Helping souls: at the service of God and of others


In the time after his conversion, Ignatius felt sure that God wanted him to live as a pilgrim, begging his way in Jerusalem. Yet, he was sent back to Europe after only a few days there. During his return voyage Ignatius reflected on the new direction his life would take, and concluded that God wanted him to help others, or as he put it in 16th century language, to help souls.

In the Spiritual Exercises we contemplate the Trinity as it looks at the world in need of salvation and decides to send the Second Person to become man in Jesus. We then turn our contemplative gaze to Jesus himself, as he goes round the towns and villages of Palestine, preaching and healing, calling others to be with him in this mission. As a result of his way of living and talking, Jesus is led to his passion, where he suffers grievously, and all this, adds Ignatius, for me.

Within this Ignatian vision, it is clear that my life will not achieve order unless it includes service to others in their real needs. Selfishness and pride are seen by Ignatius as among our worst enemies, for putting ourselves and our needs at the centre of our attentions will only lead to unhappiness and disorder.

When asked what he considered to be the greatest commandment, our most important duty, Jesus gave a very clear answer: love God and love your neighbour as yourself. In one instance he said that loving God and loving your neighbour is one and the same thing.

The real issue is obviously the place that the needs and sufferings of others occupy in my heart. Does the present world strike me as unjust, and what does that insight provoke in me? I might say it is just bad luck for those who were born in the wrong place, or that it is their fault for being lazy. How open is my heart to refugees coming to Europe, to the victims of ongoing war and hunger?

I may also be so taken up by the global questions that I fail to see the needs of those around me, like the rich man who did not even see Lazarus begging at his door.
The authors of the early Church invited us to make friends with the poor because it is they who will welcome us at the gates of paradise.

With great devotion and new depth of feeling,
I also hoped and begged for this,
that it finally be given to me to be
the servant and minister of Christ the consoler,
the minister of Christ the helper,
the minister of Christ the redeemer,
the minister of Christ the healer,
the liberator, the enricher, the strengthener.
Thus it would happen that even I might be able
through him to help many—to console,
liberate, and give them courage;
to bring them light not only for their Spirit
but also (if one may presume in the Lord) for their bodies,
and bring as well some other helps to the soul and body
of each and every one of my neighbours
Saint Peter Faber, S.J. (1506-1546), Companion of St. Ignatius and Spiritual Director