A House of God – Feast of St. Ignatius
For the feast if St Ignatius last year, the Bishop of Oakland, Michael Barber S.J., invited me to preach the traditional sermon. The Mass took place in the magnificent Cathedral of Christ the Light. This beautiful ultra modern yet classical edifice is really worth beholding, via internet and especially in person. Here are some thoughts I shared:
My dear friends (I began), this is truly a house of God.
This cathedral is, I think, an extraordinary invitation for us to recognise God, to encounter God and to seek God’s will. Unlike the baroque style that I’m used to in Rome, this cathedral is essentially Gothic, and it raises our minds and our hearts to God. We find ourselves being raised and uplifted and invited to see, to recognise and to encounter God.
This lovely building reminds me of a passage towards the end of the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius, which I feel comes alive in this cathedral of Christ the Light. St. Ignatius asks us to consider all blessings and all gifts as coming from above, from the supreme and infinite power above: “Everything descends from above as the rays of light descend from the sun, and as the waters flow from their fountains.” And so we encounter God here. We encounter God the source of all, who is our true God. He is not only the God of all that exists. He also wants to be the God of our lives. And that is up to us.
“I call heaven and earth to witness against you today,” God says in Deuteronomy (30:19) “for I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your children and your children’s children.” It seems so simple: to do good and to avoid evil. Why do we have to be told to turn away from evil and to do good? God is so respectful of our freedom that He does not force us. He waits for us to respond. Do we choose life and blessing? Do we choose curse and death? You know, I know.
And here in the presence of God, what truly brings us together and makes of us a community, and indeed a community on pilgrimage, is the strange paradox, the mystery of human freedom which can include orneriness or perversity, whatever you want to call it. Why do we choose untruth? today’s fake truth? Why do we opt for curses? Why do we choose death?
It’s a question which I cannot answer and which each of us lives with. The story of our lives is the story of that struggle between good and evil, between choosing what I want to do, and doing what I don’t want to do – of seeing what I should do and preferring what I shouldn’t, or of simply being distracted and unmindful and not worried, not attending to what is good and evil, but blithely living with what is comfortable or what is common or what everyone else seems to be doing. Yet God keeps on wanting to be the God of our lives
Here in his house, my dear friends, God invites us to respond. One might think that the only thing we need to do, as this cathedral entices us to, is to keep raising our minds and hearts and seeking union with God. But because we would not see, because we failed to choose God, because we allowed ourselves to be seduced by evil, God sent his Son to help us.
Today’s Gospel (Luke 9:18-25) has us meditate on a very, very central point of our faith. For the Christ whom we see when we raise our eyes, our minds, our hearts is the great Christ the Lord, Christ the magnificent Lord, Christ the Lord of all. Yet at the same time, he is Christ the betrayed, the tortured, the crucified. How do these two Christs fit together? How can the great and glorious Christ be the crucified Christ?
In today’s Gospel, Jesus himself says: “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. So what profit is there for one to gain the whole world yet lose or forfeit his or her very self, his or her very soul?”
Why is it that we, like Christ, must take up our cross? Why is it that God cannot manifest himself solely in the glorified Christ? And this brings us back to the earlier question: why is that we choose evil when we want to do good, why is it that we neglect the good and prefer the comfortable? This mystery is the story of our spirituality, the story of our life as followers of Christ, how we have heard him invite us to take up our cross and to follow him.
The same invitation, I feel, is extended so vividly to us in the teaching of Pope Francis, in our own time. Because Pope Francis brings us into the presence of our great God, into the presence of Christ the Lord, by inviting us to follow Christ, to take up our cross in the great issues of our time, in the great agonies of our world. Because in sending his Son to redeem us, God identified himself with us, with our concerns, our challenges, our difficulties; and we in turn, by following God, by obeying his commandments, by hearing his call and becoming his people, find him in the struggles of contemporary history.
This feast of St. Ignatius invites us to contemplate. Let me recall a nice thing to do in Rome: it is to visit the rooms where St. Ignatius lived and worked. There, one can go out on the little balcony as he used to do and look up at the night sky and admire the stars. “This is to consider,” he writes in his Contemplation to Attain the Love of God, “how God works and labours for me … in the heavens, the elements, the plants, the fruits, the cattle etc.” He saw them all as signs, intimations and invitations of God. He saw the immensity, the generosity, the creativity with which God offers us His love, as superabundantly as a sky full of stars.
In a similar spirit, not in a cathedral or on a balcony, Pope Francis also goes to meet God every evening before the Blessed Sacrament and puts everything at God’s feet and in His hands. This, I am convinced, is the source of his wisdom, his equilibrium, his sense of humour, his courage, his willingness to raise new questions and try new solutions.
With this, in the Cathedral of Christ the Light, I wish you a most blessed feast of St Ignatius.