Each day, I receive a regular e-mailing from a very wise Jesuit in Detroit. Fr. Brian Lehane S.J. writes a daily column for the students at the Jesuit high school there, and then he e-mails them to many of us around the province. This article moved me so much that I thought I’d share it with you:
“Visit any Jesuit institution, and you will inevitably see the letters "IHS" depicted somewhere. On churches and inside on the decorations, the "IHS" is featured prominently in stone, paintings, or even in stained glass as in the picture here. The letters, known as the "sacred monogram," are the first three letters of Jesus' name in Greek, transliterated into English as IHSOUS.
Ignatius Loyola and his First Companions adopted the sacred monogram, adding rays of light, three nails, and a crossbeam through the "h," as the official emblem or seal of the Society of Jesus. When Jesuits built their schools and churches throughout the world, they would be sure to feature prominently the distinctive sacred monogram. The mother church of the Jesuits, the Church of the Gesu in Rome, features a majestic "IHS" in its dome. Travel today to old city centers in Eastern Europe or to the jungle missions of Paraguay and you will see "IHS" on the front of buildings, usually indicating the institution was once a thriving Jesuit institution. But where did the Jesuits get the monogram?
The Franciscan St. Bernardine of Siena (1380-1444) is largely responsible for developing and promoting devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus by popularizing the sacred monogram. Bernardine was so devoted to the name of Jesus that he is largely responsible for having the name "Jesus" added to the "Hail Mary." Bernardine lived at a time when superstition and factionalism were especially problematic. Christians were relying on superstitious symbols to combat evils, and warring clans were identifying themselves (and their homes) with shields and political insignia designed to incite their enemies. Bernardine developed a new insignia on a wooden plank – we still have the plank he used – that contained the sacred monogram "IHS" surrounded by rays of the sun. He exhorted Christians in the Italian cities to replace family crests with a sacred image above their doors, indicating their allegiance to one Lord alone. When he would conclude his preaching against superstition and gang violence, Bernardine would invite his hearers to venerate the sacred monogram as a sign of their fidelity first and foremost to Christ and His way. The devotion took off.
When St. Ignatius and his early companions were looking for an insignia for their new Religious Order in 1540, they could do no better than choose a variation of Bernardine's creation. The SPIRITUAL EXERCISES has a famous prayer experience called a "Meditation on Two Standards," where `standard' refers to something like a flag. Under whose flag will you serve, the flag of Christ? or that of Lucifer? Will you give your allegiance to the true Lord and His way? Or will you settle for a different way that is ultimately self-destructive? Ignatius is not talking here about sinning due to human weakness; that happens to us all. He is talking about the fundamental orientation we choose for our lives. Yourself? Or others? Jesuit institutions bear the insignia of the name of Jesus to show where their loyalties lie. Despite our failures and limitations, we return over and over again to that fundamental choice to follow the Lord's way – in service to those in need. We lift up the name of Jesus and acclaim Him as our Way, our Truth, our Life. We renounce false ways of living – the greed, the dishonesty, the violence – and recommit to the Gospel values the Lord has taught us. Let us remember, every time we see the IHS displayed, that there's power for a better world in His name."
-- Fr. Brian Lehane, S.J.
Thursday, May 22, 2008
I want to wish a happy birthday to Fr. Eric Knapp, the pastor at St. Xavier Church here in Cincinnati. I say “here” because as I write this, I am in Cincinnati filling in for Fr. Eric who took the week off to get away. I am happy to take his morning Mass and the round of Confessions afterwards. In fact, this morning was a rather light flow of penitents, so there were a few minutes when I sat in the confession box waiting for the next person to enter. As I did so, I was listening to the noon Mass going on out in the church, and I could hear Fr. Joe (a Jesuit friend of mine) as he preached his homily. He said a few words that stuck with me, and I wrote them down because they meant a lot to me. He said, “I have always liked the saying ‘progress over perfection.’ In fact, I think the word ‘perfection’ is the worst word in the English language. None of us is perfect.” Joe’s words rang true. God does not see us as perfect, in fact he sees us with all our our weaknesses, and He graces us with strength to move ahead (progress) however we can each day. Progress means a lot more than perfection. It means we are still on the journey, still in need of God’s help, and still hope-filled for that perfect destiny (Heaven) which is God-given, not something we gain for ourselves.
Monday, May 19, 2008
It has come to my attention that "my interested publics" would like to see more posted entries on this blog space. Always ready to rise to the challenge, I try to accommodate when possible. However, a higher frequency of blog entries comes with a cost ... more banal subject matter. Do people want to know that I rescheduled a dentist appointment today, or that the province office ran out of large hosts, or that I ended up choosing photo proof #18 for my formal portrait? If so, then on we go. Get ready also for more shoddy grammar, more trite sentence structure, and shorter paragraphs ... sometimes with no pictures. But never fear, we shall always try to supply an appropriate Beatles title to the post. So, in response to all the pleas for more ... I am happy to post what I can when the moment should happen. pf