Sunday, 31 July 2011

A Fool for Christ

"I desire more to be thought worthless and a fool for Christ, who first was taken as such, rather than to be esteemed as wise and prudent in this world.” (Spiritual Exercises 167)

How can I express best what Ignatius of Loyola (+ 31/07/1556) means to me? He is a teacher to me because everything of what I know of how to live a Christian life I learned from him. He is a friend to me because his words and example have given me courage in difficult times. He is like a father to me because he has held my hand when I was looking for God. How can this young Basque nobleman whose dreams of knighthood and courtly love were shattered by a cannonball mean so much not only to me, but to countless Christians all over the world? It is, so I claim, because he was a fool, a fool for Christ, and a fool puts us before a simple choice: "Do I join him or do I reject him?"

A fool is someone whose behaviour does not make any sense to the crowds. A fool is someone who against the judgement of the majority does what he or she thinks is the right thing to do. When Ignatius recovered from the cannonball that shattered his leg, he drastically reorientated his life. Instead of performing foolish deeds in the service of a princess, he now dreamt of becoming a fool in the service of Jesus. And so he did. He left his old life behind, dressed like a beggar, spent months praying in a cave without cutting hair or fingernails, managed to get to Jerusalem with pirates roaming the sea. Yet it dawned upon him that being a fool for Christ did not mean doing all these extraordinary things, but that it meant letting one’s whole life be directed by only one passion: a passion for Christ and wanting other people to share in that passion.

Yet a man on his own is indeed a fool who attracts awkward looks. But Ignatius started to have a following from all the people that were inspired to become fools just like him. To all he was a mentor, a father and a friend. The little group became the Society of Jesus. But like all great movements the Holy Spirit inspires in the Church, it extends an invitation to all people. Thus it is that Ignatius of Loyola is one of those few in the history of the Church who challenge each and every one of us: "Do I join the fool or do I reject him?" That is the question I put to you on this feast of St. Ignatius. Each Christian is called to become a fool for Christ. Ignatius presents us with that basic demand of the Gospel. Are you ready to join the dance?

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