Sunday, July 31, 2016

Feast of St. Ignatius

Ad Maiorem Dei Gloriam
To the Greater Glory of God.

Jesuits frequently use AMDG at the end of a letter.  My vow ring is engraved with it.  It is the Jesuit motto. 

Ignatius of Loyola was a complex man.  He was born in 1491.  Most of his youth was spent learning to be a soldier and a member of the royal court.  Though poorly educated, he could read and had very fine penmanship.  At twenty-two years of age the hot-headed Basque soldier was injured while leading his overmatched men in the Battle of Pamplona.  It was one of the most blessed injuries in the history of war.  While convalescing in the castle of Loyola he was gradually drawn to the desire to follow in the footsteps of Christ, to do great things for the Greater Glory of God.  It is a fascinating story. 

Ignatius was charismatic.  A group of men gathered around him at university to do the Spiritual Exercises that he composed while in Manresa.  Some of those men, including Francis Xavier and Peter Faber, who were both canonized, were among the original nine companions when the Society of Jesus was established in 1540. 

Two days ago we heard the well known Gospel narrative of Martha and Mary.  Mary at prayer as she sat at Jesus' feet and Martha grumbling and whining as she did the work of preparing the meal.  In St. Ignatius we see a combination of Mary's contemplation of Jesus' word  and Martha's busy-ness in response to demands of work without the complaining. 

The totality of Ignatius’ presence to Jesus word was like Mary’s.  Like Martha he had many distractions. He wrote an enormous number of letters.  He was writing the Jesuit Constitutions, missioning men throughout the world, and answering hundreds of questions as the Society grew. At times he had to put his foot down.  All novices read his famous letter on obedience, a 4000 word missive that he wrote to young Jesuits in Portugal who were in a rebellious mood. But it was the fruit of his prayer that influenced and changed world history in ways that can never be overestimated.  

Despite the enormous demands of the rapidly growing Society, establishing schools, dealing with hostility from other orders and the occasional pope, missioning men throughout the world, and writing the constitutions for the Society, he was disposed to hear and contemplate the word of God in the midst of, and despite, many distractions.  His health was not good. Yet, he continued to pray and work without grumbling, always to the Greater Glory of God.

Ignatius died in 1556, age 65.  He had been named the first general of the Society in 1541 and was still holding that office at the time of his death.

Jesuits pray a number of prayers written by Holy Father Ignatius. One of these is the prayer for Generosity.  It outlines how to live AMDG.

"O Lord, teach me to be generous
To serve you as you deserve
To give and not to count the cost
To fight and not to heed the wounds
To toil and not to seek for rest
To labor and not to ask for reward
Save that of knowing I do your holy will."

Ignatius Feast is always a fine celebration no matter where in the world it is celebrated.  I've done so in several countries.  We will celebrate later tonight at dinner with community vespers beforehand.  

An interesting fact from Ignatius' autobiography is that after his conversion and well before the Society was founded he wondered about entering the Carthusians, an eremetic monastic order founded by St. Bruno in 1082.  Had he done so world history would have been different.  He would have disappeared anonymously into a hermitage somewhere in Europe.  Period.  Even today, if a Carthusian publishes anything he remains anonymous, publishing under the name, "A Carthusian."  The Exercises never would have happened however and nothing would have been published.

Last weekend I made my second visit to the Charterhouse of the Transfiguration in Arlington, VT, the only Carthusian Monastery in the U.S.  I'd been invited to give some talks on loss, grieving and mourning with a focus on religious life.   

The Charterhouse sits on 7000 acres of land donated to them in the 1950's.  The monastery that is completely closed to visitors, retreatants, and tourists, sits about halfway up Mt. Equinox.  Mt. Equinox is accessible only via a toll road open from 9 to 5 daily.  Though not like driving up Mt. Washington in NH, be sure brakes are working well before heading up to the top, a drive that features some impressive hairpin turns.  Below the summit is the monastery outlook that affords one a view of the entire sprawling monastery way below.  

I was staying on the mountain in a house built by the donors before they gave the land.  It is a classic 1950's house overlooking the valley.  Because I was already on the mountain I had the chance to go to the outlook and summit at times when the access road was closed to visitors.  It is a joy to be absolutely alone at the top of a mountain hearing only wind (there was lots of it and it was cold) and the sounds of birds.  No traffic noise reaches the summit or the monastery that sits in a mountainside valley.  Of  course there is next to no traffic in Arlington, VT to make sounds anyway.  The superior of the monastery pointed out that the charterhouse is the most geographically isolated of all houses of the order.  

Below are some of the photos from multiple trips up the mountain.  

Two views of the monastery from the outlook, one with a wide-angle lens and the other telephoto, the equivalent of 400 mm.  The wind was so fierce that I had to use a weighted tripod.  The entrance is to the right of the photo.  The monastery is entirely concrete and granite.  The poured concrete cross at the entrance is a bit larger than life size.  

The dam seen on the right of the wide angle view with the base of Mt. Equinox. It is about a mile from the monastery and at a higher elevation.  The road to the summit of Mt. Equinox are good.  The roads on the monastery grounds are a challenge.

The monastery in the center of the photo at sunset.

 Various sunset views taken from the ourtook and the top of the mountain. 

 A shot taken on Sunday AM at dawn.  Cold and windy.  Wearing thick sweatshirt.  I departed around noon when the sky was clear, brilliantly sunny, and the temp was 64.  A bit more than an hour later I drove through Brattleboro, VT.  The temp was 89.

The Carthusian seal and motto. The clouds are reflections in the glass of the visitors center. The center includes information on the order, an example of the distinctive Carthusian habit, and splendid views.

Happy Feast
+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

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