Fr Frank’s Homily – 13 March 2022

By Fr Frank Brennan SJ, 11 March 2022
A composite image of (L-R) St Ignatius of Loyola by artist Miguel Cabrera, St Philip Neri by artist Sebastiano Conca, St Teresa of Ávila by artist Alonso del Arco, St Isidore the Farmer by artist Bartolomé González y Serrano and St Francis Xavier by artist Miguel Cabrera. Image: Wikimedia Commons


Homily for the Second Sunday of Lent Year C

Readings: Genesis 15:5-12, 17-18; Psalm 26 (27): 1, 7-9, 13-14; Philippians 3:17 – 4:1; Luke 9:28-36

13 March 2022


This weekend, we celebrate the 400th anniversary of the canonisation of the Jesuits Ignatius Loyola and Francis Xavier together with Isidore the Farmer and Teresa of Ávila, as well as Philip Neri. I well recall my first visit to the rooms of Ignatius in Rome next to the Church of the Gesu. Approaching Ignatius’s study is a corridor and on the wall there is a portrait of Ignatius Loyola and Philip Neri. My Roman guide told me that when Ignatius Loyola was canonised on 12 March 1622, there were in fact five people canonised. The Roman joke was that Pope Gregory XV had canonised 4 Spaniards and one saint, the saint being the Italian Philip Neri, the founder of the Oratory. These were the only persons canonised by Gregory XV in his brief pontificate.


Nowadays, little is said about Isidore the Farmer who lived more than 400 years before his fellow canonised saints all of whom served the post-Reformation Church. Isidore is the patron saint of farmers and Madrid. Teresa of Ávila, of course, is still held in the highest regard for her Carmelite spirituality being hailed a Doctor of the Church. The friendship between Ignatius Loyola and Francis Xavier is legendary. We think of their days at the University of Paris where they shared student digs, and then their life together as members of the Society of Jesus with Francis labouring in the Far East sending his letters home to Ignatius as the superior general of the highly disciplined Society of Jesus. Much will be said this weekend about the relationship between Ignatius and Xavier, especially in Jesuit circles. Perhaps in these times of diversity, a word should also be said about the relationship and the contrast between Ignatius Loyola and Philip Neri.

In 1956, marking the 400th anniversary of the death Ignatius Loyola, the Institute of Jesuit Sources published a book Ignatius of Loyola: his personality and spiritual heritage. It contains a chapter by Hugo Rahner, the Jesuit brother of the better known Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner. Hugo was a great spiritual theologian. His chapter compares Ignatius of Loyola and Philip Neri. Rahner recalls that there was considerable conflict between the Jesuits and the Oratorians at the time of the canonisation in 1622. Rahner says, “The repercussions of this were still at work during the baroque period when the following question was discussed with scholarly seriousness: whether Ignatius at one time had actually urged (Neri) to enter the Society of Jesus and had to suffer a cheerful rebuff; or whether it was not that Philip had sought admittance, but Ignatius seriously and politely said no.”[1]

Rahner goes on to compare the differing attitudes of Ignatius and Philip to the need for academic study: “For years (Ignatius) sits on the school bench, and the battle between dry metaphysics and mystical fervour is always decided in favour of reason. Philip soon put his books aside. At the same time that Inigo is labouring with iron-willed determination to earn his Master’s diploma in 1535, Philip confesses, ‘I have never studied much and I have not been able to learn much, for I was occupied with prayer and other spiritual exercises.’”[2]

Comparing the way in which they went about reforming the church in Rome, Rahner says: “Ignatius gives the Spiritual Exercises to humanists and cardinals; his learned companions teach at the Sapienza, and they carefully apportion their sermons to the most frequented churches of the city. Philip, however, who is not yet a priest… remains in the streets; and his pastoral work is already characterised by inimitable ‘homely friendliness’ that wins to him all hearts, even of popes and cardinals.”[3]

Rahner compares their temperaments. He finds that they are almost irreconcilable: “Ignatius is reserved, the enemy of idle gossip, always under control and always somewhat formal”.   “Philip is loquacious, merry, good-naturedly gruff, apt and witty.”[4] Rahner goes on to say, “Because they were truly Saints, both were truly men. Therefore they were filled with that divine cheerfulness which is the sign of the authenticity of Christian seriousness. In Philip it was a Florentine humour, effervescent, sometimes wrathful or whimsical. In Ignatius it was a quiet superiority which, at the beginning of his conversion to God, often arose from a sort of discriminating disdain towards others.”[5]

Each of them founded a religious congregation. “But as long as he lived, (Philip) knew only one principle: ‘to live according to his own taste’; and he knew that this was God’s style and his vocation within the broad expanse of the freedom of Christian men. Therefore, he had no taste for the Basque ‘order’ of Master Ignatius. Even though he led others to Ignatius, he himself wanted to remain free and to gather around himself with a spontaneous, almost aimless, improvisation those men whom he found strong enough to bear such freedom.”[6] Rahner goes on to say: “The growth of the Oratory and the foundation of the Oratories outside Rome…were a worry for (Philip). He seldom wrote letters and then with reluctance. In matters of obedience the most pleasing thing for him was to allow the spirit alone to rule; and he aspired to the sublime maxim: ‘If you want someone to obey you, then give no commands!’ Not until long after Philip’s death did the Oratory find that permanent form in which the fragrance of the Philippian spirit could be preserved. Philip’s biographer is correct in saying, ‘Without any exception, the Oratory is the exact opposite of the famous institute of the Society of Jesus.’”[7]

Let’s face it. It takes all sorts, and it always has! And it always will! Preparing for the next phase of our Plenary Council, we hear some very contested voices. There are those who would claim to be theological conservatives who are worried that there might be a departure from church tradition. There are those who regard themselves as theological liberals who think things are moving too slowly. I have been left wondering whether this might be the Australian Catholic Church’s equivalent of the 1999 Republic referendum in Australia when the combination of the monarchists and the radical Republicans defeated all prospect of any modest reform measures being adopted. As we celebrate the 400th anniversary of the canonisation of the four Spaniards and the one saint, we should all take heart from the very diverse temperaments, perspectives and achievements of Ignatius Loyola and Philip Neri. Let’s give thanks that each of them had distinctive gifts to contribute to the church and each of them is now hailed as a canonised saint.

There will always be differences of perspective and understanding. Let’s not forget that Ignatius Loyola expressed strong reservations about Francis Xavier’s missionary journeys beyond India. Unaware that Xavier had died en route to China on 2 December 1552, Ignatius wrote to Xavier on 28 June 1553 recalling him home to Europe. He cast serious doubts on Xavier’s missionary choices: “As far as I can understand the situation at this distance, I believe that God our Lord would be better served by you had you remained in India, and sent others under your directions to do whatever you had planned on doing. In this way you can accomplish in many places what you accomplish by your actual presence in only one.”[8] Ignatius was adamant: “If you think that your presence in India is important in the interests of good government, you can govern no less well from Portugal than you can from Japan or China – in fact, even better.”[9]

Despite our differences, we can all affirm the claim of the one woman whose canonisation we mark this weekend. Teresa of Ávila assured us: “We can bear all things provided we possess Christ Jesus dwelling within us as our friend and affectionate guide. Christ gives us hope and strength, never deserts us and is true and sincere in his friendship.”[10]

Fr Frank Brennan SJ is the Rector of Newman College, Melbourne, and the former CEO of Catholic Social Services Australia (CSSA).  He has been appointed a peritus at the Fifth Plenary Council of the Australian Catholic Church.


[1] Ignatius of Loyola: his personality and spiritual heritage 1556-1956, Institute of Jesuit Sources, St Louis, 1977, p. 45

[2] Ibid, p. 47

[3] Ibid, p. 48

[4] Ibid, p. 50

[5] Ibid, p. 53

[6] Ibid, p. 63

[7] Ibid, p. 67

[8] Letters of Ignatius Loyola, Loyola University Press, Chicago, 1959, p. 298

[9] Ibid, 299

[10] Teresa of Avila, The Book of Life, Ch 22,6 in The Office of Readings, 15 October


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