Do you want to hear about one of the strangest anniversary celebrations I’ve ever heard about?
It’s the anniversary of a man who, 500 years ago, was hit by a cannonball in war and survived to tell about it. Who celebrates an anniversary like that?!
Íñigo de Loyola was a Basque Spaniard, injured during war with the French. With his leg shattered, his time of convalescence led him to redirect his life. Reading the Gospels and lives of the Saints, Íñigo, or Ignatius as we know him today, reimagined his life’s purpose and had a conversion that influences the world today, even in my writing of this letter.
This is the ‘Ignatian Year’. Worldwide, the Society of Jesus this year celebrates the 500th Anniversary of St. Ignatius of Loyola being struck by a cannonball. The focus of this year invites us to consider the conversion of St. Ignatius and, in our own life’s context and calling, prayerfully to consider our own, as well.
The question is, what in my life is in need of a conversion?
Prior to his injury in war, Ignatius was a man of his day, that is, successful, respected, and grounded in worldly things. He was bright and driven. He must have had a fierce spirit, because his enemy, the French, so respected his valor in battle that they cared for him on the battlefield in order that he could recover from his injury and even delivered him to the home of his family so that he might more comfortably convalesce.
So, this worldly man experienced a conversion. He went on to found a religious order, the Society of Jesus, and these companions of Jesus, known as ‘Jesuits,’ have expanded all across the world, establishing schools from primary to higher education, founding parishes, building retreat houses, and in more modern times, working in refugee centers, homeless shelters, trade schools, and gang rehabilitation programs, just to name a few. In their own right, the Jesuits have experienced a great deal of worldly success, accolades, and recognition. But our mission is one of faith formation, education, reconciliation, evangelization, and being as excellent as we can because God gave us gifts to do so.
Through his conversion, the God-given gifts Ignatius once used toward worldly desires now focused on the establishment of a religious order to help others find their way to God. The purpose of his life and that of the Jesuits was clear.
On the wall near the Barry Commons at Rockhurst High School is the motto of the Society of Jesus: Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam -- “For the greater glory of God”.
The now-converted Ignatius continued to have his feet firmly planted on the earth, but now everything he did was with eyes toward Heaven. His conversion led him to write the Spiritual Exercises. The Spiritual Exercises showed people the way to God, and they help people understand the right order of worldly things.
Contained in the First Principle and Foundation, Ignatius, with eyes toward Heaven, wrote in his opening sentence: God created human beings to praise, reverence, and serve God, and by doing this, to save their souls.
Shortly thereafter, he wrote about worldly things, saying: God created all other things on the face of the earth to help fulfill this purpose.
When we consider establishing ‘right order’ in our lives, how often do we consider that our spouse, our family, our jobs, our neighbors, and the many people in our lives are there as gifts so that we can come to know God and ultimately live forever with Him? With eyes toward Heaven, Ignatius encourages us to do so.
When we consider establishing ‘right order’ in our lives, how often do we consider the resources we enjoy, the food that sustains us, the beauty of nature surrounding us, or the wonderful advances in science, technology, communication, etc., that assist humanity as ways we can see God ‘laboring’ in the world out of love for us? With eyes toward Heaven, Ignatius encourages us to do so.
In our work of educating and forming young men at Rockhurst, we must reflect on the foundational development of these four years as holy work, where God is revealed to us through our students. Their intellectual formation, how they develop friendships, their interpersonal and moral growth, their skill development in specific activities of school, their artistic performance growth, and their relationship with God developing during these years: All these are all holy endeavors revealing the gifts of God to our community and, upon graduation, to the world.
The important work we do for college preparation, real-world skill development, and 21st century teaching and learning is important to continue to develop. In order for our students to have a relevant foundation to be the kind of leaders Jesuit education envisions, we must. In order to lead in a complex and fast-changing world, the continuing development of what we learn and how we teach must balance total human formation with relevant understanding of the world they are to lead, understanding the right order of the worldly and the eternal.
The Jesuit motto, For the Greater Glory of God, is a short phrase that reminds us about ‘right order’. With eyes toward Heaven, a Rockhurst education takes on a much deeper meaning and purpose, as it should. In all things, we labor for the greater glory of God.
And then, there are the challenges we face. Recall, Ignatius’ conversion came from the chaos of war, progressed through prayer, the studying of Jesus’ life and teachings in the Gospels, and the admiring of the lives of the Saints, and finally arrived at a place of deeper meaning and greater purpose.
Chaos exists in our own world. Poverty, starvation, disease, and war continue to plague our common human existence. Disparity of resources, political polarization, threats to human life from conception to natural death, ecological crises, sexism, racism, the pornographication of sexuality, moral relativism, and many more examples of the chaos of the world are the things we, and our students, face. Perhaps stridently undermining solutions to a more just, common, human existence is the plague of a lack of communication, empathy, dialogue, and understanding facing our world.
St. Ignatius would advise us, in a ‘discernment of spirits’, that ‘right order’ comes from the Holy Spirit, the One we see with eyes toward Heaven while engaged on earth, the same Holy Spirit that brooded over the waters of chaos in Genesis and gave them ‘right order’. And, he would tell us that chaos comes from the Evil Spirit, the one who distracts from the deepest purpose of our creation and who leads us to see our own existence, our own self-fulfillment or prosperity, as an end, or goal, unto itself.
The goal of a Jesuit education is rooted in the gifts given to us in this world from God. That we recognize them, properly order them, and make sure to give credit to God, the source of them, is central to that education. Jesuit education desires to form leaders of relevancy to the world, with competence, conscience, and compassion, ‘men for others’ with eyes toward Heaven.
And, with our school year theme for 2021-2022, With Eyes Toward Heaven, the goal of a Jesuit education helps us to understand how our labors for leadership in this world are subordinate to the purpose for which we are ultimately created. St. Ignatius’ closing sentence to his First Principle and Foundation for the Spiritual Exercises ends in this manner:
….. it is necessary to make ourselves indifferent to all created things as much as we are able, so that we do not necessarily want health rather than sickness, riches rather than poverty, honor rather than dishonor, a long rather than a short life, and so in all the rest, so that we ultimately desire and choose only what is most conducive for us to the end for which God created us.
May it be so for Rockhurst High School this Ignatian Year of 2021-2022. May we pursue excellence in the formation of our students, With Eyes Toward Heaven. Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam.
David J. Laughlin