Bearing His Likeness
THE second thing which St. Ignatius perceived from the very beginning was the burning realization that they alone can claim the victory in this battle who want to distinguish themselves in the service of Christ the King. To do this they must imitate Christ in the way He chose, which is victory by means of the Cross.
When in the Exercises Ignatius has Christ the King say: "It is My will to conquer the whole world and all My enemies, and thus to enter into the glory of My Father", then Ignatius' immediate yet amazing conclusion is this: "Those who wish to give greater proof of their love, and to distinguish themselves in the service of their eternal King and Lord of all...will act against their sensuality and carnal and worldly love."
The corollary to this joyous and noble self- surrender, this offering of loyal service beneath the Standard of Christ the King, is the insight that Christ's victory must begin in the depths of one's own soul. First of all, we must be victorious in defending the frontiers of our own hearts if we would fight side by side with Christ in His conquest of the world for God. In short, we must become men of the magis possessed of a single passion (in those words, which echo the Foundation): "Our one desire and choice should be what is more conducive to the end for which we are created." Throughout the Exercises this more is revealed unequivocally as an ever greater likeness to the crucified Lord (in the famous third degree of humility, the summit of the Exercises) and with it the ardent yet sober realization that there is no victory for the kingdom of Christ which does not depend upon the self-denial of him who has heard the call of the king.
From all this we draw our conclusion. The Sodality enrolls men who have written the word more on their standards. They should be Sodalists who in the meditation on the kingdom are called "prompt" and "diligent", who want to lay at the feet of their King and Lord "offerings of greater value". This oblation consists in a readiness to become like the king who through His labours alone brought the world back to the Father. Basically this means self-denial, one's own sanctification through assimilation to the Crucified. Even as early as 1601 we read in the Manuale Sodalitatis: "The first aim of a Sodality must be the cultivation of a more perfect life like to the life of Christ."
It will be, then, a challenge to a wise pedagogy to determine how to present the correct amount of selectivity and of the more in a meaningful Christian way, taking into consideration of the age, social status and education of each candidate for the Sodality. It is here, above all, that the élite are distinguished from the masses.
The pre-eminence accorded to the interior life in every genuine Sodality is based on the insight which transforms all thinking and living: the realization that all enthusiasm for the call of Christ the King must be translated into the keen readiness to struggle against the world and sensuality. In his Apostolic Constitution Bis Saeculari, Pope Pius XII calls this "the perfection of the spiritual life". The Pope then lists the means which all must use if they would follow Christ perfectly and without qualification. Those means are the Spiritual Exercises, daily meditations and examinations of conscience, a fervent sacramental life and the direction and counsel of a spiritual Father. Is this not the way a man lives whose life has been transformed by the Spiritual Exercises? It is through the Spiritual Exercises, or, more accurately through the fundamental insight derived from the meditation on the kingdom that every Sodality must repeatedly renew itself. That insight is an interior, self-conquering willingness to conform to the Crucified, which is built up and propagated. It is through such a renovation of the spirit of the Exercises, repeatedly made, that any Sodality stands, and through its neglect that any Sodality deteriorates and ultimately collapses.
We do not go too far when we state that every genuine Sodality can compete, humbly yet with a just pride in Christ, with any other organization of the same type within the Church in this matter of according a first-rank importance to the interior life and its cultivation. The spiritual life is not just another phase of the Sodality's programme; it is that thing which the Sodality though daily exercise attempts to foster and to integrate into the daily life of the Sodalist for life. Moreover, the Sodality does this by relying on principles which have withstood all change, which have proven themselves in the face of every criticism and every passing spiritual vogue. In the Church of Him who has conquered on the Cross there is no real choice between action and the interior life, between doing and praying, other than a basic "over"-emphasis on the interior life. They alone are true apostles who have realized that in a vital, prayerful way - that is to say: souls to whom the invisible, but so much more real, actuality of interior things has been revealed, souls who have experienced the genuinely lasting, the genuinely celestial things of the kingdom of Heaven. But these things are reserved only and always for those who lovingly and joyously devote themselves during the whole of life to the fundamental law of Christ the King: "You must labour with Me and so enter the glory of My Father." The formation of this type of soul is the first, the basic task of the Sodality.
Youth Answers Generously
HIGH demands of this kind strike a responsive chord in the mind and heart of youth. To belong to those who are virile lovers, to those who are ready for action, to those who do not always treat themselves delicately, who are willing to make sacrifices, to those who will begin the struggle right within themselves - this is to have the true spirit of youth. Only with this type of soul can Christ undertake anything for the advancement of His kingdom. Every reformation in the Church has always had its origin in this greater demand made on youthful generosity.
We cannot start early enough to form such an elite. This is the reason why the total hope of the Church depends on the constant, the renewed formation of such groups of faithful souls. This is the noblest commission of the Sodality.
Pope Pius XII has called this spirit, so necessary to every Sodality, generosita. It is exactly what St. Ignatius in his meditation on the kingdom expects of those who, submitting to these noble super-demands upon themselves, are prepared for a joyous and faithful service of the eternal King. If the Sodality succeeds in awakening in the hearts of its members that authentically Christian and stable attitude which the election of the Exercises mentions in these words: "...that in all that concerns the spiritual life, his progress will be in proportion to his surrender of self-love and of his own will and interests" - then something decisive has taken place in the kingdom of God.
Much has been written, much has been said regarding the question whether or not the age-old words of inspiration in the Sodality's vocabulary such as banner, knighthood, Acies Ordinata still strike a responsive chord with modern youth. In Germany at least the more prevalent opinion maintains that such words secretly repel our generation. The quintessence of the Sodality's spirit assuredly does not reside in blue ribbons, nor in fluttering banners, nor in processions and impressive world congresses. On the other hand, the Scriptural truth of the call of Christ to the battle between Jerusalem and Babylon will always retain its reality and release its driving force anew in every generation.
Only the skill of the true teacher is needed to translate these fundamental truths into modern imagery for the youth of today. Again and again we will make this astounding discovery. Every Christian who is possessed by the spirit of youth finds these truths most appealing. They are basic in that structuring of the soul which is achieved through the Spiritual Exercises of the Sodality.
Mary Points the Way
SINCE in the Exercises Ignatius intends to inculcate the conviction that only the likeness to the poor, crucified Lord of the world guarantees victory, it is significant that he presents the contemplation on the Incarnation with such a loving wealth of detail, in noteworthy contrast to his usual terse style. The reason is that in the manner of His "coming" Christ reveals the plan by which He wishes to save man, and by it the destiny and the fortunes of men are decided. At the very centre of this event we discover the humble person of Our Lady. Between the royal throne of the Three divine Persons and hell, in the very centre of the Divina Commedia, is the inner chamber of the Virgin of Nazareth, and within it the most secret decision in all human history was made: Ecce Ancilla Domini: Behold the handmaid of the Lord. Before her stands the exercitant struck with amazement. He begs for only one thing: "...grace to follow and imitate more closely Our Lord, who has just become man for me."
It was no accident of history that the first Sodality in Rome was dedicated to the mystery of the Annunciation. Nor was it pure coincidence that in 1522 Ignatius at Montserrat made his own dedication to Mary on the feast of the Annunciation. On that occasion he offered his weapons to his Queen and exchanged his worldly garb for pilgrim's dress. Under the banner of his Queen he turned away from the vanity of the world toward the poor Christ. This is the conversion, which must take place in the soul of every Sodalist. This is the realization in the spiritual order of the juridical fact that every Sodality is aggregated to the Primaria of the Annunciation. All real putting on of Christ, all growth into a "genuinely Catholic adulthood" within the Sodality means to imitate Mary's Fiat, its design in Christ's redemption of the world. This is the Fiat that accepts the Cross of Christ that challenges all that is noble in the soul, that longs for a more perfect following of the suffering Christ. In this way the Sodalist must learn through the Sodality to love Mary as the exalted Queen of his magis. She is Our Lady of Christian Discontent. She will lead him to the Cross.