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 as man of prayer.
Church of the Gesù, Rome, July 31st 2002
Celebrating Saint Ignatius’ feast today with the Church and in the Church, we are well aware that the man we are celebrating is a great saint, but also a saint who at times seems rather mysterious. This mysterious nature includes Ignatius’ life of prayer. From the time of his conversion, Ignatius was truly a man of prayer. The source of his apostolic life was his fervent daily celebration of the Eucharist. This sacrament of the greatest love – as he called the divine liturgy -inspired the whole of his active life, the whole of his missionary life. In union with the Church he prayed the canonical hours and particularly venerated the Virgin, singing her office and, rosary in hand, contemplating the mysteries of her life. He dialogued with each person of the Trinity during hours of prayer and faithfully practised the examination of his conscience, not as a technique to help improve the moral quality of his life but solely to keep his gaze on God’s presence in all things. Thus he took no decision unless it was in front of God or, rather, in God: every choice in his life was preceded, enveloped and prolonged by prayer.
Ignatius was unwilling to do or undertake anything unless it seemed good and expedient in the Lord, and – according to Jesus’ judgement (the mysteries of whose life Ignatius incessantly contemplated) – for the greater glory of God. All things happened as if Ignatius considered that every praying expression – whether a simple vocal prayer, a very humble examination of conscience, a profound contemplation of the mystery of Christ or a spiritual reading of the events of his life – could be deeply mystical, i.e. truly seized by the Spirit in which we can only pray “abba Father”. Ignatius learnt that a life of prayer in the wake of Christ is not a human undertaking but, in the first place, a gift of the Spirit. He himself confessed that God acted with him as a teacher acts with a child: he taught.
However this same Ignatius, the man of prayer and master of life in the Spirit, often warned against prayer measured solely by its length and did not hesitate to say that a quarter of an hour was enough for a truly mortified person to be united with God in prayer. Though he was a man of profound prayer Ignatius insisted on repeating that man does not serve God only through prayer. If – he wrote – God has the right to have us at his disposal as completely as possible and if there were only prayer to serve him, then every prayer would be too short, it would not cover the twenty-four hours of the day. For God is sometimes served better by encounters other than those of prayer and contemplation.
It would be easy to multiply Ignatius’ words advising limiting the duration of prayer, not to scorn it but to place it within great familiarity with God, who undoubtedly lets himself be met uninterruptedly in the privileged time of prayer but also during the hours of intense activity in the service of the Lord and his Church. In this way Ignatius closely followed Christ who, in order to live in complete loving familiarity with his Father, assumed our human condition and lived it in contemplation and in action, in prayer and in charity. For Ignatius constantly mentioned this familiarity with God which sustains our desire to seek and find him in all things, to love and serve him in all things. Ignatius undoubtedly asks for prayer of those, like each one of us, who are sent into the heart of the world to spread the good news of Christ; but rather than a multiplicity of prayers and long hours of praying he asks for great familiarity with God our Lord in prayer and in all apostolic activities. May this Eucharist unite us in action and in contemplation with him who wished to be our bread of Life and the chalice of our salvation.
Read the other homilies here.