Pope Francis celebrated the Feast of Saint Ignatius in Rome by reminding his fellow Jesuits of the dual centrality of Christ and the Church for their lives and their order.
Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the director of the Vatican press office, told journalists July 31 that it was “a unique and beautiful situation” for them as they remembered the founder of their order at the Church of Jesus (Chiesa del Gesú) in Rome.
The Mass began at 8:15 a.m. and was presided over by Pope Francis, who was joined in the celebration by Archbishop Luis Ladaria, secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and the Father General of the Society of Jesus, Adolfo Nicolas.
In his homily, the Pope reflected on three concepts: putting Christ at the center of the Church, allowing oneself to be conquered by him to serve, and feeling the shame of our limits and sins in order to grow in humility.
Pope Francis began his homily by noting that “the symbol of the Jesuits is a monogram, the acronym for ‘Iesus Hominum Salvator,’ which reminds us constantly of a fact we must never forget: the centrality of Christ for each one of us, and for the entire Society, that St. Ignatius chose to call ‘the Society of Jesus’ to indicate its point of reference.”
“The centrality of Christ,” he added, “also corresponds to the centrality of the Church: they are two flames that cannot be separated. I cannot follow Christ other than in the Church and with the Church. And also in this case, we Jesuits and the entire Society are not in the center; we are, so to say, removed; we are in the service of Christ and of the Church.”
The key to living this “dual centrality,” the Pope taught, is to let oneself “be conquered by Christ. I seek Jesus, I serve Jesus because he sought me first.”
He illustrated his point by recalling “a very descriptive” Spanish phrase: “‘El nos primerea’ – he is always first before us. To be conquered by Christ to offer to this King our entire person, all our effort to imitate him also in withstanding injustice, contempt, poverty.”
Reflecting on putting Christ first, brought Pope Francis to mention Father Paolo dall'Oglio, a Jesuit who has been missing in Syria for several days and is feared dead or kidnapped.
Fr. Lombardi told reporters that the Vatican does not have any “specific information (about Fr. dall’Oglio), so we can’t make a pronouncement on the situation.”
Pope Francis final thought in his homily focused on “the shame of not being able to measure up.”
He drew from the First Week of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, where Christ crucified is contemplated. During that period of mediation, the Pope said, “we feel that sentiment, so human and so noble, that is the shame of not being able to measure up; and this leads us always, as individuals and as a Society, to humility, to living this great virtue.”
“Humility makes us aware every day that it is not we who build the Kingdom of God, but rather it is always the grace of the Lord that acts in us; humility that urges us to give ourselves not in service to ourselves or our ideas, but in the service of Christ and the Church …” he preached.
The Holy Father also kept the eternal perspective in mind, saying that when he thinks “of the twilight of a Jesuit's life, when a Jesuit finishes his life, two icons always come to mind: that of St. Francis Xavier looking to China, and that of Father Arrupe in his final conversation at the refugee camp.”
“It benefits us to look at these two icons, to return to them, and to ask that our twilight be like theirs,” he said.
Pope Francis finished his homily by encouraging the congregation to ask Mary to help them “feel the shame of our inadequacy before the treasure that has been entrusted to us, to live in humility before the Lord. May the paternal intercession of St. Ignatius accompany our path and that of all holy Jesuits, who continue to teach us to do everything with humility, ad maiorem Dei gloriam.”
More than 200 Jesuits and around 600 employees of the institutions they run were present for today’s feast, which was an invitation-only ceremony.
After Mass, the Pope prayed at the altars of St. Ignatius, St. Francis Xavier, the Madonna of the Streets and Father Pedro Arrupe, all of whom are buried in the church.
Before returning to the Vatican, Pope Francis met with the Father General Adolfo Nicolas and some of his fellow Jesuits.