Fifteen months have passed since the beginning of the Ignatian YearThe saint's feast day, May 20, 1521, commemorates the day on which Ignatius was badly wounded in the defense of Pamplona. Fifteen months that have culminated this July 31, the feast of the saint; a time that has served us to make grateful memory of his life and, above all, of the merciful action of God in his person.
For the depth of this change, for all that it meant in his life and for what it would mean in the lives of so many people, we talk about conversion. Conversion that we have not understood as something alien to us, but as a journey of faith that challenges us and shows us a horizon towards which we feel invited to walk.
A decisive conversion
The itinerary of the conversion of the young courtier, Íñigo, has served as a stimulus for us to propose very diverse apostolic initiatives: theology and formation days, proposals for young people in schools, parishes and universities; congresses and exhibitions; important publications such as the Autograph of the ExercisesWe are also involved in prayer and celebrations, pilgrimages and, above all, the practice of the Spiritual Exercises, the spiritual soul of all that we are and do.
At times I have come to wonder if it might not be many things, perhaps too many; but the real question we must answer is another: to what extent have these proposals helped us to walk a path that leads us to God? Have these initiatives been a stimulus to walk towards the summit?
The conversion of Ignatius of Loyola led him to a summit he did not expect: the encounter with God face to face, heart to heart, which led him to "see all things new". The summit, conversion thus understood, is not the end of the road, but the beginning of all newness guided by the Spirit. Where is this newness and how does it show itself in the life of Ignatius as a pilgrim?
A new look
Conversion, that height of the experience of God that matures in an unexpected way in Manresa, will allow Ignatius to see all things from God's gaze. In that gaze are all things called to the most intimate communion, communion in love.
Love that begins with oneself, recognizing one's own limitations and sins and yet always feeling loved and rescued in Jesus Christ, the face of God's mercy.
A gaze that seeks closeness to the world and not its rejection; so that the movement of Love is always to descend, to give itself in a special way in so many situations of lovelessness, misery and injustice that we could call a-theas (without-God).
The incarnated gaze seeks closeness to those people whom Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, proclaimed blessed, because God himself did not want to be understood without them. How often our works, even our good works, await recognition and applause!
Learning to love
If we are careless, we are more concerned with feeling good about what we do than with actually doing good to those who need it, regardless of how we feel. Ignatius was learning the difficult lesson of "discreet love", that is, discerning love. That which does not seek self-interest, nor does it fatten the self by hiding in supposed acts of kindness.
The important thing, that to which God moves us is to "help souls"; to help so many men and women to live from the hidden and genuine part of their hearts, there where their truth dwells, there where the true encounters with their neighbors and with God take place. And this, most of the time, happens in the hidden, in silence, in prayer.
Thus wrote the saint of Loyola in 1536: "... being [the Spiritual Exercises] all the best that I can think, feel and understand in this life, both for man to be able to benefit himself, and to be able to be fruitful, to help and benefit many others...".
On the occasion of the fourth centenary of the canonization of St. Ignatius (March 12), I felt moved to translate his holiness in terms of friendship: "holiness is friendship. This is how Ignatius lived it and this is how the biblical and ecclesial tradition shows it to us.
Friendship with God in the first place. At the beginning of his conversion, Jesus is for Ignatius the new Lord whom he wishes to serve. This image of God, which in a certain way would be maintained throughout his life, would have to undergo a hard process of purification.
Before the lords of this world it is necessary to make merits, to render an account so that they take you into consideration. Ignatius, sunk in the most severe desolation in the town of Manresa, will feel that God's love is unconditional; that mercy is his first and last word.
That this God, this Lord, does not have to be won, because it is He who loves us first and who seeks us out to call us friends. In the book of the Spiritual Exercises, Ignatius will propose to the retreatant to address God "as a friend speaks to another friend".
Friendship with those with whom we share faith and mission. We know the life and work of Ignatius because he shared them with many people, especially with the first companions who would form the Society of Jesus.
The Ignatian journey
After several years of living together and studying in Paris, Ignatius had to leave for almost a year for health reasons, meeting in Venice. In one of his letters, Ignatius records this reunion with these words: "nine friends of mine in the Lord arrived here from Paris in mid-January".
It is the bond of true friendship that builds us as a community, as a Church. A bond that goes beyond tastes, personal desires and ideas shared by those who are most like-minded.
True friendship makes us appreciate the value and beauty of what is different, what is complementary, what neither I nor my group can or should reach. In true friendship we let the other and the others be who they should be, and we let the Lord work the miracle of communion.
Friendship, finally, with the poorest and neediest. In 1547 Ignatius received a letter from the Jesuits of Padua. They wrote to their Father General expressing the extreme difficulties they were experiencing. The state of hardship was worsening because the founder of the new college had withdrawn most of the financial support necessary to maintain the work.
They write to Ignatius because they need his consolation. The letter Ignatius sends them is a jewel that reveals the intimate (mystical) link between poverty and friendship. The saint writes: "the poor are so great in the divine presence that Jesus Christ was sent to earth primarily for them". And he adds further on: "friendship with the poor makes us friends of the eternal King".
Coordinator of the Ignatian Year in Spain