Saints and Blesseds
In remorse, gratitude, and astonishment–but above all with passionate love–first Ignatius, and then every Jesuit after him, has turned prayerfully to ‘Christ hanging on the Cross before me,’ and has asked of himself, ‘What have I done for Christ? What am I doing for Christ? What must I do for Christ?’
This is the foundational grace that binds Jesuits to Jesus and to one another. Today we bring this counter-cultural gift of Christ to a world beguiled by self-centered human fulfilment, extravagance, and soft living, a world that prizes prestige, power, and self-sufficiency. In such a world, to preach Christ poor and humble, with fidelity and courage, is to expect humiliation, persecution, and even death. We have seen this happen to our brothers in recent years. Yet we move forward resolutely out of our ‘desire to resemble and imitate in some manner our Creator and Lord Jesus Christ–since he is the way which leads men to life. (Congregation General XXXIV, Document 26)
Why saints are important?
Jesuit saints remind us of the true spirit of the Society of Jesus and invite us to follow the example given by those who have responded most fully to the grace of their vocation. The Second Vatican Council underlined their revelatory role: “God shows to men, in a vivid way, His presence and His face in the lives of those companions of ours in the human condition who are more perfectly transformed into the image of Christ.”
The Council explained that the Church recognizes people as saints because they have been perfectly transformed into the image of Christ. In such persons God makes us feel His presence; in them He speaks to us and shows us how to continue the mission of His Son.
Saints are distinguished by their reputation for sanctity, but in the 21st century we might find ourselves more familiar with the cult of celebrities such as movie stars, athletes and even some religious leaders. The reputation for sanctity that saints enjoy is something different. Even people who know the saints only indirectly recognize something extraordinary in them, a dimension different from most other people, no matter how often their picture appears.
Saints enjoy an almost indefinable, but clearly recognizable transparency. When you look at them, you catch a glimpse of the divine. In them you sense the same qualities, attitudes and behaviors that God first made manifest in Jesus Christ, the Son of God made man. People of faith admire saints for remindind them of God’s promises and presence. Those without faith, or with a seldom-used faith, sometimes feel uneasy for the tacit reminder of how they ought to be living their lives.
This saintly transparency is sacramental in the sense that all sacraments reveal God. In and through saints, God makes “his goodness felt, his interest vivid, his compassion effective, his power known (but always with love), and his mercy availble to help people take up new paths in life,” in the words of Father Paolo Molinari SJ, the Jesuit in charge of the process of canonization of future saints.
“That gets us close to what is the most profound and true element in the life of Saints, and therefore of Saints of the Society of Jesus. They were companions of Jesus in the richest and truest sense of that word: people who in response to the call of the Eternal King (Spiritual Exercises 91-98), gave themselves entirely to Him and, in virtue of a profound life-decision, preferred what Christ chose for Himself when He became man for our salvation,” said Father Molinari.
“We speak of the body of the Society of Jesus which began, and has continued to live and grow, in virtue of a divine vocation given to some men. This vocation is real though mysterious; by means of it the Lord Jesus continues to touch the human spirit, attracting people to Himself to make them His own. Responding to this call, and letting themselves be formed by it, they ‘give themselves to Him to be with Him. They want to share His thought, His ways, His spirit and His love for the glory of the Father, and so be brought to participate in His mission and His dedication to human beings, seeking only others’ good in a self-sacrificing way.”
“Having lived in this spirit, and having accepted silently and with love the end of their lives, whether this came through martyrdom or the pain of sickness, these Jesuit saints could say with total honesty to the Lord: ‘You know, Lord, that whatever I had I have come to regard as loss because of You! More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing You, my Lord! Far Your sake I have suffered the loss of all things and I regard them as rubbish in order that I may gain You, Christ, and be found in You, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in You. I want to know You and the power of the resurrection and the participation in Your suffering, becoming like You in death with the hope of attaining resurrection from the dead. (Phil 3.7-11)’” (Courtesy – www.sjweb.info)