Every year on the final day of July the Jesuits, together with their many friends and admirers, celebrate the feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the intrepid founder of this amazing group of men. Stories of taciturn and stern Jesuit teachers kept me away from registering at St. Ignatius High School in Chicago many years ago. But my eventual encounters with Jesuits ever since have changed all of that.
Father John McFarland, SJ, was my first professor of philosophy. I remember how he returned my midterm exam that first year with a grade of 65 and this encouraging admonition, “Keep up the good work!” Then there was Father Larry Gillick, SJ, a spiritual director from Creighton University in Omaha, who frequently directed retreats for us bishops when I was serving in Minnesota. He is the one who told me, “Well, John, you have been humiliated. Welcome to the club! That’s the way most people become humble.” Here in western Oregon I never cease to marvel at the energy, pastoral zeal and vision of Father Tom McCarthy, pastor of St. Francis Church in Sherwood. He not only led a drive to open a Catholic school at the parish some years ago, when others said it couldn’t be done, but has steadily guided that community in its efforts to share the faith and to shape the future by investing to an even greater degree in the Catholic education of their children.
What makes the Jesuits tick? My summer spiritual reading this year has been a book written by one of my favorite authors, Father James Martin, S.J., entitled “The Jesuit Guide to Almost Everything.” The subtitle is “A Spirituality for Real life.” Father Martin introduces his readers to the Ignatian goal of “finding God in all things.” His examples, stories and anecdotes from the lives of Jesuits the world over help the reader to appreciate how everything a good follower of St. Ignatius does is truly ad maiorem dei gloriam, “for the greater glory of God.”
As a young seminarian I noticed that some students wrote the initials “AMDG” at the top of their papers. At the time I wasn’t quite sure what the inscription meant. I was used to “JMJ”, “Jesus, Mary, and Joseph,” taught by my grade school teachers. But I soon learned that AMDG was the Jesuit motto, one that reminds all of us, not just the Jesuits, that our work, not just our prayers, can truly be beneficial for the spiritual life.
At this mid-summer moment, I take this opportunity to salute the Jesuits here in the Oregon Province. In June I had the opportunity to celebrate the Eucharist and dine with the Jesuits of the Columbiere Community in Portland. Father Pat Lee, the President/Provincial of the Jesuits here in the Northwest is both a holy and wholesome man. His leadership is a blessing in this difficult time when he and his confreres have been confronted with the failure of some of their companions to live their vows, thereby causing suffering and pain for victims of sexual abuse. In writing about the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius, Fr. Lee calls attention to the kind of humility which leads to the profound prayer of asking to suffer indignities just as Jesus did. At this time of public scrutiny and humiliation, he resolutely pursues the path of healing and justice for victims, the protection of young people entrusted to his community’s care and, most importantly, the greater glory of God.
Here in western Oregon we are blessed with the presence of many Jesuits. They accompany us on our individual journeys of faith with the practical spirituality of St. Ignatius, their founder. We thank these good men for both modeling and teaching the “way of Ignatius” by which so many women and men over the centuries have entered into a meaningful and loving relationship with God. And they have done it, AMDG!