One of the hallmarks of Ignatian spirituality is what St. Ignatius of Loyola often said when he sent off a brother Jesuit on a mission: “Ite, omnia incendite! (Go, set the whole world on fire!)” This, according to legend, was often used by Ignatius most especially for the Jesuits who were on a mission to new territories.
Setting the whole world on fire is pretty much what the grace and gift of the Pentecost bestows on the Church and members of the community co-missioned by Christ in last Sunday’s feast, the Ascension.
Today we celebrate Pentecost Sunday, which brings the Easter Season to an end. Tomorrow we go back to ordinary time.
Pentecost is also a beginning, the beginning of the mission of the Christian community. It is the beginning of the missionary Church. If the Ascension was the signal of Christ entrusting his mission to his disciples with the promise of his being with them—or with us as the disciples who follow him—to the end of time, Pentecost is the official sendoff of the prototype missionaries of the Church.
Setting the whole world on fire is a core characteristic of Christian mission. Let us reflect on it from the perspective of some of the values we can draw from this core characteristic.
One, Christian mission is always inspired by the Spirit of the Risen Lord. Two, an inspired Christian mission, aptly represented by the image of fire, breaks new ground and is trailblazing. Three, the missionary enterprise establishes a new order, a better one, new but more faithful to its original source, with greater fidelity to its founding inspiration.
Let us reflect on these values one by one, beginning with mission as inspired by the Spirit of the Risen Lord.
The fundamental character of our Church is missionary. At the same time, the church lives out this mission in the age of the Spirit, the Spirit of the Risen Lord. We see and hear this clearly in today’s Gospel: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you. Receive the Holy Spirit.”
While we see the specifics of the missionary task as the forgiveness and retention of sins, we need to put this in the context of leading people to know Christ and, in the Ignatian framework, to love and follow Christ.
This is being inspired once more, going back to our foundational inspiration. The words of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus give us a vivid description of being inspired again by the foundational inspiration of our faith.
After being helped by the Risen Lord to remember the whole story, they reconnect it to find the wholeness and integrity of meaning and mission, and rediscover the inspiration: “Were not our hearts burning within us?”
It is this inspiration recovered or rediscovered that sets us off to break new ground. This was the inspiration of the early Church where, as we see in the first reading, the 11 who were anointed by the Holy Spirit go forth to preach and work wonders. As history would show, it is from this small group of men that one of the most remarkable human organizations started.
It was with the zeal and passion of these men that the church soon grew into a global community, constantly moving out of its comfort zone and breaking new ground.
These men and women of zeal and passion soon proved their willingness and ability to take risks for the sake of their mission. This became a badge of honor, to take risks for the sake of the mission. This early stage of the missionary Church was blessed by many who died for the cause—as the saying goes, “the Church was built on the blood of the martyrs.”
This inspired period of the missionary Church established a new order. The Church soon became one of the more dominant forces in shaping history. It influenced not just the spiritual and religious realms, but also the fields of education, culture, arts and even the socio-economic and political arenas.
In need of reform
But as in all human endeavors, we always need to check ourselves; or in the words of the Church, we are always in need of reform, going back to our original inspiration to bring us closer and closer to this vision of the new heaven and the new earth.
This is the one great grace of Pentecost—it reminds us of who we are, what our mission is, how and why we started our mission and journey.
It makes us experience our “hearts burning within” once more, and from this experience of being renewed we go forth and “set the whole world on fire.” This why we need to celebrate Pentecost—our world is in need of inspiration, of men and women with “hearts burning within.”
There is a world out there that has to be set on fire—to burn the evils of poverty and corruption, of deceit and dishonesty, of injustice and oppression; to set on fire the inspiration that heals and builds a new heaven and a new earth.
As we see hope and inspiration, remember that it cannot be more of the same. We have to be trailblazing and pioneering.
We need to renew the face of the world, our world—not just renew but to make it even better, more faithful to the new heaven and the new earth envisioned by the Risen Lord who makes all things new.