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Francis, Son of Ignatius

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When it comes to St. Ignatius Loyola (1491-1556) and Pope Francis, a member of the Society of Jesus, St. Ignatius' order, one could really say, "Like Father Founder, like son."

Consider:

• St. Ignatius was inspired to heroic sanctity by the life and witness of St. Francis of Assisi, from whom Pope Francis took his papal name.

• St. Ignatius was Basque, coming from a region in what is now Spain. Pope Francis is ethnically Italian, coming from the country of Argentina, where Spanish is the major language and whose history is marked by Spanish conquest.

• A major turning point in St. Ignatius' life was the vigil he kept before Our Lady of Montserrat. Pope Francis began his pontificate by visiting the image of Our Lady in the Basilica of St. Mary Major, one of the oldest Marian shrines in the world, and begins and ends every apostolic visit before the image.

• A hallmark of Ignatian spirituality is the discernment of spirits, using God's grace and your own good sense to discern which impulses in the soul are from God and which from the devil. Pope Francis has preached more on the devil than the past several popes put together.

There's much more where that came from.

Pope Francis is a loyal son of St. Ignatius, as well as a loyal son of the Church. That loyalty was modeled well by St. Ignatius, who knew that the world is the battlefield on which the angels and the devils contend for human souls. One great protection, one immense source of strength in the war, is steadfast loyalty to the Rock, to Peter's successor, no matter his weaknesses, no matter his frailty. For God works through the weakest things, for where we are weak, he is strong (see 2 Cor 12:9-11), and the very first pope was so often so terribly weak.

Peter betrayed Jesus, saying, "I do not know the man" (see Jn 18:15-27; Lk 22:54-62). He was called "Satan" and rebuked (see Mt 16:23); he was impetuous and headstrong, slow to understanding and swift in rashness.

And yet he remained the head of the apostles. And yet he became the head of the Church. And yet when the Risen Christ called out from the seashore and John recognized who called, Peter dove swiftly into the water to reach the Master's side (see Jn 21:7). When the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost, it inflamed Peter such that his homily to the gathered crowds that day led to the conversion of 3,000 people (see Acts 2).

The weak man was made strong. And so many of Peter's successors have been so very, very weak! And many others were made strong through grace, strong unto martyrdom for the integrity of the faith.

So on July 31, as the Church celebrates the feast of St. Ignatius Loyola, let us ask the intercession of St. Ignatius for Pope Francis, the latest in Peter's lineage, that he be guided by the Holy Spirit in his discernment, strengthened by God's grace for the ministry entrusted to him, and ever shelter under the mantle of the Blessed Virgin Mary through everything the world, the flesh, and the devil send his way. And let us ask St. Ignatius to pray for us, that we may always be loyally loving of the Holy Father, obedient to his authoritative teachings and praying for him always so that he may discharge the duties of his office well and steer the barque of Peter safely through all the storms of this present darkness to the greater glory of God.

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