This reflection is based on Luke 12:13-21 for the Feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola.
What will you build in your life?
That’s the question that our simple but profound parable in today’s Gospel asks us. It’s also the perfect question on the day we honor the saint who spent his life wrestling with that question. In a sense, everything in our life boils down to this one question.
For one, we could choose to spend our lives building barns as the man in the parable does. He decides to store all his riches exclusively for himself so that he can enjoy them all for many years–to “rest, eat, drink, and be merry.” But as fate would have it, the very night he completes the last of his barns, he dies, leaving his hoard behind.
There is a temptation for us to do the same: To hoard whatever riches we have, to secure them and keep others away from them, and to accumulate them exclusively for our own use and enjoyment. But it doesn’t pay to do all that, as the ending of the parable reminds us.
The First Reading expresses the exact same message another way: “Vanity of vanities, says Quoheleth. Vanity of vanities! All things are vanity. For what profit comes to a man from all the toil and anxiety of heart with which he has labored under the sun? All his days sorrow and grief are his occupation; even at night his mind is not at rest. This also is vanity.”
The other option, however, is to build not barns, but bridges, not to keep others away from the riches we accumulate, but to reach out to people in order to bring what we have to them.
Today we celebrate the feast of a great bridge-builder, St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit order. He spent his life building bridges especially where there was none: He connected with people, especially those most disconnected and marginalized from the rest of society, and brought them closer to God.
We see exactly how he does this in the movie Ignacio de Loyola. To the horror of his brother Martin, the fresh and zealous convert, Inigo, has decided to leave his life of nobility to become a poor pilgrim devoted to prayer and service of others. In order to dissuade him, he takes his brother to a brothel and sends him off to a room with a prostitute. “Just like old times!” Martin declares.
However, instead of availing of the prostitute’s services, Inigo befriends her, converses with her, and even seizes the moment to teach her to pray. The prostitute is bewildered because as she herself tells him, he is the very first customer to speak with her and show a personal interest in her.
Inigo invites the prostitute to imagine the Lord sitting before her and gazing at her. Initially skeptical, she shrugs her shoulder and decides to humor her client by granting his strange request. But as she beholds Jesus in her imagination, she falls into prayer in spite of herself.
Through her tears, the prostitute watches Jesus watching her and hears his assurance that what he cares for most is not where she has been, but where she is going. In that brief moment, sitting there on the bed with Inigo, the woman is astonished to see herself as the Lord sees her and receives the healing forgiveness of the Lord.
In his simple and quiet way, by acknowledging the person that people so rarely see in her, Inigo has managed to find a way to connect to this prostitute. Moreover, Inigo offers her the bridge of prayer that leads her to the Lord. As a result, the prostitute finds herself connected to her own forgotten lovable self. Inigo has managed to build bridges where there previously have been none.
For me, this one scene–while a refreshing and imaginative interpretation of the filmmaker–captures the essence of Ignatius’ enduring gift to the Church, a spirituality that precisely connects us not only to God, but just as crucially, to ourselves and to others.
Just the other night, Ignatius got an unexpected shout-out at–of all places!–the Democrat National Convention in Philadelphia. In his speech, Vice Presidential nominee Tim Kaine spoke about his Jesuit education at Rockhurst High School.
After the crowd broke into applause when he mentioned the Jesuits, Kaine continued: “We had a motto in our school: ‘Men for others’. And it was there that my faith became something vital, my North Star for orienting my life. And when I left high school, I knew that I wanted to battle for social justice.”
Years later, he decided to take a year off from law school to fly to Honduras as a volunteer helping Jesuit missionaries and teaching kids how to be welders and carpenters. The Ignatian spirituality that Kaine had imbibed in high school connected him to God, to others, and most of all, to himself.
Since the writing of the Spiritual Exercises, so many have benefited from Ignatius’ charism of bridge-building for the past five centuries. The question we are invited to ask ourselves on this feast of Ignatius is: Shall I spend all my life constructing barns–or shall I be a builder of bridges like Ignacio de Loyola, allowing his distinctive brand of spirituality to help me bridge whatever gap that separates me from God, from others, and from myself?
Images of Ignatius of Loyola from the JesCom film, IGNACIO DE LOYOLA, and courtesy of Paolo Dy. Catch the movie in a movie house near you!