The universal Church celebrates the feast of St. Ignatius, the founder of the Society of Jesus, on the 31st of July. Nevertheless the celebration of the feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola was in practice, by and large, restricted to the communities of the members of the Society of Jesus and their institutions. But the presence of Pope Francis in the Petrine office of the Catholic Church truly highlights the universality of the feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola because Pope Francis, as a man deeply moulded by the Spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius in more than one way, is the gift of St. Ignatius of Loyola to the universal Church. Has the Catholic Church profited by this gift of God’s providence for His Church in Christ? Has the contemporary human community with all its diversity and complexity encountered the saving love of the true and living God for it in His Only-begotten Son Jesus Christ and benefited from it through the service of Pope Francis to it in the Petrine office? Although the answers to these two questions are pretty straightforward if one simply considers the rationality and finality of Pope Francis’ Petrine decisions and actions the media has made it a matter of discussion and speculations.
In answer to the first question we simply point to the truth, the spiritual quality and the thrust of all his addresses and exhortations by way of very practical spiritual direction throughout the phases of the liturgical year to all the faithful of the Catholic Church in their proper states of life to respond to, pursue and actualize God the Father’s call to all the baptized to inherit the holiness of God’s only begotten Jesus Christ as fully as possible. What else is the Catholic Liturgy except the indefatigable priestly work of God’s only begotten Son (as the Son sent to give eternal life) to educate His ‘lambs and sheep’ in the nature and splendour of His divine holiness in the liturgy of His word and empower those who want to imbibe it from Him and express it in their own lives through His gift of the sanctifying Holy Spirit to them in His most personal gift of His body ‘given up’ for us and His blood ‘poured out’ for us in the holy communion of the liturgy of His Eucharist sacrifice and sacrament? And where can one find the truth and pastoral zeal of Pope Francis in the Petrine office more than his institution of the Feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary as ‘the Mother of the Church’ and in entrusting the entire Catholic Church to the heavenly and fatherly protection of St. Joseph in these turbulent and highly uncertain times?
In answer to the second question we point out that Pope Francis has not related with the unbaptized peoples and communities of our world in some arbitrary or ideological manner but strictly according to the pastoral directives of the second Vatican Council. He has regarded human beings not in terms of what they have made of themselves until the current moment of their lives but in terms of God’s eternal purpose in creating them in His own image and likeness and for that destiny which His onlybegotten Son has revealed and historically established in our world for the salvation of the entire human race in the mystery of His incarnation. This is clear from the manner in which he has related to the various non-Christian communities of our world. Has he not done so in strict conformity to the declaration of the second Vatican council in its ‘Declaration on the Relationship of the Church to Non-Christians religions’ concerning Hinduism ‘in which men contemplate the divine mystery and express it…through searching philosophical enquiries’ and Moslems ‘upon whom the Church looks with esteem’ and ‘Buddhism in its multiple forms’ which ‘acknowledges the radical insufficiency of this shifting world,’ and in ‘repudiating all persecutions against any man’ and ‘removing the ground from every theory or practice which leads to a distinction between men or peoples in the matter of human dignity and the rights that flow from it’?
Not only has Pope Francis proclaimed these truths in his messages but he has most admirably enabled every individual human person to joyfully experience their truth and sublimity in his or her own person. And he has been able to carry out these herculean tasks of the Petrine office in our modern world because he has resolutely rejected every social or religious attempt to curb his freedom of conscience from every form of human prejudice. The feast of St. Ignatius is the occasion for all of us in the Church to thank Almighty God for His gift of Pope Francis for the Petrine office of His holy Catholic Church in our critical times.