St Ignatius of Loyola, July 31, 2014

I love St Ignatius of Loyola, not because I’m a fan of the Jesuits nor because I was ordained on his feast day. I love St. Ignatius because of his spirituality, and specially because of the Ignatian retreat.
I facilitated several Ignatian retreats: after the first one, I came home with chickenpox. After the second one, I came home with flu. After the third one, I came home with internal allergies that took a long time to treat. When I was invited again, I had second thoughts about agreeing.

In spite of the trauma at the end of each retreat, I continue to love and admire Ignatius because of his spiritual legacy. Foremost in this is the hallmark of this spirituality, his central vision – “to find God in all things”.

As priests, where do we find God?  The seminary conditioned us to find God in strength – in the great and noble achievements of the human spirit. So God is there in discipline, in purity, in zeal, in simplicity, and in excellence (academics, arts or sports).

The tacit question behind our formation was “are you strong enough to become a priest?” if you possess the desired character, the virtues, the merits the formators are looking for, you are eligible for ordination. You are strong enough to become a priest.

This mentality goes on after ordination, in our every assignment. If you are capable, you become a parish priest, a formator, a chancellor, a bishop’s secretary. If you are promising, you are sent for studies abroad; you are chosen for missionary work, or elected to the council and made ready for more promotions.

Thus, as priests, we find the Lord in strength.

The problem is, nobody prepared us for the weaknesses that await us in the world. Nobody told us that we wont be strong for long. Like every mortal, as a priest, I will fail, I will forget, I will fall down, I will lose focus, I will be bent, bruised and broken… somewhere, sometime.
Nobody, at the time of ordination, was looking forward to the fact that even as he received sacred powers, he is still a weak human being.

But we are weak, this is the truth. However, we are not trained to dwell on this. We are not prepared to admit it. Some lay people are shocked and scandalized to discover their priests are weak. And when I discovered my own weaknesses, it made me sad, disturbed, hopeless.

This is where Ignatius enters with fresh inspiration: to find God in all things – and in acknowledging my weakness, I am challenged with a new question: “are you weak enough to become a priest?” can you find God in the midst of your mistakes, betrayal, sinfulness, selfishness, struggles and tears? If God can be found in strength, surely He is also, though more subtle but more powerful, in my weakness. Didn’t St. Paul say: when I am weak, them I am strong.?

If I identify God only in my strengths, it is possible that I am just looking back at myself in a mirror, saying to myself “congratulations.” But if I find him in weakness, I am really looking at the One who hangs on the Cross and together with him, hoping for my own resurrection.

We have started relating our stories – stories of weakness; and we begin to admit that many, or all, of us, are fallen. It is so painful because we are not trained for this. It is embarrassing because noWe have started relating our stories – stories of weakness; and we begin to admit that many, or all, of us, are fallen. It is so painful because we are not trained for this. It is embarrassing because now we have nothing to boast of. It is crippling because I seem to have nothing more to offer.

Yet I must find God even in this very human experience. It is only in seeing myself weak that there can be mercy, healing and grace in abundance. Just like the clay in the hands of a potter (Jeremiah), unless it entrusts itself to the hands of the potter, it cannot take form.

18 years ago, I stood before my bishop and the unspoken question was: are you strong enough to become a priest?

18 years after, I kneel before the Crucified Lord who asks of me: are you weak enough to become a priest?

May St   Ignatius   help us all to discover God in all things, in strength but even more so in our weakness.    And then to move on to discovering His will in this new situation of our lives. Amen.