Love and Service
The title of this inspirational reflection was inspired by the founder of the Jesuits, Ignatius of Loyola. Ignatius was born in 1491 in the north of Spain, the Basque part of that country. Interestingly, Ignatius had an older brother who sailed with Christopher Columbus. His own story begins in 1521 when he was a soldier fighting against a French invasion. Ignatius was wounded. He was taken back home to begin a long recovery process.
During that time, he read some significant books for his later life. One of these books, the Life of Christ, had a profound effect on this Spanish soldier. He began a transformational process that led him from chivalry to sanctity. He became a pilgrim of the Spirit. He spent nearly a year in the small town of Manresa. He lodged considerable time in a cave, praying intently and taking notes. These notes formed the nucleus of his famous Spiritual Exercises which has guided countless spiritual pilgrims ever since.
After a trip to the Holy Land, Ignatius began formal studies in theology. He soon started attracting followers. They dubbed themselves “Friends in the Lord” or “companions of Jesus.” Ignatius led them through a spiritual formation process using his Spiritual Exercises.
This is the group that decided to form themselves into a religious order. They called themselves “The Society of Jesus.” Others simply called them “Jesuits” and that nickname stuck. In 1540 the Pope at the time officially recognized the order. The Jesuits have had an amazing effect on the world ever since. Ignatius died in 1566, but the movement continues to our own day. The best-known Jesuit in our own day is Pope Francis I, the current Pope offering some refreshing leadership both within Catholic circles and beyond.
The motto of the Jesuits is “ad Maiorem Dei Gloriam” (“to the glory of God”).
I find this to be a powerful way to describe the purpose of the Jesuit in the world. I would like to adopt it for myself. It is a great way to say that my life in the world is not an egotistic trip to get all that I can—to hell with everyone else! So much of life as I witness it either in real life or social media life is about the individual. It is often about getting rich, getting happy, etc. Of course, there is nothing wrong with wealth or happiness, but they are rather egotistical.
Much of the Jesuit work was devoted to teaching. Some of the finest American universities are Jesuit---Georgetown, Boston College, Xavier, and many more. Maybe it is because I also am devoted to teaching at the collegiate level, I resonate with that. I deal with the traditional age student and I dearly would love to help them gain a vision beyond their own selfish desires. I would be happy to help more of them become “friends of the Lord.”
To do this is not to sign up for a sad or deprived life. I want to help them see how they can live a contemplative life while also being a businessperson, a teacher or anything else. The contemplative life is not solely for some monk holed up in an out of the way monastery. The Jesuits model an active spirituality that is rooted in the Spirit and lived out in making the world a better place. That seems to be the calling of Jesus to every disciple who ever said “yes.”
I would like to link the Jesuit motto with another common phrase heard in a variety of churches. For example, the Catholic Mass proclaims that we should “go in peace to serve and to love…” Other traditions employ similar language to enlist us all in the spiritual work of making the world a better place. I believe to love and to serve is a great shorthand way of summarizing our work in the world. Of course, that is very general.
Each of us in our own life will give the general admonition our own specificity. Much of my love and service happens in the classroom and in the spaces around the campus life of students. But it is not limited to students. My colleagues---faculty and staff---also are recipients of my love and service. God wants our love and service to be expansive, not restrictive. Love is inclusive and service is non-judgmental.
It is a radical calling to realize everyone is worthy of being served. If we were to take this seriously, we would be peacemakers too often in this sorry world bent on violence. I like how the Jesuits do it. I like how the Pope emphasizes mercy. But I don’t have to be a Jesuit to love and to serve.
I do it because I am called and privileged to love and to serve. In this I feel like I am part of the “Society of Jesus,” even though I do it as a Quaker. But I am sure we are brothers and sisters in the Spirit---loving and serving.