United under Christ's Standard
AT the outset of his own conversion to God the first realization that struck St. Ignatius was an insight into the secret conflict between the spirits that direct and determine all history, an insight into the struggle between Christ and Satan. In a gripping and sharply defined illumination Ignatius discerned that some terrible force is at large in the world, but first and last in the depths of the human soul. His autobiography has this to say of his experience: "In this way he gradually came to distinguish between the spirit of Satan and the spirit of God.
This was the first discovery he made about divine things. Later on, after making the Spiritual Exercises, he began to draw light from this experience for his teaching on the discernment of spirits."
The Sodality, then, is an association of souls who, like Ignatius, realize that, though it is in the disguise of purely visible earthly, political and social affairs, there is a secret struggle of tremendous consequence taking place in this world: the struggle between Christ and Satan, the epic drama of Redemption from the death of Our Lord to His visible and second coming. The Sodality is a union of souls who understand that "the Devil is at large" and " the Good Friend is present" every day unto the end of time. The world is secretly and forever marching under two standards. "Babylon" and "Jerusalem" are clashing in open battle. The purpose of the Sodality is to unite under one standard those souls who in the heat of combat have come to realize that mere conformism, self-complacency and unaggressiveness will never win the victory.
FROM a realization of this truth stems one of the essential principles of the Sodality: its membership must be selective; it must be formed from the spiritual élite. Even more today than in the past, the Sodality must be a union of Christians who embody the whole cast of mind, the spirit of the first Christians so often stressed in the Gospels, which is called "watchfulness" or "alertness". "Be sober and watch, because your adversary the Devil goes about as a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour."
This "alertness" is something ever new. It is a readiness to lend a hand whenever something is "awry". This alertness for everything is an instinct native to youth. If a Sodality is alive and genuine, it fosters this instinct. But in this way youth's ardour is, so to speak, baptized and devotes itself to those causes worthy of a wholehearted dedication. Every educator of youth will testify how surprisingly alert all youth worthy of its salt is for the great drama, the enrapturing power of the struggle, which Christ the King has inaugurated on this earth with the sword of His spirit. Conversely, every Sodality, even made up of mature Christians, will remain faithful to its spirit only in proportion as its members comprehend by an ever-new alertness for the irreconcilability between Christ and Satan which poses constantly new problems for all living Christians.
With Mary at Our Side
SOMEHOW or other the Sodalist must be like the youthful Ignatius who on his sick bed awoke from his mediocre frame of mind to an awareness of the one necessary decision to be made. Both in his autobiography and in the Exercises it is in this connection that Ignatius first speaks of Our Lady. At the vision of her sublime appearance the spirits began to discriminate, to take sides within his soul. "He received such unusual and great consolation and yet remained filled with such a disgust for his entire past life, in particular for the things of the flesh, that it seemed to him as if all the images which once filled his soul had vanished from it."
With remarkable clarity these words disclose when and how in the secret history of the saint's soul Mary sets into operation that work which in the economy of salvation belongs to her in a singular way as Mother of God. From the Proto-Gospel to the twelfth chapter of the Apocalypse she is the sublime Lady of Discernment of Spirits; the great sign of battle between the Word and the Serpent. Whenever there is a question of another crucial turning-point in the battles of God, she is always present. That is why she appears, naturally enough, in the Exercises at the point when the exercitant must make his first real decision: the clear-cut and interior decision to turn away from all that is sinful, deepening into an intimate knowledge of what is sinful, what is worldly, what is opposed to God in its very roots. "The first colloquy will be with our Blessed Lady, that she may obtain from her Son grave for me [of] a deep knowledge of my sinsŠ [and that] I may put away from me all that is worldly and vain." Immediately afterwards, when the exercitant is confronted with the possibility that he can go to hell and when the all-embracing conviction ripens in him that the history of all created spirits is determined by the Incarnation, there, too, the great Lady enters in as a decisive figure. It was she who made possible for us the coming of Christ.
This is, therefore, the first great aspect under which the Sodality presents to its members the image of the Mother of God. Every true Sodalist must become one of those total Christians who has made his decision, who fully appreciates what is involved and what is expected of him. Mary must become for him in very truth the Domina Mundi: the Mistress of the world. Above all, he must look upon her and love her as the Conqueror of the Serpent. She is Our Lady of the Discernment of Spirits.