Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time
First Reading: Isaiah 25:6-10
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 23:1-6
Second Reading: St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians 4:12-14, 19-20
Gospel: According to St. Matthew 22:1-14
Because Ignatius of Loyola is seen to be such a giant of spiritual theology it is easy to assume that his insights sprang full blown from his mighty intellect. There are two issues with such an assumption, the first of which is Ignatius probably would struggle to earn admission to one of this country’s well-respected Jesuit institutions of higher education. The second issue is that Ignatius was more of an adaptor than an inventor.
One of the highlights of Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises comes early on in the form of the First Principle and Foundation. In this essential starting point to Ignatian spirituality it is stated that, “Man was created to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and by this means to save his soul.” Metaphysics deals with such great questions as “Why am I here,” and Ignatius cuts to the root of this question in his focusing like a laser on the great Christian answer: to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and by this means to save my soul.
He then goes on to point out that everything that God has ever created is here for – and only for – that purpose. Why do trees exist? So that I might praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and by this means to save my soul. Why do bridges exist? So that I might praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and by this means to save my soul. And so on. A more modern take on this approach is given by St. John Paul in his philosophical writings where he notes that persons are to be loved and things are to be used, and since he was a man deeply influenced by Ignatian spirituality we can assume that things are to be used to praise, reverence and serve God our Lord, and by this means to save my soul.
This focus on all things as a means to the ultimate end – to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and by this means to save my soul – is at variance with what is more commonly seen as their purpose. Whether people explicitly understand the philosophical ramifications of the Enlightenment or not, they most often live by its vision of human happiness and purpose. Phrases from the world of advertising, rather than the Spiritual Exercises, are more on people’s minds as they approach the world and their place in it: go for the gusto, just do it, have it your way, because I’m worth it.
In telling the People of Philippi the exact opposite, St. Paul anticipates the First Principle and Foundation by about 1,500 years. If everything is created for a person to be able to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and by this means to save his soul, then, as St. Paul points out, the circumstances really don’t matter. He tells the Philippians that to live in humble circumstances and going hungry is really no better than living in abundance and being well fed. Ignatius takes these examples and expands upon them.
“For this it is necessary to make ourselves indifferent to all created things as much as we are able, so that we do not necessarily want health rather than sickness, riches rather than poverty, honor rather than dishonor, a long rather than a short life, and so in all the rest, so that we ultimately desire and choose only what is most conducive for us to the end for which God created us.” Which, by the way, is for a person to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and by this means to save his soul.
All of the popes of the modern era – from Leo XIII to Francis – have spilled gallons of ink trying to warn their flock of the dangers of consumerism, materialism, and hedonism. They placed themselves firmly in the Catholic tradition that can be traced through a multitude of saints, including both Ignatius and Paul, but goes back ultimately to our Lord. All of those words of warning can be summarized by one phrase, which closes this weekend’s Gospel reading from St. Matthew: “Many are invited, but few are chosen.”