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’ apostolic prayer.
Church of the Gesù, July 31st 2004
Celebrating Saint Ignatius’ holiness with all of you this evening, we are struck by the harmony of a life which at the same time was full of surprises, full of ferment. Ignatius was a great worker: his enormous correspondence bears witness to this. He was an incomparable organizer: still today some management handbooks mention him. But it was not Ignatius who gave orders in this activity: it was the Lord who toiled and worked with him. When Ignatius felt called to travel as a lay and charismatic pilgrim in the Holy Land, to his great surprise the Lord wanted him day after day behind a desk to guide his companions throughout the world in full apostolic mission. Ignatius did not want to be the prisoner of institutions, he wanted to be radically available for every mission the Vicar of Christ on earth entrusted the Society with: all of a sudden the Lord made him understand that the greatest service to his Church during a serious crisis was precisely the founding of educational institutions.
In the midst of so much that was unexpected Ignatius lived in deep friendship with Jesus, his Lord and friend, his travelling companion. Contemplation and action were so harmonious in him that the people around him admired his serenity in the midst of such conflicts and opposition. Ignatius himself confessed that a few minutes of prayer were enough for him to accept from the hand of God the suppression of the Society of Jesus by the supreme authority of the Church. Where does the secret of this harmony between disconcerting activity and a life of profound prayer lie?
The most original aspect of Saint Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises is the fact that he saw not only God’s presence in all things, but the presence of a God who was always working for us men and for our salvation. In praying God to be placed by the side of his Son, Ignatius asked the Lord to take him as a companion who shares his entire activity with this God who tirelessly works for us. In this case, activity is no longer a duty to accomplish by the side of prayer, or a job of work to accomplish in order to be occupied and earn one’s living. In this case all our activity is inserted into and inspired in a loving and praying union with this God who works for us and wants to reveal every activity we discover through prayer as God’s desire to save the world for us and with us.
Ignatius never thought that working was automatically praying. But in prayer, in the contemplation of a God at work for us and with us, Ignatius welcomed the work God entrusted him with as an envoy, as an apostle. In this apostolic prayer Ignatius was looking not so much for what God is but, above all, for what God wanted of him in his work.
Ignatius knew through his praying encounters with Jesus that it is not enough that we accomplish God’s work: we must work in the paschal way, as the Lord visibly showed us through his love and forgiveness, his patience and his cross. For Ignatius work and the way of working were the fruit of his praying encounter with God, but prayer is needed too to accomplish in God what God has begun with us. We can plant and water, but only God can grant fruitfulness to our apostolic work.
Saint Ignatius invites us to live this harmony of prayer and work lived in God in this evening’s eucharistic prayer, in which, through offering the bread and wine with all our energy of love and all our capacity for work, they are transformed into the prayer of love and the work of salvation of the Lord which Ignatius lived entirely, like his God.
May Saint Ignatius intercede for us that we may in all things love, serve, pray and operate in Christ and with Christ.
Read the other homilies here.