Always "the More" and "the Better"
WE shall start with the fundamental fact that all apostolic forces at work in the nascent Society of Jesus can be explained by the Spiritual Exercises that book authored by St. Ignatius, which has left its impress upon history. This small volume is a remarkable summary of all those forces which made the Founder of the Society of Jesus a saint of the Church even in his own day.
The life of St. Ignatius discloses that basic Christian phenomenon, clearly traceable in the documents, which is at the very heart of the life of grace and which emanates from Christ Himself; the new and constant transition from the good to the better that takes place in the individual human heart and soul is the driving force of Christian 'discontent' something of that fire which never says: "It is enough."
It is a perception experienced only in a conversion of seismic proportions - one which results in the transformation of a man's whole life into nothing less than a passion for what is always the greater. It is the insight, which preserves the creative, the compelling force inherent in the Christian message.
Theologically we can sum up the ideal of the Spiritual Exercises in a simple word and a phrase precious to the heart of the Ignatius from the first moment of his conversion to God: the word "more" and the phrase "to promote the salvation of souls".
In the Exercises, "more" means an ever closer identification with the crucified Christ who by this means alone conquered the world. "To promote the salvation of souls" means to be gifted with an insight into the staggering truth that Christ has made the outcome of His salvific work and the destiny of His Church dependent upon man's co-operation. It means an interior realization that the success of God's work is also (though not entirely) measured by that joyful, selfless eagerness to serve so characteristic of those who heed and understand the call of the King of the world and who discern in His summons the challenge to do more in the future.
We may call this theology of the comparative. Cast in plainer, less compact language, it is an affirmation of the Christian phenomenon that in the Church's life there must always be an elevation above the ordinary in order that there may be some gradation. Christian life flows only if the sources of that life are found high in the mountains. As a consequence there can never be established a common level of the "merely Christian" which all can attain unless everything Christian is to perish in an ephemeral and worldly normality and mediocrity.
It is according to this basic sociological structure that grace is communicated in the Church of Him who has redeemed us by the superabundance of His love. Such "discontent" dominated St Paul when he wrote: "Not that I have made perfect, but I press on hoping that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has laid hold of me". The theological foundation is rooted in the deepest essence of God who reveals Himself in Christ. According to St Augustine, God is the Deus semper major:"Always He is greater, no matter how much we have grown." No aspirations of love, however great, can measure up to Him; the measure of our love is always the love of Christ, which knows no limit.
We must realise, too, that the process of salvation operative within the Church presses forward to its goal with ever more vehemence, so that the call given to all members of the Mystical Body of Christ to co-operate in the salvation of mankind becomes ever more emphatic and urgent.
Yet this can be accomplished only by certain souls - those who have come to understand that, ultimately, this salvation is not effected by the masses, nor by an organization, nor is it assured even by the normal and ordinary government of the Church alone. It is achieved only by those souls who have understood what that one little word magis means: something more, something greater, something better, something done with more love.
To these men of the magis Ignatius belongs. Through the Exercises he would bring men to a living appreciation of the core-meaning of magis - all for the greater glory of God - so that their whole life would be stamped by it. The first Jesuits in all humility determined to be a community of such men - men of whom Jesus Christ had laid hold. This was the spirit with which they undertook their first apostolic labours.
In the historical development of the modern Church the Exercises are of first-rank importance. They have captured and kept within reasonable limits the spirit that has shaped modern times. It was the humanistic renaissance that made the tumultuous discovery of the personal "I"; and from this, one fact has become increasingly evident: the conquest of the world for Christ only and always happens at one decisive point - where God's grace meets the soul already aware that it has the power of decision to determine its eternity. To that extent and only in so far as Christ, the Lord of this World, finds souls who will surrender with an unreserved love to the demanding magis of God's word, will the return of the world to God become a reality.
A Youthful Spirit
WITHOUT doubt, it is characteristic of a youthful attitude of soul to be always more receptive to that which is greater, to remain forever one who grows (since God is never attained), never to say "it is enough". For all those moulded in the spirit of the Exercises that one word more, so full of youthful energy, is the criterion of genuineness. What is common to all Sodalities at all age levels is Christian "growing". This is a tending toward a state of life still unattained; it is, in simple Christian terms, the striving for the fullness of Christ, a maturing in grace.
In 1610 Father Spinelli remarked that the Sodality strives not only to accomplish faithfully what divine law commands, but also to labour zealously that all Sodalists may the more distinguish themselves day by day in their efforts after piety. We see at once that every Sodality must be a group of Christians who, far from "retiring", are still wide awake, who are still receptive to the more, (that is, of these constantly increasing demands of Christianity), who are not the drab uninspired citizens, the complacent bourgeois of God's kingdom.
Without question there are many excellent definitions of the Sodality. They attempt to sketch concisely the essential notes of this organization. But all of them, it would seem, are too much concerned with the "static" elements alone, the Sodality's statutes. See, for example, Fr. Wernz's definition set down in the first section of the general Rules. Rather les us try to grasp the "dynamic" nature of the Sodality by going back to the fundamental structure of the Exercises. We must remove the Sodality from the static framework of a mere association and attempt to observe and to analyse some of the youthful enthusiasm which in its first beginnings made the Sodality so great. We shall grasp this ideal of the Sodality most easily if we try to develop in greater detail the fundamental structure of the Exercises.