Today is the feast of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus--the Jesuits--and one of the Church's greatest sons. Saint Ignatius, who had been a rather irreligious soldier, was said to have been finally and completely converted by a vision of Our Blessed Mother with the Child Jesus. The formerly proud Spanish officer became so humble that, at the age of thirty, he placed himself as a student in a class of school-boys in Barcelona. His "Spiritual Exercises" stand alone as some of the richest treasures of the Church. And many Jesuits were to follow their father Saint Ignatius to sanctity.
It is also the unofficial feast day of one of the littlest saints, my son Thomas Edmund. Thomas was born on July 27 and was baptized before he took his first breath; so he was a saint from the very first moments of his earthly life. That life, which was to last just five days, was one of great suffering for him: suffering which he bore with great perseverance and resignation. If you had seen him, you would know that what I have written is true. The priest who attended him throughout his anguish said of Thomas that he had "... never seen anyone suffer so much..." and that he had "...suffered manfully."
To suffer manfully, and yet be a little child--is this not the way of which Our Lord spoke as being the one to Heaven? It is the"little way" of Saint Therese with its childlike trust and confidence in God wedded to a willingness to suffer whatever comes from His hand. It is born of the knowledge that Our Heavenly Father, the best of all fathers, will ask of us what is best for us, and that may entail hardship, sacrifice, self-denial, and pain. How far this is from the way of so many earthly fathers today who, fearing to displease or disappoint their children-- who have in some manner often become their idols-- neglect to require of their own flesh and blood what is for their good! Their children ask for bread, and they are given stones. A friend of mine once said to me, "If you can't trust your father who can you trust?" It is a natural quality of children to trust their parents; and, sadly, great numbers of them are following those who themselves are lost. And if the blind lead the blind, they will all fall.
How many children are wandering aimlessly because they are not being led along, or because they refuse to follow, the only path which will bring them genuine happiness? "Small is the gate and narrow is the road that leads to life." How few there are who even seek it; fewer still will find it. What is a parent's duty before God, what is the purpose of parenthood after all, if it is not to return each child to God for eternity? Our children do not belong to us: they are His. "Unless you be converted and become as little children you shall not enter the kingdom of Heaven." Little children do not know the way by themselves: they must follow the ones who do. We parents must first be converted, that is, turned completely to God; then we must become as little children, that is, humbled, completely emptied of egoism and vanity and pride. Only then will we find the way, and then lead our children along after us.
Unless one's child is a saint: in which case the child has gone before the parent to lead the way. It is the order of grace, the hierarchy of Heaven. My child, who died nine years ago today, lives with Our Lord and Our Lady and the holy angels and saints, and he will be with them for eternity. So I must become as a little child so that I may follow him along the narrow way, which is the only way to God: so that I can see him again and forever. "And a little child shall lead them." Saint Ignatius of Loyola, pray for us. Saint Thomas Edmund, pray for us.
Prayer of Saint Ignatius Loyola
Teach us, Good Lord,
To Serve Thee as Thou deservest;
To give and not to count the cost;
To fight and not to heed the wounds;
To labor and not to ask for any reward,
save that of knowing that we do Thy will.
Through Jesus Christ Our Lord, Amen.