Sermon Notes on Saint Ignatius, by Father Basil William Maturin

detail of an illustration Saint Ignatius of Loyola; date unknown, by William Holl the Younger; swiped from Wikimedia CommonsAnd Elijah passed by him and cast his mantle upon him. And he left the oxen, and ran after Elijah. – 1 Kings 19:19

The world is divided into givers and receivers. Everywhere there are those who have and those who need. God has bound the world together by this constant action and interaction of the members of the human race. There are those who have money and those who need it. Those who can work and those who need work to be done.

The sacred writer is describing one of the ways in which the prophetical ministry was propagated in Israel. It was not like the Jewish priesthood, a matter of hereditary descent; the son of a prophet was not necessarily a prophet. Each was the subject of a special vocation, and he was called. to his work by some special token or influence. Elisha was ploughing when Elijah passed by. He does not seem to have spoken; he merely cast his mantle upon Elisha and passed on. But the young man’s soul is stirred to its depths. We are not told that they had ever met before, but Elisha arose and ran after the prophet.

Is this to be looked at merely as an incident in the life of a prophet, or is it a matter of permanent interest and wide application? I think this call of Elisha has its place not merely in the history of his country, but of mankind.

It is one of those striking instances of personal influence which we come across again and again. The silent prophet passes on his way and drops his mantle, and the soul of another is agitated to its very depths. He yields to an attraction which he does not analyze but obeys, and henceforth the currents of his life are changed – a vocation of which he was apparently hitherto unconscious begins to unfold itself and change the whole tenor of his life. Certainly, brethren, we are all conscious of the action of this strange power that we possess over one another almost unconsciously; many of us can tell the story of how an apparently chance meeting or a friendship has affected our lives for good or evil: how the first dawn of good or the first shadow of evil was thrown across our path by another.

Such a power, mysterious and awful as it is, is purely human, it is in the mystery of personality, and there is probably no one so low in the human scale who has not got the power of casting the mantle of his influence over another. Personal influence, magnetism, does not lie in strength of will, nor greatness of gifts – it is in itself a gift apart, the channel for carrying other gifts. It has been bestowed upon some men and women who were greatly gifted in other ways and upon some who were not. There it is; anyone who has it can t get rid of it, nor can he tell upon whom it will act, nor is he free to use it or not as he likes – it is often strongest when it is exercised unconsciously. It is by this means causes spread; a man of influence takes up a cause and now God and Satan will endeavour to utilize his influence. But brethren, such a power existing in man’s nature, we can readily understand how quickly it can become a channel for conveying supernatural things to man. The soul stands midway between the seen and the unseen. An unseen world is ever acting upon it, unseen forces are ever dealing with it. If I see how I affect another, I too may be affected by unseen powers. If a man therefore, highly endowed with the power of influencing others, is himself largely under supernatural influences, either good or evil, we can readily see how he can be made the channel for conveying to others these supernatural influences that act upon himself.

Let a man be very near to God, let his love of God be the deepest and strongest thing in his character, let him see life from God’s point of view, and let him be such a man as I have spoken of, one who seems to live with open doors through which his personality flows out, and we can readily see what a power for good he can be.

And add to this great personal gifts and a strong and vigorous personality. The effect of such a life upon others will be to bring the supernatural within their reach. The stream of personal influence – one of the mightiest forces on earth – will flow out upon the world instinct with supernatural light and supernatural power; the supernatural will be brought to men through the action of a force that is purely natural. I don t deny that there is such a thing acting in and through men as an influence purely supernatural; no doubt there is, no doubt men of no influence, of no gifts at all can be used by God for great purposes. But God does not hesitate to use the natural gifts He has bestowed upon men.

And this I conceive was one of the sources of the power that acted upon Elisha when Elijah passed by and cast his mantle upon him wherever he went he moved men.

Brethren, this is but a type of what God does throughout the ages. Elijah appeared in a dark day of Israel’s history, when the landmarks of the old faith were giving way under the pressure of new ideas, imported into the land by a strong-minded and bad woman. He stood for the sole strong representative of the old faith.

And at all times in the history of God’s people whether of the Old Covenant or the New, when the fire seemed dying out upon the Altar, or in days of intellectual disturbance or moral upheaval, God has never left Himself without witness. He has raised up someone, so that when the enemy came on like a flood he should lift up His standard against him. He has predestined and equipped some man or woman to bring some message to bestir and awaken men’s minds and recall them. And humanly speaking the great work that was to be done, the currents that were to spread, depended on these. This is but a type of what God does throughout the ages. Elijah appeared in a dark day of Israel’s history, when the landmarks of the old faith seemed to be giving way before the onward sweeping tide of a young and vigorous idolatry. He stood forth the representative and embodiment of the great truths revealed to Israel by God. In times of great trial great causes become identified with individuals. When men looked upon Elijah moving rapidly from one scene of danger to another the whole history of Israel, the whole Mosaic revelation seemed to live and speak in him. Behind his voice and gesture there was felt to be a great cause present, a great truth. His name stood for all that was greatest in the past of Israel. No wonder as he passed and cast his mantle upon Elisha that he arose and followed him. The man with his strongly marked character and whole-souled conviction became the channel for conveying to the younger man stirring impulses from the world beyond.

It has been ever so in the history of the Old Covenant and of the Catholic Church. In an hour of danger, when the fire seemed dying out on the Altar, or in days of intellectual disturbance or of moral upheaval, the warning or the guidance has come through an individual, one man has stood in the breach the embodiment of some special thought inspired by God. Moses – Samuel – David – Daniel. So in the history of the Catholic Church. Every great movement for quickening decaying love or for upholding the truth against the assaults of the enemy has been associated with some person. And humanly speaking, the work that was to be done depended upon whether some man (or some woman) would be true to his vocation and do what God wanted him to do.

We know what a delicate thing vocation is in its beginning, however imperious when it is given its sway. A Voice from the other world breaking in upon all the strong realities of the present, a Voice that might so easily be silenced and that calls we know not whither nor to what. The great awakening that has come through some Saint did not come into his mind as an end to strive after, nor was that primarily his vocation; it all grew out of his love and his union with God.

Thus was it with Saint Ignatius. Anywhere and under any circumstances he would have been a man of influence. His strong personality, his great courage – his unbending will must have made him anywhere a man of influence. How will he use this influence; what will he do with his power and his gifts? He was born in a great religious crisis – the end of one century and the beginning of a new one. The Church was in need of a man. Her forces needed to be rallied, all her earthly resources needed to be taxed. Who living at the time could have foreseen the man who was to take a leading part, to meet the Church’s needs in that day and to be a source of power to her for 400 years after?

Already nearly half his life was spent. He had lived in the great world and apparently for it. Who that met him at Court or in the army could have told the power that was in him for good and for helping the world? And then came the supreme moment of his life – you all know the story, how he was wounded at Pampeluna and how when reading the lives of the Saints, he began to ask himself if these men did these things why should not he.

We watch him pass under the shadow of this great struggle. What would be the issue? who could foretell? He was free, absolutely, the choice must be his own. His military career and dreams of love and earthly happiness were on one side and on the other a Voice that called, a hand that beckoned. It was the breaking in upon his life of the supernatural. Could he form an idea of what lay before him if he obeyed? What did he know of the needs of the Church? How could he be sure that he could do anything to stay the influx of the new thought that was sapping the faith of multitudes? And then he gave in; he yielded to that Voice that called, and when he did it he did it with all the generosity and courage of his nature. The chivalry of an age that was dying is in him and comes out again and again.

And thenceforth he sets himself to do two things – unconsciously preparing himself for his work – to break down every barrier between his soul and God, to fight his way to union with Him, and in so doing he was learning lessons to help the world; and the other thing was, to study. We see in these two pursuits the heart and the will that was in him. He will not offer himself an unworthy instrument. He will train and perfect his gifts and powers. From the very first we see that clear judgment that was so marked a feature.

It is not surprising with such work going on behind the scenes, and with such supernatural forces acting upon him and forming him, that wherever he went the spell of his presence fell on others and they began to follow him. And one reason of this power that he had from the very first of drawing others after him, as Elijah drew Elisha, was that wherever he went men felt his extraordinary know ledge of God and the soul, and that will always draw. In the least spiritual age men are moved at the sight of a man who can give up all for the Kingdom of Heaven’s sake. But there was in Ignatius yet another reason. It is good, brethren, to see an ideal citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven. It is good amidst the frivolity and superficiality of the world to see a man who lives in constant intercourse with the infinite and the eternal. But there are forms and types of sanctity suited to different times and different people, and there are some forms more attractive than others. Now to what are called men of the world none could appeal so strongly as a man who was essentially a man of the world himself, and who deliberately gave up the world and then came back to help it. The message of Heaven needs not earthly wisdom, nor earthly elegance; yet when it is brought by one who knows all the world has to give and has tasted it all and turned from it, it will have a special power. Some men smile at the halting methods of the priest who preaches God and Heaven to men of the world. What does he know of the great world, of its ideals, of what will move its representatives? And so as Ignatius the Saint, who had all the experience and wisdom of this world and used it in the service of God, as he went in and out amongst men of the world, is it any wonder that many like Elisha felt their hearts stirred as his mantle fell upon them and arose, left all and followed him.

But once more. The times in which Ignatius lived were stirring and full of interest. Two ages met in conflict, the mediaeval and the modern world. The air was astir with thought and changes. He was born at the end of one century and lived half through another we know something of such a period. Now Ignatius had somewhat of both centuries in him. He had his roots in the Middle Ages, and spread abroad and grew to his strength a man of his own day and generation. The life in such an atmosphere is apt to make a man hard and narrow and a child of the past, or broad and undisciplined, a child of the new age. With Ignatius I think it had a better result; it gave him that great gift in a man of deep convictions – adaptability. He was strong with the strength of the mediaeval ideal: he was enough the child of his age to know its needs and the means whereby it could be influenced and moulded. His ideals were ancient; his methods largely new. The discipline of authority and tradition controlled and regulated his work from first to last.