, always starting from Christ, so that nothing may separate our task, our missionary responsibility, from Jesus’ Spirit.
Read the other homilies here.