As a child in Catholic school, I offered my work, as did all my classmates, to Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Especially on tests, our papers were signed at the top with a small cross and the letters JMJ. As a high school student studying Latin there often appeared a more sophisticated reminder at the top of our papers: AMDG under the cross reminded us that all our work was dedicated “for the greater glory of God.” (Ad majorem Dei gloriam) I doubt that I knew at that time the origin of that phrase as a motto although I was aware of the esteemed men’s religious community that claimed it: the Jesuits, formally named the Society of Jesus, founded by St. Ignatius of Loyola in the 16th century. Today is the feast of St. Ignatius.
Jesuits are famous for their scholarship, marked especially by the many colleges and universities in the United States and around the world. It is also interesting that the founding of this extraordinary company of dedicated men was quite similar to that of the Franciscans three centuries earlier. Both men, Francis and Ignatius, were soldiers who because of illness – Francis as a prisoner of war and Ignatius as a result of a shattered leg in battle – spent a year in convalescence during which each had a deep conversion experience. As a result, each dedicated himself totally to the work of God in differing but all-consuming ways.
The life of Ignatius and his “Company” is fascinating and it seems that much of his success – as in the life of Francis – in drawing others to his cause was his own inner fire and dedication. The basis of his teaching, his living, was finding God in all things and his legacy is seen most clearly today in his major written work, The Spiritual Exercises. Christians from every denomination and walk of life are now participating in the rigorous spiritual journey of a 30 or 40-day retreat based on the Exercises. For those unable to participate in such a concentrated time away, an adaptation called The Nineteenth Annotation of the Exercises is available. In this format, each “day” of reflection becomes a week, thus the process is spread out over 30 weeks and becomes for many a method of Scriptural reflection for a lifetime.
My interest this morning in reflection on Ignatius, however, is focused on that cannonball that so maimed his leg that he was blocked from pursuing what seemed to be a call to military greatness. Sometimes we are on a path that seems our true calling when something or someone intervenes and everything turns around. Sometimes the intervention is less stunning but still requires a response. I smile when I think of Ignatius because his conversion began in a rather ironic way. As he was lying in bed, the story goes that there were no books (romances) to interest him in reading. All he could find or the only things that were offered to him were books concerning the life of Christ and the saints. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Whether we are shocked into our destiny or see it unfold incrementally day to day, God speaks to us and it behooves us to listen because, as Ignatius taught, we can “find God in all things.” The time to wake up is always.