Practicality, Trust, and Lacking Ambition
Saint Ignatius' Autobiography, part 59
He also had many visions when he said Mass, and very frequently when he was drawing up the Constitutions. This he could affirm the more easily because he had the habit of setting down his thought every day, and these writings he had then found. He showed me a rather large bundle of collected writings, a large part of which he read to me. The larger part of the visions he saw in confirmation of some of the Constitutions, seeing now the Father, now all Three Persons of the Trinity, sometimes our Lady who interceded for him and sometimes confirmed what he had written.
In particular he told me of a decision on which he spent forty days, saying Mass each day, and each day shedding many tears. What he wanted to decide was whether our churches should have an income, and whether the Society could accept help from it.
His method of procedure, when he was drawing up the Constitutions, was to say Mass every day, and to lay the point he was treating before God, and to pray over it. He always made his prayer and said his Mass with tears.
I wanted to see all the papers dealing with the Constitutions, and I asked him to let me see them for a moment. But he would not.
Have you ever spent forty days praying over anything? I sure haven’t. Yet Ignatius spent forty days on what was seemingly a minor practical point. Should the churches have an income or not? In the pages of this autobiography we have seen this same basic dynamic rehearsed over and over again. There is a constant struggle in Ignatius between being practical and placing everything in God’s hands. This is just one example of the complexity of the man which those who think they know who Saint Ignatius was and what he stood for often miss out on. Ignatius was only concerned with being consistent when it came to one thing—doing God’s will. At one time that will might be to abandon everything to the providence of God, at another time it might be to take the practical course and fall back on the resources that are available. Taking either course involves placing one’s trust in God, if one is willing to put the forty days in—or whatever time it takes—to realize the will of God.
When the pilgrim Ignatius set out on the journey recounted in this autobiography, he had some ambitions. He wanted to go to the Holy Land on his own crusade to convert those who didn’t know Christ. But, he eventually he realized that this wasn’t God’s will (though it took him a long time to let go of that dream).
I had ambitions also when I felt called to become a Jesuit, both for my life before I was a Jesuit, and for my life as a Jesuit. I wanted to be a college professor. I wanted to write novels. I wanted to do lots of things. But one of the first things that God—and Saint Ignatius—challenged me to do was to lose those ambitions. I had to give them over to God, and see if God gave them back, just as I can imagine Ignatius doing with the financial fate of the Jesuit churches. If I was to be a Jesuit I had to open myself to the possibility—and still do—that I may never realize those ambitions, or any others I might currently have for myself. I have to lack ambition. My one ambition is to be to do what God wills for me. This is, it seems to me, a profoundly countercultural stance, and one I constantly feel myself resisting against. Will I really be available when and if I am asked to do something that I never envisioned for myself. I would like to confidently say “yes,” but it just might require forty days of prayer!