Ignatius and Covid 19: Ignatius Day 2020
Friday is the Feast of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus. He died on that day in 1556, at the age of 64. In writing about Ignatius’ contributions, I usually focus on the spirituality that is rooted in the Spiritual Exercises.
We can certainly focus as well on his form of leadership, governance, educational philosophy and his general contributions to the life of the Church.
A natural question in July 2020 concerns his response to the issue that is having a major impact on almost every woman and man on the fact of the earth.
What would Saint Ignatius make of COVID-19 and its impact on almost every area of personal, social, and economic life? It’s difficult to predict how a 16th century figure would approach a 21st century pandemic, but there are certainly a few responses that we can take for granted.
Let me offer a few thoughts, knowing that a thorough look at the question would take an article or even a complete book.
One of the phrases usually associated with Ignatius is finding God in all things. He would definitely encourage us to search for the hand of God in this moment in time.
That is not to suggest that God sent the virus, but Ignatius suggests that we try to discern where God is in this unprecedented time in the modern world.
Am I discovering something about God’s care these days? How is God’s love being shown to me? Where am I in consolation? In desolation? In other words, how can I bring discernment to what is happening around me? God didn’t send it, but it can show us something of the beauty of God working through others.
I think that Ignatius would appreciate the fact that many of us are becoming more contemplative at this time. Some speak of being more introverted; other more extroverted types are getting plenty of challenge by having to restrain themselves.
Being more contemplative is one of the gifts of isolation and spending so much time with a smaller group of people. I’ve seen a post on Facebook that suggests that the pandemic is going to make us either monks or hunks or chunks or drunks.
I’m sure that Ignatius would be pleased that many of us are choosing the monk route and are developing our contemplative side, knowing that our action side is probably adequately developed.
I’m positive that he would be delighted that we are flying and driving less as we work from home. He would appreciate the fact that we are making use of some creative ways of praying together and working together and playing together.
Online interaction is not ideal, but it’s been a huge help. Ignatius was a famous letter writer. If he were alive today, he’d be doing plenty of creative online work in bringing people together and helping develop the spiritual life.
Speaking of letters! Ignatius wrote a lot about health, encouraging recipients of his letters – usually Jesuits – to care for their health, regardless of the expense.
Perhaps shaped by his own neglect of his health in his younger years – especially through severe and overzealous penances – he shows himself to be very encouraging about doing all that can be done to care for personal health.
The obvious reason is because good health makes us more effective ministers. Both his letters and his Constitutions for the Jesuits remind us of the need to be obedient towards doctors and others who care for our health.
The COVID crisis reveals many good and bad things about human beings. One is that kind of inattentiveness to medical experts that we are seeing so often.
To ignore their guidance is to be arrogant and suggest that I know better than men and women who have spent a lifetime dealing with serious epidemiological and immunological issues.
Ignatius would not be very impressed by people who are blatantly disobedient to medical people who offer their assessment and advice. Let me end with one simple quote from the Constitutions.
One ought to observe obedience with great integrity not only towards his spiritual superiors that they may direct his soul, but also and with equal humility toward the physicians and infirmarians that they may care for his body.
Let’s pay heed to the health care experts out there! Happy Ignatius Day!