Fearless leader

August 17, 2015

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Tom Lucas, S.J., rector of the Arrupe Jesuit Community, delivered the following homily on the Feast of St. Ignatius, July 31.  

At the beginning of this liturgy, and of the conference on Ignatian Leadership (sponsored by Magis) many of you are attending today, I had the pleasure of introducing Fr. Scott Santarosa, the Provincial of the Oregon-and soon to be entire west coast-Province. Hearkening back to too many hours of watching Rocky and Bullwinkle as a warped young child, I channeled Boris and Natasha when I called him our "fearless leader."

Today, on the context of the feast of St. Ignatius, it seems to me that fearless leadership is something we might continue to reflect upon. Oceans of ink and palavers of conferences have tried to understand the complex man who is the founder of our shared tradition.  

Playboy. Courtier. Adventurer. Justice of the Peace. Soldier.

Invalid. Handicapped. Frustrated. Enlightened.

Road Warrior. Would-be heathen converter. Grammar schooler at 30.

Prisoner of the Inquisition. Twice. Divinity Student.

Magnetic pole attracting talented people.

Priest. Friend of the Poor. Reformer. Founder.

Administrator. Letter writer, Dreamer. Mystic.

Perhaps truest of all, Fearless Leader.

That Ignatius was fearless, there can be no doubt. We know about his exploits as a soldier, the gruesome surgeries he willingly underwent to straighten his deformed leg. Less evident, perhaps, was his fearless plunge into the dark, in his long convalescence at Loyola and at the Cave at Manresa. He went to places he had never known, never imagined: places where deep desire met a profound if unformed willingness to serve.

The process of he underwent, the formation of what that service would be appears to us like a reckless adventure: an abortive trip to the Holy Land, a humiliating return to elementary school, dust-ups with the Inquisition. Hobbling off from Spain to Paris, where studies were demanding, and friends, at least at first, were few. Yet companions were attracted to him, broke bread with him, and the desire began to take concrete form: let us work for the glory of God and the good of souls. Those who broke bread, companions, became a Company.

Tom Lucas, S.J., is rector of the Arrupe Jesuit Community at Seattle University.

Coming to Rome, Ignatius and his priestly companions leapt into the belly of the unreformed beast. He proposed to the organizational church a radical new model of religious activity that flew in the face of a thousand years of tradition. No choir. No stability. No fixed incomes. Willing to try anything, to go anywhere, to risk everything, and to fail often, Ignatius and his companions, Jesuits and lay people both, were lit up by a Pentecostal fire that seems as reckless to us today as it appeared to much of the hierarchy of his own times. 

So where did that fearlessness come from? Critics-there were, and are many-said it was arrogance. Way too smart for their own good, too crafty, too, dare I say it, too Jesuitical?

You can learn a lot from reading other people's mail. Over and again, in 6800 letters, in the midst of a million administrative details, the refrain sounds: let us work in love for the glory of God, the greater glory of God, and the good of souls. Let our way of proceeding be a way of service, rooted and grounded in love. 

Ignatius experienced that love during his agonizing convalescence at Loyola, in the lucid vision of the mystery of God at Manresa and the confirming vision of Christ carrying his cross at La Storta. He experienced it at the altar, shedding floods of tears as he reflected on God's goodness and his own unworthiness. He experienced that love in the brothers and colleagues who surrounded him, challenged him, needed him to be that love for them. It isn't about learning, or administrative ability or cunning. It's all about the experience of the mercy of God, as Pope Francis never tires to reminding us, and the hope that mercy plants in our hearts.  

Of the 6,800 letters of St. Ignatius, one stands out for me. Some six months before his death, Ignatius wrote to Francis Borgia in Spain Ignatius details a whole series of recent challenges and disasters he and the company have been experiencing. He ends: "Pazienza:  patience. Because of the treasure of hopes we hold, everything is as nothing. God who has given us hope will not confound us." 

As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be. "God who has given us hope will not confound us."