September 18, 2012

About the 'Ignatian Thought of the Day'

Think about the teachings of St. Ignatius and the impact nearly four centuries of change may have had on our understanding of him.

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We've run the "Ignatian Thought of the Day" daily in the SLU Newslink email since September 2011, and with the start of the new semester, it seems like a good time to check in on this feature.

Throughout his lifetime, and certainly from 1540-1556, Ignatius of Loyola wrote thousands of letters (some 6,000-plus of which remain, Jesuit scholars say), to superiors of Jesuit communities, to provincials in his young but growing Society of Jesus, to individual Jesuits across the world, to lay men and women, to Church officials and to any number of other people.

Newslink's "Ignatian Thought of the Day" comes from Thoughts of St. Ignatius Loyola for Every Day of the Year, a book published by Fordham University Press. These 365 bits of advice and commentary were drawn from the vast body of Ignatius' writings and can help us all reflect on the presence of God in our daily lives.

First complied by the Jesuit scholar Gabriel Hevenesi in 1715 as Scintillae Ignatianae, (who compiled the selections from his own direction and intentions) these brief thoughts, supplications, prayers, suggestions and directions were first published in an English translation in 1928. They touch on a wide range of topics, from affirmations of God's presence and Christ's love, to practical advice for living a life of virtue in service to others, to directives to Jesuits and superiors in Jesuit communities across his world. In this accessible collection, anyone seeking a richer spiritual life can find words that inspire, challenge, enlighten and transform.

We can all remember, as we read these statements, though, that what we read comes from a much broader context. What we read is a very small excerpt from a generally much longer letter, or from The Spiritual Exercises, or from any number of other communications. We don't know how many, if any, of these sayings were ever intended by Ignatius to stand alone. They are out of their particular context. So we can all hold them a bit loosely, rather than considering them complete in themselves.

We share them daily to provide a link with Ignatius and to help our own prayer, to inspire our own thoughts and reflection, even. Perhaps they offer a different perspective — one that speaks to us from 16th century Italy, through the eyes of a Basque, directed to growing numbers of Jesuits, in Rome and increasingly throughout the world. Ignatius had a personal and passionate desire to seek and to serve God, in all things. His passion affected how he lived, wrote and interacted with people. Ignatius was also very human, with all the faults and foibles most of us experience. His faith, though, grounded his efforts, always pushing him to greater service to seek and to serve God.

Perhaps these daily excerpts from Ignatius inspire discussion; perhaps they resonate with your own feelings in any given day; or perhaps they call you to further research about Ignatius, or perhaps they even annoy you. That they inspire any of these responses is, we believe, in general, a good thing, indicating that we take the sayings, and Ignatius, seriously, in our times.

The truth, though, is that none of these excerpts alone can fully capture the mind of Ignatius. Indeed, not many of them can be taken definitively or literally. In fact, they may not even reflect how Ignatius lived his life, or modern Jesuits live their lives. However, all can be valued for the fruit they can bear and the reflection and prayer they can produce. They are all taken from a much broader context, and from a much different time.

In addition, these excerpts reflect the mind of Ignatius on a global perspective, all without the benefits of the technological resources we "enjoy" today. He couldn't broadcast his thoughts widely or quickly, and he certainly didn't hold out much hope of feedback from the people to whom he wrote.

In some respects, these excerpts may seem out-of-date, perhaps even contradictory to our consciousness and sensibilities and times ... and they may very well be. They reflect Ignatius' necessity to think globally and locally, as a man of his time.

That they evoke a variety of responses from us is a good thing, I believe, calling us to reflect on our shared heritage as a global, Catholic, Jesuit university.

We continue to pray you find them interesting and provocative, and inspiring, and maybe even evocative. Thanks for taking Ignatius and his thoughts seriously, and for your comments.

A. M. D. G.

Paul Stark, S.J.
Vice President of Mission and Ministry

Higher purpose. Greater good.
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