Fr Pedro Arrupe
I have been enjoying a few days in Valladolid with a group of Jesuit theologians who are preparing for ordination. They are taking part in what is called the ‘Arrupe Month’. Fr Pedro Arrupe, then the general of the Jesuits, noticed that in the 1970’s there was a curious phenomenon of men who left the order (and often the priesthood) soon after they had been ordained. It was almost as though even after the long period of formation they were expecting something magic to happen – and had a rather superficial expectation of what the ‘ontological change’ that the sacrament of ordination conferred, really meant. So Fr Arrupe’s letter issued on December 27, 1979 addressed this – and now there is a period set aside for a deepening of self-knowledge and Jesuit identity to help prepare the Jesuit Scholastic for ordination to the priesthood. I have joined them for a couple of days to give some input on thriving in (not just surviving) the first years of priesthood.
We are staying at a fascinating and beautiful College – the Royal English College ‘St Albans’ in Vallodalid. It was founded by the English Jesuit Robert Persons in 1589, during the English Reformation, as a seminary to train Catholic Priest for the English and Welsh Mission, at a time when it was illegal to do so in the UK. It has an impressive legacy of alumni who are saints – many Jesuits, although not all – who would eventually be executed on their return to Britain. Their portraits line the corridors. In today’s climate of Islamic violence we have to be careful about the narrative of martyrdom – although it is worth noting that none of the Catholic men and women executed were perpetrators of Violence. Although it fair to say that Fr Persons was agitating the Spanish King to invade so that England could return to becoming a Catholic country. This resulted firstly in the famous failure of the Armada. A second attempt was foiled in Cadiz by Walter Raleigh …. but we will come to that in a minute. The College, well endowed, and beautifully kept, still has the patronage of the Spanish Royal Family. When you enter the college you are greeted with a picture of the King & Queen of Spain with an affectionate and personal message to the College. This Royal patronage is important when you think of how the Jesuits where expelled from Europe, from different countries on numerous occasions, so you can see how it is good to know you have powerful allies …. things can change however.
For me the jewel in the crown in Valladolid is ‘La Vulnerata’ or the Wounded One – a disfigured statue of Mary in the chapel. After Sir Walter Raleigh defeated the Spanish Fleet in Cadiz and took control of the city in 1596, some of the English troops started a riot (like the football ‘fans’ in Marseille). The soldiers dragged the statue to the market square where they desecrated it. The priests and seminarians of the English College in Valladolid brought it to Valladolid and installed with great solemnity in the College Chapel in 1600. They wished to make reparation for the desecration of their fellow country men. Every year during Holy Week the statue is processed along the street, where it is met by a huge paso or float, which has a large depiction of the Crucified Christ resting on top of it. The two images meet, and dance to each other for a brief period—then the Vulnerata comes back to the College
A little like the famous Image of the Icon of the Black Madonna of Czetochowa which was similarly damaged by Hussite raiders in 1430… and has now become the most visited shrine in Poland, and revered by Catholics and Orthodox alike. The potential power of our vulnerabilty is a spiritual paradox. Christ glorious risen body still carried his wounds as St Thomas can testify. The popular devotion to these disfigured images of Our Lady are striking – they seem to unlock a mysterious power in peoples hearts. Many people point to John Paul II visits to Czetochowa as the start of the fall of communism, how this icon of the suffering Poland and the first Polish Pope drew millions together in defiance of the authorities. Pope Francis will be visiting next week during the world Youth Day celebrations, I hope the Queen of Poland draws the 2 million young people expected to attend, to her heart.
At the beginning of the Second Week of the Exercises Ignatius presents us with the Contemplation on the Incarnation. This has two main elements, he asks to us imagine the Trinity looking down on the world, seeing and hearing all that is happening, births, deaths, wars, peace etc… The decision to intervene by seconding the second person of the Trinity (the Son) is made. Then in the contemplation, we zoom in, Google Earth style, to Mary’s house in Nazareth and the Angel visiting her. Mary’s ‘Fiat’ – her Yes – is one word that history turns on. We know how courageous this ‘yes’ is for young women in a culture that has brutal punishments for those unmarried women who bring shame no their families.
Mary’s fiat – ‘ Let it be done unto me’ – is central in the Catholic understanding of the Incarnation – she gives her assent to cooperate with Divine Grace. I remember being invited to watch a preview of the BBC produced ‘Nativity‘ in Soho in 2010 – it is an excellent production that was shown in four parts. After the preview some of the producers bounded up to me – seeing that I had been visibly moved and wanted to know my reaction. I said I thought it had been brilliant but that they had made one mistake. The wide grins started to fade and with furrowed brows they asked me what mistake – I replied ‘ Well in this version Mary said no to the angel’ …. the brows became more furrowed and the smiles vanished, moving on to the next person, they said indignantly ‘there’s no right or wrong’.
A wonderful poem on Mary’s fiat is by Bishop Robert F Morneau ….. and yes I know this doesn’t take into account the Immaculate Conception (before you write in) …. but even if theologically not quite correct it opens a new vista onto Mary’s fiat…
Were others asked?
A lassie from an isle in a distant sea?
A maiden in North Africa
or a slave girl from the Congo?
How many times were angels sent
and returned, unheard, unheeded?
Was Mary tenth on salvation’s list.
Or the hundredth?
And you, my soul.
was fiat spoken
when the angel came?
Today is the feast of the Assumption of Our Lady, where Catholics believe Mary was taken body & soul into heaven. It is also the day that St. Ignatius chose as a historic day for the Jesuits. Ignatius and his first six companions, Faber, Xavier, Laynez, Rodriguez, Salmeron, Bobadilla took first simple vows at Mass celebrated by Faber. As James Brodrick wrote in his excellent book, – The companions repaired together at dawn to a little unused chapel half-way up the slopes of Montmarte, and there, unobserved except by God, burned their boats behind them during a Mass celebrated by Favre. It was the quietest ceremony, that laying of the foundation stone of the society of Jesus, so quiet that even the seven themselves had no inkling of what they had started.
Traditionally it became the day when many Jesuits took their vows – Why did these founding Jesuits choose to take their vows on this feast day? It is day I and many other Jesuits privately renew our vows…. Why did Ignatius choose the feast of the Assumption?
It is clear that his devotion to Our Lady was intense even in an age when Marian devotion was becoming increasingly polemical due to the newly established Protestant sects. In Ignatius life as in the life of the Church it had acquired considerable popular force. At Key moments in Ignatius’s mystical life Mary was very close, his vigils at Aranzazu and Monsteratt, his petition at La Storta that he may be placed ‘with the son’ . William Meissner, a Jesuit Psychologist, describes this as a balance to an image of God that was being progressively masculinised. Mary could bring a mothers love and understanding to the inadequacies and anxieties of her children and plead their case before divine judgement. She has become for many Catholics the idealised image of maternal concern. So for Ignatius, this feast which emphasises Marys special place in heaven in the church is supplemented by their offering and making these simple and perpetual vows. As Broderick says – they really have burnt their boats here – and they do so confidently under the mantle of the Assumption.
When Pope declared the doctrine of the Assumption as infallible in 1950, Protestants were angry because it wasn’t in Scripture. The recently deceased John Edwards SJ pointed out with delicious irony that the (Anglican) Archbishop of York, standing beneath his cathedral’s 600 year old Assumption roof-boss, deplored it as an innovation. The position of the Orthodox was more nuanced: they believed it, of course, but were furious that the Pope had defined it. Whatever the controversy – devotion to Our Lady is as strong as ever in world-wide Catholicism, and this day is celebrated with great joy as it was in the ancient church before we all started feuding. It is in the spirit of this joy and wonder that some of us Jesuits renew our vows, that we can offer our own ‘little-lives’ in imitation of Mary’s incredible openness and generosity with God.