February 11, 2014

MISSION MATTERS: The Mission Series, Part II

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The phrase, the greater glory of God was often used by St. Ignatius of Loyola. As a result, it is sometimes said that he understood it as a motto for the Society of Jesus. That is not quite the case.

The knightly — not military — gentlemanly tradition of the several courts in which Ignatius spent his impressionable late teens and early twenties greatly influenced him by placing before him ideals such as that of greater or better service, or the more noble enterprise, even if he did not always carry out such ideals in practice. But, when he "gave himself to God" after his conversion, he carried over those ideals into the greater service of the Lord. That phrase occurs in various ways in the most famous and widespread of the works of Ignatius, the Spiritual Exercises. There it is expressed in terms such as "much better," "better to serve," "that which is greater," "those who wish to show greater devotion" and "to choose that which is more to the glory of God's divine majesty." Often enough the word more, in Spanish mas or in Latin magis, expresses such intensity.

The specific phrase, the greater glory of God, was a favorite of Ignatius. He seems to have used that exact term for the first time in a letter that he wrote in 1537. But, it is after 1540 and the foundation of the Society of Jesus that it appears regularly and systematically in his extraordinarily extensive correspondence — close to 7,000 letters in the course of his lifetime. More importantly, it appears between 150 and 200 times in the Jesuit Constitutions, along with similar phrases such as "the greater praise of God" and "the greater good of souls," "the more universal good."

However, it is important to realize that when the words the greater glory of God or even the simple word more is used, they have a "situational" character. They do not stand alone in a permanent, unchangeable condition. There is no necessary, absolute, independent upper limit or circumstances in which the greater glory of God is realized on this earth. It always depends in every instance on the conditions, the real possibilities, the concrete situations in which that greater glory to God is given.

From the way Ignatius used the phrase, it is clear that it was to be understood as a principle of choice, not simply as a motto. It is obviously not a choice between good and bad, virtue and vice, but rather between competing goods. Hence, the way in which Ignatius paid great attention to the particular, personal, cultural and concrete circumstances in which such greater glory to God is, or even can be, given. Hence, too, the emphasis Ignatius gives to "discernment" of what we do and how and why we do it. Discernment is a word all too often all too loosely used. Webster's Collegiate Dictionary gives five English language synonyms for discernment, "discrimination, perception, penetration, insight and acumen," each with its particular characteristics. And of course, discernment for Ignatius takes place in a Gospel context.

To employ, then, the greater glory of God, as a principle of choice in the context of Saint Louis University as a Jesuit University is not a simple task. It involves much more than can fully be said here. First, at least, it involves knowing what a university itself is, the circumstances in which a particular university finds itself today and the resources it enjoys to respond to those circumstances. It involves also a knowledge and appreciation of what "Catholic" means in saying that this is a Catholic, Jesuit university. The "Jesuit" surely involves being familiar with what the Society of Jesus is about in itself, why it has through more than four centuries established and sponsored universities, what it hopes for from that sponsorship here and now, and how those elements enter into the life of this institution, Saint Louis University. Obviously, discernment in breadth and depth comes into play in all of this.

Finally, the greater glory of God as a principle of choice at Saint Louis University involves not only the head knowing all about what such an institution is. It also involves the heart, valuing, appreciating and cherishing this institution as one of the means to make true that wonderful phrase: The glory of God is the human person fully alive. If that is so, the greater glory of God as a principle of choice calls upon the University to choose those things, those actions, that enable the human person, especially the men and women who are its members, to become not only full alive here and now, but even more than fully alive for a destiny beyond the here and now.

— John Padberg, S.J., director of the Institute of Jesuit Sources

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