By Fio Mascarenhas, SJ
“Dearest 21st century sons, if only I were alive on earth today, I would dance and leap for joy! Several centuries back, with only my naked eyes, I used to love to gaze at the stars every night, and I received much spiritual consolation at the immensity and beauty of the cosmos. So I am very thrilled at today’s new advances on earth in the sciences of astronomy and cosmology. You know that in my Autobiography, I wrote, “The greatest consolation he received was from gazing at the sky and the stars, and this he often did and for quite a long time. The result of all this was that he felt within himself a strong impulse to serve our Lord.”
If I were alive on earth today, I would give even “greater glory to God” on seeing the new photos from the James Webb telescope which one of my sons, the Director of the Vatican Observatory, Br Guy Consolmagno, has described as “jaw-droppingly exciting images offering a tantalising glimpse of what we can learn about the universe in the future; and these new advances in science are a necessary food for the human spirit!”
I know that this telescope was launched on Christmas Day two years ago, and that, as Br Guy writes, “it is our attempt to use our God-given intelligence to understand the logic of the universe. The universe wouldn’t work if it weren’t logical. But as these images show, the universe is not only logical, it is also beautiful! This is God’s creation being revealed to us, and in it we can see both His astonishing power and His love of beauty.” As I wrote 500 years ago, for me too, “The result of all this (star-gazing) was that he felt within himself a strong impulse to serve our Lord.”
I am glad that what the Church has been calling “the Ignatian charism” endures even today, and that millions of my followers are doing small and great things to implement the Lord’s prayer: Thy Kingdom Come! I claim to have been second to none in my personal love for Jesus of Nazareth! Once I was converted from the service of worldly lords and ideals, I became tremendously attached to Christ, my newfound and eternal Lord, in whose service I wished to distinguish myself “like a noble knight.” The name of Jesus meant so much to me that I called my religious family by that name alone; and in my Diary can be found this revealing entry: “I recalled to mind that moment when the Heavenly Father associated me with his Divine Son, and I felt a burning longing that He might engrave deeply within my heart the name of JESUS” (February 23, 1544).
As these images show, the universe is not only logical, it is also beautiful! This is God’s creation being revealed to us, and in it we can see both His astonishing power and His love of beauty.
As I have always taught, the central truths of Christianity will be life-transforming for a Christian only when they have truly affected the heart, and not just the head. Hence, I again encourage you, my Jesuits and their retreatants, daily “to ponder with great affection how much God our Lord has done for me” (Spiritual Exercises, n.234), to “emit a cry of wonder accompanied by surging emotion” (n.60), to “be inflamed with love,” to “experience consolations” and “great fervour,” “to be glad and rejoice intensely” (nn. 15,6,14,221), because Jesus, the Lord and Saviour, loves “me” and calls “me.” I re-iterate forcefully that the whole purpose of human life is “to praise, reverence, and serve God” (n.23), and my favourite phrase regarding the disciple’s response continues to be, “the service and praise of God” (nn.20, 46, 98…).
That many have done just this is part of the happy history of my Society! Men of the calibre of Francis Xavier and Mateo Ricci, Peter Canisius and Robert Bellarmine, Isaac Jogues and John de Brebeauf, Teilhard de Chardin and Karl Rahner, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Pedro Arrupe, recently your own Stan Swamy, and, of course, our dear Pope Francis have served the Church and humanity in every century and continent, and are continuing to do so in exceptional ways, filling roles as humble pastors or great educationists, grass-roots social activists or skilled scientists, doing their best for “the greater glory of God” – also unto martyrdom, for some of them. May your current UAPs (which please me greatly) continue to make all Jesuits Spirit-filled and Spirit-led in the coming months and years!
The name of Jesus meant so much to me that I called my religious family by that name alone; and in my Diary can be found this revealing entry: “I recalled to mind that moment when the Heavenly Father associated me with his Divine Son, and I felt a burning longing that He might engrave deeply within my heart the name of JESUS” (February 23, 1544).
I lovingly remind you that my “Ignatian spirituality” is to be summed up by the motto: “Service in the Church, under the banner of the Cross, for the glory of the Father.” Overwhelmed with zeal for the spread of Christ’s Kingdom, I composed the now well-known prayer of self-offering, noting that you too should pray it “as one would do who is moved by great feeling“(n.234): “Take O Lord, and receive all, my liberty…”
Convinced that “love ought to manifest itself in deeds rather than in words,” I recommend to you, my spiritual children, to ask repeatedly for the grace not only to labour much for the Kingdom in your post-modern secularist world, but also to do it in that same way as Jesus, our Leader, did – “by imitating and being identified with the suffering and humiliated Christ,even bearing all wrongs and all abuse and all poverty” (n.98), should that be God’s will for them.
As background for this recommendation, I think it is right that I remind you of my understanding of the Devil’s strategy: First they are to tempt them to covet riches, that they may the more easily attain the empty honours of this world, and then come to overweening pride. From these three steps the Evil One leads to all other vices.” On the other hand, Christ’s way is to invite humanity to “the highest spiritual, and even actual, poverty (as opposed to riches); then, to insults or contempt (as opposed to the honour of this world); and from these to let spring humility (as opposed to pride). From these three steps, to lead human persons to all other virtues” (nn.142,146).
With a special love for the Blessed Virgin Mary as your own Mother and Queen, I advise you daily to enter, like I did, into a colloquy with Mary.
I remind you also of the need for frequent petitionary prayer as a special characteristic of my spirituality. With a special love for the Blessed Virgin Mary as your own Mother and Queen, I advise you daily to enter, like I did, into a colloquy with Mary, asking her to intercede with and obtain from her Son the graces desired: “an intimate knowledge of our Lord, who has become man for me, that I may love him more, and follow him more closely.” This prayer is then to be directed to Jesus, asking him to obtain the same graces from the Father. Finally, as you know, the colloquy is to be directed confidently to the Father himself.
Let me add a final note about “sin.” Your modern psychologists measure human maturity in terms of one’s relationships. The wider and deeper one’s relationships (with God, other human beings, and creation itself), the more is a person judged to be “mature.” In biblical terms as well, a mature person is one who is able spontaneously and consistently to show forth in his life the “fruit of the Spirit” (Gal.5:22), namely, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. These “fruit” are relational gifts, for they enable a human person to establish and deepen felicitous relationships with others.
Sin, then, is culpable failure in establishing, maintaining, and deepening one’s relationship with God, with others, and with creation. Remind yourself about this truth, teach it to your people, especially to the youth of your times! Remember that my world-view is of a vast spiritual battlefield where the forces of Good are engaged ceaselessly in a fierce war with the forces of Evil. Insist therefore not only on the need for courage and generosity, but also for wise discernment. To conclude, though I would love to write more, know that my Christmas gift to you from heaven is a special prayer for each of you to receive anew the spirit of Magis!”
Fiorello Mascarenhas, SJ, almost 79 years, soon to celebrate 60 years as a Jesuit, resides in the Retreat House, Mumbai. He is the Emeritus Chairman of the Catholic Bible Institute. He was awarded the Doctor of Ministry degree (Biblical Spirituality) from Catholic Theological Union, Chicago, and was Chairman (1981-1987) of the International Council for Catholic Charismatic Renewal resident in Vatican City. He has visited over 80 countries to preach at Clergy Retreats, Bible Seminars, and Leaders Conferences, and has authored 18 books, several translated into many languages.