Pope Francis celebrated Mass at 8am on Wednesday, the feast of St Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus, the order to which he belongs, with Jesuits in the Roman Church of Jesus, where the saint's reliquaries are preserved. Archbishop Luis Francisco Ladaria Ferrer, SJ, Secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and the Superior General of the Jesuits, Fr Adolfo Nicolas, concelebrated with the Pope, as well as members of the Council and more than two hundred Jesuits.
In this homily, the Pope proposed a reflection based on three concepts: putting Christ at the centre of the Church, allowing oneself to be conquered by Him to serve; and feeling the shame of our limits and sins in order to be humble before Him and before our brothers.
“The symbol of the Jesuits is a monogram, the acronym of 'Iesus Hominum Salvator'”, said Francis. “It reminds us constantly of a fact we must never forget: the centrality of Christ for each one of us, and for the entire Society, that St Ignatius chose to call 'the Society of Jesus' to indicate its point of reference. … And this leads us, Jesuits, to be 'decentred', to have 'Deus semper maior' before us … Christ is our life! The centrality of Christ also corresponds to the centrality of the Church: they are two flames that cannot be separated. I cannot follow Christ other than in the Church and with the Church. And also in this case, we Jesuits and the entire Society are not in the centre; we are, so to say, removed; we are in the service of Christ and of the Church. … To be men rooted and grounded in the Church: this is what Jesus wants. We cannot walk in parallel or in isolation. Yes, there are paths of research, creative paths, yes: this is important; to go out to the peripheries … but always in community, in the Church, with this belonging that gives us the courage to go ahead”.
The path to live this dual centrality is found in “letting oneself be conquered by Christ. I seek Jesus, I serve Jesus because he sought me first. … In Spanish there is a very descriptive phrase, which explains this well: 'El nos primerea', He is always first before us. … To be conquered by Christ to offer to this King our entire person, all our effort … to imitate Him also in withstanding injustice, contempt, poverty”. The Pope recalled the Jesuit Fr Paolo dall'Oglio, missing in Syria for days, and added “being conquered by Christ means forever striving to reach what is before you, to reach Christ”.
Francis also recalled Jesus' words in the Gospel: “those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it. Those who are ashamed of me … will be ashamed when He comes in His glory” and compares this with the shame of the Jesuits. “Jesus invites us not to be ashamed of Him, but to follow Him for ever with total dedication, trusting in and entrusting ourselves to Him”.
“Looking to Jesus, as St Ignatius teaches us in the First Week, and especially looking at Christ crucified, we feel that sentiment, so human and so noble, that is the shame of not being able to measure up; … and this leads us always, as individuals and as a Society, to humility, to living this great virtue. Humility makes us aware every day that it is not we who build the Kingdom of God, but rather it is always the grace of the Lord that acts in us; humility that urges us to give ourselves not in service to ourselves or our ideas, but in the service of Christ and the Church, like clay vases – fragile, inadequate, insufficient, but inside which there is an immense treasure we carry and communicate.
The Pope confessed that when he thinks of the twilight of a Jesuit's life, “when a Jesuit finishes his life”, two icons always come to mind: that of St Francis Xavier looking to China, and that of Fr Arrupe in his final conversation at the refugee camp. “It benefits us to look at these two icons, to return to them, and to ask that our twilight be like theirs”.
Finally, Francis encouraged those present to ask the Virgin “to let us feel the shame of our inadequacy before the treasure that has been entrusted to us, to live in humility before the Lord. May the paternal intercession of St Ignatius accompany our path and that of all holy Jesuits, who continue to teach us to do everything with humility, ad maiorem Dei gloriam”.