Happy Feast of Saint Ignatius: Words from Nadal


Every now and again, I hear that, "The Society of Jesus has lost its way." They mock our focus on a "Faith that does Justice" and they offer embittered wishes that the Society would go back to its old ways, the ways of the good old days...whatever those were.

Perhaps it is true that in the 1940's and 1950's, the nostalgic "Golden Era" of American Catholicism, that there was little emphasis on justice.  (Then again, if you read the work of Father Mark Massa, SJ you'll realize that things weren't so Golden after all). The lack of emphasis on the human body, however, should be seen as an anomaly and not the normal: the original impulse of the Society of Jesus addressed the needs both of the soul and the body (Ignatius did, after all, found a house for prostitutes and begged money for to feed the hungry).

Two years ago, Father Walter Farrell, SJ delivered a profound homily on the originating impulse behind the founding of the Society. As he recounted the story, after Saint Ignatius composed the Constitutions of the Society of Jesus he entrusted the task of promulgating and explicating them to the various Jesuit communities to Jeronimo Nadal.

During one of these sessions, an attendee queried Nadal and asked, "How did the Society come into existence, and how does it differ from other religious institutes?"

Nadal's succinct response is telling:
This is how it happened. God our Lord, through his infinite goodness, impelled Father Ignatius, arousing in him his own special grace. His Divine Majesty providing for his Church and the whole world, helping on two major issues: (1) joining learning to spirituality and (2) directing both to the good of the neighbor. Some people have brains but no heart and others are all heart with no brains; some have both, but very few serve the Lord by directing both to the help of the neighbor.
All of the learning and all of our prayer, as Jesuits, flowers out in the loving service of our neighbor. Our desire to help souls doesn't aim to help simply some ghostly spirit that will one day reach heaven! Rather, we aim to help souls, like in the Southern sense of the word when they say, "Ah, he's a good soul." By "soul" they mean the whole human being, the entire person, a living and breathing entity. We put our learning and our spirituality to serving these people, enkindling in them a fire for the Gospel and a deep love of Jesus Christ and helping to instill in them the Christian hope that we all might live together, forever, in Eternal City illumined by the light of the Lamb.

For a Jesuit, the head and the heart are integrated in the act of service. Speaking for myself, I know that my professional competence (or incompetence) is judged not on my academic credentials or on my prayer life, but how my ministry draws my prayer and my study together. My service, my ministry, is Love in Action - my love of God and Study are incarnated in my Love of Neighbor. This integration of study and spirituality, this service, enables me to consecrate every moment of my day to being a living prayer offered to the glory of God.

The next time you are tempted to, or hear someone, remark that the Society has lost its way with all this "social justice nonsense," it may be good to recall Nadal's words. If we want to be authentic heirs to Ignatius' vision, we should listen closely to those closest to him. Ignatius had a vision of the human person - body and soul - that was far more integrated and healthy than then dualistic nonsense many so-called Christians want to peddle as orthodox today. The act of loving service to our neighbor, drawing together our minds and our hearts, seems to me to be a first and crucial step toward realizing the message of God's Kingdom proclaimed by Jesus Christ.
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