Homily for the Feast of St Ignatius Loyola, Jesuit Social Services, Richmond, Vic. 29 July 2016
On my way up from the train station, I came across Xavier Desmarchelier. He said it was good to run into me because that meant he was not late for mass, given that I was to be the celebrant. I said it was good to run into him because that meant I would know where to go. Accompaniment and cooperation are two of the great attributes of Ignatius Loyola. He believed in the art of conversation, especially spiritual conversation; he was a great advocate for people working together and cooperatively; and he thought that authority was best exercised to assist people to cooperate on difficult missions, even to far flung places.
Most of us like some aspects of the STORY of Ignatius Loyola. There are reports of things he did or said, even if they be mythical or the stuff of legend, which we find helpful or inspirational. We know the story of the cannon ball. We know the myth about 'Give me a child before the age of seven and I will give you the man.' As far as we know, he never said it. But the story contains an element of truth about the man and his mission. Some of us are inspired by EVENTS in the life of Ignatius Loyola — things that he actually did or which were actually done to him. We believe THAT these events happened and they are historic events which help to give shape to our understanding of the world today. And some of us are fired up and guided by the PERSON of Ignatius Loyola. We believe IN him. He is something of a hero for us, a role model who leads us in our quest to find God in all things, to come to a deep interior freedom, and to commit ourselves to serve others, especially the poor.
So too when we come to the Eucharist and the Scriptures. Most of us are attracted to the STORY of Jesus. There are some great sayings attributed to him, whether or not he said these things. There are some great achievements attributed to him, whether or not he did them. Some of us are consoled and relieved by the Jesus EVENT. There are things Jesus did, like always standing up for truth, like proclaiming a universal message of love and mercy, and putting his life on the line in that proclamation. Some of us are inspired by the PERSON of Jesus. We relate to this PERSON Jesus and in so doing find a way to express the core of our being, a way to live the things that matter most in life, and a way to be enfolded into the love of God, creator and redeemer of all. We believe IN Jesus, and our belief IN him motivates us to be and act differently than we otherwise would.
Story, event and person: Ignatius and Jesus: aspects of the life journey of each of us.
On this feast of St Ignatius, all of us from Jesuit Social Services are reeling from the images we saw on Monday night's 4 Corners — images of children being cowered, taunted, bashed and even tortured in a juvenile detention centre in Darwin — children suffering cruel and inhumane treatment at the hands of government in Australia. I was looking at the front page of the Koori Mail for 23 September 2015. This paper published ten months ago has a huge photo of Adam Goodes on the front page. The other front page story carried the headline 'Children Gassed'. The paper reported on the Northern Territory Children's Commissioner's uncontested published findings that youths had been gassed and mistreated in the Don Dale Juvenile Detention Centre. Kirstie Parker, National Congress of Australia's First People's co-chair, observed that 'there hadn't been a national outcry regarding the treatment of children in detention in the NT, 96 per cent of whom are Aboriginal.' She said, 'For Aboriginal people who are the most directly and comprehensively affected by all of these things it's almost accepted as the norm. Yet, when I talk to non-Indigenous parents and ask "How would you feel if this was your child?", the look on their faces is one of sheer horror and non-comprehension. By and large it doesn't occur to them that this is a world that could ever be possible for their children — and that's got to change. Our kids are Australian kids too, and it shouldn't be a world that's possible for our kids either.' On Monday night, the whole nation saw that it was possible, and not just for Aboriginal kids. Last September, the nation did not listen; last Monday night the nation woke from its slumber and saw with its own eyes, as if for the first time.
You will remember in May that we worked together here at Jesuit Social Services on an opinion piece entitled 'The scandal in the Northern Territory is not youth crime but imprisonment rates'. When I was being interviewed about the piece on radio in Alice Springs, the local compere asked me what business it was of mine because I did not live in the Northern Territory. I replied that the imprisonment rate of Aborigines in the Northern Territory was a national disgrace and a matter of international concern, and that it was the business of every self-respecting Australian. He didn't sound convinced, and I daresay many of his listeners were even less convinced. So now, we will have a national royal commission into the abysmal criminal justice system of the Northern Territory which is starting to look like a failed state.
Inspired by the person Ignatius, inspired by the person Jesus, we are motivated to make a difference; we are passionate to seek justice for all, especially the poor and the marginalised; we are convinced that we can find God in all things — even in the Don Dale Detention Centre; we know that all persons are called to a deep interior freedom — even those prison guards with hardened hearts; we are convinced that the law of the Lord teaches us right from wrong and that the ways of the Lord inspire us to do and proclaim what is right and to denounce what is wrong, especially when the wrong is done by the powerful upon the powerless. We take heart from today's Psalm 1 which we have prayed together:
Blessed is the person whose delight is in the law of the Lord
And on his law she meditates day and night.
She is like a tree
Planted by streams of water,
That yields its fruit in its season,
And its leaf does not wither.
In all that she does, she prospers.
Believing in Jesus and believing in Ignatius, we can make sense of those words uttered by Jesus in today's gospel (Lk 9:18-27): 'If any person would come after me, let her deny herself and take up her cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake, he will save it.' As we confront the powerful of the world who oppress the powerless of the world, we carry within our own hearts that reminder which Jesus gave to all: 'What does it profit a person if she gains the whole world and loses or forfeits herself.' Believing in Jesus, believing in Ignatius, we can more confidently believe in ourselves and in our capacity for good despite the evil in our world which so often leaves us feeling shamed and powerless, as did all the viewers of 4 Corners on Monday night. Let's recommit ourselves to the mission of Jesuit Social Services of 'working to build a just society where all people can live to their full potential'.
Happy Feast of St Ignatius! Go break a leg.
Frank Brennan SJ is professor of law at Australian Catholic University and Adjunct Professor at the Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture.