Tag Archives: St Ignatius


St Ignatius, Bishop and Martyr

Ignatius was the third Bishop of Antioch, the second successor of Peter in that see. In the time of Trajan, he was accused of being a Christian and condemned to be thrown to the beasts at Rome.

When he was being deported there in chains from Syria, he instructed all the cities of Asia at which he stopped with exhortations from the Gospel, even teaching the remote cities by his epistles.

In one of these cities, Smyrna, while being entertained at the home of St Polycarp, he wrote to the Romans, and among other things said this:

O beasts prepared to bring me salvation! When will they come? When will they be set loose? When will they enjoy my flesh? I hope they are ferocious, so that they have no fear of touching my body, as they sometimes have. Now I begin to be Christ’s disciple. Let fire, the cross, wild beasts, ripping apart of the limbs, pains of the entire body, and every torture of the devil’s refined art fall together upon me, so long as I merit gaining Jesus Christ.

Therefore, when taken to Rome, hearing the roaring lions, he burned with the desire for martyrdom and pronounced these words:

“I am the wheat of Christ: may I be ground by the teeth of beasts that I may become pure bread.” He suffered in the eleventh year of Trajan’s reign.

– From: An Approved English Translation of the Breviarium Romanum, Burns and Oates, London, 1964


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If we understand the divine dignity of priesthood, we shall comprehend more fully the infinite greatness of Mass.


St Ignatius, Martyr, says that the priesthood is the most sublime of all created dignities.


St Ephrem calls it an infinite dignity.


Cassian says that the priest of God is exalted above all earthly sovereignities and above all celestial heights. He is inferior to God alone.


Pope Innocent III says that the priest is placed between God and man; inferior to God, but superior to man.


St Denis calls the priest a divine man and the priesthood a divine dignity.


St Ephrem says that the gift of the sacerdotal dignity surpasses all understanding.


Hence, St John Chrysostom says that he who honours a priest honours Christ, and he who insults a priest insults Christ.


St Ambrose has called the priestly office a divine profession.


St Francis de Sales, after having given orders to a holy ecclesiastic, perceived that in going out he stopped at the door as if to give precedence to another. Being asked by the Saint why he stopped, he replied that God favoured him with the visible presence of his angel guardian, who before he had received the priesthood always remained on his right and preceded him, but now since the moment of ordination walked on his left and refused to go before him. It was in a holy contest with the Angel that he stopped at the door.


According to St Thomas, the dignity of the priesthood surpasses that of the angels.


St Gregory Nazianzen has said that the angels themselves venerate the priesthood.

All the Angels in Heaven cannot absolve from a single sin. The Angel Guardians procure for the souls committed to their care grace to have recourse to a priest, that he may absolve them.


St Francis of Assisi used to say: If I saw an angel and a priest, I would bend my knee first to the priest and then to the angel.


St Augustine says that to pardon a sinner is a greater work than to create Heaven and Earth. To pardon a single sin requires all the omnipotence of God.


St Alphonsus: The entire Church cannot give God as much honour, or obtain so many graces as a single priest by celebrating a single Mass. Thus, by the celebration of a single Mass, in which he offers Jesus Christ in sacrifice, a priest gives greater honour to the Lord than if all men, by dying for God, offered Him the sacrifice of their lives.


St Ignatius: Priests are the glory and the pillars of the Church, the doors and doorkeepers of Heaven.


St Alphonsus: were the Redeemer to descend into a Church and sit in a confessional, and a priest to sit in another confessional, Jesus would say over each penitent: “Ego te absolvo.” The priest would likewise say over each of his penitents: “Ego te absolvo”, and the penitents of each would be equally absolved. Thus, the sacerdotal dignity is the most noble of all the dignities in this world.


St Ambrose says that it transcends all the dignities of kings, of emperors, and of angels. The dignity of the priest far exceeds that of kings as the value of gold surpasses that of lead.


St Cyprian said that all who had the true spirit of God were, when compelled to take the Order of priesthood, seized with fear and trembling.


St Epiphanius writes that he found no one willing to be ordained a priest, so fearful were they of so divine a dignity.


St Gregory Nazianzen says, in his ‘Life of St Cyprian’ that, when the Saint heard that his bishop intended to ordain him a priest, he, through humility, concealed himself. It is related in the life of St Fulgentius that he too fled away and hid himself.


St Ambrose, as he himself attests, resisted for a long time before he consented to be ordained.


St Francis of Assisi never consented to be ordained.


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“When does contact with God come in meditation? We can distinguish in ourselves two parts or two levels: mind and heart. The mystics speak of a faculty we have through which we receive an intuition of the Infinite Being. They give this faculty different names: heart, high mind. St Teresa of Avila calls it the will. It is the faculty for grasping God without concepts, images, thoughts or words. Usually we find it impossible to conceive of someone or something without an image or thought. Suppose we could conceive of a person without anything in our minds. It would feel as though we held on to nothing. Mystics say that when we reach this nothingness, this emptiness is Being itself; it is not-nothing, it is no-thing. To begin, we need to develop a tolerance for nothing-ness, a faculty to connect with Being directly, not through image or fantasy. The mystics say that when this heart, this faculty opens up, we do not go through the mind. We open up, and yes, we are in touch with God.


How do we develop this heart? The Catholic mystics say it cannot be developed, it is given by God. Most of all they advise us to do nothing. When the mind cannot focus any more on prayer, then wait and rest until God comes and gives us this other faculty. Abbot John Chapman in his Spiritual Letters, says that there is a time in prayer when we cannot use our heads…different mystics give different advice. St John of the Cross advises rest; do nothing, just be there.


One image, one thought, one word is recommended for quieting the mind. [Once the mind is quiet] the heart opens up. At the beginning this seems so empty and it seems there is nothing. But if we keep at it, after prayer we will start noticing that we are full of joy and peace. There is a certain centredness in us. When we develop a taste for this nothing, we soon realise that it is not nothingness, it is a glowing darkness. This sense goes on through the day and even at night, whether we are talking, reading, or working, this goes on.

If our aim is to build up this faculty, it does not matter what covering we use or what means we use to blind the mind. The idea is to quiet the mind for the heart to open up. Nevertheless, our devotional needs must also be met. All devotional prayer takes place in the mind, and it fills the devotional needs we have. We can continue with this devotional prayer and give it some time during the day. But also find some time to quiet the mind, so that the heart can open up. Although we need to cater to our devotional needs, our aim is to get in touch with God in this silence, naked contemplation, and mysticism. We must give time to quieting the mind. If we aim at this silence, it does not matter what means we use… the important thing is the development of the heart in two senses.


The devotional sense is what St Teresa means when she says that in prayer ‘the important thing is not to think much but to love much.’ Prayer is not accomplished through thinking. In fact, thinking is not prayer. Thinking is a preparation for prayer. Prayer begins when the heart starts and the loving starts. That is why Ignace Lepp (1908-66) says that all interpersonal communication is on the emotional level. For instance, I could be talking to my friend about metaphysics, but here is a certain communication which makes it interpersonal. The personal comes when the emotional enters. It is in that sense that I speak of prayer, because prayer may come to the heart, but the heart of this level of meditation. That is the sense in which St Teresa speaks of prayer of the heart. Right now, however, I am talking of the heart in another sense, in the sense of higher mind, in the sense of this faculty which opens up to God and intuits him directly. This is contemplation.


The author of the ‘Cloud of Unknowing’ speaks of three stages – actually more than three stages, which I call three phases of the spiritual life. He speaks of meditation, contemplation, and – let us call it – holy action: action for the service of others, action to love others, or the spiritual and corporal works of mercy, to use the traditional terms.


All Christian life has these three dimensions. The author says: ‘Be very careful about entering contemplation on your own. This is a gift from God. When he calls you, enter, but do not do anything about this.’ He even says: ‘Do not give this book to anyone who is not ready.’ He had a real fear of people entering this area of contemplation before God called them, because the devil could come to trick them.

Let me give you a little background on how he views contemplation. He says that we are suspended between two clouds. We have the cloud of unknowing in front of us, and the cloud of forgetting below us. God is not known through knowing. If we think we know God through knowing…we are mistaken…we can know God only through unknowing – that is why the author of the ‘Cloud’ calls it ‘unknowing;’ but in unknowing we know. We do not know God through the mind. How do we know him then? Through the heart. The heart keeps reaching out to God…


[The fact that it is a gift of God does not mean God does not give it to everyone [when they are ready]]

Everyday we give time to contemplation. Everyday…we should give some time to what I call the prayer of silence – complete and total silence. Strict silence. We should still everything inside us. We will find it very nourishing, very refreshing, very fulfilling, and very creative. Seek silence.”
– Anthony de Mello SJ, 20th century


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In 1415 there was an Ecumenical Council in Constance (Germany), during which an urgent need for the reformation of the Church was felt. The slogan was that the reformation should be “in capite et in membris”, in the head and the members, i.e. also among the clergy and generally among the people of God. Unfortunately, for quite a while, nothing was done.

Once more in 1500, the issue recurred. The problem [also coinciding with the historical event of the “discovery” of America in 1492, civil unrests like farmers’ uprisings, leading up to the 30-Years-War and a general worldliness among many people] had become grave. “Reformata Ecclesia, Ecclesia semper reformanda”. The Church needed reformation and it needed to be open to reformation.


And so a devastating cyclone of so-called reformers began to batter the Church with people like: Luther, Calvin and Zwingli. In some ways theirs was a laudable attempt, but many others were disastrous. Luther (1517) was the foremost of the three. A former Augustinian monk, steeped in culture and possessing a complex personality [his father had wanted him to earn his living as a lawyer instead], he was a spiritually and existentially troubled individual. Although re-evaluated in recent decades, one cannot overlook the extent of his errors…The issue that led Luther out of the Church was his subjectivism. He would have a great impact on the history of culture of his time. His strong personality undergirded all that he said. Everything was seen from an individual perspective, asserting his “I” without any reference to objectivity. He was adept in bending the word of God to suit his own needs. Yves Congar defined him as “a restless reformer”.


The reformation (or counter-reformation) prompted by Luther (this was his merit) was implemented by the Council of Trent (1545-1563) and backed by several saints like Ignatius of Loyola, Francis Xavier, Philip Neri, Charles Borromeo, Pius V (of the Battle of Lepanto) and others who frequented Rome during those years.


Ignatius was one of the great protagonists of real reform in the Church. This reformation was brought about through his charisma and his holiness, his culture and his apostolic courage, his personal action and the zeal of his sons, the Jesuits. This champion of the Church was born at Loyola in the Basque country of Spain in 1491. He possessed a fiery temperament coupled with a very strong will. Eager for military adventure, a lover of fine clothes and beautiful women he fought bravely in the service of the viceroy at the siege of Pamplona, where he was also seriously wounded in the leg.

Shortly after that, clenching his fists and teeth he decided to change his life. His conversion began immediately after his convalescence during which he read the Imitation of Christ, the Jacopo da Varazze’s Golden Legend and the Life of Christ. Besides reading, he reflected on his past life and wondered what lay in the future for him. He examined and analysed himself more profoundly because he wanted to know how to improve himself. In short, he succeeded in subduing his lower inclinations and became a new man, ready to live for God and for his glory.


At Manresa (1522) he had several mystical experiences that transformed him completely. He learned several things about the spiritual life which he incorporated into his famous ‘Spiritual Exercises’. Through his Holy Spirit, God himself was enlightening him. Ignatius now possessed a “new outlook” on God, man, the world and himself. His approach to life was totally transformed, driven by a new way of approaching God. The entire Church would benefit from his new outlook. Spiritually renewed, he began to study once more.

He was 34 years old! But when he “felt” if he wanted God he would have to remove all obstacles. The important cities that he visited were: Barcelona, Salamanca and Paris (the Sorbonne) where he laid the first foundations of the Society of Jesus (Montmartre 1534). Ignatius was ordained a priest in Venice and he finally arrived in Rome, the seat of the Pope, which was being contested in those years. Ignatius and his companions (called “Friends of God”) did not want to “protest” against the Pope (as was done in France). They simply placed themselves at his service out of total obedience and for the love for God and for the good of the Church.

He was immediately given two “Imprimaturs” to his projects, two major “approvals” that would give him a sense of assurance and an impetus for the future: a vision that he had of the Trinity at La Storta (Rome 1537) and the approval of the Society of Jesus by Pope Paul III in 1540.

Ignatius would always remain in Rome to guide the young Society that wanted to culturally equip itself (in theology, philosophy and the sciences), and be ready for the great challenges that faced it.

He was a hard worker and an indomitable organiser, but he was also a Saint who prayed a lot with a particular devotion to the Most Holy Trinity, Christ in the Eucharist and His Crucifixion. His biographers called him “a contemplative in action” because of the extraordinary way in which he did nothing for himself but always, in his words, “for the greater glory of God. He died on July 31, 1556, whispering the words: “Ay, Dios!”
– This article by Mario Scudu was published in “Don Bosco’s Madonna”, 7/2012. Contact for subscriptions or to support seminarians: Shrine of Don Bosco’s Madonna, Matunga – Mumbai – 400 019 – India; email:


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