The Holy Ones and that Tainted Thing

The following is a reflection by Maureen Khoo, Friend of SJ on her thoughts and experiences while attending the first day (July 27, 2016) of the St. Ignatius Feast Day Triduum.

Fr James Tan SJ, Head of MAS Development Office, started the first day of our Triduum preparing us for the Feast of St Ignatius by sharing with us precious insights of St Ignatius on his life journey and how he changed in his relationship to wealth ('that tainted thing').

Speaking with an earnestness of deep personal faith in every word, and aided by carefully selected pictures and themed statements, Fr James showed us how we could see God's mysterious moves in St Ignatius’ (Inigo's) life.  God chose to use Inigo's physical & social woundedness to transform him from the wealthy ambitious worldly nobleman - soldier he aspired to be.  Like a discarded piece of clay reshaped in the Potter's hand - the wounded soldier, bedridden during a long recovery, and forced to read books about Christ and Life of Saints, recognized and opened his mind to  'other' noble aspirations; at this point we were made to see 'how all things are ordered to the service of God'.

From that point on, Inigo sought to commune with God about 'his relations to God and God's relationship with him'. He saw himself as a pilgrim; discarding trappings of a rich life, dressed like a beggar and nourished only by a desire for closeness to God, he spent many months in Manresa in fast and penance. By God's grace, he was later moved to abandon spiritual excesses. He began his transformation into a 'complete' man with a lifetime of continuous spiritual discoveries. He captured in writing his own journey of spiritual discovery (discernment processes) - especially during his time at Manresa - how to find God every moment, in the world, in nature, in all people and all situations even situations of adversity. Inigo was able to inspire others and share the process of spiritual journeying with his followers who later became his company of the Jesuit fathers.

Repeatedly we were reminded of how a seemingly 'elusive' God was actually always there for Inigo. ‘The will of God awaited Inigo's and our discovery’. Inigo had to not only discover, but desire that conversion of heart, to want to live for God; his learning was gradual but prolific and unceasing in spiritual movements through the workings of the Holy Spirit; He began to understand where he was with God and what God's relationship with him was; God was always there guiding Inigo with His presence as He would us, working him and us into 'co-workers' and soldiers for His Kingdom on earth.

God made His presence felt through adversity. But hard times only increasingly ‘deepened and broadened' Inigo's discernment. He gradually recognized ‘how God was unceasingly working hard for him and whole of humanity and nature'. Inigo's 'interior knowledge of God' grew through learning how to recognize when God was near (in moments of spiritual consolations) and when he was moving away from God (moments of spiritual desolation).

Fr. James brought to our attention how Inigo moved from a beginning position of wealth to learn that the first Principle for all living men was that we were made 'to praise, reverence and serve God', and that ‘finding God in all things and all situations' would lead man to a disposition of 'indifference' to worldly possessions – 'indifference' explained as 'maintaining a balance, not allowing our appetites, biases, pride, fears or ambition dictate our choices'; instead, using worldly possessions and gifts, where needed, for the service of God.

Inigo learnt and showed us in his pilgrimage that the 'tainted thing' can distance us from God by nurturing greed, and other passions. However 'through our intelligence, we may accumulate what we want' yet place possessions in 'the right ordering for the service of God'. Inigo during his lifetime - 'did not allow possessions to own him, rather he 'owned' possessions'. His management of money for his Order of Jesuits was moderated by the same principle of 'indifference'. In giving alms he learnt (and we learn with him) to give with compassionate attention and see Christ in the needy person. In our encounter with Nature, we see God serving us through his creations, so nature and our environment has to be given similar loving attention.

His spiritual journeying captured in his Spiritual Exercises' on how to continually fine-tune discernment in all matters was Inigo's greatest gift to his Jesuit companions and all lay persons for all generations. Our awareness and thankfulness help us to see our Creator's presence and His movements in our lives. To Inigo and us, all that must matter is to ‘collaborate with God in building His kingdom on earth’. Inigo learnt to live to serve God and God only, and so must we.