Yes, it’s the feast of St. Ignatius, Loyola. There are many who will today reflect on this man who was a listener and chronicler of his own journey of discipleship, and whose rooted guidance still shape the growth in faith of many today. His feast is a celebration of discernment, of education, of commitment, of companionship with Jesus and with others – and it is close to the heart of those who have so benefitted from the gifts of Ignatian Spirituality and the Society of Jesus (SJs), and the many religious communities which draw their charisms from these roots.
Ah… but let’s remember two other women saints for whom July 31st is an important day. They too have words for our journeys, and invitations for our ways.
On July 31, 1809, Elizabeth Ann Seton arrived in the valley in Emmitsburg, MD. This woman who found in the Catholic faith an amazing anchor and in the Eucharist a way to keep her heart “like a needle to the pole” was a mother and wife, educator and foundress, prolific writer of letters, friend and guide. In Emmitsburg, Catholic education continued that had been birthed on Paca Street in Baltimore… and her fledgling community found roots and spirituality as they lived simply, served much, taught more, and prayed throughout.
On July 31, 1830, young novice Catherine Laboure, on the eve of what was then the feast of St. Vincent de Paul, had an apparition of Mary in the middle of the night in Rue de Bac chapel in the motherhouse of the Daughters of Charity. Eventually this would lead to a November encounter with the Virgin that birthed the miraculous medal (“O Mary, conceived with sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.”)
What Catherine heard from Mary that night I find quite fitting for my reflection, and I offer it to you this day.
“God wishes to charge you with a mission. You will be contradicted, but do not fear; you will have the grace to do what is necessary. Tell your spiritual director all that passes within you.”
“God wishes to charge you with a mission.” If we’ve read anything that has been quoted from Pope Francis’ statements since his election as pontiff, we have definitely noted this focus on going out – on mission. It’s part of “the mess” he told young people at World Youth Day in Rio last week that he wanted them to stir up back in their home countries and dioceses… to go out to share the good news. The other clear theme that shows up in Pope Francis over and over again is mercy. Receiving God’s mercy and tenderness, we in turn proclaim it and go to serve each other and have it make a difference in the world.
“You will be contradicted, but do not fear; you will have the grace to do what is necessary.” For those who care to serve and proclaim the Gospel, internal arguments waste time. (See my earlier blogs on polarization in ecclesial conversations.) While we argue around the bonfire of faith, so many are without light. We must takea torch and go! Pope Francis again can be seen to weigh in here as he speaks about Catholics and Christians and leaders in faith needing to be joyful, to not be arguing, to not be gloomy, to be simple and pastoral and close to people. If you and I encounter contradition and conflict on our mission, well — that’s to be expected on our journey. A pilgrimage entails learning and growing and dialogue and encounter and sometimes nay-sayers — whether or not they are accurate. Our focus is to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12), and to trust and lean on the grace that will consistently appear for the mission we are on, as God’s beloved ones to God’s beloved people and God’s beloved world in God’s beloved creation.
“Tell your spiritual director all that passes within you.” Catherine Laboure is reminded that she needs a companion. Don’t we all? I KNOW I do! We need what the celts call an anamchara – soul friends – guides – companions – listeners – confessors – siblings in faith – intercessors. (These are not all the same person, in our lives, usually!) We need assistance in receiving tenderness and mercy, and in following Jesus whom we encounter. We need places to be unerringly honest, as we are often so clueless about our own journeys.
SO… these three injunctions to Catherine Laboure (Zoe), I recommend to your reflection and mine. Elizabeth Ann Seton too was on a mission, set for her and uniquely suited to her story. Ignatius, whom we celebrate today, would happily share his feast with attention to these other two stories of Gospel life — especially in light of his own focus on mission.
Saint Catherine… pray for us
Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton… pray for us
Saint Ignatius… pray for us
Mary, sister and mother and disciple… guide us too as we reflect on your words, lean on your Son, and go out on mission to “make a mess” for the Gospel!