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30th Sunday Ordinary Time A – Oct 25th 2020

In this homily, I would like to take you on a small trip through some thoughts of St Ignatius – as you know, he is the founder of my order, the Jesuits.

Let us have a look at the gospel (Mt 22 34-40): the teacher of the Law thinks he is going to confuse Jesus with his question about the greatest command, and Jesus answers simply by reciting the daily Jewish prayer called the Shema (“Hear!”). It is so named after a sentence the book of Deuteronomy 6:4-9, which begins: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. Therefore, you shall love the Lord your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength.”

Jesus then goes beyond the question by quoting what he calls “the second command”: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” which comes from another book of the Law, from Leviticus 19:18. What could be simpler? What could be more obvious? I trust that few if any Jews would disagree. And every Christian knows about this question and the answer Jesus gave. In his response to the lawyer’s question, Jesus is quite clear that loving God is indeed the first and greatest commandment.

But how does one take seriously this command to love the invisible God? Concretely love the invisible God, practically love the invisible God? Do you have to become a monk or a religious sister?

St. Ignatius took this command with full seriousness. He even dared to work out a set of “how-to” notes for himself and for the Jesuits, his companions – and for us all who want to follow Jesus, who want to act like him. The notes of St Ignatius comprise the final contemplation in his Spiritual Exercises – the Jesuits do them at least twice in our lives, in their full form they last 30 days - in silence.

This final contemplation is called “Contemplation to Attain the Love of God” referring not to God's love of us, which is always given, but the title “Contemplation to Attain the Love of God” refers to our love of God, which always needs coaching.

Ignatius begins by calling the retreatant’s attention to the simple reality that love consists more in deeds than in words, that lovers give what they have to one another. Then Ignatius instructs the retreatant, instructs us to place ourselves in the presence of the Lord and the communion of saints. Ignatius instructs us to ask the Lord to wake us up to a knowledge of the gifts we have received – the gifts we have received from God, of course. Ignatius instructs us to stir up gratitude “so that we may become able to love and serve the Divine Majesty in all things.”

Now the simple insight begins to dawn: the most direct way we can obey the command to love God is to pay attention to God's gifts. The remainder of the contemplation presents four concrete ways of getting in touch with those gifts of God.

The first is, and I quote Ignatius: “I will call back into my memory the gifts I have received—my creation, redemption, and other gifts particular to myself.” In other words, Ignatius suggests that we review our life story. Then Ignatius tells us to consider how much we ought to offer and give to God. Ignatius suggests at this point the famous “Suscipe” prayer, which begins, “Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and all my will—all that I have and possess. You, Lord, have given all that to me. I now give it back to you.” This would be the first way of getting in touch with those gifts of God.

The second way is to consider how God is present within all creatures — in the elements, giving them existence; in plants, giving them life; in animals, giving them sensation;

in human beings, giving them intelligence, and finally, how in this way, God dwells also in myself, giving me existence, life sensation, and intelligence; and even further, making me God’s temple, since I am created as a likeness and image of the divine Majesty. This would be the second way of getting in touch with those gifts of God.

The third way focuses on how God works for me “in all the creatures of the earth.”

And finally, the fourth way considers how all good things I discover in and around me are but partial reflections of their source, partial reflections of God.

When we take the command to love God seriously as “the first and greatest,” it is not hard to see how love of neighbor follows from this. When we learn to see all human beings as fellow creatures and co-recipients of God's gifts as we are, then we are enabled to love them that much more.

Fr. Wolfgang Felber; cf: