On Monday, July 31, Seattle University joined other Jesuits and Jesuit institutions worldwide in celebrating the Feast of St. Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus (a.k.a. the Jesuits). Feast days are celebrated on the dates of saints’ deaths. St. Ignatius passed away July 31, 1556.
At Seattle U, the day began, appropriately enough, with a feast—a continental breakfast at the Arrupe Jesuit Residence. Throngs of faculty and staff mingled in the residence dining room over assorted pastries, bagels and coffee, with some venturing into the adjoining backyard to enjoy a beautiful garden, lush with flowers and plant life. Later in the day, a special Mass was held in that gem of a campus chapel that bears the founding Jesuit’s name.
This year’s Feast of St. Ignatius carried additional significance for SU as it also celebrated the unification of the Oregon and California Provinces into one new province called “Jesuits West.” Long in the works, this change officially took effect in July.
Tom Lucas, S.J., rector of the Arrupe Jesuit community, who came to SU in 2013 after serving in the former California Province, presided at the Mass and spoke of the unification of provinces in his homily. With a touch of humor, he likened it to “a bunch of bachelor uncles and brothers who've lived apart for a while, but are reconnecting, albeit idiosyncratically. We’re adjusting to variations in customs—plaid flannel versus Hawaiian shirts, Birkenstocks and snowshoes versus flip-flops and huaraches.”
Father Lucas went on to share an important teaching of St. Ignatius, modo suave—or “way of sweetness.”
“This is what our institutions and the works we share should be about, and mostly are all about: all about the modo suave,” Father Lucas said. “In classroom and confessional, in the boisterous work of parishes and social services centers and in the whispered realm of spiritual conversation, in meeting with student or penitent, parishioner or seeker, in our on-going, learning encounters with the poor and the powerless, we try to meet them all with mercy, with love rather than judgment, in order to help them to acquire a knowledge of their own hearts, knowledge we have interiorized first for ourselves, and need to share.
At the conclusion of Mass, Father Lucas invited attendees to enjoy some cake on the Union Green and, if they so desired, avail themselves of a temporary Jesuit tattoo. It was an invitation that, as this photo shows, Father Lucas himself was happy to accept.
Following is the full text of Father Lucas’s homily.
Dear Sisters and Brothers,
We thank you for joining us today from all parts of the Salish Sea region to celebrate the feast of St. Ignatius and the new reality of Jesuits West Province. This union, actually a reunion of the former Rocky Mountain Mission, and the Oregon and California Missions and provinces, has been long planned for and awaited. Most of us Jesuits rejoice that it has finally arrived, and we don’t need to talk about its arrival any more. I’ve been asked a lot what this all means.
Perhaps an image will help. Jesuits West is a bunch of bachelor uncles and brothers who've lived apart for a while, but are reconnecting, albeit idiosyncratically. We're adjusting to variations in customs—plaid flannel versus Hawaiian shirts, Birkenstocks and snowshoes versus flip-flops and huaraches.
Still, with patience, with God’s help, and your help, the help of our colleagues and friends, we’re remembering, even learning anew how much we love each other and the mission that started us --and Ignatius--on this way. The way is the way of mission, of hard, demanding, and satisfying work for the glory of God and the good of souls. It’s a way has always moved us into conversation with one another and the world, into freedom and danger, into grace and mercy.
Last month for two weeks, I had the pleasure of teaching 72 Jesuit novices from all over North America about the history of the Society of Jesus. Perhaps because of the toxic political climate we live in, the thing that engaged them most, and that moved me most in rediscovering it, was our consideration of Father Ignatius’ secret weapon. It wasn’t razor sharp wit or flawless dialectic; it was manners he learned at the Spanish Court joined to experience of being a loved sinner that he received from God’s mercy at Manresa. He called that secret weapon the modo suave, the way of sweetness.
Consider the instructions he gave to his three companions as they departed as staff theologians for the Council of Trent in 1545. Trent was a fractious and controversial and seemingly endless palaver, an uneasy, even perilous place to be. This is what Ignatius taught them:
“I should be slow to speak, and should do so only after reflection and in a friendly spirit, particularly when a decision is given... profit by listening quietly to learn the frame of mind, feelings, and intentions of the speakers, so that I might be the better able to answer in my turn or keep silent…I should not touch upon matters that are in controversy…but simply exhort the people to live a good life and practice the devotions of the church. I should move them to acquire a knowledge of their own hearts and a greater knowledge and love of their creator and lord, appealing to the intellect.”
This St. Ignatius Day, this day when we celebrate the union of minds and hearts in such a broad and diverse range of geography, works and conversations, I can think of no better encouragement or no better advice for us all: to apply this modo suave in all our dealings, recognizing that when we treat others with mercy it is because we have come to know our own hearts through the mercy of God we have received.
Informed by this modo suave, our shared vocation is a noble one: to live aright so that we can witness aright. We do not convince through apologetics or argument, but through the goodness and sincerity of our lives. St Francis of Assisi understood this when he said “Preach always; when necessary use words.” How we act, how we say what we say becomes even more important than the content of the words themselves.
This is what our institutions and the works we share should be about, and mostly are all about: all about the modo suave. In classroom and confessional, in the boisterous work of parishes and social services centers and in the whispered realm of spiritual conversation, in meeting with student or penitent, parishioner or seeker, in our on-going, learning encounters with the poor and the powerless, we try to meet them all with mercy, with love rather than judgment, in order to help them to acquire a knowledge of their own hearts, knowledge we have interiorized first for ourselves, and need to share.
(Photo courtesy of Natch Ohno, S.J.)