Freedom for Mission
Ignatius and his companions took the Gospel and,
especially Christ’s command to go with no purse, or second pair of shoes in a
direct and almost literal way. At its heart is the urgency of the Kingdom and a
profound faith that God will provide. Often this will be through the generosity
of others who respond to the presence of the Kingdom and want to support it -
the benefactors who are themselves a sign of God’s providential care.
In the Exercises, Ignatius sees that there are two
aspects to poverty: a spiritual and an actual poverty. I think it is easy to
forget about the former which is really the foundation that makes the latter
fruitful. That ‘spiritual’ poverty is a growing humility before God and others.
It moves away from a ‘me-centred’ world to a ‘God-centred’ world; a world in
which service of others comes first. In this sense, ‘spiritual poverty’ is the
capacity to love with a radical and subversive freedom. Humility is not caught
in the web of values which only enhance hierarchies of power, social position
and prestige. It is a freedom from the webs of avarice and envy. If one is
freely poor for Christ, how can our society lay a claim upon us either in terms
of spiritual or social value and material wealth? Your security is completely
other than anything the social and economic system can offer you.
Poverty as renewal and reform
So, if poverty is both an imitation of Christ
and a freedom for the service of the kingdom, it is also a witness which can
inspire renewal and reform. It is difficult for us today to grasp how
economically and socially powerful the Church was at the time of St Ignatius.
Indeed, there were many calls for reform coming from within the Church as well
as from the Protestant Reformers. The early Society certainly saw itself as
part of the movement of internal renewal as well as part of the Church’s
defence against a political and theological opposition. The commitment to
poverty as ‘the strong wall’ is certainly part of this. The early Jesuits
wanted to remain as free as possible from the accumulation of wealth and
property, hence the prohibitions against this in the Society’s Constitutions.
In this way, they sought not only to preserve the freedom of the Society for
its apostolic mission but they also wanted to ensure its evangelical and
reforming integrity. This can also be a gift to the Church today.