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"Remember, I am with you always to the end of the age" (Mt 28:20)

On the Spiritual Value of Contradictions: To Father Alfonso Román, Rome, July 14, 1556


The first Jesuits arrived in Saragossa, Spain, in September 1547, with a view to opening a college. A benefactor had willed them a house and chapel as the nucleus of the college, but because of squabbles within the benefactor's family the will was contested and, thus, the Society renounced its claim on the buildings. Nevertheless, great animosity arose against the Jesuits, led by Archbishop Hernando de Aragón (a relative of Francisco de Borja) and his vicar general, the Abbot of Veruela, both of whom were vehemently opposed to their coming to the city. When Fr. Román [1], rector of the community in Saragossa, wrote to Ignatius on February 15, 1554 (Ep. Mixtae 4:73), he mentioned that they had to endure: "opposition and whispering campaigns, false reports, jealousy, jeering, and mockery." Despite this overt hostility the Society canonically established its college with the public reading of the papal bull on April 17, 1555, but when the ceremony was over and the Jesuits left the chapel they found posters affixed to the chapel wall, by order of the vicar general, threatening excommunication on all who attend the Jesuit church and hear their sermons. There followed anti-Jesuit demonstrations in the city: the windows of their residence were broken and the clergy and people sometimes gathered in front of the residence to sing penitential psalms. The Jesuits left Saragossa on August 1 but, in the meantime, the Regent Juana, having heard of these disturbances, wrote stern letters to the archbishop, abbot, and city magistrates. The abbot revoked his edict of excommunication on September 8, 1555, and the Jesuits returned to the city. Ignatius was kept abreast of all these happenings, and now that the persecution had come to an end, he was looking forward to a prosperous new college there. Hence, two weeks before his death, he wrote, in his own hand, this brief but encouraging note to Román: since the solidity of a building's foundation is in proportion to the contradictions endured in its construction, then that in Saragossa has deep foundations to support a magnificent and impressive spiritual edifice. Ignatius had learned this to be true from the contradictions that he himself had to endure in life. Ignatius' note is in Spanish [Ep. 12:119].

It is an ordinary experience that, where there is much contradiction, much fruit will follow; and though the Society is accustomed to better foundations, one would judge that we can expect a great and outstanding spiritual edifice here, seeing that you have laid such deep foundations of contradictions. We hope in God our Lord that this will be so.
1. Román was born in Illescas (Toledo), Spain, in 1520, and entered the Society as a priest in Gandía in 1549. He was rector in Saragossa (1554-1565) and then provincial of Aragon (1565-1568), continuing to reside in Saragossa. He was then rector of the colleges in Gandía (1573-1576) and Tarragona (1576-1684). Following upon these he was province consultor in Valencia (1584-1591), and subsequently returned to Saragossa, where he died on May 18, 1598.
I. In July 1521, a 30-year-old Basque knight, named Iñigo was brought home to recuperate after his cannonball experience in the battle of Pamplona—his watershed moment. The wounds on his lower limbs led to the first long lockdown in his life, about nine months, during which he read a life of Christ and a book on the lives of the saints, the only reading matter the Loyola castle afforded. He also killed time by recalling tales of martial valor and by day-dreaming about a great lady who captured his heart. Later when he was out of mortal danger, his attention was centered on the saints. This profoundly moved and attracted him that soon after he had barely recovered he resolved to do something about his many sins. To fulfill this he must embark on a journey towards conversion. He followed the holy austerities of the saints, e.g. Francis of Assisi and Dominic, that God sent as his first spiritual guides in his lifelong task towards holiness.
II. "That mission has its fullest meaning in Christ, and can only be understood through him. At its core, holiness is experiencing in union with Christ, the mysteries of his life… The contemplation of these mysteries, as St Ignatius of Loyola pointed out, leads us to incarnate them in our choices and attitudes" (Gaudete et Exsultate— Rejoice and Be Glad, 20).

St Ignatius of Loyola by Peter Paul Rubens c. 1622
III. "This spiritual poverty is closely linked to what St Ignatius of Loyola calls 'holy indifference', which brings us to a radiant interior freedom: 'We need to train ourselves to be indifferent to our attitude to all created things, in all that is permitted to our free will and not forbidden’ so that on our part, we do not set our hearts on good health rather than bad, riches rather than poverty, honour rather than dishonour, a long life rather than a short one, and so in all the rest" (Gaudete et Exsultate— Rejoice and Be Glad, 69).