Ignatian obedience – an antidote for all modern ills

Source: District of Asia

If We seek for the origin of the evils from which the human race is suffering today, We must admit that they undoubtedly sprang originally from the revolt against the divine authority of the Church started by the Reformers. (Pope Pius XI)

To excel in every kind of virtue is required of all who attain to the honor of sainthood by the authentic decree of the Church.  However, as “star differs from star in glory” so too saintly men, because some excel in one virtue, others in another, are distinguished one from another in marvellous variety.  Thus, if we contemplate the life of Ignatius, our admiration is first aroused by his magnanimous spirit and his insatiable zeal for always promoting the greater glory of God.  But since it was not in his power to engage in every kind of sacred ministry or to fulfil all the duties of Christian charity for the salvation of souls, he drew to himself a band of resolute and eager companions, to be an ever-ready fighting force to extend the Kingdom of God among Christians and barbarians alike.  Again, whoever will look more deeply into this matter, will readily observe in the Saint a most remarkable spirit of obedience; he will note that this was a special gift of God to Ignatius: to lead men to practice the same virtue with greater intensity.

Now it is quite well known into what kind of world it was the lot of Ignatius to be cast.  It is no less evident that the principal cause of all the evils by which the Church was afflicted during all that furious tempest in the affairs of men was, in great part, the refusal of men to serve and obey Almighty God.  Chief among those who refused this duty of obedience were men who claimed for every individual the right of private judgement in the matters of divine faith, obstinately rejecting the authority of the Catholic Church.  But besides these who thus rebelled, there were a great many others who, if not by open heresy at least by their actions, had evidently cast off the yoke of Christ their God, for they lived more after the manner of pagans than Christians, just as if, with the revival of classical studies, something of the ancient paganism has also been revived.  Nay, we may even claim if that unbridled license in thought and morals had not then infected Christian society like some widespread plague, the heresy of the Reformers would never had broken out in the body of the Church.

Consequently, because reverence for God’s law had almost disappeared, not only among the Catholic laity but in the ranks of the clergy as well, and because the rebellion stirred up by the Reformers was tearing many peoples from the bosom of Mother Church on account of the breakdown of discipline, there went up from every faithful soul to the Divine Founder of the Church an appealing cry to be mindful of His promise and come to the aid for His spouse in this time of dire need.   God did indeed send and in His own good time, and in wonderful wise when the Council of Trent was convoked.  Besides, for the consolation of the Church, He raised up those illustrious exemplars of every Christian virtue—Charles Borromeo, Cajetan of the Theatines, Anthony Zaccaria, Philip Neri, Teresa, and others—who gave proof by their lives that sanctity would never fail in the Catholic Church, and who by their teaching, writing, and example, checked the godlessness and wickedness that were spreading everywhere.  One and all they did in fact labour, and with great fruit.   But as the hidden source of the evil had to be torn up by the roots, Ignatius was the one who seemed destined in the designs of God to undertake the task. First of all he was endowed by nature with a disposition both to command and to obey.  the discipline of army life strengthened this faculty from boyhood on, and being so trained, as soon as enlightened from above, he realized that he was called to promote the glory of God by saving souls, it is amazing with what eagerness and resolution he himself to campaign for the King of Heaven.

It was for the purpose of making a proper beginning in this new warfare that he spent whole night in a vigil of arms before a shrine of the Blessed Virgin; shortly after that he was instructed by the Mother of God in the cave of Manresa how he must fight the battles of the Lord, and received from her hands a perfect manual of arms—for certainly we can call it such—one that every true soldier of Jesus Christ can well follow.  We call it the Spiritual Exercises, reputed to have been given to Ignatius from heaven.  There are indeed other forms of exercises of real merit that are in use by others; but in the Exercises made according to the Ignatian method, the matter is so skilfully arranged, all the parts are so closely connected one with another, that provided one does not resist divine grace, they effect the complete renewal of a man and bring him into perfect submission to the will of God.  When, therefore, Ignatius had thus equipped himself for his work by these Exercises, he took care to use the same means to train those whom he had enlisted in his Company.  For he wanted them to set the example of obedience to God and His Vicar, the Roman Pontiff, and to practice that virtue as the distinguishing mark of his Society.  He not only ordained that his sons, as a sacred duty, should renew their fervor of spirit chiefly by the use of these Exercises, but he armed them for all time with this same weapon to be employed in bringing back men whose will had become estranged from the Church, thus rendering them subject to the dominion of Jesus Christ. History bears faithful witness, and the enemies of the Church do not deny it, that the Catholic world, thus fortified by this most timely assistance of Ignatius, began at once to breathe again.  It would not be an easy task to record the other great and glorious deeds accomplished for the glory of God by the Society under the rule and leadership of Ignatius.  You might see his intrepid companions victoriously beating back the bold attacks of heretics, and intent on the reform of corrupt morals everywhere.  They restored discipline among the clergy where it had collapsed, and they brought countless souls to the very height of Christian perfection.  In addition to this, many others devoted themselves to training the young in piety and educating them in the fine arts, hoping thereby to form a truly Christian people for the future.  Without ceasing they labored with marvellous zeal to convert unbelievers to the Faith and thus extend the reign of Jesus Christ by ever new conquests.

We have written all this gladly and willingly, because it furnishes proof of God’s loving providence over His Church and because a like opportunity exists today in these unhappy times in which We were raised to the Chair of St. Peter. If We seek for the origin of the evils from which the human race is suffering today, We must admit that they undoubtedly sprang originally from the revolt against the divine authority of the Church started by the Reformers.  Moreover, this rebellion was greatly augmented by the revolution and general disorder in the eighteenth century, when the rights of man were so brazenly asserted, and now laws reached all measure.  Whatever exceeds man’s power to understand, whatever lies beyond the sphere of the purely natural, is scorned and rejected.  Both in public and private life God’s holy laws are reputed as worthless.  But if you put God out, who is the very head and fount of all authority, it naturally follows that no human power will be held sacred, nor will there be any authority extant.  Consequently, when the divine authority of the Church is repudiated the very foundations of civil authority are seen to totter and fall; for, as man’s wild and insane passions gain sway, all the laws of human society are overthrown with impunity.  We maintain that no other remedy can be applied in these times to the wretched and demoralized condition of human society except to bring the people back to the worship of God and submission to His will. All good and virtuous men desire this.  Through all the numberless changes of time and fortune man’s first and highest duty does not change, which is to render homage to sovereign Creator and Preserver of the universe, and obediently submit to His will.  Whenever man fail in this duty they must quickly repent if they would repair the ruin and escape the flood of misfortunes that afflict them.  For the rest, the whole of Christian life can be summed up in this one virtue of obedience.  In fact, the Apostle Paul seems to imply as much hewn with admirable brevity he describes the life of the Divine Redeemer of mankind in these few words: “He humbled Himself, becoming obedient to death, even to death on a Cross.” “For just as by the disobedience of the one man the many were constituted sinners, so also by the obedience of the One the many will be constituted just”.

Now the Spiritual Exercises do wonderfully help men to get back to a life of obedience; if the Ignatian plan is followed, it leads infallibly to perfect submission to the law of God, established on the eternal principles of nature and divine faith.  Wherefore, desiring that the use of Exercises may spread daily more and more, and following the example of many of Our predecessors, We have not only again recommended the Exercises to the faithful in Our Apostolic Constitution Summorum Pontificum, but We have designated St. Ignatius of Loyola heavenly patron of all Spiritual Exercises.  For although, as We said, there are not wanting other methods of conducting retreats, nevertheless the Ignatian method certainly excels among them and has enjoyed a more abundant approval of the Apostolic See, for the reason that it gives greater hope, supported by experience, of more solid and lasting fruit.  If therefore the faithful will make more frequent and diligent use of this instrument of sanctity, We can confidently hope that the passion for unbridled license will soon be checked, and with the return of obedience and respect for duty, human society will at last enjoy the blessing of peace so ardently longed for. (…)

Source: Pope Pius XI (AAS. Vol. 14. P. 627-634)