August 17, 2011

Montserrat and St.Ignatius

We had mass at the Benedictine Monastery at Montserrat up above Barcelona today and tomorrow we will go to Manresa.  What ties these two places together is St. Ignatius of Loyola.  Montserrat has a miraculous image of Our Lady - said to be associated with St. Luke.  It is believed that this image was discovered by shepherds in 880 A.D. although some historians believe it was actually carved in the 12th Century.  Whatever the actual history, there have been various shrines on top of this mountain where Christians have dedicated their lives to prayer for over a millennium.  Benedictines eventually founded a monastery there in the 11th Century.

St. Ignatius came here after his initial conversion.  Wounded by a canon ball during a battle and while recovering at his brother's house he discovered the presence of the Risen Lord in his life.  He noticed this presence through reading.  When he read novels about chivalry and romance, he reflected on how these entertained him while he was reading but afterwards left him empty.  When he read the lives of the saints, he discovered that his heart burned within and stirred with desires to imitate their zeal for the Lord.  Recognizing the opposition of these two movements of the spirit helped him see Christ as the one who could help him live life to the full.  Indeed, we only discover the gift of who we really are through an authentic gift of ourselves to others, and Christ alone makes givings ourselves in this way a real possibility.   Ignatius wanted this possibility in his life and he resolved to follow Christ.  With this resolution, he went to Montserrat and spent two days making a confession of all his sins.  After his confession, he spent the night in prayer - as a knight in arms - before Our Lady of Montserrat.  At the end of his prayer, he left his sword with our Lady and decided to spend the rest of his life as a pilgrim doing penance.  This would eventually lead him to Manresa.  Here he spent a year in solitude - fasting, praying and doing penance.  He battled severe bouts with depression and all kinds of spiritual trials.  In the end, he had a deep encounter with the Holy Trinity, gained wisdom of heart and wrote down his insights in what we now know as the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius.  

This was an important day for our seminarians.  Before their formal studies, all of them go through a year of spiritual formation which seeks to tap the wisdom of heart St. Ignatius learned at Manresa.  While I do not think they have visions of the Trinity as did the founder of the Society of Jesus, many of them experience graces that are life changing in all kinds of different ways.  It is the wisdom of heart that one gains through being generous with God in prayer and with one's life that most prepares them for the work God has for them.  Please keep them in prayer that we might gain this wisdom- tomorrow to Madrid!